In any organized sporting contest between individuals or teams, there are many rules governing the game. But universally there is one fundamental, primary, and first law: the one officiating the rules should never interfere to alter the course of the game.
In the match vs. Salt Lake City at Rio Tinto Stadium on July 4, 2015, that law was broken. In the dying moments of the first half, head referee Sorin Stoica (a man who is so sadly inept he cannot possibly live up to his name), showed our beloved captain, Kaka, a straight red and sent him off the pitch and sent Orlando City a man down.
Last night I was seething, and from my perch and my twitter stream, I know I'm not the only one. Every blogger and every passionate Orlando City fan I know was just as incensed as I was about the unjustified sending off of Kaka. But today I am no longer seething. I am not sad. I am simply determined to see justice carried out. Sorin Stoica must be exposed as a fraudulent fop incapable of refereeing a peewee soccer match and should be thrown out of MLS in favor of someone more competent. For as many fans pointed out, the future chances for MLS to grow into an elite league in the world of soccer depend not only upon attracting world-class talent into the ranks of the player base, but also attracting world-class talent to the ranks of its officiating crews.
The match was tied at 1 - 1 when Stoica sent Kaka off. The play happened just in the corner of the RSL box when the crafty Javier Morales interposed himself between Kaka and the ball, leaning into the Orlando City captain to cause obvious and dramatic contact before crumpling to the turf from an apparent hard foul. The fall appeared to throw Kaka off balance as well (a telling detail, since an aggressive push from the Orlando City man would not have resulted thus). In the aftermath, as Kaka attempted to catch his balance, he appeared to step first on the ball, and then his foot appeared to slide off the ball either onto the ground between Morales' legs or onto the RSL player's leg itself.
Stoica reacted decisively at first, running toward the scene of contact and reaching toward his pocket. Meanwhile, Kaka, disgusted with the thespian dramatics of his opponent, merely walked away, preparing for the free kick that he knew was about to be awarded to the home side. Stoica blew his whistle a couple of times, probably intending to get Kaka's attention so he could show him yellow. But when the superstar player ignored him, Stoica's emotions overcame him. He felt slighted and ignored by Kaka, and in a show of defiance-- clear sign of a personality flaw dominated by a Napoleon Complex driven by a need to control to compensate for a lack of self-confidence--Stoica instead pulled a red card from his pocket and sent Kaka off the pitch.
I think even the home side crowd were a bit stunned at that. If Kaka did indeed step on another player, then it probably did warrant a yellow card--even if it were accidental. That much I can't argue--it's a matter of player safety, and when someone makes an honest mistake or takes an action that can seriously injure another competitor, the yellow must be shown. But red cards are reserved for intentional, malicious fouls committed in certain situations. Intent to injure another opponent is one. Intent to stop a clear goal scoring opportunity is another. Intent to show up an official (as when Clint Dempsey recently tore up the referee's notebook in a US Open Cup match) is yet a third. But the foul committed by Kaka (if indeed there even was one) did not approach any of those qualifications.
As if this act of injustice were not enough to clearly demonstrate the incompetence of referee Sorin Stoica, a statistic was quoted by the TV broadcast crew just moments after the sending off occurred. They indicated that over the last 36 matches Sorin Stoica has officiated, he has issued 18 red cards. This clearly indicates an official who is vastly out of step with his cohort of other officials. It shows he does not have the same understanding or comprehension of the rules as other MLS officials. If every official called matches with the same fervor, then players would adjust so that they would not be in danger of flirting with a sendoff every other match.
As the match continued, other voices in the twitterverse began quoting RSL fans and supporters as saying that Referee Stoica had marred matches in which they had played with unjustified sendoffs of their players, and they felt like it was about time he decided to turn his vengeful wrath on someone else for a change. I can certainly see how they might feel that way, but it's clear to me that at least some of those sendoffs of RSL players were probably as unjustified as his sendoff of Kaka last night. So something has to be done. Sorin Stoica cannot be permitted to remain an MLS match day official. If MLS wants to keep him employed, they can give him a mop and a bucket and make him clean the bathrooms at their corporate headquarters. But that's about all he's fit to officiate.
Heroes of the Night
Even with the unjustified sendoff of Kaka, Orlando City still managed to get a result. Down a man, they were unable to control possession in the match as we are accustomed to seeing them do. As I've said in recent weeks, I'm increasingly suspicious of possession as a valid statistic to tell you anything about match results. But to give RSL credit, they did outshoot Orlando City (23 to 9), they won more duels (53 to 44) and tackles (19 to 12), and had more clearances (24 to 20).
However, there were some heroics that kept RSL from scoring with the man advantage and taking all the points up for grabs. The first and most notable was the unanimous fans' choice for Man of the Match, Tally Hall. The Orlando City keeper. He had six saves on the night, preserving the draw and helping us secure the point. Another statistic was blocked shots: Orlando City blocked 9 of RSL's shots on the night (most of those in the second half) while RSL managed to block only 3 of Orlando City's shots.
Everyone on the pitch for Orlando City had a hand in preserving the precious point. The defensive line of Rafael Ramos, Seb Hines, Sean St. Ledger, and "Use the Force" Luke Boden all had hands in blocking RSL shots or swarming to the ball when it came into the danger area and tackling it away from opponents before they had a chance to shoot. Further up the field, players like attacker Pedro Ribeiro and speedy midfielder Carlos Rivas launched occasional counter-attacks that forced RSL to race back to their own end and desperately defend their own goal. Those efforts did pay off, with Orlando City winning another key statistic, leading the corner kick tally (9 to 5) over the man-advantage home side.
I must also mention the efforts of Lewis Neal, Eric Avila, and Cristian Higuita, who all contributed to the result with physical play, tactical positioning, and strategic fouls that disrupted the flow of RSL's attack and frustrated their efforts to capitalize on the man advantage in the second half.
And finally, of course, we have to recognize the glorious captain, Kaka, whose efforts in the fifth minute resulted in Orlando City's goal. We struck first, making RSL chase us for the tying goal over the next 23 minutes. Without his early efforts, the night would have been disappointing in addition to being very frustrating and unjustified.
Results and Standings
With the point, Orlando City has moved into a tie for 2nd place in the East, tied on 24 points with Columbus Crew and New England Revolution. All of the east teams have completed their matches for the weekend, so the result will hold until the teams resume play later this week. Also it means that Orlando City is only 4 points out of first place in the East behind leaders DC United.
Take heart, Orlando City fans--this squad is really starting to show its quality. At the beginning of the season it was hard to say what kind of club we had with so many new faces and untested young players. But now we have seen that even with the biggest star unjustly sidelined and several veteran stars out with injury, we have the depth to compete and preserve a result when we have less than a full 11-man side on the pitch.