The call was wrong: A closer look at the Marquez red card

Photo: Courtesy of Vancouver Whitecaps

Athletes often remind media members that we “never played the game” when bringing up on-field topics that seemingly can’t be conveyed or understood.

That’s probably fair, but there’s more to it.

There’s a further dichotomy between media types who actually know the sport, and those who throw out bombastic opinions on social media. That’s the bottom rung of the ladder.

You don’t want to be on that rung. That’s where the posers lurk, tweeting out blanket statements with trendy, British buzzwords like “cynical” and “harsh.”

Case in point: the Richie Marquez red card.

Never in a million years is that a sending off.

The second-year center back was ejected Saturday night in his first career MLS start. Referee Ismail Elfath flashed a straight red for a high boot that caught Cristian Techera on the side of the leg.

Watch it again:

Vincent Nogueira was astonished by the call, as were nearby Union players, who approached Elfath.

On the other hand, midfielder Matias Laba was the only Whitecaps player to gesture in his direction.

Your thoughts, Jim?

We spoke with Marquez about the incident on Wednesday.

Philly Soccer Page: Did you think this was a red card?

Richie Marquez: I thought it was a foul. I wouldn’t say it was a red. I didn’t think it was a red. I saw the replay a few times, and it didn’t really look like I caught the guy too much, just kind of skinned him.

PSP: Did you get an explanation from the official?

Marquez: I heard the studs were up, or something like that. I think it’s tough, because as a defender we go through that kind of situation in almost every game. I don’t know, it’s a bit unlucky I get.

PSP: Did the coaches speak to you about appealing the card, what were the conversations like?

Marquez: I think they were just trying to keep my head up, because I was pretty upset about it. They were trying not to talk too much about it, you know, just keep my confidence up, keep my energy up, and not try to bring me down.

PSP: Is it disappointing leaving your first MLS start with a sending off?

Marquez: It was really disappointing, actually. It’s something I’m never going to forget. First start, and I get a red card, that’s not what you want, but you can’t really dwell on this kind of stuff.

PSP: The challenge seemed a bit unusual. You don’t hear about the studs being “up” on a ball that’s sort of falling out of the air like that. Both players stayed up. No one went to ground..

Marquez: Yea, to be honest, I thought it was going to be a 50/50 between both of us. I thought both of us kind of just attacked the ball. I wasn’t in any way trying to hurt the guy or whatnot, and I think even at the last minute I probably could have moved my foot away so I wouldn’t hit him, and avoid the whole confrontation. It’s just unfortunate. It’s hard to explain.

What constitutes “serious foul play”?

This type of call is always open to interpretation. “Serious foul play” is a red card offense and this is how it’s described in FIFA’s laws of the game:

A player is guilty of serious foul play if he uses excessive force or brutality against an opponent when challenging for the ball when it is in play.

A tackle that endangers the safety of an opponent must be sanctioned as serious foul play.

Any player who lunges at an opponent in challenging for the ball from the front, from the side or from behind using one or both legs, with excessive force and endangering the safety of an opponent is guilty of serious foul play.

Can we presume to know a player’s intent, or lack thereof? Was that a lunge with excessive force?

The nature of this challenge is unique, and that’s why I don’t see it as the typical “studs up” challenge.

Most “leg breakers” are challenges that involve one or both players going to ground, coming in horizontally, and then catching a player in the lower ankle or shin area (see the Steve Zakuani injury). Other related tackles are elevated in the knee area in a “reaching” fashion. Roy Keane’s notoriously horrific challenge on Alf-Inge Haaland is an example of the latter.

That’s a clear red card, indefinite suspension, and fine. It was calculated and malicious and garnered a three-game ban that was extended to eight games after he admitted to the intent in his biography.

Those are the challenges that we’re trying to remove from the game, but this Marquez challenge isn’t one of them. This felt more like a player who came late through a 50/50 challenge as the ball was falling out of the air. Marquez caught the man instead of the ball and you could have easily shown a yellow card here.

