HOUSTON – With one wave of his arms, Ricardo Salazar may have completely changed the course of the Eastern Conference Championship.
The Houston Dynamo held court at BBVA Compass Stadium with a 3-1 win via a trio of unanswered second-half goals, but the dominant story on the D.C. United side was a controversial no call at the end of the first half following a clash between Andre Hainault and Raphael Augusto.
The play began when Boniek Garcia poked the ball away from Augusto in the midfield, looping the ball in behind and turning it into an unintentional pass for the Brazilian to pursue. Augusto beat Houston’s defense to the ball and appeared to be in on goal, but Hainault arrived to put in a challenge that Salazar deemed fair, waving play on.
Replays showed that Hainault grabbed Augusto’s arm as he went down, dragging the midfielder to the ground while also scissoring the Brazilian with both legs from behind. In an interview with MLSsoccer.com after the match, Peter Walton, general manager of the Professional Referees Organization, said he thought the play was a foul in real time, but also admitted that Salazar probably didn't have the best view to make the call.
It’s safe to say D.C. head coach Ben Olsen agreed with that assessment, although it won’t do United any good now.
“What do you want me to say? What can I say about it?” Olsen said. “Everybody in the stadium, everybody on our bench, everybody on their bench, everybody at home saw that it’s a red card. It’s a takedown. It’s a red card. I don’t know what to say about it. It’s very, very frustrating.”
WATCH: No call on Hainault challenge
Even more frustrating for United, Hainault scored the game-tying goal in the 51st minute, popping up at the back post to complete a play his opponents thought he shouldn’t have been on the field to finish.
Speaking with Augusto – who made his MLS debut on the day – via a translator after the match, the substitute said Hainault “scissored” him down from behind and didn’t touch the ball. Asked if he thought the play should have resulted in a red card, he quickly responded in in the affirmative in Portuguese: "Claro."
United assistant coach Pat Onstad seemed to agree, as he was sent off for an animated discussion with Salazar after the first half whistle.
For his part, Walton said he thought the play deserved a yellow card, describing the foul as “tactical” and emphasizing that he believed there were Dynamo defenders close enough to prevent the play from being labeled a clear goal-scoring opportunity.
Hainault also addressed the play within a jubilant Dynamo locker room after the game, admitting he hadn’t seen the replay but emphasizing that there was no intent to foul.
“I tried to go shoulder to shoulder. I haven’t seen the replay. I don’t how bad it looks,” Hainault said. “That’s soccer. That’s not my game, trying to take guys down or whatever. Yeah, I’m aggressive, but those plays happen. Fortunately, the call went in our favor.”
Of course, in hindsight, there’s no consolation to be had for D.C.
They’re now down 3-1 with a season-defining trip to RFK Stadium on the horizon and injuries scattered throughout the squad. Once again, United find themselves in the position they’ve rallied behind all postseason long: underdog.
“[Augusto] makes the play that should change the course of the entire series,” Olsen said. “But it didn’t. The call maybe was a little big to get here away, but nonetheless I’m disappointed for the guys. They put what they had out there.”