Real Salt Lake beat Sporting Kansas City, looking good in the process, but once again, we were stuck wondering about refereeing decisions after the match.
Because there were two that were particularly bad — Luke Mulholland's yellow card and the penalty that should have been a free kick — it's important to take a look at two things Ted Unkel got demonstrably wrong — without focusing too much on the nitty-gritty judgment calls that consistently split opinion.
Mulholland's yellow card
In the 88th minute, Luke Mulholland was shown a yellow card for ... something. What exactly that something is, we're not entirely sure, but let's take a look at the situation. First, you see Aaron Maund on the ground in the box after a collision with Dom Dwyer. With the ball easily in the middle third, Unkel calls for play to be stopped. That's good! He had an issue later with stopping play when Justen Glad goes down with a knee injury, but maybe he was being overly skeptical there.
Alright, so play's stopped, and he checks on Maund. Good. Let's see where play is at this point. (If you'd like to watch along, just watch Sporting KC players protesting. It's fun.)
So, he's motioned for a drop ball from where he stopped play. And it's even reasonably proximate — so he hasn't hashed things up too badly here.
He drops the ball, and Benny Feilhaber takes it and starts dribbling — not too dangerously, but he starts dribbling toward a defender to start play, then turns toward an attacking position.
From there, Luke Mulholland nicks the ball off him, as he's not paying a whole lot of attention, and Feilhaber responds by grabbing him around the waist and pulling him to the ground for a pretty clear foul.
Here's Luke Mulholland nicking the ball off Feilhaber. No player is treating this is an unchallenged play, and Sporting KC clearly are aiming to attack here.
And here's Feilhaber with his dirty, stupid challenge.
From here, Luke Mulholland walks away, removing himself from the fray. From this, we can be relatively sure that Mulholland isn't being penalized for saying anything to the referee, because he didn't have an opportunity to. Regardless, Ted Unkel calls him over, then shows both Benny Feilhaber and Luke Mulholland a yellow card.
Now, we can understand the Feilhaber card pretty easily. He's stopping an attacking player by grabbing him and throwing him to the ground. Now, maybe he's just a bit excited for Wrestlemania tomorrow, but there are no good excuses for this.
But Mulholland's yellow? The best argument I can make is that Mulholland was "unsporting," but there's absolutely no basis for that. The rules about dropped balls were followed — the ball touches the ground, and in fact, Feilhaber is unchallenged on it. When players don't challenge on a dropped ball, that typically means one thing: They're expecting the opponent to send it right back in a bit of sporting play. That isn't what happened — Feilhaber is turning to attack, so any notion of a sporting dropped ball should be gone.
What's happened here, then? Ted Unkel hasn't only applied the rules incorrectly, but he's constructed a rule in his head. This is the pinnacle of bad refereeing.
Oh, the penalty. There's no getting away without talking about this one. It was called on John Stertzer after he committed a foul, which the referee judged to be inside the box. But with even a cursory examination, we can see that this one was actually outside the box.
Here's Stertzer committing the foul. You can see that Unkel's in a good position to see the foul, too, and its position — which is why he initially calls it a free kick. He then communicates with his assistant, which is fine — but he's assuming the assistant has a better view, and he's deferred. Here's a closer look.
There's a bit of controversy after the penalty, too, because Jeff Attinella was pushed into the net by everyone's favorite villain (and a purported friend of Attinella), Dom Dwyer. Additionally, Benny Feilhaber is so utterly desperate to get the ball, he slides in — slides! — on Attinella to retrieve the ball.
Both could potentially be yellow card offenses, but they're instead overlooked by Unkel, who is more concerned about restarting play than anything else. It's a real failing on his part, as it ignores off-the-ball contact and dangerous play.
Plata's yellow card
In the 77th minute, Joao Plata was shown a yellow card for a delay of play as he strolled over to take a corner. While he wasn't exactly sprinting over, the yellow shown was excessive because he didn't seem to give a verbal caution — which is the proper action to be taken.
Sure, delaying the restart is a cautionable offense, but that assumes there was an "excessive" delay. Instead, what we have is Plata walking toward the corner, and there's not even a ball there — Unkel motions for one from a ball kid.
There's no mention in the laws of the game about having to sprint to a corner to take it, so this one smacks of some sort of desire to speed up play — and there's no provision in the rules to support that.
Regardless, this is certainly a judgment call, and this is a minor quibble in comparison to the two actual issues.