Here’s what Curtin had to say in Wednesday’s press conference about the sending off:

I don’t believe it’s a red card on Marquez. It’s an aggressive foul. There’s not a lot of contact. The big thing they like to say now is his studs were showing. My rebuttal to that is always, and I brought this up in the PRO (referees) meeting at the beginning of the year, how can a player slide, physically slide and make a tackle or any challenge – and I’m not talking about the Marquez one in particular — and not have his studs show? It kind of irks me when you hear, and that’s what was written in the report: ‘His studs were showing.’ It’s physically impossible to leave your feet in soccer and not have your studs show. So, again, I think that’s a gray area. I don’t think it’s a red card. I think it was a little harsh. I have some people that are on the disciplinary committee and they warned not to challenge it because PRO agrees that it was a red card. So, to challenge it would be futile, so we’re not going to do that. At this time we’re going to prepare with the thought that, unfortunately, Richie is not going to be part of the group. He’ll be suspended, obviously, and serve that suspension. It’s a tough one because he’s put together two good games and had some confidence as a young player in a game where it wasn’t our team’s best. I thought he still did a decent job putting out fires until the unfortunate decision that went against him. You know, the refs have a split second to make a decision — it’s tough. But I thought that one was a harsh one but, again, that’s the way it’s going.

Differing Opinions

MLS Soccer’s Simon Borg reviewed the play in his weekly “Instant Replay” series and agreed with Elfath’s sending off.

He seemed to be in the minority, judging from the reaction on social media. Whitecaps’ radio and TV voice Peter Schaad was a dissenter.

For those of us who played in high school or college, or continue to play in the Casa League or in various pick up games around the region, we see these types of challenges all the time.

You go for a 50/50 ball and you’re put on a path that leads to conflict. Someone is probably going to get there late. There will be contact. You stick out a boot and catch an ankle, step on a foot, or spike a shinguard. Take that scenario, swap out the casual player, and add bigger, stronger, and faster professionals; that amplifies the typical 50/50 challenge.

I’ve played center back and defensive mid since I was a teenager, which was 11 years ago. These days, it’s nearly impossible to find a local league that allows slide tackling, and that’s normally a default rule for groups that are trying to avoid unnecessary injuries. In the case of Marquez, however, the challenge wasn’t made on the ground, and it’s the type of play that happens in leagues that force you to stay on your feet. You have to be coming in hard and fast, then make solid contact, to injure someone on that type of tackle.

Marquez was a bit late, but I don’t think he was reckless.

One thing that cannot happen is failing to call the game properly out of disrespect for a team. It doesn’t matter if the Philadelphia Union has zero wins, 35 losses, and 15 draws. You have to ref a fair game. In any sport, top teams and top athletes (Tom Brady) get the favorable calls, which everyone knows is true/garbage. It didn’t happen in this case, but what you did see was a lot of media types blow off the challenge because they don’t think the Union is worth talking about, and that’s disappointing.


  1. alicat215 says:

    The only reason I can see justifying red here is, and Joel already brought it up, that if Marquez makes contact with that players planted leg…….it shatters. I’ve seen it happen a few times……the leg looks like a sock flipping around with the tibia and fibula broken…….nasty. As players, thats why your always told to elevate during contact……so you pitch forward in the air instead of snapping your leg… the player on Toronto did. I don’t think it was red because there was little contact….but if he had made contact differently….that could have been really bad. I always thought going in two footed warranted a straight red. Going in with one is just part of the game….and it seems the MLS wants to change it.

    • The Black Hand says:

      That scenario (what if? ) could be used for any aspect of the game. Injuries, from contact, can happen at any time.
      Marquez lunged with his studs up. That is why the ref drew Red. But, he was playing the ball and made minimal contact with the Whitecap player. Yellow was warranted, with a strong warning. Red was harsh, in my opinion.

      • alicat215 says:

        Not true TBH……the scenario I’m directly speaking about is a 50/50 challenge when the players puts his studs up, head on…..thats it.

      • The Black Hand says:

        Gotcha. I was speaking of the ‘what if’, regarding “…if Marquez makes contact with that players planted leg…”. He didn’t. A ref cannot justify a straight-red with what could have happened. Marquez tickled the guy…on a 50/50, that both players were challenging.
        In a situation like Marquez’; unless he has had decades of ballet training, it is impossible to go into that challenge without studs showing.

      • alicat215 says:

        Very true, my point was I think the MLS is trying to stamp any challenge like that……out of the game. Which, I don’t agree with either…..come on, dude….he went into that recklessly…even though he hardly touched him.

    • alicat215 says:

      And a savy ref gives Marquez a yellow and tells him: ” your lucky it’s not red, if I have to talk to you again…..your gone”……..and tries his best not to influence the match

      • The Black Hand says:

        Exactly. That would have been the right way to handle that situation. In hindsight, it didn’t matter. Nothing was going to change the outcome of that match. We stunk up the pitch…and got served our dose.

  2. good read, i especially like the last paragraph. its always something that bears repeating

  3. First- that was not worthy of a red card in my opinion and speaks to the lack of integrity of MLS and it’s pathetic referee core.

