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D.C. United ousts Revs in wild first-round match

Photo by Brad Mills/USA TODAY Sports
Photo by Brad Mills/USA TODAY Sports

WASHINGTON—D.C. United had a handful of memorable comebacks during the regular season this year.

You can now add another.

Chris Rolfe overcame a missed penalty in the second half to score a late game winner as D.C. United defeated the New England Revolution, 2-1, in the first round of the 2015 MLS Playoffs on a wet and rainy Wednesday night in the nation’s capital. D.C. United must now wait until Thursday’s games to find out who they will be hosting this coming weekend.

The game wasn’t without controversy, though, as Revolution captain Jermaine Jones was sent off in the game’s waning moments for shouting at and shoving referee Mark Geiger after a missed handball call.

Juan Agudelo opened the scoring in spectacular fashion in the 15th minute with a superb overhead bicycle kick. Lee Nguyen had released Kevin Alston down the right side, and Alston’s cross at first appeared to be a little too high and behind the striker, who was waiting near left side of the goal. Agudelo adjusted himself just enough to try an audacious attempt, which he struck perfectly and into the back of the net.

The goal awoke both teams, and both D.C. United and the Revolution spent the next twenty five minutes furiously attacking the goal. Individual brilliance by Bobby Shuttleworth and Bill Hamid—as well as helpful play by the crossbar and post—kept it 1-0 to the Revolution, though both teams could have easily had five.

D.C. United coach Ben Olsen was quick to credit his goalkeeper for keeping his team in the game.

“I thought [goalkeeper Bill Hamid] really kept us in there early…when they were all over us,” Olsen said.

The Revolution were seconds away from going into halftime with a vital lead when Fabian Espindola was brought down just outside of the left side of the box. The ensuing free kick was met in the air by Chris Pontius and into the side of the net as Geiger called an end to a relentless first of action at 1-1.

“We have so many guys in this locker room with so much experience,” D.C. United captain Bobby Boswell said. “There aren’t a lot of situations we aren’t prepared for…we’ve been in situations this year when we’ve gone down a goal…we’ve been in these situations. Tonight was an example of using [this experience].”

“It was just like an old-fashioned New England-D.C. dogfight,” Olsen added. “But it was a great night for us. A gutsy performance for us.”

The second half began with both teams trying to slow play down and build possession from the back. Nick DeLeon’s shot in the 60th minute—which drifted just wide behind Shuttleworth—was either team’s first look at the goal after halftime.

D.C. United failed to capitalized on a golden opportunity in the 74th minute, when referee Geiger pointed to the spot after a handball by Scott Caldwell in the box. Chris Rolfe’s penalty was struck hard and low to Shuttleworth’s right, barely beating the outstretched keeper’s hand—but not the post. Rolfe watched as the ball rebounded back into play but couldn’t get a second chance before the ball was cleared.

Rolfe would find redemption ten minutes later with a side footed put away on a low cross from Fabian Espindola. Espindola found an opening down the left side of the box thanks to a clever back heel by Nick DeLeon.

“I just kept believing that I was going to get another chance,” Rolfe said. “And that I was going to score. I just cleared my head, and tried to stay optimistic.”

Controversy arose as the game wound to a close, as the ball appeared to strike D.C. United defender Sean Franklin’s arm in a manner very similar to Caldwell twenty minutes earlier. Geiger remained firm in his no-call, and Jones was ejected after appearing to shove Geiger and swat the red card he had just been shown out of the referee’s hand. Jones took a few minutes to finally leave the pitch, and the game ended shortly thereafter.

With the victory, D.C. United must now wait for tomorrow night’s all-Canadian match between the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC before they know whether their opponents will be Columbus Crew SC or New York Red Bulls for the home leg of this weekend’s conference semifinal.

Of course, Olsen and his players aren’t hoping for one team or another. At least publicly.

“I don’t care [who we play],” Olsen said. “I’ll just wait and enjoy the games, and see where we fall.”

“We beat New England,” Boswell added. “Now we have to get ready for whoever else we have to play.”


  1. Geiger: “The defender’s arm was in a natural position. Because of the short distance, there was no time to react. Case of ball to hand.”

    Sounds reasonable to me. The PK call had more distance/more reaction time, therefore don’t buy the argument that if one is a PK, then both are…too different.

