Illegal substitute in DC: Russell Canouse wasn't on team sheet, referee forces him to exit game

DC vs ATL - Oct 2020 - ref conference

Well, we’ve never seen that one before in MLS.

Trailing 2-0 at halftime of their Week 15 home game against Atlanta United, D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen brought on Julian Gressel and Russell Canouse as substitutes in an attempt to change the match’s complexion.

Except, in one of the strangest sequences of the 2020 season, Canouse wasn’t on the official team sheet, making it an illegal substitution. So after playing a few minutes Canouse was eventually replaced by Kevin Paredes, but not until 10 minutes of sideline discussion involving the referees, the benches and communication with the league office and the Professional Referee Organization.

WATCH: Russell Canouse forced to leave the match

At one point head referee Joseph Dickerson, the fourth official and game officials were seen scrolling on an iPhone, checking the matchday roster to confirm Canouse’s availability.

After he was removed from the match, Canouse was also technically not allowed to return to the bench, and was instead was sent to the locker room in the 56th minute. But he indeed had played several minutes after entering for Moses Nyeman, and Olsen said after the 4-0 defeat he wouldn't have made the sub had he known what would ensue. Olsen also didn't want to place blame on any individual for the ordeal.

"I'm not going to go into who's at fault," Olsen said afterwards. "I don't what that does for anyone, but I was informed that he was not on the roster and that we had to remove him from the game. Obviously, I wouldn't have taken Moses out if that was the case and then we kind of had to adapt and put Julian [Gressel] in there, and that's what happened.

"I was confused as well," Olsen continued. "All I can tell you is that I was informed that he wasn't on the gameday roster, and that was a surprise to me and that I needed to take him off. They were working with the league to figure out whether that sub counted or what to do. I don't think they had that scenario that refereeing crew, officiating crew and they were trying to figure out what happens. Again, as far does he come off? Does it count as a sub? Does it not count as a sub? Et cetera."

To get a full grasp of the bizarre sequence, watch the entirety of the video clip above. D.C. United finished with 10 men and Olsen admitted the Black-and-Red are in a "fragile" state.

“I don’t want to focus too much on what happened with that,” Atlanta head coach Stephen Glass said postgame. “I think they fielded an ineligible player, but it is what it is. And to be honest, I’d rather just move on. I think in the heat of the moment you push for your team and I was thinking Wednesday night and all that stuff coming up. I think it was better for the players to play. I think everybody wants to play. I’d rather just focus on the team performance.”

Here's the official statement from MLS on the events at Audi Field: 

At half time during the match between D.C. United and Atlanta United on Saturday, Oct. 3, D.C. United made a substitution; however, the player who entered the game was not listed on the official match roster. After two minutes and 16 seconds, the match officials recognized the error. The player was immediately removed from the field and replaced by a substitute who was listed on the official match roster. The change which D.C. made at half time still counted against their allocation of substitutes and substitution opportunities.

MLS will further investigate this situation following the conclusion of the match.