MEXICO CITY – It wouldn’t be a CONCACAF Champions League match without a controversial refereeing decision, and Wednesday night’s final first leg certainly delivered in that category.
The play most in question in the Montreal Impact and Club América’s 1-1 draw at Estadio Azteca came just before halftime, when Montreal's Dominic Oduro ran on to an Ignacio Piatti through ball that put him in alone on goal. With América already down 1-0 and only goalkeeper Moisés Muñoz for Oduro to beat, América's Osvaldo Martinez cynically pulled the Ghanaian striker down just outside the 18-yard box.
That it was a red card for denial of a goalscoring opportunity didn’t seem to be in question. Whether Honduran referee Hector Rodriguez would call it as such was no sure thing. With the two-leg aggregate hanging in the balance, the near-capacity crowd held their collective breath.
They needn’t have. This is CONCACAF, where shoes are better thrown than worn, substituted players sometimes have to fight their way off the pitch, and red and yellow often seem settled upon without rhyme or reason.
“I’m just going to be very political about this,” Oduro told reporters after the match. “If you’re the last defender and you foul a guy going to goal, obviously it’s a red card.”
Of course, Rodriguez opted for yellow, drawing the ire of Impact head coach Frank Klopas, who lamented the fact that once again the game revolved around referee decisions instead of the players on the field.
“I don’t know how it’s a yellow card when you have a player going one-on-one with the goalie and get taken from behind,” he said. “I just want the refs to call a fair game, for the game to be decided on the field by the players. That’s all I ask for, that’s all we ask for.”
Montreal also felt aggrieved by a late yellow card to goalkeeper Evan Bush that will see the goalkeeper miss the second leg should the team’s appeal be denied. They’re likely to be even more riled up after hearing Martinez’s account of the red card that ultimately wasn’t.
"I had to do that because we knew 2-0 would have been more complicated,” Martinez told reporters. “It was just a fast play, and the referee’s decision was good for me."
The fact that the man who subbed on for the Paraguayan midfielder at halftime – Mexican striker Oribe Peralta – scored the game-tying goal in the 89th minute added salt to the wound and fueled the controversy even more.
Although there was no public explanation from Rodriguez, he did pass his side of the decision on via Impact goalscorer Piatti.
“The referee said [Oduro] didn't have complete control of the ball,” the Argentine DP said, “so that's why he didn't show him red.”
- More from Montreal's historic draw at ImpactMontreal.com
Upon further review, that viewpoint of the play seems plausible, though the Impact would argue Oduro could have easily beaten Muñoz to what was a long first touch had his jersey not been yanked back by Martinez.
In the end, red or yellow, 11 men or 10, 1-0 or 1-1 is simply an exercise in revisionist history.
What’s indisputable is that the Impact got their result, one few gave them a chance of capturing at Estadio Azteca. Now they’ve got a week to make sure it doesn’t go to waste in front of more than 59,000 fans at Stade Olympique on April 29.
“As you know, as I know, as everyone knows in Major League Soccer, when you play in CONCACAF, one thing that doesn’t change is the officiating isn’t going to go your way,” Bakary Soumare said. “So you just don’t worry about that part. You just worry about things you can control.
“We can talk about the red card all we want. It’s not going to change anything. I’m disappointed with the result, but if you told me before the game that we would come and tie 1-1, I would have signed right away.”