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Real Salt Lake coach Mike Petke calls for more transparency from MLS

Jul 14, 2018; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Real Salt Lake head coach Mike Petke gets ejected in the second half against Minnesota United at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Real Salt Lake head coach Mike Petke could have gotten out of Minnesota without addressing his second-half ejection. During his postgame press conference following RSL’s 3-2 loss to Minnesota United FC, no one asked Petke what exactly led to that moment.

But when someone asked if he had anything he wanted to add, he was blunt and honest in his response as he criticized the referees.

“Yeah there’s something I want to add, and was hoping you guys would ask. You didn’t ask and I kind of went with it, maybe that’s the best for it,” Petke said in his post-game press conference. “But why did I get kicked out tonight? Why did I get kicked out tonight?

“You look at the 20th minute, which I checked at halftime Schüller goes in on Danny Acosta who’s in behind the midfield line, studs up, a foot off the ground, studs showing, into his leg. If he is a foot to the left of Danny, face on, he breaks his leg. There’s none of this crap that the referees do to the VAR, no looking at VAR, no nothing, it’s a yellow card. Marcelo gets a yellow 12 minutes later for toe-poking a ball during a set-piece 15 yards away, I mean what are we doing here. Quintero on the goal doesn’t look at Justen. Doesn’t look at the ball, plays literally not the ball, runs in, extends his arm, looks up at the last second, and they score, and it’s this crap again.

“The conversation with the fourth official over the last four games, was three games starting three games ago, Jefferson Savarino is being targeted. Know what the fourth official says to me? ‘Yeah I know, we talked about it, we’re good,’ and continuous fouls, fouls, fouls, nothing.

“I don’t want to talk about the last four games though, I want to talk about tonight. We had more shots leading into the second half, we were locked up, we were good denying anything, and it’s not good enough. The only thing I get from MLS is stop criticizing referees.

“I want to know where the referees are right now — why can’t we ask the referee a question? Why can’t we do that, we can’t we ask why didn’t you go to VAR? Why didn’t you call that? Why when the studs are coming up, you just give them a yellow card — that would make them more human, it would be better to MLS, it would be better for this league, for the fans, for the owners, for the coaches, for the players to hear from them and to hear their side of the story. And perhaps then we say, ‘OK, I see, maybe it happened a little fast.’ Maybe the guy in the booth, wherever the hell he is watching this, maybe he was watching ‘The Simpsons.’ I don’t know. I have no idea. It’s not good enough to me.

“I’ll take the fine. Jeff Agoos, fine me. Fine me! I don’t care anymore. No other coach in this league steps up a little more than they should, I’m going to. So drain my bank account, I don’t give a shit anymore.”

Petke’s sendoff was a result of multiple no-calls, not just one. In the 20th minute, Rasmus Schüller hit Danilo Acosta with a high kick, studs up. Both Acosta and Petke agreed that if it were just a foot to the left, Acosta could have suffered a broken leg. Yet Schüller was only shown a yellow card. Later in the game, Marcelo Silva received the same penalty for toe-poking the ball — arguably not on the same level as nearly injuring an opponent.

“You can say it’s a yellow card, but everyone else says it’s a red card,” Acosta said. “He had no intentions to go to the ball, he just went to my legs. … Those are the types of things we have to correct. It’s not like we’re going to blame the ref or anything like that, but if he would have given a red card, the game probably would have changed.”

What ultimately got Petke sent off was his reaction to a play in which he thought Justen Glad did not get a fair opportunity to defend Minnesota’s first goal. Petke thought Carlos Quintero made a play on Glad rather than a play on the ball, though Petke admitted Glad could have been stronger in the situation.

In both cases, Petke was upset the fourth official elected to not use the Video Assistant Referee system to review the play.

Petke would like referees to explain their decisions following games, whether or not they’re controversial calls. While that isn’t standard practice in other professional sport leagues, he thinks MLS could start a new wave. Transparency, consistency and accountability is what Petke wants from the league, and he thinks having the referees speak to media about their VAR decisions would make them more human.

“At the end of the day, might not agree with [the referee], but at least I give him credit for standing up in front of the cameras and saying, ‘This is how I saw it,’” Petke said. “I’d love MLS to be groundbreaking.”

The lack of explanation is not going to cut it for Peke. With the technology available, Petke doesn’t see why it isn’t being utilized more often for situations like these. He called VAR the elephant in the room that no one wants to address. His players would like to see it used more, too. 

When MLS implemented VAR, it made clear that reviews would only occur in four situations — goals, penalties, red cards and mistaken identity — and a referee’s decision could only be overturned if video reviewed showed a “clear and obvious error.”

The system has been widely criticized since its inception.

“It’s useful when it’s used correctly and when the right calls are being made,” Glad said.

On Sunday night, Petke tweeted an apology to his family, supporters, organization and the MLS for swearing. Notably, he did not apologize for his criticism of the referees. 

Fans don’t seem to mind the outburst. They have created shirts and even started a GoFundMe to pay the fine Petke is expecting. While Petke thinks it’s awesome fans have rallied behind him, he hopes the money raised goes to charity as he knows he’ll ultimately have to shoulder whatever punishment comes his way — he’s expecting a suspension or fine from the league for his comments.

In the meantime, Acosta is grateful to have a coach who will go to bat for him.

“I have so much respect for him, and for him to just have our backs like that no matter what — he has our backs and we have his back,” Acosta said.

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