Sandy • The red card almost doomed them, almost relegated Real Salt Lake to their first loss ever at the hands of the Philadelphia Union.
Head referee Ismail Elfath issued a red card to RSL defender Lovel Palmer in the 59th minute that changed the flow and momentum of the game. Up a man and up a goal, Philadelphia controlled the run of play for the rest of the match.
Replays showed that Palmer made a clean play on the ball before making contact with Philadelphia midfielder Michael Farfan.
Elfath disagreed, issuing this statement following the match: “From our vantage point, the tackle was considered serious foul play that endangered the safety of the opponent by way of contact of the cleats, exposed cleats, with the shin area of the opponent that ended up being injured.”
But the issuance of the red card wasn’t the end of a busy night for Elfath and his crew in which he issued four cards and probably could have issued more.
The injustice of Palmer’s red card seemed to have been nullified when Luis Gil equalized with a header in the 75th minute, but just a minute later, Philadelphia’s Conor Casey put his team up 2-1 with a calculated finish from the top of the penalty box, scoring from an area where an extra defender, like Palmer, could have made all the difference.
And again on the play, there was a questionable referee decision.
“From where I stood, [Nat] Borchers is falling over at the edge of our penalty box,” RSL coach Jason Kreis said after the game. “I’m not sure whether he stepped in a hole — and there’s no holes on our field — but for Borchers to fall over the way he did, I think he had to have been fouled.”
Casey’s goal looked to be the winner until Javier Morales converted a stoppage-time penalty kick to give RSL a 2-2 draw. The penalty was given after the referee made a correct call on a handball in the Union penalty box.
“That referee was not ready to referee that game,” Kreis said. “That game, that sellout crowd, the July 4th crowd in front of our fans, in that atmosphere that we provide here, is too much for what I think is a very inexperienced referee, who doesn’t have a real good feel for the game. I don’t think it’s his fault, but the person that makes that assignment ought to think about that as we go forward.”