United States' Magical Confederations Cup Run is Bittersweet

Joe GSenior Writer IJune 25, 2009

After their improbable run to the Confederations Cup final, the United States have ensured their place in the record books.

Most college basketball fans can tell you that a Digger Phelps-led Notre Dame team put an end to the 88-game winning streak of John Wooden's UCLA Bruins, and now football aficionados will recall the United States putting Spain's world record 15-match winning streak to bed.

The US and their fans should be proud of this one. A nation that is still struggling to embrace the beautiful game handed Spain their first loss since 2006. Pundits and fans alike have been singing the praises of this scrappy side ever since the final whistle blew about 10 hours ago.

I haven't been able to wipe the smile off my face since Altidore bagged the game winner back in the first half. Clint Dempsey's clincher sent me into a mild state of shock and hysteria that I'm only now leaving.

But along with their new-found label of "giant killer", the US will be adapting another, more dubious distinction.

Four matches played, three players dismissed.

We haven't seen this type of heavy-handed officiating since the 2006 bloodbath between Portugal and the Netherlands. That match saw a total of four red cards, and 16 yellows.

There's a dark cloud of questionable officiating hanging over Team USA's Cinderella run to the finals.

The US' opening match against Italy took a turn for the worse when defensive midfielder Ricardo Clark was shown a straight red card for a late challenge on Gennaro Gattuso.

Was it a foul? Unquestionably.

Was it a strong challenge? Yes.

Was it late? Yes.

Was it nasty enough to merit a straight red card? Probably not.

In fact, the only person who didn't seem surprised by the red card was Pablo Pozo, and he was the one brandishing the card. It was Clark's first foul of the match, and for an offense like that, you generally expect a yellow card.

Clark's ejection changed the entire flow of the match. Rather than maintaining possession and probing the Italian defense for an opening, the US was forced to hope for luck on a counter attack while withdrawing into a defensive shell.

This seemed to be working, until Italy struck for two goals from distance within 13 minutes.

Strangely enough, both goals came from space in the midfield that would have normally been occupied by Clark.

Based on the precedent that Pozo's red card had set, that match should have featured two or three further straight reds, but he was as inconsistent as he was incompetent. There were several crunching tackles that didn't even elicit a yellow card.


The second match saw the US pitted against the mighty Brazilians.

I want to make it clear that I do not think that poor officiating had anything to do with the outcome of this match. The US was clearly outclassed from the start.

But... Brazil's first goal was set up on a foul that was given despite no contact being made.

Call it a dive, or call it a case of Maicon tripping over his own shoes, but don't call it a foul.

The latter stages of that match saw Sacha Kljestan dismissed for a tackle on Ramires. It was late and strong, but Kljestan was clearly trying to make a play on the ball and had his studs down.

None of this mattered to Massimo Busacca, who quickly gave Kljestan his marching orders as American fans were left to fume over another questionable red card.


Both of those red cards pale in comparison to what was on tap from today's official, though.

Jorge Larrionda has a special place in the hearts of US football fans, and that is most certainly not a compliment.

Back in 2006, he was given the responsibility of overseeing the match between Italy and the US, a match that saw three players dismissed.

His first red card in that match was quite clear. Daniele De Rossi received a straight red for an elbow to Brian McBride's face that drew blood.

Not too many folks were going to protest that one.

But then in an effort to level the playing field, Larrionda began blowing his whistle seemingly at random. Eddie Pope received a yellow card despite Larrionda being 60 yards away from the play and replays showing that Pope may have actually been on the receiving end of the foul.

This first yellow was crucial, as Pope was sent off two minutes into the second half for receiving another yellow. His second card was actually legitimate, but the damage had been done.

My limited exposure to Larrionda had taught me that he has no clue how to handle himself on an international stage. He was in over his head at the 2006 World Cup, and he clearly shouldn't have been allowed with 100 yards of another US match again.

Naturally, I was shocked to see Larrionda handed the reins to the Spain-US clash.

Despite an uncharacteristic first 85 minutes, which saw Larrionda do a job that could be described as "not unspeakably awful," my worst fears were soon confirmed.

Michael Bradley was shown a straight red card for this challenge.

Are you kidding?

Most officials wouldn't even bat an eye at that challenge because Bradley cleanly won the ball.

The BBC announcers in that clip share my surprise, saying, "I say in England, maybe, it probably wouldn't be a free kick."

Yeah, because it was a timely challenge that wasn't from behind, resulting in a clean strip of the ball. That wouldn't be a free kick anywhere else but Larrionda's special delusional fantasy-land.

While the first two red cards received by the US are in more of a gray area, but Bradley's red card is quite clearly a huge mistake by Larrionda.

It's unfortunate, but I've grown to expect that sort of poor judgment out of Larrionda. He just isn't fit to be officiating matches on a big stage.

The worst part about his egregious error is the fact that it didn't cost the US in their match against Spain, but it will surely cost the US in the final on Sunday. Bradley is the best midfielder in the US pool, and losing him will be a big blow.

The officiating in MLS and CONCACAF is notoriously bad, but it really shouldn't be seeping into big international fixtures. Especially not matches that involve the No. 1 team in the world.

Larrionda shouldn't be allowed near an international match again. He makes Graham Poll look like Pierluigi Collina.


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