Refereeing has become a hot topic in MLS in the last few weeks, and the controversy continued Saturday at the end of the Colorado Rapids' match against Chivas USA in Denver. However, when all was said and done, it was apparent that referee Ricardo Valenzuela exemplified the idea that the spirit of sportsmanship and fair play should be find its highest embodiment on the soccer field.
Played on Hispanic Heritage Night at Invesco Field at Mile High, the game was a passionate affair with 35 fouls evenly distributed between the teams. Valenzuela also dealt out six yellow cards (five to Colorado) as well as sending off Rapids defender Hunter Freeman for a late, hard tackle on Francisco Mendoza.
The most controversial decision, however, came in stoppage time. After goalie Joe Cannon had thrown the ball out of bounds to allow Rapids defender Nat Borchers to be treated for an injury, Mendoza had appeared to throw the ball back in for Cannon in the traditional gesture of sportsmanship.
However, Cannon seemed to wait -- hesitating maybe as the ball approached the edge of the area -- and Chivas forward Isaac Romo streaked in, kicked the ball away from Cannon, and shot the ball into the net, appearing to have scored the tying goal for Chivas USA. Valenzuela, however, called the ball back and awarded a free kick to Colorado.
"Give credit to the referee for keeping the game under control," said Cannon. "In soccer, teams walk off the field when other teams do that. You have to give credit to the referee because it could have gotten out of control."
Although the courtesy restart is not an official part of the FIFA Laws of the Game, it is a commonly accepted custom in the soccer world and adherence to it is regarded as true sportsmanship. In an extreme example of this in England's Carling Cup in 2004, Yeovil Town FC allowed Plymouth FC to score unopposed after Yeovil inadvertently scored off of a courtesy injury restart.
Although Valenzuela might not have had full justification from the laws to call the goal back, his actions were certainly justified by the unwritten rules of sportsmanship and fair play.
"[Valenzuela] blew his whistle, and I think everyone on the field understood," said Cannon. "I mean you want to win, but there is a limit to what you should do."
Geoffrey Urland is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.