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All Angles on Seth Sinovic’s Red Card

What does clear and obvious mean again?

MLS: Sporting KC at San Jose Earthquakes Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

On Sunday, Sporting Kansas City walked away with a Western Conference clinching victory despite being down a man against then #2 ranked Los Angeles Football Club. The part where they were down a man is where the controversy rests.

In the 60th minute, LAFC took a corner kick that was headed by Ike Opara across the goal and Adama Diomande got on the end of it and drove it towards goal where Seth Sinovic was standing on the post and blocked it away. The announcers immediately applauded his positioning and strong defensive play. Then it went to video review.

Referee Allen Chapman drew the box signing the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) had asked him to take a look at it. About 30 seconds later (not 30 seconds of viewing time) he was walking away from the screen and he pointed to the spot and brandished a red card to Sinovic. The Kansas City crowd was in dismay. The announcers were in dismay. I was yelling at my television set from the comfort of my home in Arizona.

What the hell had just happened? Aren’t plays only supposed to be overturned if they are “clear and obvious?” Here is the explanation from the league’s official website:

“The VAR alerts the head referee to potential clear and obvious errors in four match-changing incidents: (1) goals, (2) penalty kicks, (3) direct red cards and (4) cases of mistaken identity.

Only the head referee can initiate a Video Review by making the Video Review signal (TV box sign). If video evidence is inconclusive, the original on-field decision will stand (emphasis mine). The final decision always rests with the head referee.”

So I went back to the broadcast to see for myself. Here are gifs of the five replay angles shown on the broadcast (though it should be noted, the VAR could have different angles we weren’t shown). I’ve slowed them all down because they go very quick in real time.

Angle 1: The Original Broadcast Angle

It’s pretty tough to see anything here, but my initial take was it hit his chest. Then they went to the replay and showed three more angles initially.

Angle 2: First Replay

Angle 3: Second Replay

Angle 4: Third Replay

At this point, it all seems pretty unclear. The fourth angle does give us maybe our best view up to this point, but the camera is moving so fast it’s blurry. Here is a screencap of the moment the ball hits Sinovic. As you can see it’s very blurry.

Both announcers seemed to believe there was nothing clear or obvious about it. At this point, before the final angle was shown, this is all we had to go on. Then Chapman walks out and points to the spot and produces a red. He can be shown pointing to his arm in a discussion with Sinovic. Which is when we can assume this interaction took place.

Post game, Sinovic said, “I know where it hit me,” as he pointed towards his shoulder. Allen Chapman apparently told him it was 100 percent a handball. Then we get the final replay after the penalty kick is scored.

Angle 5: The Fourth Replay

This one convinced a lot of people. Here is the freeze frame of the ball making contact.

The issue is, the ball is coming from the side towards Sinovic. It could be hitting his arm, but it could also be where his shoulder and chest meet. If this is the angle, then in under 30 seconds Chapman confirms it was “100 percent a handball,” I’m not convinced. One frame earlier the ball is off him and they don’t show the next frame afterwards, simply freezing it here.

In the game thread I indicated SKC should challenge the red card. They would have nothing to lose. In the past, teams get two unsuccessful challenges in a season before they are punished. It seems clear that Chapman made a decision that wasn’t “clear and obvious” so it seems SKC would have a chance to get it flipped back around since the video is inconclusive. That’s why this news was so surprising for me.

Per Sam McDowell of the Kansas City Star, Sporting KC “will not appeal Seth Sinovic’s red card Sunday.”

I’m all for video review and on the whole I think they get it right a majority of the time. Allen Chapman is the 2017 PRO Referee of the Year. Sunday will probably ensure he doesn’t repeat that honor in 2018. In the end, it all worked out and Sporting KC ended up scoring while down a man. But the ramifications for this will now seep into the Western Conference Semifinals where Sporting will be without Seth Sinovic and also Jaylin Lindsey will be gone on international duty (and for those thinking they’ll recall him, he apparently just left today).

That opens the door for the ‘Yohan Croizet at left back’ experiment to continue on. The thought of that at the beginning, middle or even maybe a month ago would have terrified me. Now, it seems just a bit less scary as Croizet has really found his footing with the team. He is still prone to errors though, and it sometimes only takes one in the playoffs.

[Update on 10/30/18: Peter Vermes confirms there were other angles we didn’t get to see and that the team will not challenge Seth’s red.]