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Don Garber gives lukewarm defense of Open Cup referee

MLS Commissioner suggests the match was a learning experience for all involved.

Oh look, another game Radford failed to control.
Oh look, another game Radford failed to control.
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Allowing relatively inexperienced referees to be in charge of U.S. Open Cup matches is not a new concept. It happens every year. In that sense, Daniel Radford's appointment was not entirely shocking.

But given his limited experience -- which the Seattle Sounders reportedly pointed out -- it was probably not a great idea to put him in the middle of the most heated rivalry in North American soccer, especially one being played in an environment like Starfire Soccer Stadium. Even seasoned referees could find that intimidating. That the game eventually ended in ridiculous fashion was probably a bit predictable.

Finally speaking about the game -- and Clint Dempsey's subsequent suspension -- MLS Commissioner Don Garber acknowledged as much. But he also seemed willing to chalk it up as a necessary evil, as opposed to promising to do what he could to make sure refs aren't put into situations like that.

"We have to have our referees be tested. The way to do that is in competitions like the U.S. Open Cup. I understand it was a rivalry match. I understand it's in a small venue. My guess is that if he was to make that decision again, he might rethink it. But, at that time, it was the right thing for that official. Things got out of hand. Things got out of hand in Champions League finals, too. It is what it is. It's a long-term project, the PRO program. Sometimes, you have to take a little pain. That referee might turn out to be our referee of the year five years from now."

Yes, Garber actually said he thought Radford could turn out to be "referee of the year" someday. And while that's possibly true, it still doesn't excuse putting him in a position like that given his lack of experience in these kinds of games. Radford, in case you haven't heard by now, has only served as a fourth official in MLS matches. His recent history in the middle suggests he's a bit card happy and someone who struggles to control matches. The last time he called a match between two MLS teams, he ended up being chased around the field by a player he showed a card to. There's no way a reasonable person should have thought him ready to call this match.

So, sure, chalk it up to a learning experience. It's just a shame that it had to come at such a significant cost and it would be comforting to know that someone in the league office has learned a lesson. Unfortunately, that doesn't appear to be the case.

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