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Orlando City coach, players react to questionable penalty awarded to Columbus Crew

Members of Columbus Crew SC scrum with members of Orlando City SC in the second half at MAPFRE Stadium. (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Orlando City was leading the Columbus Crew 2-1 when match referee Silviu Petrescu blew his whistle and signaled for a penalty kick in the 86th minute.

Forward Patrick Mullins went down in the penalty area trying to head the ball and Petrescu determined right back RJ Allen initiated enough contact to award the penalty.

Orlando City’s players immediately protested – the contact in the penalty area appeared minimal – but to no avail.

Petrescu made the motion for video review twice – once before booking left back Mohamed El-Munir for dissent, then again afterward — but he ultimately chose not to use the monitor on the side of the field to watch the play again.

All penalty decisions are reviewed by the Video Assistant Referee. The referee on the pitch decides whether to consider that information. According to MLS VAR rules, a penalty call on the field can only be reversed if there is a clear and obvious error. It is unclear what perspective Jon Freemon, the VAR for the match, offered to Petrescu because referees are not required to disclose VAR discussions after the match.

Crew striker Gyasi Zardes converted from the spot and leveled the match, which the Crew went on to win 3-2.

“As the Columbus player was about to head the ball in the Orlando penalty area, the Orlando player charged him from behind,” the referees told the match pool reporter after the game. “Therefore a penalty kick was called.”

Coach James O’Connor said Orlando City “didn’t deserve that.”

“The fact that you’re asking that as the first question says it all,” O’Connor said in response to a question from a Pro Soccer USA reporter after the match. “I’m not going to speak about the referee. Everyone else at home can see what’s going on. It’s just really, really disappointing for the players, because the players didn’t deserve that tonight. They really didn’t.”

Midfielder Sacha Kljestan, who had a goal and an assist in Orlando City’s loss, said the call was bad.

“I thought it was the wrong call,” he said. “I watched it live and I thought it was the wrong call, and I watched the replay about 50 times on my phone and I still think it was the wrong call. Why do we have VAR if we’re not going to check things like that? I don’t know. It’s a very frustrating way to lose the game.”

Orlando City CEO Alex Leitão said the call was “absurd.” 

“I am sorry but there is no explanation for this one,” Leitão said in a tweet. 

Orlando City player Scott Sutter also offered his take on the call via social media.

Striker Dom Dwyer, who didn’t play in Saturday’s loss, also took to Twitter to say the call was a “joke.” 

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