    Personally, judging them separately, I don’t think either was a PK.

    • Exactly. The NE player was given less leeway because he was 10+ yards away. The contact was awkward, to say the least, but given the distance, he had time to tuck his arm behind his back or against his side. The DC player was given more leeway because he was 2 yards away and did not have an opportunity to tuck his arm away.

      IMHO, Geiger got it right the way he called it given the current Advice to Referees.

  2. Obviously Jones’s conduct is unacceptable but that was a clear penalty, particularly since a penalty was given on a less obvious handball earlier.

  3. Espindola sat out the first six games of this season for shoving the assistant referee. I would think it’s got to be at least a six game suspension. If it’s a few more, that’s probably justified. If it’s less, it’s only because of Jones’ star status and the league failure at consistency and success at inventing rules when they want to..

  4. I am all set with Geiger. First Espindola fooled Geiger into giving the set piece that resulted in D.C.’s first goal. Espindola thrust himself into Farrell and then flopped on the ground receiving a free kick. Then Geiger gave a handball against the Revs just inside the penalty box. It did not look like a handball to me, but even if it was, in my opinion, it never should have been called. The play was going nowhere, just as the play at the end of the game that Jermaine Jones got upset about was going nowhere. That said, if you are going to give a penalty on the first call, then you absolutely need to make the same call against D.C. in the closing moments of the game.

    I think Geiger started believing his own press clippings too much. The ones where he was being referred to as the best ref in the USA. This year he has been exposed with his shameful Confederations cup and his terrible run of form has continued from there.

    He become a ref that I do not want to see in any game that matters. I feel bad for any mls teams that get him in upcoming playoff games.

  5. Dempsey and Jones, leaders of our national team, players who have come to the mls following long stints in Europe, and two guys who were so appalled by American officiating they felt compelled to physically assault/attack the referee. Jones was correct in demanding that Geiger call the penalty after having awarded DC a spot kick under fairly similar cicrcunstances, and I also think that Geiger at one point down the stretch became intent on owning the match, if you will. I think that Geiger’s dramatic gesitculating, the flail of the arms and nod of the head in waving play on, was further evidence that Geiger’s call was influenced more by passion than logic and that he also considered prior verbal altercations that had taken place between him and Jones. I think he is a decent referee – but as we’ve seen with him before, you could argue this match proved to be a little over his head as the tension began to build, I felt Geiger drowning. A great referee should help the game grow into itself; Geiger hasn’t been able to demonstrate this ability consistently.

    Jones and Dempsey assaulting referees – the major accomplishments of US soccer in my recent memory. Sad state of affairs for US soccer fans, and it doesn’t look like things are turning around any time soon, even after we win these next two qualifiers. Meanwhile, Mexico teams continue to prosper and earn impressive results…

    • Firstly, that’s not a penalty. The arm was in natural position, and there was no time/distance to react to the touch of the ball. You don’t earn a PK by kicking the ball into your opponent’s arm from two yards away.

      Secondly: go sit violently on a vertically-oriented pipe wrench for condoning referee abuse.

      • There is always debate.

        The major factor is distance. The Revs player had more time and distance to react. IIRC, it was about 10-12 yards versus about two. That makes a big difference when deciding wether the handling is deliberate or not.

      • Generally: Law 12. It’s deliberate handling, not just handling that is a foul.

        Specifically: It’s in Advice to Referees produced by USSF as well as in training materials on Law 12. You can probably find them on the referee section of USSF’s website.

        Finally: it’s in the 2015/2016 LOTG published by FIFA. Look at page number 121 for the section on deliberate handling of the ball.

    • This was much worse than what Dempsey did, Dempsey was in a game with a ref who was way out of his league, no business reffing that game, this game was reffed by acording to FIFA our best ref. It was not a good call on the handball, but no excuse for attacking a ref like that.

    • Yup, It was deserved Red. But Jones was right too. Geiger handed that game to DC by not calling the exact same thing he called earlier.

      • I’m a die-hard Revs fan but Geiger isn’t the reason we lost. I do think that handball was similar to the one he called against the Revs earlier in the game but the reasons we lost were;

        1) Poor finishing
        2) Bill Hamid’s heroics

      • Not the same thing at all. The ball traveled about three times the distance on the PK call than it did on the non-call.
        Since distance between players is one of the factors a ref is asked to consider, the call isn’t unreasonable.
        Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t think either should be a penalty, but I can at least understand what was going through Geiger’s head.

