Work in Sports
Red cards change course of United victory at Miami
Posted: Monday October 25, 1999 06:39 PM
By Jeff Green, CNN/SI
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- D.C. United midfielder Richie Williams got a rude introduction to the Miami Fusion's most spirited fans Sunday afternoon. He was pelted with plastic water bottles as he exited the game after being ejected in the first half of United's series-clinching victory.
While it can't be called a rivalry based on results (D.C. now leads the series 10-2 all-time and has won eight in a row), the Fusion and United have drawn 10 red cards in 12 games.
The result was a virtual instant replay of the 1998 playoffs, where the Fusion lost to United 3-2 in a six-round shootout after a scoreless 90 minutes, falling out of the first round in two games. Roy Lassiter was red carded early in that game, forcing United to fall back and defend.
Sunday's game -- which saw D.C. advance to play Columbus in the Eastern Conference Finals -- took a violent turn in the 34th minute.
A crunching tackle on United forward Roy Lassiter by Pablo Mastroeni resulted in a yellow card. Play stalled as Lassiter was tended to by trainers, and a skirmish erupted.
Referee Ricardo Valenzuela handed out red cards to Fusion attacking midfielder Henry Gutierrez, the team's MVP in the regular season, and Williams, a defensive midfielder. Williams will have to sit out United's first game against the Crew.
"Basically, it was a little skirmish, a lot of pushing and shoving and hitting and stuff, but nothing that warranted a red card," Williams said. "Henry, I guess, threw the ball at Roy, and I pushed him and said not to do it. He pushed me back and that was it. Henry then turned around and Eric Wynalda hit me and I hit him back. That was it; I don't think any of it warranted a red card, maybe a yellow card. It's the playoffs; people are playing hard."
After the incident, Gutierrez stripped off his jersey and stalked off the field.
Williams was escorted off the pitch in front of the West end zone stands, home of the Fusion's most vocal supporters' group, the Afusionados. After the shower of projectiles from the stands, Williams hurled his own water bottle at the crowd. More plastic bottles and a flagpole were then thrown his way.
Rongen said the red card changed his approach to the match.
"The game changed somewhat with the red cards, obviously, which I think was to Miami's advantage with good speed up front. I think Tom Presthus came up big," he said. "We're extremely fortunate obviously, and happy that we got away with a victory and now we can focus on Columbus."
"We did start well," Rongen said. "We dictated the pace and then played some good football, but then we lost it a little bit and then we really struggled for 60 minutes after that."
"We said before the game, 'If we've got to win ugly, we'll win ugly," he said. "Clearly you play for a tie, so to speak, and then take a chance in the shootout, which you do on the road."
Fusion coach Ivo Wortmann -- whose future with the Fusion is in doubt -- said the players should not have been sent off.
"I think it made problems for the game. It was not a call or a red. Keep the two guys in the game," said Wortmann. "I think if you compare, we played a better game today than last year."
Wortmann was also forced to make a halftime substitution for midfielder Edwin Gorter, who will undergo an MRI for a possible meniscus tear in his left knee. Wortmann inserted forward Saul Martinez and thus lost a link man in midfield. That, he said, led him to substitute Nelson Vargas for Welton in the 69th minute.
"We controlled the game; we had the chances. We did everything," said Wortmann. "Tell me how many chances we had to kill the game. I'm proud about these guys. They did a good job. I think we played a decent game."
Said Wynalda: "Tempers were flaring; I think guys were a little upset the foul. There was some chippy stuff going on in a crowd. Richie Williams kicked me in the shin, and he thought nobody was looking. The fourth official saw it."
Wynalda said that he didn't believe Mastroeni's tackle was a foul.
"[Lassiter] likes to take dives. They all do," he said.
"He called me an [expletive]," Wynalda said of Williams. "And I said 'get out of the way little man.' He doesn't like to be called little man, so he kicked me. But that's neither here nor there."
"We had to make some adjustments," said Wynalda, who failed to convert on the game's clearest scoring chance with seven minutes to go. "That takes a big blow out of our offense."
"I was guarding Jaime, and he threw up an elbow and hit me in the windpipe. I couldn't breathe. I was glad that happened. It lit a fire under me," said Heaps.
Earlier in the match, referee's assistant Sharon Wheeler had to separate Olsen and defender Tyrone Marshall after a brief scuffle near the corner flag.
Cassar said the red cards handed out hurt both teams equally.
"Henry and Richie are two very important players to each team," said Cassar. "It was almost a wash."
"Every time we play them, it usually means so much to us," said Cassar. "Everybody left what they had out on the field."
Gutierrez blamed the incident on inconsistent refereeing.
"It doesn't help that I got a red card; it kind of hurt us a little, and it kind of hurt of them a little bit," he said. "It was just some frustration between Richie Williams and I."
"[Valenzuela] wasn't going to do anything. I guess he had a change of heart, and he kicked us both out of the game. He ruined the game," he said.