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Gregg Berhalter sees red after Columbus Crew SC loss

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The Crew SC head coach was not happy with how the match was handled.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Philadelphia Union Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Following last night’s 3-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union, one in which Columbus Crew SC was issued two red cards, Black & Gold head coach Gregg Berhalter was not pleased.

It didn’t all have to do with the result on the field, or at least his players. Berhatler was unhappy with the officiating.

“I can’t wait until August 5th when VAR gets put in play,” is how Berhalter began his opening statement. “I think the level of incompetency has risen among the referees, among the officials and this is going to help. It’s going to help clean up the game, it’s going to help stuff like this.”

VAR is Video Assistant Replay, which is basically video review, and will begin in Major League Soccer early next month. (You can watch a video on it here.)

What Berhalter was displeased about were the two red cards. The first came in the 35th minute, with Crew SC already trailing 1-0. After a bending through ball was played to Philadelphia forward CJ Sapong, Columbus defender Jonathan Mensah attempted to close down the attacker, but took him to the ground inside the penalty area.

Jonathan was shown a straight red card by referee Ismail Elfath, Columbus was down to 10 men and the Union had a penalty kick — which was subsequently saved. Berhalter did not agree with the call.

“No matter how you look at the Mensah challenge, he ends up winning the ball,” he said postgame. “He gets thrown out and it’s a penalty kick. I’m not even sure it’s inside the penalty box. When any type of contact is initiated, he comes away with the ball.”

While Berhalter is upset, it’s hard to argue with the first foul. Yes, Jonathan does end up with the ball, but he also clatters into Sapong first after being beaten in a foot race. The only real questions there are if the contact occurred inside the area — it appears it’s just outside — and if, with goalkeeper Zack Steffen coming out, this was a denial an obvous of a goal-scoring opportunity and therefore a red card.

Not surprisingly, Berhalter was also not pleased with the red card to Lalas Abubakar, given for violent conduct.

“Lalas gets hammered as the ball is up in the air. The referee calls a foul,” Berhalter explains. “Ilsinho is trying to block Lalas from getting the ball and playing on. He does a swim type of move to get around him and he gets a red card. Ilsinho should be ashamed of himself. That has no place in soccer, that type of acting. No place. He’s really hurt? He got hit in the face? Seriously?

“The other thing is Lalas is getting scapegoated because he’s so strong and because he’s a rookie. It’s true. If Lalas is in the league 10 years, [the referee] doesn’t call half the calls. No way. He doesn’t treat him the way he treated him. No chance.”

While standing up for the rookie defender is admirable, Berhalter again has little case after watching the replay. Ilsinho is called for the initial foul, but Abubakar overreacts. The Union midfielder has already established position to win the second ball when the whistle is blown. As it comes down, Abubakar reaches one arm across Ilsinho’s neck and “swim moves” the other across his opponent’s face.

After getting sent off earlier this year for arguing for a red card to a New England Revolution player for an arm across the neck, it’s hard to understand Berhalter’s point. Abubakar was overly aggressive after the whistle, put one arm across Ilsinho’s neck and brought the other across his face. Did the midfielder dramatize it? Of course, but that’s nothing new in soccer.

Berhalter was not done either.

“To me the whole presentation of the game was disgraceful,” he continued. “There were times where we had the ball, the referee stops the whistle, we should get the ball back, Philly kicks it out of bounds in our final third and presses the throw in. What are we doing here? Seriously?

We have a one vs. one going to goal, the referee stops the play. Stops the play. When we resume play, kick it out of play in our defensive third and then press the throw in. That has nothing to do with this sport or what we’re trying to do. Nothing to do with sportsmanship.”

The Crew SC head coach blamed what he deemed poor officiating on referees having attention elsewhere, concerned about refereeing “international competitions” (assuming he means the International Champions Cup friendlies) instead of doing their job in MLS.

“When they’re making decisions like this in games, that are affecting games, it’s a joke. It’s an absolute joke,” he said. “They need to get back to work, they need to focus on this league and that’s it.”

While Berhalter would not say if he thought the outcome would have been different had the game remained 11 vs. 11, he did go as far as to claim his team had “to beat two opponents.”

It is almost certain that following this rare postgame explosion, Berhalter will be hearing from the MLS offices and will need to cut a check. He does not care. He wanted to defend his players and get his point across and, agree with it or not, he did just that.

As for his team, it’s onward to Saturday night at Real Salt Lake. Berhalter said the team traveled 20 players in preparation for the two-game road trip, as the group flew straight to Utah after the match, and he will likely appeal Abubakar’s red card.

“We’ll regroup,” Berhalter said. “We have five center backs so all of them didn’t get red carded. We’ll be able to regroup and play with two.

“We’re putting the result away, I already told the guys after the game. We didn’t get beat by Philadelphia tonight. We got beat by the men in red (the referees), so we’re okay. We’re going to regroup, we’re going to be fine. The morale is going to be fine in this group.”