CARSON, California – It was a classic 50-50 call. The sort of game-changing decision Revs fans will lament in bars, basements and break rooms for the foreseeable future.
Before Gyasi Zardes made Homegrown history, before Chris Tierney gave beleaguered Revs fans hope, and before Robbie Keane crushed it by sending New England to a record fifth MLS Cup defeat, Mark Geiger had an opportunity to tip the scales in the visitors’ favor.
Geiger, of course, passed, waving off Lee Nguyen’s penalty shout in the 51st minute after the 2014 Volkswagen MLS MVP finalist was sent tumbling by a physical Juninho challenge from behind that left the Revs’ playmaker sprawled on the grass, arms in the air waiting for a whistle.
“I had it on my left, I cut it back and then [Juninho] came in from behind and pushed me down,” Nguyen said. “It could have gone either way, I guess. He didn’t call it, and we’ve got to move on.”
That’s easier said than done.
Asked whether the occasion might have simply been a bit too big for a young Revs squad, Jermaine Jones shifted the focus of his answer entirely, cryptically referencing Geiger and the no-call that could have given his side a crucial lead.
“Not for me. Maybe for one other guy,” Jones said. “[LA] get a lot of support. Not only from the fans. I’m upset and I have to watch out for what I say. It’s a big respect for my team.”
“I don’t want to say so much to this referee,” he added. “You can make a better decision. Maybe the game was too big for him.”
On the flipside, though there was clear contact, replays showed Juninho got a piece of the ball, and there’s no doubt the play was far less cut-and-dry in real time than it was in Jones’ memory.
Even more painfully, New England goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth picked the ball out of the back of his own net just a minute later after Zardes opened the scoring, a momentum shift that, for while it seemed, would give LA their record fifth MLS Cup championship.
Tierney made sure it wasn’t quite that simple for the Galaxy, slipping a shot under Jaime Penedo with 11 minutes left to eventually force extra time. But in the end the home side got it done in part because Nguyen wasn’t around during that additional half hour to tip the scales in New England’s favor.
Cramps claimed both of his calves first in the 85th minute, then his groin went after he made a valiant attempt to stay in the game before exiting to a standing ovation from Revs fans just before the end of regulation.
The decision to pull his most productive goalscorer and playmaker was a difficult one for Jay Heaps, but it was downright straightforward compared to the one New Englanders will remember Geiger for in his first-ever MLS Cup assignment.
“To be honest with you,” Heaps said, “I really thought that was a penalty.”
Stefan Ishizaki had an assist on the first LA Galaxy goal and Daigo Kobayashi came into the game in the 57th minute.