Houston Dynamo head coach Wilmer Cabrera issued strong criticism of referee Nima Saghafi’s handling of the decisive play in his team’s 1-0 home loss to the Seattle Sounders in Week 21, lamenting what he termed a lack of “respect” on the part of officiating crews.
Seattle's Jordan Morris scored the game’s only goal on a quirky play that began with a miscued headed clearance by Aljaz Struna and it unfolded when Morris tangled with Houston defender AJ DeLaGarza, a collision that both Cabrera and DeLaGarza considered an obvious foul.
“We dominated the game, but I think the referee made a mistake on that goal because that’s a foul,” said the Dynamo boss in an outspoken postgame press conference. “All over the world that’s a foul [on] AJ DeLaGarza. But he [referee] didn’t call it. We didn’t receive the respect in that moment.
“Why? Because Seattle Sounders is here and Houston Dynamo is here. I understand that. But that’s a foul here, at the moon, Africa, South America, Europe. If we play in Seattle, that’s a foul if it’s [on] Seattle.”
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“I don’t know how that’s not a foul [Jordan Morris contact with Houston's A.J. De LarGarza]. I told the ref that’s a foul anywhere else on the field,” DeLaGarza said. “He says ‘I don’t know.’ And I said it is. It’s simple. I think it’s a foul in any league, any place. I jump up and get undercut and go flipping. Clearly, I didn’t just jump over a guy standing straight up. He bent down and I tumbled over the top of him. I don’t know how you don’t call that. I asked him and he [referee] has no answer.”
Morris was also asked about the controversial play following the game, offering a differing viewpoint.
“Ball came in and got flicked in the air and I kind of backed into AJ a little bit. And he jumped and kind of came over me, I thought,” Morris said. “Then the ball landed in front of me and he was on the ground so I felt I had to lift it over him a little bit. Then I saw the goalkeeper coming out and was fortunately able to poke it by him.”
Cabrera also fumed at an 83rd-minute yellow card awarded to Ronaldo Pena that he considered frivolous, harking back to the two yellow cards star striker Alberth Elis received in the early stages of last week’s 5-0 loss at Atlanta United, leading to an ejection and suspension that also sidelined the Honduran for the Seattle match.
“We don’t receive respect. Look what happened with Alberth Elis,” said Cabrera. “He got punished. Yes, he should be red-carded? Yes. Because he was immature and he cannot kick the ball away. But the referee took that and went after Albert Elis. That’s to create provocation. And today that was a foul. That was a foul.
“AJ DeLaGarza almost got injured. All over the world that’s a normal regular foul against the defender, but not for us. And the yellow card against Ronaldo Pena? Are you kidding me? It’s a joke. Why? I don’t know if we have to maybe tell [our] owner to put more money and we have to bring [Lionel] Messi or we have to bring Cristiano Ronaldo in order for us to be more attractive. But we try to play. We try to play.”
Noting that La Naranja bested the Sounders in most statistical categories, Cabrera admitted that his side lacked cutting edge up front with Elis suspended and Romell Quioto ruled out due to illness, but still believed their performance was good enough to earn a point. Houston have slumped to a 2-7 record since the Gold Cup break, slipping to ninth place in the MLS Western Conference standings.
“We played well. Today the Houston Dynamo dominated Seattle Sounders and moved the ball but we lacked the situation up front that we have normally – to create options and shots,” Cabrera said. “We weren’t that dangerous. But we shouldn’t lose today. We shouldn’t.
“I went to the locker room and I told the players in a normal circumstance and in a normal, regular game, this game finishes 0-0. But not only we got punished, but we have to understand that we cannot even make one situation, one mistake because we’re getting punished with that. Now we need to focus on no mistakes. Zero mistakes. Zero opportunities for the forwards or for the opponents to take advantage of the situation. We cannot make one mistake.”