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Controversial Decisions: Why San Jose’s rotational fouling resulted in no cautions

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San Jose played an ugly game in RSL’s second draw of the season.

MLS: San Jose Earthquakes at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake’s 1-1 draw with San Jose featured, well, fouls. A bunch of them.

It wasn’t pretty.

During some of those fouls, we all clamored for a yellow card to be shown. We saw one, and it was wrongly given.

Let’s take a walk through the match. If I’ve missed something, go ahead and point it out in the comments. I’ve gone through every foul called, most tackles recorded, and some of the more exciting moments of the match. I’ve certainly missed one or two no-calls in here.

Controversial fouls

11th minute, Damir Kreilach yellow

Real Salt Lake’s Croatian midfielder picked up a yellow card for a tackle in which he never actually touched the attacking player. I get that referees will sometimes make mistakes about whether something is a yellow card or not, and we could certainly argue about that. I’d rather treat this as a baseline for the remainder of the match, because this is the only yellow card Silviu Petrescu handed out during the match.

It’s a shame it was given for a dive.

39th minute, Rusnak’s foot trod upon by Jimmy Ockford

I don’t know that this is a yellow card, but Ockford, pictured on the right, is clearly coming in here to break up play, doesn’t get anywhere near the ball, and makes contact with Albert Rusnak’s foot, instead. That’s a painful one.

68th minute, Saucedo taken down

This was called as a foul, but no card was given. It’s unmistakably a foul, too — there’s no guessing about whether Saucedo was actually tackled or not. Let’s look at this still image before going on.

Yuck. This is a terrible tackle. The best part, I think, is that San Jose felt aggrieved about this — and not just a little aggrieved, either. Multiple players shouted in the face of Petrescu, there was some pushing and shoving, that sort of thing. But Magnus Eriksson goes in recklessly, and that’s a yellow card by definition.

Interestingly, I do think Saucedo might be going down a little bit easy initially. That doesn’t change the fact that Eriksson has him locked between his legs as he goes down, and that’s where it gets really dicey. Give Eriksson a yellow card, but no more.

73rd minute, Fatai Alashe takes down Kyle Beckerman

There’s not a great freeze-frame of this challenge, but Alashe goes right through Beckerman as our captain collected the ball in midfield. This was certainly a careless tackle, but was it reckless? I don’t know. If that were reckless, we’d see Beckerman with a yellow card for it every game, so I’m inclined to let this slide as a simple foul.

91st minute, Luis Silva’s run in the box

OK, so let’s get one thing clear before we get too far. We were a bit slow to shoot late. That’s not the point of this, but I wanted to say it. I know we were trying to work the ball into the box, but it didn’t always play in our favor.

Case in point, we have this terrifically bad no-call from Petrescu here, who hasn’t seen that Luis Silva has been taken down in the box. He’s tripped up, and there are two hands on his back. Somehow, this was a no-call, but for me, this is an absolutely clear-cut penalty.

Still, I get that this might not be called. Peterscu isn’t in a great position to see the play, nor is his linesman. But you know who is? The eye in the sky, the Video Assistant Referee.

What we have here is a potential penalty, and nobody’s reviewing it. Is it potentially a dive? Sure. I could buy that. I don’t think it was, but I could be convinced. But if we have VAR, we better be prepared to use it.

92nd minute, Savarino is tackled on the edge of the box

Before reviewing this one, I would have thought that Savarino was definitely fouled inside the box late in stoppage time, but the more I watch this one, the more I don’t see it.

See, I think the defender here actually puts in a superb tackle here. He doesn’t stab too far, but he gets the ball away from Savarino. Our attacker then goes over his leg, but he’s already won the ball. Good no-call by the referee, I think.

San Jose’s hack-a-...Savarino?

If you told me last week that Jefferson Savarino would be fouled six times against San Jose, I would have shrugged and said that sounded about right. But I would also have thought that a few other players would have joined them in the being-hacked book, but only one other RSL player had more than one foul called in their favor: Danilo Acosta.

What we had here was a classic case of rotational fouling, and it’s problematic that Petrescu has failed to recognize it. You can manage this, but instead, he let it continue until late in the match, which is when he put his ‘no more’ hands up.

All told, San Jose played a simple game, but they played it well. They rotated their fouling players, and they utilized them to full effect to break up RSL’s play. It’s not fun soccer, and it’s not attractive soccer, and it’s certainly not soccer I’d want my team playing. But it’s a strategy you see over and over, and it affects more creative teams more heavily.

In a truly Silicon Valley sense, San Jose was disruptive.

Missing yellows?

By the tenor set by the referee early on, we should have seen multiple yellow cards given during this match. Instead, the only one he gave, he gave for a clear dive. It’s not an excellent showing by Silviu Petrescu, who more or less epitomizes MLS referees.