Every time the match notes arrive in the email inbox the day before a match, the first scan is never for the proposed starting elevens. The referee assignment is always the first item examined. So, when the match notes for last night's game at Children's Mercy Park arrived on Saturday with the name Baldomero Toledo listed as the referee in charge for Toronto FC's lone visit this season to Kansas an eyebrow raised and the first thought was that this could get interesting.
The frightening thing for Major League Soccer and its fans is that the likes of Toledo and Mark Geiger are considered among the top referees that the league has to offer. Both men had a combined four major decisions to make in the games that they were in charge of this weekend. All four decisions played into the results of each match and all four decisions were badly botched.
Here is the Cole's notes look at Geiger's work at Century Link Field on Saturday night for those who didn't catch the Whitecaps 2-1 win over Seattle.
Caps midfielder Christian Bolanos appeared to be sent to the deck inside the box by Sounders defender Joevin Jones. The replay revealed that Jones never touched Bolanos, but that didn't stop Geiger from spotting the phantom foul and sending Pedro Morales to the spot. He made no mistake with the penalty, putting Vancouver up 1-0 early.
When defender Chad Marshall slid across and cut down Vancouver forward Blas Perez in the box with just over a quarter of an hour left, Geiger struck again with another dubious penalty call. Morales stepped to the spot again and effectively killed off the game with his second goal of the night.
The problem with the call is that Marshall played the ball cleanly before Perez clattered over him. PRO tried to claim that Geiger got it right because a defender can't go through a player to win a ball. The truth is that plays like that happen routinely in top leagues around the world and penalties are only called if the defender fails to win the ball.
Toledo missing Brad Davis' foul on Justin Morrow, which allowed Davis to waltz in and beat TFC keeper Clint Irwin for the winning goal was inexcusable. The red card he later issued to Sporting midfielder Roger Espinoza for a late challenge on Marky Delgado was far too harsh. Espinoza deserved a yellow card at the very most.
The Espinoza sending off should have worked to Toronto's advantage, but it really provided the catalyst for Sporting KC to park the bus in the final minutes of the game.
Let's be clear, the referees in Europe aren't perfect. Anyone who spends Saturday mornings with the Premier League knows that referees make mistakes. The difference is that serious errors from the officials in leagues like the BPL on any given weekend are few and far between.
The referees in Major League Soccer are so epidemically amateur that the on field product is suffering and results are being compromised. If MLS wants to turn its vision of being a top league into a reality, the officiating has to be addressed because it simply isn't good enough.
Moving past the distasteful performance from the officials, Toronto FC put forward its most complete 90 minute performance of this young season.
Greg Vanney and GM Tim Bezbatchenko have long preached about the process of building Toronto FC into a powerhouse. Last night was another step in that process and despite the loss; the signs of progress are unmistakeable.
The depth of the TFC backline was tested with Justin Williams having to step into the starting eleven to replace the ailing Drew Moor. The backline performed well when called upon, which wasn't often. The midfielders did a nice job of bottling up the KC attack and making it difficult for Sporting to get comfortable in the offensive third.
The reds spent far less time absorbing waves of pressure in Kansas City than they did in either game in New York. TFC showed more of a willingness to try to get forward over the course of the entire 90 minutes, rather than sitting back early in the game and waiting for the opportunity to pounce on the counterattack.
Despite a more offensive minded approach against Kansas City, chances were still lacking prior to going down a goal. Outside of Endoh having a glorious opportunity knocked onto the crossbar by SKC goalkeeper Tim Melia and Sebastian Giovinco dancing a cha-cha through the Sporting defense and chipping a shot just over the bar, Toronto created very few solid chances over the first sixty five minutes of the match.
Once Toronto FC fell behind by a goal and went up a man, the natural order was to substitute in attacking players to push for the equalizer. Greg Vanney followed that script by inserting Altidore for Cheyrou and Chapman for Williams, along with Babouli making his debut in place of Endoh. The problem for Toronto was that with so many players pushing forward and Sporting having everyone back, the Kansas City box became so cluttered and chaotic that nothing productive was going to come of it.
TFC needed to push harder for the go-ahead goal early rather than sitting back and playing for the draw and being forced to chase a late goal against a team that was happy to park the bus once they had jumped into the lead.
As the process of building this team moves on to Colorado in two weeks, Toronto FC will want to take a more proactive approach in looking to jump on the Rapids with an early goal, but at the same time not sacrificing the defensive side of the game that seems to be more and more solid with each passing game.
What should give TFC fans a great deal of hope is the fact that the team performance, regardless of the result last night, seems to be trending in the right direction. If the progress continues, there is no reason why this team can't be a contender in the East this season.