    Second- disagree if you want but in my opinion the Union aren’t getting respect from the league in general because it’s being run like a 2nd rate out post by an extremely weak ownership,CEO, Front Office, no GM and a poor and overwhelmed coaching staff! There are no powerful entities in the Union that make MLS stand up and take notice.

    Question-does anyone actually respect the job being done lately by Sugarman and Sakeiwicz among MLS leadership? I doubt it. I respect the players but the team has no serious identity and they strike fear in no one.

    Sell this franchise to a competent and financially competitive owner!!


  4. As was pointed out by alicat, a if solid contact was made with the Vancouver player’s leg, he would probably be out for the season. Like the fifa laws of the game state, a challenge which endangers the safety of an opponent must be deemed as serious foul play. Intent, or even the result of the challenge for that matter, does not matter as much as the challenge itself does. So was it a bit harsh, maybe. Was the call justified, I think so.

  5. The Black Hand says:

    How are we not addressing Maurice Edu’s undressing, at the end of the video clip?? I mean, really Mo…REALLY???
    Please tell me how he justifies the $600-700K.

    • well in fairness a swivel of the hips can render even the greatest defenders grasping at air….
      ….poor Jerome Boateng.

      • oh, that was devastating. looked like a sniper just shot him!

      • The Black Hand says:

        Eff (for you JET) that!!! How far was Edu planning to retreat. When the attacker crosses your 18, you need to think about the challenge. Mo was salsa dancing…badly…

      • alicat215 says:

        if you can’t get the ball there you have to plant the guy before he gets into the box! High school players know this…….

  6. Dan Walsh says:

    Great piece, Kevin.

  7. This is a common problem with some of the “professional track” refs that haven’t ever played the game before either. (I actually don’t know Elfath’s path other than he is notoriously inconsistent in MLS).
    They see things on TV and think “studs up” is an automatic call, but can’t make a judgement about the players intent or what the contact actually feels like to be on the receiving end. In this case, Marquez was clearly trying to get a light touch or toe-poke on a bouncing ball before Techera does…classic 50/50. His foot is high because that’s where the ball is! There’s zero excessive force when he’s balanced perfectly on his other leg. At worst, Techera felt the scrape of his boot, but no where near the pressure that would cause any significant muscle or bone injury.
    Is it a foul? Sure.
    Is it a yellow? Debatable in my opinion, but I wouldn’t have argued it too much.
    A red? I agree completely with Kevin: never in a million years.

    • That was a halfhearted challenge with some intent to injure. He never went for the ball , he went for the leg but not too forcefully. If you go for the ball. your foot is out in front of the ball to intercept its trajectory. Anybody who played beyond the college level knows what the kid wanted to do. That was no “OOPS”. Too much bias in these comments, too much rooting for Philly. Would love to see suspensions last as long as the severe injury if that occurs.

      • In a court of law, your argument would be considered argumentative and my objection to it would be upheld. I’m a bit surly this evening so I’m just going to go with it.
        How in the world can you determine intent. The most you can argue is ‘it appeared’, hell the bearded player himself likely doesn’t know what his intent was- let alone you.
        And what the sam hell does ‘beyond the college level’ have to do with anything. I played golf in college and beyond the college level a bit but that doesn’t mean I know what to tip the shoe shine guy at TPC.
        Dr. K…. have you not been reading these pages the last month. Believe me, this is not the place Union apologists come lately.
        Dr. K…. you sound and often read like a closet Red Bulls fan. Come out. It’s okay.

      • The soccer field is not a court of law. It is more like a jungle, so stop with the polemics. If you play the game , intent is not so hard to determine. If you dont pull out of the challenge where ther is no chance of getting to the ball,, your intent is to do damage. it aint too complicated. To injure your opponent is part of the culture of the game for some people (ask Roy Keane).also , soccer is not golf. I guess .

      • The only proper response I can offer your circular reasoning is…
        …”but its so simple. all I have to do is divine from you what I know of you, are you the sort of man who put the poison into his own goblet or his enemy’s?”
        …’you have a dizzying intellect.’

      • alicat215 says:

        I hate saying this, because I really don’t like him, but K is right here……………ball or man, you have to get one of them. Marquez was clearly trying to get a piece of the TFC player….otherwise, as begrudgingly noted above….he would have pulled out of the challenge….

  8. Are the Union worth talking about? Beyond being a punchline?
    People harping on this bad call (of which every team in the league is a victim of) is music to the FO’s ears. Complaining about the officiating deflects blame from where it really belongs. This is just another “open letter to the league.”
    Red or no red the Union are still a second rate organization that were embarrassed by Vancouver.

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