Following Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Columbus Crew SC, James O’Connor was not happy. It wasn’t that his Orlando City team had just squandered a chance for a rare 2018 road win after twice being up a goal on Crew SC. The head coach was seen going up and down the tunnel at MAPFRE Stadium, trying to find someone to explain to him a call he felt cost his team the game.
In the 86th minute, with Orlando leading the Black & Gold 2-1, Harrison Afful delivered a cross from the right side of the field. Forward Patrick Mullins, making his Columbus debut, went up for the header and went down after contact from RJ Allen. The referee, who had ignored Crew SC’s shouts for a penalty kick on a potential hand ball earlier in the match, pointed to the spot and gave the home side the chance to level the game late.
The Lions were irate, surrounding center referee Silviu Petrescu on the field with the bench doing the same to fourth official David Gantar on the sideline. Petrescu checked with video assistant referee Jon Freemon in the booth, but was evidently not advised to take a second look at the play.
“I am not going to speak with the referee, everyone else at home can see what is going on,” O’Connor said after the match. “It is just really, really disappointing for the players because the players didn’t deserve that tonight, they really didn’t. I am exceptionally proud of the players and that’s the main point that I want to get across. Everyone can see what happened.”
When asked by the pool reporter process after the match what he saw on the play, Petrescu gave the following response: “As the Columbus player was about to head the ball in the Orlando penalty area, the Orlando player charged him from behind, therefore a penalty kick was called.”
In the 88th minute, Gyasi Zardes stepped up and converted the penalty kick for his second goal of the night. Two minutes into stoppage time, captain Wil Trapp hit a shot from well over 30 yards that was right in the upper 90 for the game winner.
While he was happy to have three points that he felt his team deserved, Crew SC head coach Gregg Berhalter understood why the Orlando City players and staff felt hard done after Petrescu’s call.
“I think it’s a tough one,” Berhalter said on Monday. “I think if I’m Orlando, I’m disappointed that he called it... It’s one that leaves you kind of confused about why it’s called.”
What makes it even easier for Berhalter to relate with O’Connor’s complaints is that the Columbus head coach has been on the other end of some interesting calls in 2018. Berhalter referred back to a recent penalty kick called on center back Lalas Abubakar in the game against the LA Galaxy.
“It’s not much different than the Lalas and Zlatan one where you’re wondering, ‘Is that enough contact to call it,’” he said.
Even in Saturday’s win, Berhalter felt the Black & Gold were wronged by a call missed by the officials.
Just before Stefano Pinho’s 58th minute goal, Zardes went down at the other end while on the attack. Orlando took the ball from there and countered the other way, leading to the visitors taking a 2-1 advantage.
“There’s other plays in the game that are just as puzzling,” Berhalter said. “The second goal that they scored, the guy kicks Gyasi’s foot. Gyasi goes by him, he kicks his foot, it’s a foul. It’s a foul 100 out of 100 times.”
What’s curious about that call is that it was part of the play that led to the goal and therefore could have been reviewed by the officials. The Crew SC players asked Petrescu to take a second look, but either he was advised not to or he chose not to check with his assistant.
“It’s 100 percent the guy kicks Gyasi’s outside of his right foot and you can see his foot slip out from under him because of that,” Berhalter continued. “I would understand if he played the ball, but he doesn’t and it’s something that is basic to me and it should be called.”
Against the Galaxy, Columbus had a goal called back just before halftime, with the review ruling it went over the end line despite no replay angle showing that conclusively. In another recent game in Los Angeles, against LAFC, Berhalter felt at least one of the goals scored against his team should have been called for offside, and he was correct.
Could Saturday be a bit of retribution by the soccer gods for some of the calls against the Black & Gold of late?
“We still have a couple to get. We still have a credit,” Berhalter said with a laugh. “That’s why I don’t go too overboard with my comments. I’ve learned over the years that you hope over time it will even out. And that’s why when I talk about some of these goals in LAFC, the offside one, the offside one at the Galaxy, all these plays, you hope it’s going to even out.”
No matter which side you’re on, players and coaches alike would prefer to see the game called correctly. It’s hard to feel good about a win when you know it was earned somewhat cheaply — thankfully Trapp made sure no Crew SC players felt that way — but over the course of a season, calls are going to go for and against you and you just have to hope you’re on the right side of things more often than not.
On Saturday night, the Black & Gold certainly cashed in on some of their fair call credits.