Almost as soon as he surprised reporters at training with the news of the successful appeal, Sounders GM and President of Soccer Garth Lagerwey went out of his way to offer support to the system that even allowed for the entire situation.
“I want to be very clear to say that I appreciate the job the referees did during the game,” Lagerwey told reporters on Wednesday, shortly after learning of the decision. “I think they have a very difficult job. I think the call they made on the field was understandable. By the letter of the law, Cristian did make contact with the face of [Eduardo] Atuesta and I understand why a VAR review would uphold that decision on the field.
“When the Independent Review Panel gets to sit down, and we give them a bunch materials and show them all the camera angles and they have unlimited time, they were able to deliberate and eventually reach a different conclusion. It’s really important to us to say as a club and for me personally to [head referee] Ted Unkel and [VAR official] Hilario Grajeda, ‘We think you did a good job and officiated a good job.’ We understand the call on the field and we continue to be supportive of the system.”
Head coach Brian Schmetzer, who offered a particularly robust defense of Roldan following the match, offered a similar sentiment.
“The process worked,” he said. “I have been very adamant myself in saying that the referees don’t have an easy job. I have a lot of empathy for them. They have to deal with a lot of stuff. I’m a big supporter of VAR; it’s something that is a great idea. I’m also happy to that the [independent review panel] made what I felt was the correct decision. I’m appreciative of what they did.”
Even Roldan refused to claim any sort of vindication. “I understood why it was a red. There was contact to the face and the rules are very black and white. I always felt hopeful, but it’s a tricky call because there’s so much chaos going on.”
That doesn’t mean Roldan is second-guessing anything he did, though.
“I watched it many, many times from different angles and reacted the same way on every single replay,” he said.
Part of why the Sounders may be reacting this way is that they know this probably won’t be the last time they are inclined to appeal a red card. Questionable red cards are simply part of the game, but the Sounders seem to be better than most at mitigating the longterm damage they do (at least when it doesn’t involve Clint Dempsey).
This is at least the fifth time that the Sounders have successfully appealed a red card decision since the system was formally put into play in 2012. Previously, the Sounders have won appeals on behalf of Obafemi Martins (2013), Osvaldo Alonso (2013), Román Torres (2017) and Chad Marshall (2018).
Successful appeal or not, Roldan’s pocketbook did not make it out entirely unscathed. He’s still responsible for the fine the MLS Disciplinary Committee — which is separate from the Independent Review Panel that reviewed the card — levied against him for failing to leave the field in a timely fashion. That the fine is just $250 likely makes that a bit more palatable.
“I read that on your site and for now I’m going to let that go,” Schmetzer said in response to a Sounder at Heart question about the secondary fine. “I may even pitch in and give him the $250. There’s confusion after red cards. It happens. I’m not going to sit there and make a big deal out of it. I saw it the way your site saw it but whatever.”