LOS ANGELES – LAFC midfielder Eduard Atuesta was confused. It was just after the hour mark during Tuesday night’s Western Conference Final, and he felt he’d just been fouled by Seattle Sounders' striker Raul Ruidiaz. But he was whistled for what was deemed an illegal use of his own body against Cristian Roldan.
It wasn’t just Atuesta, as several teammates threw their hands up in frustration as the boos reigned down from the sold-out crowd at Banc of California Stadium, as they often did in the 3-1 defeat for LAFC.
But one group who wasn’t frustrated or confused was the Sounders. That’s because Nicolas Lodeiro and Raul Ruidiaz combined for Seattle’s third goal in the 64th minute, which proved to be the dagger on a physical, contested night.
“The third goal kind of hurt us a lot,” said LAFC midfielder Lee Nguyen. “If we hadn’t given up that third goal, we were giving pressure and we were going to get that tying goal and then we were [going to be] on that front foot. But that third one kind of deflated us and it’s tough to come back after that.”
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There were several controversial non-calls in the game – mainly surrounding several tentative handballs in Seattle’s area – but manager Bob Bradley said afterward that he’s not sure what, if anything, can be blamed on Video Review.
“It’s so hard to know when they go to the [Video Review],” he said. “I assume that the VAR is saying something, but it’s just not an easy conversation because sometimes we’re just not clear what they’re doing and when they talk.”
When pressed by journalists about the non-calls, the coach doubled down on his commitment not to blame the referees.
“I see all the things that people in the stands see and everything else,” Bradley said. “This is our game. I’m not getting into a long discussion, but the handball law is hard to figure out to begin with, then when you throw in VAR and when you use it and when you don’t, it’s not something that ... [should be] the topic tonight.”
His captain, Carlos Vela, agreed. The Mexican superstar even added that head referee Jair Marrufo’s hesitancy to break up the game with his whistle was par for the course in soccer.
“I think it’s nothing crazy,” Vela said. “It’s football. They play in that way, it worked for them. It’s nothing about that, they scored three goals. They get the chances better than that and they win. I’m not worried about the referee or they play hard. It’s football, nothing wrong with that.”
“If we play this game 10 times, we probably win 9 out of 10,” Kaye said. “But playoffs are just different."