MLS referees admit late-game error that potentially cost LA Galaxy a playoff spot

·3-min read

The LA Galaxy are out of the MLS playoffs and an officiating mistake is a big reason why.

Real Salt Lake scored a late goal to beat Sporting Kansas City 1-0 on Sunday and grab the seventh and final spot in the Western Conference playoffs ahead of the Galaxy. RSL's goal just minutes before the end of the game came before a missed handball by Real Salt Lake's Justen Glad in the RSL penalty area in the 90th minute.

Here's the handball in question.

The Professional Referees Organization said in a statement on Monday night that video review should have awarded Sporting Kansas City a penalty kick. During the game on Sunday, video review officials didn't recommend a video review and play continued, much to Sporting Kansas City's chagrin. 

The video assistant referee (VAR), when checking the play, saw that the ball made contact with Real Salt Lake defender Justen Glad’s right hand, but concluded that the non-awarding of a penalty kick did not reach the threshold of a clear and obvious error, and therefore did not recommend a Video Review to the referee. However, the footage shows clear movement to the ball by the right hand of Glad, in a manner which can reasonably be interpreted as being consistent with a handball offense.

In PRO’s judgement, a Video Review should have been recommended and a penalty kick awarded. PRO considers the decision not to recommend a review to be an error by the VAR.

Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes was livid after the game and called the officiating decision "unprofessional." He lamented the impact on the playoffs and said that he was embarrassed to be a part of MLS — a league he's been involved in since its formation in 1996.

“The fact that we missed that [call] out there — in any game, let alone with the magnitude of this game — is incredibly disappointing to someone who has been in the league since 1996,” Vermes said via the Kansas City Star. “To see we’ve come so far but we haven’t come far enough because we can’t even get that right and we have replay? 

“I’m embarrassed today to be a part of the league when you can’t do that.”

How Real Salt Lake jumped ahead of LA Galaxy

The Galaxy entered the game two points ahead of Salt Lake in the standings. LA tied Minnesota United 3-3 on Sunday to end the regular season with 48 points. 

Salt Lake had 46 points ahead of the game. After Damir Kreilach scored in the fifth minute of stoppage time to get the surprise win, RSL ended the season with 49 points. 

The game was 0-0 when Sporting KC should have been awarded the penalty kick. A made kick — likely, but no guarantee — would have put SKC up 1-0. Does SKC hold on for the win? Who knows. The likeliest outcome in this alternate universe of the correct video review decision is a 1-1 tie. 

That tie is still enough to get LA into the playoffs. A tie is worth one point, so Salt Lake would have ended the season on 47 points and a point behind the Galaxy. 

The decision also could have affected Sporting KC's playoff position. Had SKC won the game it would have finished first in the Western Conference ahead of both Colorado and Seattle. Instead, it's the No. 3 seed in the playoffs and doesn't get the first-round bye that comes with being the top seed.

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