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About that offside call: MLS blew it



Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Union

Losing on a (potentially) blown call is a brutal way to end a season.

But that’s exactly what happened to the Philadelphia Union Saturday evening, when an officiating crew allowed the lone goal of the game to stand for FC Cincinnati in the Queen City team’s win over Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Now, Cincinnati has a clear path to the MLS Cup Final with just rival Columbus Crew standing in the way.

This column isn’t meant to complain about the call itself. Assistant referee Cameron Blanchard probably should’ve put his flag up to signal that Ian Murphy was offside and the VAR probably should have told referee Ismail Elfath to take a look at the monitor. Elfath probably should have called that goal back.

Was the offside offense clear and obvious? Not particularly. But when everyone and their mother is saying that Murphy was offside, he was probably offside. And thus ends the 2023 Philadelphia Union season.


Again, I’m not going to complain about the call. Except for this one last thing: He was offside. Now, let’s talk about something of substance: MLS blew it.

Most likely, the referee crew just didn’t have the right angle, and that’s why we didn’t see anything. We saw everything that MLS saw, and that just wasn’t enough. Elfath and his crew were making a game- and season-changing call completely in the dark. They saw what we saw; Murphy was probably onside but they couldn’t be sure, so the goal stood.

With this MLS is leaving games to chance. It’s hoping that a playoff game isn’t going to come down to a close call in a blind spot, and when a game does, MLS is just praying for the best.

How many camera angles are available in every single NFL or college football game? What about the NHL, NBA, and MLB? There is never a chance that a call can be blown on a video review in any of those leagues because there just isn’t a camera there. MLS might not be those leagues and it might not have that level of funding, but it has certainly made it clear that it wants to be considered to be of that caliber.

The same goes for MLS in the rest of the soccer world. The English Premier League has the technology to determine offside without going to video review. There’s no room for human error on those calls, there’s nothing that says something about a “clear and obvious” error on the field; everything’s black and white. It’s easy to say that level of refereeing is ruining the game, but if your league wants to get into video review, there’s no reason to short anything.

Here’s the thing about both of those options: Just as we don’t know if Murphy was offside or not, we don’t know what MLS was looking at. Fan conversation continues to go in circles.

This is what really matters. MLS isn’t facing the music.

Fans and media have long called for referee press conferences. Referees decide how games are played out, and as we saw Saturday night, they can decide a winner or a loser. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does mean that referees have to be held accountable.

We, the fans and media, have not heard anything from MLS or the referees. MLS hasn’t released any statements or held any press conferences. There’s no audio of the VAR booth’s communication with the referees on the field. MLS is leaving us in the dark.

Fans are leading the discussion around the decision right now, which can quickly become unhealthy. We’re relying on a shoddy broadcast angle and a ruler to figure out where Murphy stood in relation to Julian Carranza. There’s nothing of substance out there.

Again, MLS is creating distrust. Distrust in the refereeing system, distrust in the VAR and distrust in the league itself. How can fans have faith in a league that refuses to give them the full picture?

Cincinnati won the game. Philadelphia is going home. All of that is completely acceptable.

But to make a decision that impacts the fans and then fails to inform the fans about that decision is a complete and utter failure of the confidence that fans had in the league to protect the game that we love so much.

Joe is a junior at Penn State studying journalism and sports studies, among other things. He's covered the Union since 2017 and has written for Brotherly Game / Philadelphia Soccer Now since 2019. He seeks to answer life's greatest questions, such as, "How did I get here?" and "Where is that large automobile?" You can find Joe on Twitter (iamjoelister) or via email (

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