Matchday 4 had it all. But the Game of the Week survived a poor performance from the man with the whistle.
Where to begin? Referee mars match of the week; injuries decimate Cruz Azul; Pumas fire coach; Chivas suffer first loss; animals scamper onto field at two venues … For now, we’ll just focus on the first item.
Despite the best efforts of referee Fernando Guerrero, Monterrey and América provided a very entertaining match, finishing the game with 9 men each as flustered TV commentators were at a loss to explain the bizarre calls made.
Right from the start, Guerrero decided to play the protagonist, whistling a foul on Monterrey’s Avilés Hurtado at the 7-minute mark after he collided with Aguilas keeper Agustín Marchesín. The ref then was advised to consult the video replay – which showed Hurtado chasing a lead pass and making contact with the ball as Marchesín came charging out to the top of the box, his knee managing to slide under the stride of Hurtado. Marchesín had stopped the dribble and gathered in the ball. Surely this would remain a simple foul … or at most a yellow.
No. Guerrero brandished the red card and the Rayados were down to 10 men.
Quickly, however, the ref appeared to whistle a make-up call. Monterrey striker Rogelio Funes Mori went down in the box upon feeling contact, but it did not appear enough to warrant a foul. Sure enough, Guerrero pointed to the spot and the Rayados were awarded a penalty. Nico Sánchez converted and Monterrey was up 1-0.
Shortly thereafter, the rain started to fall, further complicating the conditions for both teams as the ball began to skitter and players began to slip and slide.
In minute 24, América midfielder Edson Álvarez – who has been in tremendous form – collected a loose ball in the box, stepped around a Monterrey defender and blasted home to knot the score at 1-1.
Despite being a man down, Monterrey held its own as the fast-paced game increased in intensity. By halftime, ref Guerrero had called 11 fouls and América had squandered a good opportunity to take the lead in minute 35 when Guido Rodríguez fired high from 12 meters.
Referee shows more red
Four minutes after the break, Aguilas defender Jorge Sánchez was shown red after a rash tackle that caught Monterrey’s John Medina on the ankle. Replays showed Sánchez made contact with the ball first, but his slide on the wet turf carried him through his rival. A harsh call.
The fouls were coming more frequently, in part due to the slippery conditions combined with the intensity of the play.
In minute 56, another América defender was sent to the showers by ref Guerrero. Emanuel Aguilera earned a second yellow for a dangerous play and off the pitch he trudged. On the ensuing free kick, Nico Sánchez got behind the América defense but his header skittered way wide.
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Just 4 minutes later, the Rayados were awarded another penalty shot which was “confirmed” by video assistant replay, despite the protestations of irate América coach Miguel Herrera, who stared at the video in the booth before Guerrero arrived. This is a no-no, because the video monitors are not supposed to be available to the coaches, but Liga MX officials have not done a good job of organizing the VAR system.
Nico Sánchez stepped to the spot for a second time, but this time the big defender was denied when Marchesín dived to his right and blocked the shot. Both players scrambled for the loose ball and Sánchez appeared to poke it free with his left foot before leaping over the top of the keeper. A whistle stopped the game and players turned to see Guerrero fumbling for his red card … again. Sánchez was sent to the showers and the match was down to a 9-on-9. Replays seemed to indicate Sánchez did not make contact with Marchesín.
Mayhem in the stands and along the sidelines as Rayados fans and their bench howled in dismay. But their agony would not last long.
In minute 67, Monterrey defender César Montés carried to the top of the box between three América rivals and touched a through pass to Carlos Rodríguez whose trap was a bit firm and the ball scooted free across the top of the box. The first to react was Funes Mori who came in straight on and slotted home to the right of Marchesín for a 2-1 lead.
The game was end-to-end madness, highly entertaining, the crowd roaring with each rush. In minute 70, Estadio BBVA Bancomer erupted in joy as Funes Mori converted an absolute gem of a goal.
Edson Gutiérrez got free down the right flank with Aguilas defenders scrambling to get back with numbers, Funes Mori alone near the penalty spot, but bracketed by two Aguilas. Guti lofted a cross over defender Bruno Valdez, Funes Mori trapped with his right thigh, then reached his right foot up to pull the ball back onto his left foot just as Paul Aguilar ran by to block the expected volley. Funes Mori pushed the ball from his left foot to his right as the recovering Valdez slid past to block the expected left-footer. Now settled, Funes Mori calmly right-footed inside the right post past the by now befuddled Marchesín and the score was 3-1.
But América was not giving up just yet. At the 80-minute mark, Bruno Valdez had gone forward and he slipped behind his marker to bring down a Paul Aguilar header that cleared the Monterrey defense and he shuffled the ball into the net as keeper Marcelo Barovero raced out to try and smother the attempt.
América had one more chance to tie with a free kick from distance during injury time, but Guido Rodríguez was unable to get the ball on net.
What had been promoted as the Match of the Week did indeed live up to the billing, despite the terribly flawed performance by ref Guerrero. It is virtually certain that he will be suspended at least one week.
In addition, the VAR again gets a black eye as its use only seems to confuse things further. Too many times, fouls seem to be misconstrued or refs seem begrudged about being asked to change their call.
But the issue doesn’t seem to be only the refs on the field. The VAR officials buzz down without rhyme or reason to have plays evaluated. Furthermore, the officials have no control over the placement of the cameras at stadiums, complicating certain calls (consider the controversial disallowed goal in last week’s Toluca vs Guadalajara match). The on-field video monitor is typically placed between the team benches which can complicate the evaluation, instead of placing it on the opposite side of the field or somewhere the referee Is away from the prying eyes of the coaches (who shouldn’t be allowed to view the videos themselves).
All in all, it is apparent that the Liga MX VAR experiment is suffering from poor planning, poor training and poor execution. Still … what a game!