Five critical referee decisions that have impacted the Seattle Sounders' season

One of the common themes during the Seattle Sounders’ frustrating season this year has been the controversial calls that didn’t go the team’s way. It was a refrain heard once again on Saturday after Frank Lampard’s controversial first-half goal fueled NYCFC’s 2-0 win over the Sounders at CenturyLink Field, Seattle’s fifth loss in their past six games.


In honor of Lampard’s goal, here’s a look at the five most influential and controversial referee decisions of the Sounders season so far, in chronological order:


Fisher's Red Card (March 6 vs. Sporting Kansas City)

The Sounders hadn’t even played a full half of MLS soccer before the first crucial call of the year. Second-year defender Oniel Fisher was given a straight red card by head ref Alan Kelly for a two-footed tackle on SKC’s Connor Hallisey in the 41st minute of the season opener, Fisher’s first career red card and the first for any Sounders player since April 2015. Although there wasn’t much controversy surrounding this one – Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid admitted it was worthy of an ejection – that didn’t alleviate any of the sting of playing down a man for an entire half, and the Sounders ultimately lost their home opener for just the third time in eight years.


AlonsosPhantomFoul (March 12 atRealSaltLake)

Of all the calls that went against the Sounders this year, this is the only one that actually drew some punishment from up on high. MLS ultimately fined Real Salt Lake midfielder Sunny for dramatically drawing a foul on Sounders midfielder Osvaldo Alonso in the 86th minute, a play that led to RSL’s game-winning goal off an indirect free kick with just minutes to play.

Bolaños Takes A Dive (March 19 vs. Vancouver)

If we were ranking these calls from least controversial to most, this would be our undoubted No. 1. Vancouver midfielder Christian Bolaños earned the ‘Caps a 10th-minute penalty kick after he tripped on the turf inside the box at CenturyLink Field in front of defender Joevin Jones, drawing the boisterous ire of the home crowd. Jones made the mistake of letting Bolaños get in behind on a ball from Whitecaps forward Blas Perez, but replays showed there was no contact, and that head ref Mark Geiger’s PK call may have been a bit too aggressive.



Friberg’s Belly Blow (May 28 at New England)

The Sounders have been whistled for a league-high six penalty kicks this year, and while this one wasn’t as bad as the Bolaños call, it was still pretty murky. The Sounders were up 1-0 on the road at Gillette Stadium before defender Zach Scott went to clear a Revs chance out of the box in the 23rd minute. The ball flew right into the midsection of midfielder Erik Friberg, and head ref Fotis Bazakos whistled Friberg for a hand ball. Lee Nguyen converted the ensuing PK and the Revs eventually won, 2-1. Said Revolution commenter and former Revs assistant Paul Mariner on the key play of the night: “That’s never a penalty.” Watch it at the 1:54 mark in the video above.


Lampard’s Handy Work (June 25 vs. NYCFC)

This one is still fresh in Sounders players’ minds, and that might not change any time soon. While trying to redirect a cross past Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei with his chest, Lampard appeared to knock the ball in with his left hand, a fortuitous moment for NYCFC that put the Sounders down for good. Kelly consulted with his assistant before ultimately deciding the goal would stand, and Lampard swore the goal was true after the game: “Yeah, it wasn't the most beautiful goal. It came off my chest."

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