Toronto FC perplexed by changed decision leading to Nick Hagglund red in loss to DC United

TORONTO – Toronto FC lost 2-1 to D.C. United on Saturday at BMO Field, but it was a moment of drama in the last 10 minutes that left the players and coaches buzzing after the fact.

On a counter-attack breakaway, TFC defender Nick Hagglund dragged down D.C. United forward Eddie Johnson from behind. Hagglund, being the last defender, picked up a yellow card for the challenge – initially.

However, as D.C. began setting up for the free kick, referee David Gantar decided, after the D.C. coaching staff protested and a discussion with his assistant referees and through his headset, the the call was deemed worthy of a red card and the decision was changed after a three-minute delay.

TFC head coach Ryan Nelsen wondered why the yellow card precedent wasn’t set earlier in the match on similar plays.

“What frustrated me was how many times in the game we broke away and they pulled us down, knocked us down and we continued, played on and nothing happened,” Nelsen said after the match. “If you don’t pull out your yellow card early for disrupting play or go back to it after playing on – because the referee did a very good job [playing advantage] – you have to come back and give yellows.”

Nelsen pointed out one such play when Jermain Defoe was pulled by a defender but stayed up and the referee let the advantage go. Ultimately, the move fizzled out but Nelsen explained that plays like that should be given yellow cards after the fact.

As for the situation with the red card, Nelsen was unhappy with Johnson’s role in the foul.

“Unfortunately, when it came to our [foul], the player, I think obviously, he sold a big dummy and did a big dive and then it’s just in the hands of the referee,” Nelsen said. “I suppose he was the last man, so the correct decision was the red. But if you look at it, there should have been a big pool of water under him when he did the big dive.”

While Nelsen acknowledged that the challenge was worthy of a red card, captain Steven Caldwell thinks changing decisions already made through a conference and headset might just set a dangerous precedent.

“Maybe I’m old fashioned, but I’ve never seen a referee make a decision and change a decision like that,” Caldwell told “The call was a yellow card, and I’ve never known anything like it. We should start changing penalty decisions and reassess everything from above in the stand and tell the referee everything in his ear. Essentially there is no point in having a referee out there as we’d be better off with three or four guys out there with ear pieces and microphones doing the job.”

The yellow card switch to red was something neither Defoe nor Michael Bradley had experienced before, either.

“There’s a lot of things I’ve seen, that I’ve never seen before,” Defoe said. “Obviously I don’t want to criticize the referees because I’ve never been a referee but you see things and you just wonder. I feel sorry for Nick, a young lad that’s come into the team and done so well and then you get sent off. It was strange to see that.”

Added Bradley: “Nothing surprises me anymore.”

So, with that, Hagglund will be unavailable for selection as Toronto FC host the Houston Dynamo next Saturday as they look to return to winning ways after seeing their six-game unbeaten streak come to an end. 

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