Video courtesy of Youtube user BigMikeUCSB:
That, my friends, is a punch.
On Sunday, Gaucho soccer lost a second round NCAA playoff match to UC Berkeley, 2-1. But the story goes deeper than that. The match was mired in controversy for both teams, and volunteer Head Referee Mike Kampmeinert, a Folsom, Calif. Native, broke any ref’s golden rule by taking the game into his own hands. Regardless of the outcome, Sunday’s game highlights the issue of inconsistent officiating in college soccer, and something needs to be done about it.
Here’s what I saw, and what the rest of the video shows in part: Gaucho midfielder Luis Silva comes in with an aggressive slide-tackle on the ball around the feet of UC Berkeley’s Servando Carrasco. After losing control of the ball, Carrasco shove-punches Silva above the neck and Silva goes down. Carrasco goes down as well, and both players are awarded cards. This is where the problems begin.
Did Silva deserve a red card for the play? I don’t claim to know much about college soccer and the intricacies of its rules, but he certainly made a hard, physical play on the ball and it’s understandable for Carrasco to be angry in what was a heated match for both teams. But the red card forced UCSB to close out the next 75 minutes of the game a man down, and an important man at that. Honestly? I’m not sure if Silva’s behavior merited ejection or not. Carrasco’s case, on the other hand, is much simpler. Here’s the official NCAA rulebook’s take on fighting:
12.6.1 Fighting. Definition: A fight is defined as a deliberate strike or punch or an attempt to strike or punch another player, official, coach or bench personnel. These acts include, but are not limited to, kicking, head-butting, hair pulling or an open-handed strike if done deliberately and in a malicious manner.
18.104.22.168 A player, coach or bench personnel shall be ejected if he or she is guilty of fighting or leaves the coaching area to participate in an altercation.
The rules are clear. Carrasco should have been gone, at least making the game an even 10-on-10 with Silva’s red card. Despite Kampmeinert’s call, midfielder Michael Tetteh managed to put the undermanned Gauchos up 1-0 late in the game off of a throw in, and it seemed as if karma would take care of things, but it wasn’t to be.
Carrasco returned to the center of the action with just two minutes remaining when he evened up the score after a handball was called in the box. He was awarded a penalty kick, which he buried, sending the match into overtime. I was sitting in the distant press box at the time, so I am no judge of the play, but sophomore midfielder Machael David tells me that the game tape shows no such violation. You can choose for yourself to take that or leave it.
The controversy continued even after the final whistle blew in overtime, giving Cal the 2-1 victory and sending UCSB packing. Three Gauchos — David, Tetteh and midfielder Danny Barrera — charged the referee, and Head Coach Tim Vom Steeg was forced to restrain his players in the chaos that ensued. Each was rightfully awarded a red card according to the above definition of fighting, and they may see further implications.
There were a lot of dubious plays on Sunday, and I don’t claim to act as the definitive account as to what happened because I couldn’t clearly see a lot of them from the press box above the field. What I did see, from a very good vantage point in fact, was Vom Steeg’s press conference after the game.
There, I saw a man that was visibly shaken by what had happened. His voice was hoarse, but his words were clear.
“I’ve been coaching Division I soccer for 12 years, and what I had to experience out there on the field was not fair for me, was not fair to my coaching staff, was not fair to my players. And I know exactly what I’m saying,” Vom Steeg said. “For $500 [to pay a referee], we can’t find somebody better? Really, we can’t? Five-hundred bucks? It’s not worth it to the players and the teams? I have a team that’s devastated, and there’s nothing that I can say.”
On a day when a lot of players, Gauchos and Golden Bears alike, were wrong in their actions, Vom Steeg was right. The fact is, Kampmeinert took over the game and had an effect on its outcome. What’s more, he affected players who deserve the right to a game that is decided by those players and nothing else.
Mistakes this egregious simply don’t happen in college football or basketball. The referees in the playoffs of those sports aren’t chosen based on how close they live to the match. College soccer’s governing bodies need to work to find a system that rotates referees, and only uses the most highly-rated ones in the most important matches.
David called me the morning after the game, saying he was unable to sleep or go to class, that he felt as if a part of his soul was taken away. He said that calls like those would never stand in his native Africa or in Europe and even suggested corruption in a bad system was what robbed his team of a real chance at a national title. Senior defender Michael Boxall, whom I’ve never known to speak disparagingly of refs, said it was as if Cal had 12 players on the field, one with a whistle. Even Big Mike of the Gaucho locos had to be consoled by Chancellor Yang afterward.
NCAA soccer is missing an important opportunity because of the standards for officiating. To have UCSB — the most important West Coast team by its sheer number of fans — in the College Cup would be huge for soccer in America. People would be able to see a college-level program that has incredibly devoted followers. Gaucho fans on Sunday were far louder than the Berkeley fan base, and that was just a tiny sampling of what this school has to offer. I’m not suggesting that the win be handed to the Gauchos, but they deserve a fair shot at it, something they certainly didn’t get.
David, Tetteh and Barrera were absolutely wrong to react as they did. Carrasco was wrong to throw a punch as he did. Referee Kampmeinert was wrong, too. The match will go down in Gaucho soccer history as a loss, and that’s the bottom line. But when people look at that in the future, they’re missing a big story about three seniors — goalkeeper Sam Hayden, forward Joe Eubanks and Boxall — who finish their careers in Blue not with their heads held high, but in shock. This is a story about a team that was literally constructed over the last few years for the purpose of making a championship run this year at Harder Stadium. In sports losing is losing, and that’s tough sometimes. But Sunday’s match, on both sides of the ball — I’m not sure should even be called sport, because that would require an outcome based on athletic performance, not a conveniently located referee.