By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, June 19, 2006
HAMBURG, June 18 -- A few hours after the U.S. national team's 1-1 tie with Italy on Saturday night, Coach Bruce Arena watched tapes of the controversial match and came to these striking conclusions:
· The apparent go-ahead goal by American midfielder DaMarcus Beasley in the second half was properly disallowed.
· Referee Jorge Larrionda overreacted in ejecting defender Eddie Pope.
· U.S. midfielder Pablo Mastroeni had only himself to blame for his red card.
· And officiating, in general, in this World Cup has become too harsh and is unfairly punishing players and teams.
The Americans survived the wild affair at Fritz Walter Stadium, playing a man down for the final 43 minutes against the heavily favored Azzurri, and kept alive their hopes of advancing to the second round of the tournament. However, they now face the prospect of having to defeat Ghana on Thursday in Nuremberg without two of their most important defensive players.
"Entering this World Cup, there was a real theme that [game officials] were going to be very harsh on players and I think they have," Arena said Sunday. "The cards are excessive, I believe. It's just too much in all the games and it's taken good players out of games."
The officiating has been widely criticized -- even World Cup organizing committee president Franz Beckenbauer adding his displeasure over the weekend -- but no match has been as severely affected by a referee's decisions as the United States-Italy encounter. Italian midfielder Daniele De Rossi also received a red card, marking only the fourth time in World Cup history that three players had been ejected from the same game.
De Rossi was the first to go after elbowing U.S. forward Brian McBride in the face -- a decision the Italians protested at the time but fully accepted afterward. De Rossi is likely to receive a multigame suspension because of the severity of the incident.
Mastroeni -- who has disciplinary issues in MLS but had never before been ejected in 50 U.S. appearances -- was given a red card for an overzealous challenge late in the first half.
"It was a poor error in judgment on the part of Pablo and on a play with about a minute left in the half in an area of the field where it didn't matter," Arena said.
Pope received his first yellow card in the 21st minute for a seemingly innocuous foul, but then got a second two minutes into the second half for a late tackle on Italy's Alberto Gilardino.
"I'm not sure that's a yellow card, but again, the judgment of the referee," Arena said.
Midway through the second half, Arena and the U.S. delegation erupted in protest after Beasley's apparent goal was disallowed, but after watching replays, it was clear to everyone that it was the right call.
As Beasley shot from the left side of the penalty area, McBride found himself in an offside position directly in front of the net. Game officials will generally allow play to continue if a player who is offside is not affecting play, but in this case, McBride was obstructing Buffon's view of the ball.
After the match, McBride said he agreed with the call, and on Sunday, Arena said it was the correct decision.
Asked his general opinion of Larrionda's performance, Arena said: "He made some interesting decisions. Some were absolutely on target and some were debatable, but that's every game. I've never been in a game with three red cards at this level and I think fouls are being punished too harshly -- without warnings. A foul is sometimes just a foul, not a yellow card, and it's just gotten excessive in the World Cup."
Looking ahead, World Cup newcomer Jimmy Conrad is the top candidate to replace Pope on the back line. On Saturday Conrad entered in the 52nd minute and helped fortify the U.S. defense. However, Arena could choose to play with only three defenders against Ghana: Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu and Steve Cherundolo.
Mastroeni's slot is a bit more perplexing because there are no obvious replacements. John O'Brien has played that defensive midfield role in the past, but Arena indicated Saturday that the oft-injured veteran might not be up for the task.
"His fitness level is okay," Arena said, "but you've got to remember he hasn't played a game of this magnitude in a long time and I don't think John has felt comfortable over the last week or two."