Caleb Porter - Columbus Crew SC - August 24, 2020

The appeals to head referee Nima Saghafi began early and often in the Week 6 Eastern Conference match between first-place Columbus Crew SC and last-place NYCFC.

The Crew SC field players and bench wanted to see an early yellow card shown to NYCFC after six fouls committed in the opening 15 minutes, including three targeting influential central midfielder Darlington Nagbe.

The first yellow card was shown to NYCFC’s Heber in the 22nd minute for what Saghafi indicated was persistent infringement. The foul count at the end of the match was 19-9 with an additional caution card shown to NYCFC’s Jesus Medina in minute 67. It was the second most fouls the Crew have suffered this season after the 20 at the hands of Atlanta United in a 1-0 win at the MLS is Back Tournament.

But Crew SC captain Jonathan Mensah wasn’t satisfied after his team suffered its first loss of the year, 1-0, following a costly defensive error which gifted NYCFC a goal near the hour mark.

“I think there’s a lot of questions to be asked about the officiating today because we all saw from the start of the game they started tackling Darlington [Nagbe] and Pedro [Santos], which is two of our best players,” Mensah said postgame. “I spoke to the referee and whenever I went over to talk to him he told me ‘Let me do my job.’ And I’m like ‘Do it well, then.’ But he kept pushing me off. At the end of the day, we all saw the game and they should’ve gotten a couple of yellow cards … Sometimes we just have to forget about the referees and play our game. Sometimes they’re going to be like that and we need to play through that.

“I think the [Crew SC] game plan was to soften their pressure, which we did. But sometimes as we played through the pressure they kind of fouled us,” Mensah continued. “If we got a couple of yellow cards in there, we would’ve played it the way it came to us. But the referee kind of let it go. I can mention a couple of names that should’ve had the yellow cards because they tackled continuously, like three times and the referee didn’t say anything.”

As Mensah intimated, the physical nature of the game wasn’t entirely unexpected.

“When you’re playing a wounded animal like [NYCFC] were, you know they’re going to fight,” head coach Caleb Porter said. “And you could see clearly the first 12-15 minutes what the plan was—be very physical, chop the game. They did a good job of breaking our rhythm.

“You just have to play quicker and you have to play through it,” Porter continued. ”They were coming very hard on the first pass. Lot of body contact. I was definitely unhappy with the way it was being managed, but you can’t control that.”

Columbus Crew SC wanted referee to crack down on NYCFC fouls during 1-0 loss -

Referee Nima Saghafi shows the second yellow card of the match to NYCFC's Jesus Medina | Vincent Carchietta, USA Today Sports

Crew SC did not pin the loss on the foul differential or the officials after rotating the starting squad with a schedule of six matches in 21 days. They were also missing big-money playmaker Lucas Zelarayan, not to mention the lone goal was self-inflicted via an errant back pass.

And while stating that Saghafi “could’ve done a little bit of a better job in the first half,” Crew left back Hector Jimenez acknowledged that Crew SC will need to learn to do better against teams that come at them with a physical game plan.

“They came out and they were physical knowing we hadn’t lost a game yet. We hadn’t really conceded a goal off the run of play,” Jimenez said. “[NYCFC] was a team that needed to win. Again, those games happen in the East where it’s just physical. I don’t know if we play them again, but hopefully next time around, even with similar teams, we can match the physical aspect of it and get a better result at the end. I still think today even though we weren’t as sharp offensively, at least we deserve a point.”

“Individually, I think we need to be up for the battle because it’s a fight,” Mensah said. “if you play in these kind of games you need to be physical. I think in that aspect we need to raise our physicality and match their intensity as well.”