      • Regarding distance: Look at stills from the video when the ball was played last. Franklin was about a yard or two away. The NE player was 10 to 12 away.

        Regarding speed: Now it’s your turn. Don’t be lazy and make a claim and then fail to back it up. That’s so disappointing. You might be right that it was moving 3x faster, but crunch the numbers and figure it out. I’m not going to, because it’s not my argument.

      • I’m sorry you want to argue with me about this thing that I don’t care about very much. I could re-watch the video and record the times, but I think I can prove my point another, lazier way.

        If not stopped, Jones’ ball might have traveled around 10 yards. I think that’s fair. He was trying to cushion the ball down and keep it close. The defender to me seemed between 1-2 yard(s) away.

        Saborio looked to be taking a quick shot from just inside the 18, it had to move fast to get past the keeper. If that ball was left to roll as far as it could, I think it would go at least half the pitch (~60 yards), and that’s being generous. The defender there seemed about 4-5 yards away to me.

        So it seems like both of the situations are about equal to me, although I still think the DC defender had his arm out in a weird position, but you’re right, he is coming to a stop from a full sprint.

      • TL;DR Version: Roughly same ball velocity, different distances, different types of plays make one a PK and the other not.

        Full version: You didn’t actually watch the video with a stopwatch in hand, did you?

        I have. The PK was off of a deflected pass – not a shot. The offending player was about 6 yards away. Prior to the pass he was standing with his arm wide in a text-book “unnatural position” that takes up space and take away passing lanes. He had time before Saborio played the ball to tuck his arms into/behind his trunk. Once played, the ball took roughly .36 seconds to get to him before contact was made. That gives you a velocity of 16.7 yards/second. The defender had time before the pass to position his arms in a natural position, and to move them into one after the pass. He did neither.

        The non-PK was about two yards away away and took somewhere between a .1 and .15 seconds to get there. An astute reader will note that the midrange here is approximately the same velocity as the PK. The range here is due to the uncertainty introduced by reaction times and stop watches timing things at the bottom of their resolution. The defender had no time to either expect the cutback nor to react to it. If you can’t even measure it accurately with a stopwatch, you can hardly expect a player to react and move his arm out of the way, can you?

      • It’s not black and white. It’s grey and a slightly darker shade of grey that’s dark enough to be called a penalty.

        The DC penalty was a close call, but it was ultimately a good call because the player’s arm was unnaturally positioned given what he was doing (waiting in the PA to defend a cross) and the expected play (a cross or shot). It’s a subtle little thing, but given ATR and the instructions on 121 of the LOTG, that contacts a foul. His handling was caused by his deliberate choice to take up space and cut down passing lanes with his arm.

        No such action occurred at the other end. The player had roughly a tenth of a second to respond after stopping from a 20 yard sprint, and the ball hit his arm. That’s not a foul.

        Yes: this is my opinion, but my opinion is informed by the hundreds of games I’ve refereed, by the hundreds I’ve watched, and by the countless hours of training and study to attain and maintain certification. This subject is ALWAYS a subject that comes up in recert classes, and always with video examples. As I said, these two examples would be an excellent case study in this subject.

      • BTW: I don’t view it as argument. I view it as educational outreach. If I can convert one person a month from calling that foul “handball” to “deliberate handling”, I’ve done my missionary job. It’s a quixotic and small mission, but it’s the one I’ve chosen.

        These two plays are an excellent case study.

      • Put your cross/torch down. This is a debatable issue, if you think you have some kind of divinity of sight which needs proselytizing, with your kind of abrasive attitude, well, you won’t get your desired outcome.

      • It was a joke. If you were a ref, you’d have seen it for that. I can’t guarantee you’d have found it funny, but I think most refs would have.

        The crux is that referees are (still) always having to fight against the notion that any time the ball touches the hand/arm, it’s a foul. It’s not. It has to be deliberate handling, and there’s criteria to determine if it is deliberate or not. Knowledge of the LOTG and of that criteria does in fact give me what you called, “divinity of sight.” If you refuse to see when I give you that knowledge, it is your loss.

        Again: a compare and contrast of these two plays would make an excellent training tool, because they are similar looking, but were correctly called differently.

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