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May 30, 2014 at 12:13 AM

A brief history of Sounders FC and referee Ricardo Salazar

A game’s referee assignment isn’t often news. It was this week, though, as Ricardo Salazar was assigned Saturday’s big game between Sounders FC and Real Salt Lake, the two teams with the most points in MLS.


Seattle fans know the name all too well, it seems. Some have even turned it into a verb. Indeed, even the most impartial observer would have to admit there has been seemingly a disproportionate amount of controversy in such meetings.

It’s probably no surprise Salazar hasn’t worked a Sounders’ game since June 1, 2013, when he issued a red card to Obafemi Martins that was later rescinded by an independent review panel.

Coach Sigi Schmid was asked about this referee assignment after Thursday’s practice.

“We’re looking forward to having Ricardo Salazar as our referee,” Schmid said, diplomatically.

Photo credit: Colin Diltz, The Seattle Times

Photo credit: Colin Diltz, The Seattle Times

You know things are bad when the Sounders officially have a 8-2-7 record in Salazar games and the feelings still are the way they are.  (The record improves to 9-2-7 if you include a 2007 U.S. Open Cup game, a 5-0 win against the Colorado Rapids in the USL days.)

For those who have forgotten how things have gotten to where they are, here is a look back at the games in this — what’s the word? — relationship:

*     *     *

Oct. 13, 2013 — Portland Timbers 1, Sounders FC 0

Salazar was actually the fourth official in this game down in Portland. I only bring this one up because Osvaldo Alonso was issued a red card — admittedly one that was seemingly hard to argue. Still, it continued a crazy streak of the Sounders earning a red card in three straight games, and five of six, worked by Salazar.

June 1, 2013 — Chivas USA 0, Sounders FC 2

As noted above, this was the last time Salazar had worked in the middle of a Sounders game, and none of the Seattle players or coaches were happy with the red card issued to Martins. Their concerns were validated when the call was overturned.

Here was Schmid after the game: “I’ve seen the replay. I have my opinion on the replay, and I’ll keep my opinion to (myself). … I don’t know. I’ve got no comment. … Sometimes you agree with calls. Sometimes you don’t agree with calls. And nobody cares what my opinion is.”

Added Martins: “I didn’t do anything. I was trying to get up and get the ball back, and (Gabriel Farfan), he screamed, and the referee just looked at him, and they gave me a red card.”

Zach Scott had tweeted (and then deleted) after the game that Salazar hates the Sounders.

There was another notable instance after the game as Salazar refused to answer questions on the call due to a technicality involving the pool reporter process.

Oct. 17, 2012 — Sounders FC 0, Real Salt Lake 0

This big game leading into the playoffs featured a red card to Zach Scott for his second cautionable offense. Those bookings weren’t very egregious, but emotions were still fresh from the U.S. Open Cup final a few months prior. There were some other calls, like a non-PK, that also set Schmid off (highlights of the game here). You might remember the coach blasted Salazar during a halftime interview with the NBC Sports Network.

“We have our 12th man, which are our fans; they have their 12th man, which is Ricardo Salazar,” Schmid said. “Every time we have him, it’s a difficult game for us. It’s tough for us to play. It always seems to be that we’re very unlucky, things go wrong, (there are) handballs in the box that he doesn’t call. It’s just a nightmare for us to play when he referees.”

Schmid continued postgame, noting how well the Sounders fans know Salazar’s name, later adding: “Lord help us if we get Salazar in the playoffs.”

MLS suspended Schmid the following game for the comments, and Schmid later admitted things had gotten personal on his side while he didn’t think it was personal on Salazar’s side.

“I certainly have to admit at times when I see his name as the referee, it’s sort of like a red flag goes up in front of me, and I have to get over that,” Schmid said.

Sept. 15, 2012 — Portland Timbers 1, Sounders FC 1

An odd assignment about five weeks after the aforementioned U.S. Open Cup final, which is next in chronological order. Here is what Schmid said the day before the game: “It’s interesting that he also refereed our last game in Portland. The assignment situation is interesting. I don’t know why you would end up with the same referee in the same venue twice in a row. But it is what it is, and we hope we has a better game than he did in Kansas City.”

