PRO has announced the referee assignments for the return legs of the 2016 Conference finals. For the grudge match between your Seattle Sounders and the Colorado Rapids, refereeing out of the unpredictable corner, the undisputed muscle champion of MLS, smug pointer at penalty spots, (alleged) Timbers fan, and lover of the spotlight, it’s Ricardo Salazar.
Yep, that Ricardo Salazar will be in the center for the all-important throwdown this Sunday. He’ll be joined by his cornermen Ian Anderson and Corey Parker (AR1 and AR2, respectively), and Fotis Bazakos as 4th official.
This - perhaps - isn’t the terrible news that it seems. The Sounders have seen Salazar a few times this season already; Dallas in May and July, Vancouver in October, and the first leg of the conference semi-finals against Dallas. He generally received high ratings from Realio (7, 4, 8, and 8), and even - what we can only assume were given begrudgingly - decent community ratings (5.0, 4.8, 5.4, and 6.9 respectively).
May’s matchup saw a card-less 2-0 loss, with Salazar showcasing his willingness to make potentially game-changing calls early in matches with a 3rd minute penalty. The match saw essentially even fouls at Dallas 12-11 Seattle.
July’s 5-0 drubbing of Dallas’s reserve side earned him his worst rating of the year, highlighting his penchant for occasionally blurring the lines between football and soccer, as well as his struggle with consistency. An early straight red on Maynor Figueroa in the 4th minute was one of only three cards shown, despite this being perhaps the most physical game the Sounders played all season. Salazar somehow only saw 19 fouls all match, with 13 of them committed by Dallas, while players almost certainly saw and felt at least twice that.
The remaining Vancouver and Dallas matches saw a return of Reasonable Salazar. A Vancouver 14-9 Seattle split on fouls, two penalties, and yet another straight red, this time to Brad Evans in the 84th for trying to headbutt a guy, got him lots of up close TV time once again. A back-and-forth match in the first leg of the semi-finals resulted in 17 total fouls, and only five of those committed by Sounders.
His matches involving the Sounders this year have avoided the controversy of years past. With the highest red cards per match rate this year of any referee in PRO, a propensity to allow overtly physical play, and an appetite for making big-time calls, Sunday’s match may well end up as wild as it will be stressful.