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Gregg Berhalter’s dismissal and Mark Geiger’s explanation

What the heck happened there?

MLS: New England Revolution at Columbus Crew SC Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

It was a good night at MAPFRE Stadium as Columbus Crew SC got back to winning at home with a 2-0 victory over the New England Revolution. But it wasn’t all positive.

I’m not talking about the play on the field. Crew SC did what was necessary to dispatch of a relatively listless Revolution side that’s struggled all year. What this match will likely be remembered for is an incident that occured in the 77th minute that led to the dismissal of Columbus head coach Gregg Berhalter.

As the Black & Gold attempted to get out of its own defensive third, rookie winger Niko Hansen touched the ball to one side of Revolution defender Je-Vaughn Watson before attempting to speed around the other side. He likely would have gotten to the ball if it wasn’t for a “clothesline” (MLSsoccer.com’s words, not mine) from Watson to Hansen, taking him down around the neck.

Referee Mark Geiger was quick to react, showing Watson a yellow card, but Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter, along with most of the fans in attendance at MAPFRE Stadium, was not happy that the defender didn’t see red.

Geiger confronted an angry Berhalter on the sideline and sent the coach off.

When asked “What about Je-Vaughn Watson’s foul warranted a yellow card and not a red card?” by the pool reporter, Geiger responded, “The foul was reckless. It did not rise to the level of a red card by endangering the safety of the opponent or using excessive force.”

As for what occured that resulted in Berhalter’s dismissal, Geiger said, “Mr. Berhalter kicked a ball in protest of the decision of the referee.”

Berhalter missed the final 12 minutes of the match and was still upset when he addressed the media postgame.

“I was told that I came on the field and kicked the ball back into the field,” Berhalter said when asked for his account of things.

The television replay is inconclusive, as you cannot see Berhalter’s legs. So did he?

“No, I did not go on the field,” was his response.

Whether Berhalter kicked a ball or not isn’t really the issue. A Crew SC player was put in harms way by a reckless challenge with no intent on getting the ball and the referee did not handle the situation properly.

At least that’s how Berhalter saw it.

“In my eyes, the reason for the behavior was for the foul that I perceived,” he explained. “I think fouls like that have no business in soccer, I don’t think it was a soccer play and I’m looking forward to see how video review looks at this play because it was unacceptable in my eyes and it endangered the safety of one of my players.”

After the game, most of those players were proud of their coach. Although they would rather have him on the sideline, they respect a boss who is willing to put the player’s safety first over even his own potential discipline.

“It’s fantastic,” captain Wil Trapp said of Berhatler. “It was a ridiculous challenge I think and I’m sure the disciplinary committee will look at it because it’s just one of those players where he’s not really making a play for the ball and he’s going above the neck. It was just a nasty challenge. We always want to keep our cool, but at times it’s good to see the fire.”

Trapp and his teammates were able to make adjustments and hold New England off for the remaining 12 or so minutes in order to keep the shutout and earn another three points on the season.

And this can be a challenge for teams at times when something like this happens, which Trapp had to handle.

“We made a formation switch. So I think that provided a little bit of stability in the back,” Trapp said. “Because they were continuing to throw numbers forward. Granted they had a couple of really close chances there. But it’s really just about keeping the group together, keeping the group thinking that we need to get forward, that we need to keep the ball in their half and not try to get stuck in our half. I don’t think we we did a great job of that, but it’s just keeping the guys mentally engaged.”

In the end, what matters is Crew SC earned three points at home and Hansen was not injured on the play. Ultimately though, it speaks volumes that a usually calm and collected Berhalter was fired up enough to get tossed from a game.

But maybe it shouldn’t be.

“Any time that happens, of course you’re going to get a reaction and that was the reaction tonight,” he said.