HOUSTON — The Houston Dynamo haven’t had the best relationship with match officials this year. Houston’s latest grievance came Saturday against Seattle Sounders FC. The Dynamo left the game feeling “disrespected” by referee Nima Saghafi, who, in Houston’s eyes, missed a call that changed the course of a 1-0 loss at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Prior to the game, the Major League Soccer Disciplinary Committee fined Dynamo midfielder Juan David Cabezas an undisclosed amount for violating the league’s policy regarding the field of play. Cabezas left the bench to celebrate with teammate Mauro Manotas after Manotas scored against Toronto FC on July 20.
Houston was without one of its best players against Seattle. Forward Alberth Elis was serving the second half of a two-game suspension for aggressive behavior toward a match official. Elis also received an undisclosed fine. The incident in question occurred during Houston’s 5-0 loss at Atlanta United on July 17, when Elis took a straight red card for bumping referee Chris Penso in the sixth minute. The contact was slight, but Penso immediately reached for his back pocket.
Dynamo head coach Wilmer Cabrera was not shy about expressing his discontent with Saghafi after the Seattle loss. Cabrera thought the referee should have called a foul committed against his defender A. J. DeLaGarza in the 59th. Saghafi did not blow his whistle, and the play led to the Seattle goal that cost Houston the game.
“I think the referee made a mistake in that goal because that is a foul all over the world,” Cabrera said. “That is a foul against A. J. DeLaGarz; he didn’t call it. We didn’t receive the respect at that moment. That’s a foul here, at the moon, Africa, South America, Europe — if we play in Seattle, that’s a foul if it’s Seattle, but we didn’t receive the respect by Nima Saghafi.”
The controversial play started when Dynamo defender Kiki Struna’s attempted clearance went straight up in the air inside Houston’s penalty area. Seattle forward Jordan Morris backed in to and undercut DeLaGarza, who flipped midair and landed on his head.
With no foul called and DeLaGarza still on the turf, Morris was able to control possession and shoot into the far corner of the goal.
— Seattle Sounders FC (@SoundersFC) July 28, 2019
“You don’t need to be a scientist to understand that situation the player almost got hurt, A. J. DeLaGarza almost got injured,” Cabrera said. “All over the world that is a normal regular foul against the defender, but not for us.”
DeLaGarza also expressed confusion as to how Saghafi did not call a foul.
“I don’t know how that is not a foul,” DeLaGarza said. “I told him that’s a foul anywhere else in a field and he said, ‘I don’t know,’ and I said, ‘It is, it’s simple.’ I think it’s a foul in any league in any place. I jump up and get undercut and go flipping, clearly. I didn’t just jump over a guy that was standing straight up, he bent down and I stumbled over the top of him.”
DeLaGarza believes the “bigger” MLS teams get more leniency from the referees.
“I think the bigger-market teams get the benefit, and I have been on a big-market team and have seen when I was on that team benefit,” he said. “So, now being here you are on the flip side. You see the things that aren’t called for you.”
The Dynamo had opportunities to open the scoring in the first half. In the 12 minute, Manotas took a left-footed shot from outside the box that Seattle keeper Stefan Frei saved. Several minutes later, Frei again denied Manotas.
“We dominated possession, but sometimes we didn’t get anywhere with the ball,” Dynamo midfielder Memo Rodríguez said. “We have to continue building and get ready for next week against Chicago.”
Seattle had a close call in the 39th minute when Jordy Delem took a shot from outside the box that was blocked by Dynamo goalkeeper Tyler Deric.
Manotas tried to break the 0-0 score in the 44th minute, but his shot was blocked yet again.
The second half started out with Seattle attacking more and looking for a breakthrough. It came just before the hour mark and was all the Sounders needed to claim the victory.
“It was a hard loss today, we tried everything possible,” Rodríguez said. “Sometimes you don’t score or you make one mistake or the ref doesn’t make a call, but we have to continue fighting. Now we turn the page and prepare for the next game.”
The loss leaves Houston a point behind the Portland Timbers for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Dynamo return to action this Saturday against the Chicago Fire at BBVA Compass Stadium.