With a salary of $6.5 million (U.S.), Michael Bradley can afford a fine. And the Toronto FC star midfielder will likely be digging into his wallet after Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Sporting Kansas City.
“It’s by no means an excuse, it was the same for both teams, but the referee was absolutely awful,” Bradley said after carefully choosing his words. “The people at the MLS (head) office in New York, when they talk about wanting to improve the league, the first thing that needs to be improved is the refereeing, bottom line.
“That shouldn’t come across as sour grapes because that’s just the reality. And it was bad for both teams and I’m sure they’re sitting in their locker-room saying the same thing to themselves but they’ve got three points with them and that certainly makes it a little easier to swallow.”
Referee Ted Unkel issued eight yellow cards, including five to Toronto. Kansas City was reduced to 10 men in the 75th minute when captain/defender Matt Besler got a second yellow.
Despite that, substitute Jacob Peterson’s goal five minutes later completed the comeback for the MLS champions.
Bradley’s criticism will not go unnoticed at Major League Soccer’s head office. He is one of U.S. Soccer’s glamour boys and is no whiner.
Foremost on Toronto’s list of complaints was a no-call in the 23rd minute when Unkel waved play on after Kansas City defender Aurelien Collin, chasing Brazilian striker Gilberto after a deft through ball from Bradley, appeared to clip the Brazilian’s leg.
Gilberto, who had a clear path on goal, went down and Bradley went after the referee imploring for a call, which should have garnered Collin a red card. The French defender went unpunished and Toronto got the first four yellows of the night.
Toronto manager Ryan Nelsen, who would have taken off if he had flapped his arms any harder on the sideline, was appalled by the no-call.
“Collin should have been sent off. I mean an under-12 ref can pick that one,” Nelsen said with disgust. “That’s pretty basic.”
Nelsen said he was left wondering what was going on with the referee, whose decisions he said had mystified his players.
“You tell them to forget about all the decisions that went against you, forget about all that, forget about the ridiculous yellow cards that we got and they got nothing. Just try and focus on the game. But they’re human.”
Kansas City coach Peter Vermes had a different view of the officiating.
“I thought the referee did a good job tonight, that is my personal opinion,” he said. “I don’t think it was an easy game to ref.
“I really liked his management of the game, the things that you can control the ball going out of bounds and the guy trying to steal 15 yards. Those are the things that drive us nuts as coaches, the little calls you might miss or might get, but those things he did a good job of and kept the game going on both sides.
But Gilberto, who normally glides through life with a huge smile, was stony-faced after the game.
Goals have been hard to come by for the Brazilian, who is being paid handsomely (US$1.25 million) to find the net. He has just two goals and was clearly irked at not getting any action from the referee when he was denied a shot at his third.
Quizzed by reporters, he launched into a lengthy diatribe in Portuguese.
He wondered if MLS officials were trying to force him “to learn how to play in the MLS.”
“I want them (the referees) to know that I’m not just going to roll over, that I’m going to play my game and I’m going to play strong and I’m going to play hard,” he said through an interpreter. “I’m not somebody that’s going to be a pushover. I want to be treated fairly, just like any other player.”
A reporter remarked it was the most the 25-year-old Gilberto had ever said to reporters. Was he angry?
“Yes, I’m a little upset,” he said, his face drawn.
“I’m going to have a play a little harder then,” he added. “I’m going to show people I came here to play.”
An upset Nelsen, frustrated for his team, lamented the loss of points at home before a tough four-game road trip with games against D.C. United, Montreal, Columbus and Kansas City.
And while saying his team was clearly the better outfit on the night, he rued missed chances.
Despite a good run of late, Toronto has conceded soft goals and Saturday night was no exception.
“We were spectators. In a time where we had to be urgent and our intensity had to be focused, we just hoped that somebody would do their job. And that was unfortunate.”
Nelsen was left wondering what pieces are needed for the team to regain its hard edge.
“We haven’t got our balance right yet in that midfield,” he said.
Peterson, a former Toronto midfielder, took advantage of the home side’s inability to clear a deflected cross and poked the ball past goalie Joe Bendik for the winner. Graham Zusi had tied the game for the defending MLS champions in the 48th minute.
Toronto (7-6-5) saw its three-game unbeaten streak snapped.
Kansas City (11-5-5) has won four straight, is unbeaten in seven league games (6-0-1) and has gone 6-1-3 since back-to-back losses to Philadelphia and Chicago in May. The defending champions also extended their club-record win streak on the road to five games.
The seven-game unbeaten streak is its longest since the club’s 12-game unbeaten streak to end the 2012 regular season.
Jackson scored for Toronto and could have had a hat trick on the night if his finishing had been better before the BMO Field sellout crowd of 22,591.
Oduro, who set up the Jackson goal, terrorized the left side of the Kansas City defence for much of the night. Bradley was also influential in the middle of the park, carving open the K.C. defence with his passes.
Toronto was without star striker Jermain Defoe, who was sitting out a one-match ban due to an accumulation of yellows. Captain Steven Caldwell (quad) and fellow defender Mark Bloom (knee) were also out.
The home side’s injury concerns on defence were not helped by a yellow card in first-half stoppage time to Doneil Henry, who will miss the next game as a result.
Kansas City was missing goalie Erik Kronberg (hand) and midfielder Paulo Nagamura (ankle).
Oduro made the opening goal, retrieving the ball from an errant K.C. header and beating Besler before slicing open the defence with a pass to Jackson. The Brazilian winger rounded goalie Andy Gruenebaum and scored his third of the season into the empty net.
Nick Hagglund and Oduro both hit the goalpost in the first half.
The tying goal came early in the second half after a pinball-like scramble in front of Bendik saw four Kansas City players try to get to the ball. It came back to Zusi at the edge of the box and he curled the ball into the top right corner with Bendik out of position in the 48th minute.