Best I can tell there wasn’t too much controversy, maybe since it was the first game against the Timbers since Roger Levesque retired. Seattle’s tie prevented Portland from clinching the Cascadia Cup on the night, something that would happen later in the year.

Aug. 8, 2012 — Sporting Kansas City 1, Sounders FC 1 (KC wins Open Cup final on PKs, 3-2)

This is probably the game that stings worst with Seattle fans, and there were a number of issues. Kansas City committed more fouls (18 to 15), yet were issues no yellow cards while the Sounders got six, including two to Patrick Ianni that had him sent off.

“How does a team commit an equal amount of fouls as the opponent and one team gets (six) yellow cards and the other team gets zero?” said Schmid. “That’s unbelievable to me.”

There was a controversial penalty kick on a supposed hand-ball by Zach Scott in the penalty box.

“I’ll be the first guy to put my hand up if I make a mistake, and I hope that the refs would do the same,” said Scott.

There was the PK shootout being taken on the wrong end of the stadium, and then, of course, there was calling Michael Gspurning for coming off his line on a save but not Kansas City’s Jimmy Nielsen. Here is a visual comparison.

“Nielsen moved ahead of every shot, as well, but he didn’t call any back there,” Schmid said. “All of a sudden he calls one back, and he does it indiscriminately?”

Lot of questions, not a lot of answers after this one.

“It’s difficult when you’re playing against a team at home, so the crowd helps them, and then when you’re playing against the referee as well, and he makes some absolutely, I thought, ridiculous calls,” Schmid said. “It’s very tough to win.”

June 24, 2012 — Portland Timbers 2, Sounders FC 1

This was where the run on red cards started, as Fredy Montero got his marching orders for a shove on a much larger David Horst that sent the big man tumbling. Montero said Horst sold it and Salazar bought it.

“This guy was head-to-head with Eddie and I just tried to push him away, you know?” Montero said. “He fell to the ground. … This is what this game was about and unfortunately today wasn’t a good day for him.”

Lovel Palmer was also sent off for Portland.

May 5, 2012 — Sounders FC 1, Philadelphia 0

Seattle can have no complaints about this one. Salazar would have been well within his right to sent off Andy Rose for two bookable offense, instead letting the rookie off with a stern warning on the second one — a foul from behind on Freddy Adu (remember him?).

“We were probably a little fortunate,” Schmid said.

“Some referees might have pulled a second yellow. I think that it could have been a second yellow, but I think Salazar was aware of where it was in the game, how early it was in the game.”

Added Rose: “Definitely my heart skipped a couple of beats there.”

Highlights here.

Union coach John Hackworth — an assistant then with Peter Nowak suspended — called the decision hard to swallow. Adu said it was a by-the-book card, and that would’ve been hard to argue.

Maybe some early karma for what was to come.

March 17, 2012 — Sounders FC 3, Toronto FC 1

Seattle’s dominance and David Estrada’s hat trick didn’t leave room for much controversy.

Oct. 22, 2011 — Chivas USA 1, Sounders FC 3

Similar to the game above. Mauro Rosales getting injured just before the playoff on a hard tackle by Ben Zemanski was the notable play, and there was a yellow card issued.

July 4, 2011 — LA Galaxy 0, Sounders FC 0

The Sounders were unhappy with the consistency of the foul calls in this one, particularly with David Beckham out there.

“Maybe there’s a rule where (Beckham’s) got to get seven free kicks a game,” Schmid joked.

April 30, 2011 — Sounders FC 3, Toronto 0

Another pretty anonymous game for Salazar, and another convincing Seattle win played into it. You might remember this game as a tribute to Steve Zakuani (broken leg) and O’Brian White (blood clot) after we learned about their long-term, career-affecting injuries.

Oct. 31, 2010 — Sounders FC 0, LA Galaxy 1

This was the most recent playoff game with Salazar in charge, and it was highlighted by Edson Buddle’s goal (at the 3:32 mark).

That isn’t to say there wasn’t some talk about the refs. Asked about Salazar’s performance, Schmid said: “No comment. The referees are the referees.”

