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Crew vs. FC Cincinnati: Officiating crew explains controversial penalty kick call

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The referee explained what he saw on the play that led to the Black & Gold trailing early.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at San Jose Earthquakes Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Columbus Crew dropped a 2-1 result to FC Cincinnati on the road Wednesday night. It was the second straight head-scratching defeat for the Crew and extends the team’s winless run to four games after a remarkable first half of the season. And while Black & Gold fans will be disappointed with the result and the team’s recent play, that was not the major talking point from the match.

In the 14th minute, with Cincinnati controlling the game offensively, goalkeeper Andrew Tarbell was whistled for a foul when coming out to clear a cross and the home side was issued an early penalty kick. After three minutes of players arguing with center referee Rubiel Vazquez, FC Cincy’s Yuya Kubo stepped up and score from the spot.

The play was a strange one. After a throw-in, Álvaro Barreal sent a cross into the penalty box. Tarbell came out to punch but missed the ball. His momentum carried him into midfielder Allan Cruz. Cruz, whose head was down on the play, also missed the ball and, it could be argued, impeded Tarbell. Typically in these situations, the goalkeeper receives the benefit of the doubt as the less protected player or the play is allowed to continue with no call being made.

That was not the case in this incident.

Following the game, the MLS pool reporter at Nippert Stadium posed the following question to the officiating crew: In the 14th minute, FC Cincinnati was awarded a penalty on a foul by No. 13. What illegal activity did referee Rubiel Vazquez see to deem the play worthy of a penalty kick and why was the play ultimately not reviewed?”

The response from the referees read as follows: “The CLB goalkeeper missed the ball and made contact with the CIN attacker resulting in a penalty kick. The VAR checked the incident and did not deem it to be a clear and obvious error.”

It was a confusing set of circumstances as it was initially unclear whether Vazquez had called a penalty kick or a goal kick, as the cross went out of bounds without being touched. The referee did appear to hold up play after making it clear a penalty kick was awarded but never appeared to put his hand to his ear to indicate he is checking with Video Assistant Referee Hilario Grajeda on the call.

After the game, Columbus captain Jonathan Mensah added more confusion to the situation when asked about what Vazquez said to him on the call.

‘What I heard from him was, ‘I can’t hear you. I can’t hear you,’” Jonathan explained of Vazquez’s conversation over the headset with Grajeda. “And then he was still waiting. He waited for a while and then he was like, ‘Yeah, penalty.’ And I’m like, ‘No, you just said you cannot hear him. So how can you just say penalty?’ It was, I don’t know how to put it in words but it was very harsh on the PK because obviously you’re saying you cannot hear the person, so at least you should go to the board, check it for yourself.”

To his credit, Crew head coach Caleb Porter didn’t blame the game on the penalty kick call, just saying he felt the call was tough and the turned on its head a bit after it.