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PRO Admits Awarding Penalty to Columbus Crew Was a Mistake

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The Professional Referee Organization has told us what we already knew on Saturday.

MLS: Orlando City SC at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The Professional Referee Organization (PRO) released a statement this afternoon acknowledging an officiating error Saturday night when the Columbus Crew was given a penalty in the 86th minute.

As Orlando City clung to a 2-1 lead at Mapfre Stadium in Columbus, the incident occurred when a ball was sent in toward the far side of the box. Crew forward Patrick Mullins and Orlando City defender RJ Allen both went up for the ball, with the former falling backwards to the ground. Referee Silviu Petrescu pointed to the spot, awarding the Crew a penalty.

The referee awarded a penalty kick after contact from Orlando City SC defender RJ Allen on Crew SC forward Patrick Mullins. PRO believes the minimal amount of contact between the players did not justify this decision.

Petrescu and Video Assistant Referee Jon Freemon were widely criticized during and after the game, and it was unclear during the broadcast if the decision was even reviewed.

Video Review protocol requires that all reviewable incidents are checked and analyzed by the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) for clear and obvious errors or serious missed incidents. The VAR checked this penalty kick decision, but did not accurately identify the on-field call as a clear and obvious error based on the minimal contact between the two players. Therefore, the VAR did not appropriately recommend a video review.

The ensuing penalty was converted by Crew striker Gyasi Zardes, tying the game. Four minutes later, Crew midfielder Wil Trapp hit a wonder strike that gave the Crew a 3-2 win.

This is not the first time that PRO has admitted a mistake that cost Orlando City. In 2016, the Philadelphia Union were awarded a free kick at the end of the game, which Tranquillo Barnetta scored to win the game. Days later, PRO Training and Development Manager Paul Rejer admitted that there should have been an offside call by referee Jair Marrufo, negating the goal on Barnetta’s free kick.

This week’s referee assignments will be released tomorrow, so it’s unknown whether there will be any punishment for Petrescu or Freemon, though the organization’s statement includes language on the subject:

PRO holds its officials accountable and takes appropriate action when necessary. In addition, PRO evaluates the performances of every match official, and is taking steps to continually minimize these types of errors through rigorous training and testing protocols.

The admission of a mistake does nothing for Orlando City but it at least exonerates Allen for any wrongdoing on the play.