FOXBOROUGH — When it comes to on-field comportment, Revolution captain Carles Gil provides a model for MLS. Gil is probably the cleanest player in the league — he has yet to commit a foul this season — yet he is among the most frequently victimized. In four-plus seasons, Gil has earned 277 free kicks, and might have had more if not for “play on” situations, some justified, some not.
Gil recalled an example in the Revolution’s 2-1 loss to Inter Miami last week, a late-game clash with Leonardo Campana.
“From the start of the game, there were many fouls,” Gil said while the Revolution (7-2-3, 24 points) prepared for Saturday’s visit to the Philadelphia Union. “I got kicked by their forward, Campana, obviously a direct red card, but there was no explanation why it wasn’t an expulsion.”
Campana was issued a yellow card on the play in the 85th minute, but the Revolution did not receive a free kick. There were other controversial calls and non-calls, including a disallowed Noel Buck goal.
Gil was fouled at least twice by David Ruiz, the first a “tactical foul” sanctioned by a caution, the second a hard foul that sent him flying, both teams apparently expecting referee Ismir Pekmic to rule a second caution to Ruiz in the 77th minute.
Miami players confronted Pekmic, arguing for exoneration. Revolution players demanded an explanation. Instead, Pekmic cautioned Christopher McVey for delaying a restart, though this was not reflected in the initial game report, which listed a “bad foul” caution to Dixon Arroyo.
Four minutes later, Ruiz earned a second yellow (a television announcer termed it “his third”), this time for “unsporting behavior.”
The sequence raised questions about the credibility of the league’s refereeing and game management.
“Truth is, there are many things I don’t understand in practically every game concerning the referees,” Gil said. “And so, if I wanted to understand all the decisions they make, it would drive me crazy. So I prefer to just forget their decisions and just play.”
Asked about an explanation for the events from the 77th through 81st minutes of the Miami game, Revolution coach Bruce Arena replied, “That, I didn’t even ask for, it’s such a screwup. The whole game was a mess and I didn’t want to spend any time on that. I’m still trying to get them to understand how they screwed up taking a goal away, which they don’t understand.”
After the game, Arena said a Miami foul “could’ve broken Carles Gil’s leg” in the second half. Asked about the foul three days later, Arena said, “Well, it wouldn’t have broken his leg. It would’ve done damage to his thigh. The cleat marks were above his knee. I asked the disciplinary committee to look at it and they said no further action. Another mistake to pile on.”
The fact that neither Arena nor Gil seemed surprised by what appeared to be questionable calls indicates that expectations are not high for MLS referees. Part of the reason, some coaches believe, is that the technical level in the league has increased rapidly, and referees have been slow to keep pace.
As for Buck’s annulled goal, Arena said, “It’s all about camera angles, and their camera angles are not right. They said it is completely correct but they didn’t understand that they are looking — I’ll credit Todd [Kingston, Revolution video director] for this — at an optical illusion.
“When you position a camera in the wrong place, you are not going to actually correctly analyze the play.”
VAR protocols aside, MLS often exhibits a lack of sophistication on the field, from playing styles to officiating.
“The problem isn’t the defenders, the problem is the way the referees call these types of actions,” Gil said. “Futbol is a contact sport, and you have to be able to withstand tackles and hard hits. Referees have to make the right call and in this case it didn’t happen.”
Spain’s La Liga is full of players as skillful as Gil, who was playing in the second division when the Revolution purchased him in 2019. In MLS, Gil — and others who rely on precision — set standards that are not always properly regarded. In fact, Gil sometimes seems to be penalized for creative play rather than rewarded.
“You can alert the officials beforehand, [but] they should know to protect that player,” Arena said. “That’s up to the referee on game day to control those things.”
As for the fact that Gil has yet to foul an opponent (he is the only MLS player with nine or more games played who doesn’t have a foul), Arena said, “Carles is a complete player, one of the best players in the league — you don’t get any awards for not having a foul.”
Top players are targeted in other leagues, as well. Is MLS any different?
“Probably not,” Arena said. “I imagine Leo Messi doesn’t get fouled that much. But, you know, everything is different. I wouldn’t use one game to generalize that Carles is targeted all the time. Every game is different.
“If you’re fouled, you call the foul. It has nothing to do with how often they get fouled. A foul is a foul. It’s not less of a foul if he’s getting fouled more often.”
In practice, though, referees are reluctant to issue more than one card to an individual. But the more often they prioritize craft over clumsiness, the better.
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.