Robbie Keane’s Red Card, José Alfredo Peñaloza Soto, and CCL Refereeing

This probably isn’t the first time you’ve heard of a controversy with CONCACAF referees and, undoubtedly, it won’t be the last.  In the past week there has been a big fuss about referees in MLS.  Mark Geiger seemingly threw a game between Philadelphia and D.C. United out of whack by himself.  Jasen Anno pretended no one has ears or eyes and tried to take back a penalty he called in Portland’s visit to the New York Red Bulls.  Neither of those botched referee calls can compare to the performance of José Alfredo Peñaloza Soto on Thursday night in Los Angeles.

“Hold on guys, hold on, hold on.. I totally got this!” says a clearly confused Peñaloza during Thursday night’s CCL match.

Because the Champions League is a CONCACAF competition, the referees are provided by all (or most) member nation federations.  Peñaloza became a referee in Mexico’s Primera Division in 2007 but has not demonstrated an improved control of games since that time.  

Players and coaches and spectators look for a few things in a good referee.  First is fairness, followed by consistency, and then maybe modesty.  You could make an argument that Peñaloza displayed none of those traits in his controversial performance.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about by now, have a look at the following incident.

Robbie Keane audaciously tries to run between two Metapan defenders and is clipped in the process.  Instead of awarding the free kick, Peñaloza penalizes Keane for diving and produces the yellow card.  If you’ve followed any part of Robbie Keane’s career, you could have guessed that wouldn’t go over well with the Irishman.  In the video you can see Robbie Keane signal for a substitution and yell “No!” at the referee.  He may have said other things that this highlight video doesn’t show as Mike Magee tries to separate him from Peñaloza and Beckham looks on in disbelief.  I watched the game last night and there wasn’t any physical contact on the referee and Keane didn’t stand yelling in his face.

Keane disagreed with the call and wanted to get off the field.  This was an immature move by Robbie Keane but an even more egregious act by the referee.  Peñaloza wanted the spotlight on himself.  What’s particularly interesting was the fact that Keane was not shown a second yellow, but rather a straight red card for apparent dissent.  Saying “No!” to a referee and gesturing to your bench is now worthy of a red card in CONCACAF competitions.

At one end of the spectrum, Peñaloza had it out for the American team.  At the other, Keane dove to earn a foul in a promising position and then exploded at a match official.  The truth is Keane may have been looking for a foul but he was hit.  There was contact on his shin before he went down  and then he was stepped on.  Even if Keane went down softly that’s still a foul anywhere, even in Mexico.

Peñaloza has been refereeing professionally in Mexico’s top flight since 2007.  In 2010 he was FIFA certified which allowed him to officiate international matches and the CONCACAF Champions League.  But his track record is more than a bit baffling.  In the calendar year of 2012, which includes the Clausura 2012 and the handful of matches in the Apertura of the reformatted Liga MX, Peñaloza has officiated 13 league games and issued 53 cautions and 11 ejections.  That makes 4.08 yellow cards per game and .85 red cards per game in 2012.  While the 4 yellows is about average across the board, averaging almost one red card in every game is alarming for a professional referee.

In his first match of the new season, between León and Querétaro, he showed 7 yellow cards and 2 straight red cards.  While many of those calls may have been warranted on an individual basis, if you put them all in context Peñaloza has absolutely no game-management skills.  Unless you’re talking about great club rivalries in global football, the referee should be able to control the wild tackles and late hits in a game.  A referee’s consistency provides the benchmark for players to know what is acceptable and what isn’t in each game.  This is why the first yellow card in a game is so important to the complexion of the rest of the match.  The first yellow card sets the tone for fouls during the remainder of the game.  Peñaloza showed no such sense and absolutely zero professionalism.

Peñaloza showed three yellow cards in the game on Thursday night; one to A.J. DeLaGarza early in the game, one to Robbie Keane and one to either Michael Stephens or David Beckham.  It appeared that Michael Stephens received the card for time wasting as he came on for Beckham in the 80th minute.  The card was later charged to Beckham for taking his time getting off the field while he was actually trying to give the captain’s armband to Mike Magee.  No Metapan players were issued yellow cards.

Here are Todd Dunivant’s postgame quotes:
(On his perspective of the Keane red card…)

DUNIVANT:  “Your guess is as good as mine. First he gives a yellow card for diving, and then compounds that mistake by giving him a red card. But a lot of times referees like to be bigger than the game and that was the case tonight.”

(On whether or not the referee was a typical CCL moment…)

DUNIVANT: “It was strange. You’d have to ask him. It’s crazy that a professional referee would come out and want to take over a game like that. It’s about the guys on the field; it’s not about the guys in the stripes. It blows your mind when things like that happen. There was a lot of frustration on our part with that, and we’ve got to learn from it and on move on.”

And Bruce Arena’s postgame quotes:
(On Robbie Keane’s red card…)

ARENA: “I don’t know. The ref missed the call and typical, we’ve seen in these competitions, the referees think they’re bigger than the game itself and they’ve got to put themselves ahead of everything, I guess he felt he should not be, I don’t know.  Robbie spoke, said something, whatever, but when a referee misses a call like that, he’s got to be big enough to kind of ignore it and let the game go on. So a player gets a yellow card for diving when he’s fouled and then obviously a red card for, I don’t even know. They didn’t explain anything to us.”

From CCL’s website, “Robbie Keane was yellow carded for what Mexican referee Alfredo Penaloza apparently thought was a dive and then was ejected for complaining.”  Since when has “complaining” been a red card warranted offense?

Sifting through CONCACAF Champions League’s regulations, I’ve found there is an appeal process.  However, there is no mention of a club appealing a red card.  In other leagues a player can’t appeal if he is sent off through two yellows, however Keane was shown a straight red card by Peñaloza.

For his dismissal Keane will have to sit for two games in the CCL, an appeal of which is strictly forbidden.  This is just one more example of how crooked and backward CONCACAF is.  If ever there is an apt red card to appeal, it is Keane’s.  In a better world, CONCACAF would use this incident as an opportunity to improve their disciplinary practices.  Writing into the competition regulations that players cannot appeal red cards is a way for the tournament organizers and federation to cover themselves from the stink of incompetent referees.  Instead of hiding behind the league regulations, CONCACAF should take a stand to refine both officiating and the appeals process.

6.5 The following decisions of the CONCACAF Disciplinary Committee shall not be subject to appeal:
a. Cautions and censures imposed on players, referees, assistant referees, fourth officials, team staff and officials, other persons or national associations.
b. Suspensions of up to two matches, or of up to two months, imposed on players, referees, assistant referees, fourth officials, team staff and officials or other persons.
c. Fines imposed on players, referees, assistant referees, fourth officials, team staff and officials, other persons (not exceeding $10,000US) or Member Associations (not exceeding $30,000US).

6.22 No protests may be made against the referee’s decisions on points of fact connected with play, such decisions being final.

6.27 Notwithstanding the above provisions, any player cautioned or sent from the field of play by the referee shall be subject to the punishments specified in 6.28, 6.29 and 6.30. Such punishments are automatic and are not subject to appeal. These punishments may be augmented by the CONCACAF Disciplinary Committee and any such augmentation is subject to the appeals process previously defined.

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