MLS commissioner Don Garber expressed sympathy for Toronto FC on Thursday after the Reds had a potential winner ruled out in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Chicago.
Gilberto appeared to give the Reds a late lead at Toyota Park, but referee David Gantar called a purported foul on the Brazilian striker to chalk off the effort and thwart TFC’s attempts to claim maximum points and strengthen the push for the club’s first playoff berth.
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The decision prompted stinging criticism from TFC midfielder Michael Bradley after the match and sparked discussions between Garber and PRO general manager Peter Walton as the pair traveled down to Chester, Pa. for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final on Tuesday.
Garber said he disagreed with the decision to award the foul, expressed his concerns to Walton and noted he wanted to see the entire referee pool perform to its highest possible standards as the season winds to a close.
"As the weeks go on and the games matter more than they do in the early part of the season, we need to be sure that our referees are doing as well as they possibly can to get it right," Garber said after unveiling the new MLS logo on Thursday morning. "That referee did not get it right in that game. We shouldn’t be ashamed of saying that. There are many things that I don’t get right or haven’t gotten right either every day or in my 15 years as commissioner."
Garber will now have to decide whether to levy a fine against Bradley for his comments after the game. The extent of his displeasure – including criticism of the decision, the referee assignment process and the state of the refereeing pool – makes the decision more complicated.
"The league is reviewing Michael’s comments," Garber said. "In the light of the fact that it is not an on-field issue, we have time to ensure that we make the right decision there. Michael is the leader of that club. He’s been an asset to the league. I have tremendous respect for him. We’ll take a close look at it and see if there is any discipline required. But I understand and sympathize with his frustration."
Although Garber did not agree with this particular decision, he does believe the overall state of refereeing has improved since he took charge. He praised Walton for his efforts and his vision for the future, but he also noted that the nature of the game makes refereeing it a particularly difficult assignment.
"While we have a culture where in our league – versus in baseball, for example – we don’t go public with those kind of statements, I feel for Toronto FC. In real time, that particular play is not wrong. It’s easy to look at instant replay and look at screenshots post-game and think it’s easy, but it’s really tough to be a referee in our sport. It’s really, really tough to be a referee in Major League Soccer."