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When Refereeing Soccer is Hard, We Need to Acknowledge the Good

Major League Soccer is notorious for terrible refereeing, and the Vancouver Whitecaps have certainly had their fair share already this season. As a result, when a referee does good, it is something to talk about. So, let’s talk about Marcos de Oliveira

Last Saturday, the Vancouver Whitecaps traveled to Rio Tinto Stadium, to take on Real Salt Lake. While it was not the result the Caps were hoping for, and certainly not the result many fans were predicting, it was not because the referee had a poor game.

Six matches into the season, and the Whitecaps have had their fair share of poorly officiated matches. This isn’t something that is unique to Vancouver however. There have been many dubious calls this season. Touted last season as the aid that would remove bad calls from the game -VAR- has been anything but. In fact, it can easily be argued that VAR has actually made things worse.

As sad as it has become in Major League Soccer, it is important that we acknowledge when referees have had a good match, when they could have easily had a very poor match. Many of you may be reading this and thinking I was watching a different match, but take your homer glasses off and hear me out.

First, do you know who the referee was in Saturday’s match? No? Not remembering is a good thing. For those that don’t know, the referee was Marcos de Oliveira. Who is de Oliveira you ask? He is a 37-year-old Brazilian referee, who debuted in 2014, and has refereed 53 matches. The majority (32) of his matches have come in NASL, with him only appearing in 13 MSL matches. In those matches he has issued 40 yellow cards and ZERO red cards. He has also given one penalty kick. Over his entire career, he has issued 162 yellow cards, 12 penalties, and only three red cards. That means, he has averaged three yellow cards a match and a penalty kick every four to five matches.

So what! Just because he doesn’t have any weird statistics, doesn’t mean he is a good referee. CORRECT! I am not making the argument that he is a GOOD referee, overall, but rather he was a good referee on Saturday.

For those that watched the match, I am sure most will agree that the second half was rather feisty, with players jarring at each other throughout. By the end of the match, Oliveira called 15 fouls on RSL and 11 on Vancouver, and issued five yellow cards (four to RSL). Those five yellows are above his career average of three.

You might question the decision not to issue a red card to Marcelo Silva, for his flying scissor kick on Kei Kamara. I can’t really argue with you on that one, and it appears neither can Instant Replay (go to 5:00 minutes)

However, to play devil’s advocate, I would say that Oliveira wanted to make sure he did not make the same mistake Elfath did and factor into the result of the match. Could it have been a red? Sure. But, VAR (I know, you are laughing) could have told him to look at it again and did not. Moreover, given Oliveira’s ‘dislike’ for issuing red cards, it doesn’t come as a surprise.

You may also be remembering that blatant shove to Davies late in the match, screaming at me (and your television) THAT IS A CARD!!! Maybe. But what you might not remember is just a few minutes early, Marinovic took a good swing at Kreilach, just before kicking the ball up field. My point is that while there were calls that could have been made, Oliveira a) let the players decide the match, b) attempted to maintain control by issuing warnings via yellow cards, instead of kicking players out of the match, and c) was consistent in letting rough stuff go for both teams.

At the end of the day, all you want as a fan and player is a referee who will control the game but won’t let his ego or desire to be the center of attention get in the way. Whether you were frustrated by a few calls in the match or not, at the end of the day, Oliveira did a good job of balancing his role as a referee and not influencing the outcome of the match; something that many referees in MLS cannot claim. Or maybe he just got lucky and was actually terrible for not calling all those things I noted (and the PK Instant Replay noted).

It seems that Oliveira is working his way up the soccer pyramid. Hopefully we will begin to see him more in MLS as the league could certainly use him!

What were your thoughts on Marcos de Oliveira’s performance on Saturday night? Disagree with my assessment?