KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Sporting Kansas City had the chance to come out of their Decision Day match against Real Salt Lake with the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.
In a match that came down to the wire, in the 89th minute, what seemed to be a clear handball by Real Salt Lake defender Justin Glad inside the penalty area was not called by referee Ted Unkel.
Typically, the situation would constitute a replay check by the video assistant referee for the match Younes Marrakchi.
However, no call was made and play was never stopped for Unkel to review the play.
The play sparked controversy throughout the league as Real Salt Lake came down a few moments later and scored a last-second goal to win 1-0 and advance to the MLS Cup Playoffs.
With the win, the Los Angeles Galaxy were eliminated from the tournament and Sporting KC was knocked down to the No. 3 seed.
Manager Peter Vermes, who has refrained from commenting on MLS officiating since being fined earlier in the year for his criticism of non-calls, spent nine minutes criticizing the officiating by the entire crew of officials assigned to the match.
“I am never one to ask for anybody’s job or anything – then I would say that all of those guys are not able to referee, to look at VAR, to do whatever at this level,” Vermes said. “It has impacted everything. It is the black mark on this league. It is an example of why we lose so many people to watch this game year in and year out, game in and game out, because we do not get it right.”
With the Seattle Sounders tying the Vancouver Whitecaps, Sporting KC was in prime position to secure the No. 1 seed and a first round bye in the postseason.
Seattle and Kansas City have been bouncing back-and-forth for the spot all season, but now neither of them will have a bye. The Colorado Rapids secured the No. 1 seed with their and Kansas City’s result.
“Now if they come out after this and say they made a mistake, what does it do for us? What does it do for the other teams that have been impacted? Zero,” Vermes said. “This is unacceptable to me. This is unacceptable to me. I think this is a travesty. This is a travesty in sports.”
Vermes, who has been a part of MLS since it’s inception in 1996 as a player for the Kansas City Wiz, said the league has come too far for officials to continue to make these kinds of mistakes.
“To see we have come so far but we haven’t come far enough because we can’t even get that right and we have replay… I’m embarrassed today to be a part of the league when you can’t do that,” Vermes said.
The Professional Referee Organization (PRO) was asked about their decision and said the following:
- After checking all available angles, the VAR determined that the non-giving of a penalty for handling was not a clear and obvious error.
- In real time, the angle of the referee’s view isn’t definitive if the ball hits Espinoza’s chest or Glad’s hand.
- The VAR determined the action by Glad was not deliberate.
“I’ve had this discussion with the league time and time again. They don’t admit to it. The reason why? First off, they have to protect their own,” Vermes said. “That’s one. The other is they don’t know what it’s like to live to be a club. They don’t know what it’s like to be a team because they don’t deal with wins, losses and ties. They don’t deal with disappointment and have to get back on the saddle again the next week and come out and find a way to win.”
Sporting KC midfielder Roger Espinoza was the one making the play when the ball was touched by Glad’s hand. He said he did not receive an explanation from Unkel either and was told to step away.
“He got mad at me, actually. He got incredibly mad and said he was going to stop talking to me,” Espinoza said. “It’s very frustrating because when I commit a foul, they go and look at it and I get a red card. It happens all the time, even if it’s unintentional. I think it needs to be reviewed even if it is unintentional. I don’t know what happens to referees, but I am pretty sure I get red cards, but I don’t know if they get red cards.”
Sporting KC will now host the No. 6 seed Vancouver Whitecaps in the first round of the playoffs.