To be quite honest, I couldn’t find a couple key calls or non-calls in question.

Aug. 14, 2010 — Chivas USA 0, Sounders FC 0

Salazar was the fourth official in this game, but he still had an impact, and referee Alex Prus told everybody about it. The controversial play was when Leo Gonzalez got sent off in the final minutes due to a tussle with Mariano Trujillo.

Prus issued the red card but afterward said on Twitter that it was at the advice of a crew member (pretty clearly Salazar).

The Sounders were left flabbergasted.

Schmid said: “It was a scrum. Trujillo swung back at Leo. I’m not quite sure why Leo got the red card. I think he fouled Trujillo, for sure he fouled him. But it was a foul, and then he swings back, and then somebody came into the fray really late, took a swing at somebody and that wasn’t seen at all. And it wasn’t one of our guys.”

Here was Kasey Keller: “I always think it’s weird when a guy gets punched in the face and somehow he gets red carded, as well. You take a red card for getting punched, that seems a little strange. … I was a long ways away but it looked a little harsh on our side.”

And Jeff Parke: “It looked like two girls smacking each other. I don’t think Leo really got too bad into it. I think it was definitely a red on that guy’s part and maybe a yellow on Leo, but it was pretty funny looking from my vantage point.”

May 1, 2010 — Sounders FC 1, Columbus 1

There was a red card in this one, but it was issued to the well-traveled Danny O’Rourke due to two yellows.

March 25, 2010 — Sounders FC 2, Philadelphia 0

Someone was upset after this one: Freddie Ljungberg, who had to leave this one early, limping with a back issue after a physical game. It led to a little back-and-forth between him and Peter Nowak, if you remember. The Philly coach said maybe his back probably hurts because “you’re an old man and playing on turf.”

Ljungberg actually went on to say Salazar did his best to keep things in check and that the league needed to look at preventing physical play from getting out of control. We’ve heard that message since.

Oct. 29, 2009 — Sounders FC 0, Houston 0

This was probably about the time a strong dislike — “hate” is too strong a word — really started to develop for Salazar.

You might remember an incident between Fredy Montero and Pat Onstad, where the Houston goalkeeper pushed the forward to the ground. Both got yellows.

“It was a bowling ball and a bowling pin,” Schmid said.

The main talking point was just the physical nature of the game. The Dynamo committed 18 fouls to Seattle’s six. Nate Jaqua was bloodied.

Ljungberg said: “It’s not rugby. It’s still soccer. … I don’t know what the referee was doing. … I can’t say too much. I need to play the last few games.”

Schmid added: “There were a lot of calls I was confused about. The game was very physical, it was allowed to be played that way. … We’ll see how the game gets interpreted differently down there. Maybe things will be different a little bit. I’m puzzled.”

The AP recap of the game led with Drew Carey voicing his anger in the elevator after the game.

Oct. 3, 2009 — Columbus 0, Sounders FC 1

Hey, look! A good memory. This was actually the game Seattle ended the Crew’s long home unbeaten streak. It’s probably one of the best road results in team history, considering Columbus won the Supporters’ Shield and the Sounders were right in the mix.

Aug. 15, 2009 — LA Galaxy 0, Sounders FC 2

Three red cards in this one, and you have to credit Salazar for sending off David Beckham when many other referees might not have. Also ejected later were Seattle’s Tyrone Marshall and LA’s Eddie Lewis.

The Sounders’ haven’t had a road win against the Galaxy since.

June 17, 2009 — Sounders FC 3, D.C. United 3

The Sounders couldn’t blame this one on anybody but themselves, blowing a 3-1 second-half lead. Kasey Keller memorably ripped into the team after the game, making sure his comments in the locker room were audible to everyone in the room.

Aug. 7, 2007 — Seattle Sounders 5, Colorado 0

Back to the USL days, when Brian Schmetzer’s side smashed the MLS side in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals. Guys like Sebastien Le Toux, Zach Scott, Josh Gardner and Taylor Graham scored goals in that one.

I don’t really have anything about Salazar in this one, but quite the result.

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