In the opening minutes of Los Angeles Football Club’s Western Conference Final against the Seattle Sounders, Carlos Vela faced a shoulder barge from Xavier Arreaga in Seattle’s box. Vela appealed briefly for a penalty, but no call came.
It was arguably the defining moment of the game.
While that particular challenge may or may not have been a penalty, Vela in particular faced multiple hard challenges over the course of 90 minutes, including a later forceful charge near halftime that referee Jair Marrufo again waived off.
Two further handballs by the Sounders in the second half left LAFC players pleading for a call, and to be fair, several LAFC fouls went uncalled as well over the course of the game.
So was LAFC blaming Marrufo and the officiating crew in the aftermath of the 3-1 loss at Banc of California Stadium on Tuesday? On the contrary.
To a man, the players and head coach all said it was LAFC’s fault they lost, not the officials’.
“It’s nothing crazy, it’s football,” Vela said when asked about the Sounders’ physical play. “They play that way, it worked for them. It’s nothing about that, they scored three goals, they get their chances better than us, they win. It’s the only thing I can say.”
“I’m not going to worry about the referee. They played hard. It’s football, nothing wrong with that,” Vela reiterated.
Midfielder Lee Nguyen admitted some frustration in the moment with the way the game was being called, but concluded LAFC were responsible for the defeat.
“I think we made it clear on the field, what we thought,” Nguyen said with a sardonic smile. “But we’ve never tried to put it in the hands of the officials. I feel like we still could have done work. Like I said, the third goal [conceded] hurt us a lot, if we hadn’t given up that third goal I feel like we were putting pressure in, we were going to get that tying goal. But that third one deflated us, and yeah, tough to come back from that.”
While other coaches in MLS are not afraid to criticize a referee on a bad night, Bob Bradley would not get caught up in the topic when asked about the officiating.
“I see all the things the people in the stands see and everything else,” he said when asked if he saw the potential non-calls on the night. “This is our game. I’m not going to get into a long discussion but the handball law is hard to figure out to begin with and then when you throw in VAR, when you use it, when you don’t...That shouldn’t be the topic tonight. I spoke for about 10 minutes and I spoke about football. I speak about it the same I do every game, win or lose.”
At the same time, Bradley admitted the current VAR procedures don’t always make clear what’s happening in the moment.
“It’s so hard to know when they go [to VAR].I assume that the VAR is saying something, but look, it’s just not an easy conversation because sometimes we’re not clear what they’re doing and when they talk and then the fourth official will say sometimes ‘Shoulder to shoulder’ and you say ‘Well no, I don’t think so.’
“I’ve not talked about the refs all year. I don’t think we were good enough tonight, please, I don’t feel like getting into a long discussion on the referees,” Bradley said.
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