Controversial penalty derails promising start for struggling Sounders

FOXBOROUGH, Mass.—Winless on the road this season, the Seattle Sounders found themselves in the enviable position of having a lead in their host’s house when Aaron Kovar slotted home his first MLS goal in the 7th minute against the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium.

Less than twenty minutes later those good vibes disappeared as quickly as they had arrived, when the Sounders conceded a penalty and an equalizer in an eventual 2-1 loss to the Revs. Making matters worse for the struggling club, was that the penalty concession appeared to be through no fault of their own as Erik Friberg was called for a handball in the box. Replays, it appeared to Seattle, showed a different side to the story.

“It’s a really close distance and I think Erik actually tries to move his hand in, the opposite of what you would say would happen in a PK,” said Seattle goalkeeper Stefan Frei. “At this point, the ball hits him straight in the chest. But it’s excuses maybe. Because [the ref] called it and we have to live with it.”

To Seattle coach Sigi Schmid, it was the turning point of the match after what had been a bright start, regardless of whether or not the call was correct.

“You’re finally on top on the road, we knew New England gave up a lot goals at the beginning of the game, so we tried to put pressure on them early on and that was successful for us,” Schmid said. “Then you get done in by a call that you don’t think is a PK. It’s certainly psychologically brings you down a little bit.”

After Lee Nguyen converted from the spot, Seattle never recovered. The dynamic of the game shifted, with the Revolution firmly in control.

“I haven’t seen the replay of the call, just heard it was a harsh call,” Schmid said. “Obviously calls like that change games, so there was definitely an impact on that.”

In the end, felled by a late goal from New England rookie Femi Hollinger-Janzen, Seattle was left only to wonder what might have been the case if video replay review was part of the game.

“I was told by the fourth official that they’re not even allowed to look at it at halftime, which is amazing to me because it seems like you would want to look at it and know if you made a mistake or didn’t make a mistake,” Schmid said. “But, apparently that’s the way it’s being done right now. I think penalty kicks and red cards, there’s always a stoppage in play, it takes time … that needs to happen in our sport. Too often games are decided by bad calls.”