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James O’Connor Has a History with VAR Who Didn’t Overturn Crew Penalty

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The then-Louisville City gaffer was fined in 2016 for criticizing Jon Freemon in a USL match...against Orlando City B.

MLS: Toronto FC at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Life is strange and, as Rust Cohle said in Season 1 of True Detective, time is a flat circle.

James O’Connor was fairly diplomatic Saturday night after his team saw a 2-1 lead turn into a 3-2 loss at Columbus, helped in large part by a penalty call that shouldn’t have stood, per the Professional Referee Organization.

“I am not going to speak about the referee, everyone else at home can see what is going on,” O’Connor said after the match. “It is just really, really disappointing for the players because the players didn’t deserve that tonight, they really didn’t. I am exceptionally proud of the players and that’s the main point that I want to get across. Everyone can see what happened.”

Silviu Petrescu was the referee that night. The Video Assistant Referee, who should have overturned Petrescu’s call — as stated today by PRO — was Jon Freemon. O’Connor was fined in August of 2016 stemming from an incident in Orlando City B’s (of all teams) 2-1 win at Louisville City on Saturday, July 30 of that season.

In the match, current Orlando midfielder Tony Rocha was pulled down in the penalty area in the 90th minute and Freemon (although identified as “Jon Freeman” in both our Jeff Milby’s OCB recap and in the Louisville Courier-Journal story — according to the PRO website, there is no “Jon Freeman” on the organization’s roster) was the referee that night. He pointed to the spot and Tyler Turner equalized on the ensuing penalty kick. Orlando City went on to win the game in stoppage time on a Keegan Smith goal just seconds after O’Connor thought one of his players was fouled in the box.

After the match, O’Connor tried to speak with officials but was told it wasn’t permitted. So he put the USL referee on full blast.

“For that to happen, for a penalty to be given like that, and to say it’s soft...I mean if he’s going to give a penalty for that, he should have given 10 penalties,” O’Connor said in an emotional address to reporters. ”And then literally, one minute later, the goalkeeper comes out and wipes Cameron Lancaster out of the game, and there’s no penalty. Now, I’d never come out here and moan about the referees, but when you look at the Charleston game where the game is decided by the referee, and you have another game that is decided by the referee and now you go and ask can you speak to the officials to actually go through and explain their thinking, you’re told you can’t actually speak to them.

”So when you get a situation like this, to say it’s infuriating, it’s beyond that. It’s just not right, and it’s not good enough that games get dictated by the referee, especially so late in the game. You speak about consistency, you speak about how guys work, you speak about all these things, and you get that.”

O’Connor received a fine for his remarks and his assistant — both then at Louisville City and now at Orlando City — Daniel Byrd, was ejected from the game and issued a three-match suspension by the USL.

It was a valuable lesson learned for the young coach. His diplomatic answer on Saturday can be traced back to the 2016 incident.

“From this point out, the safest thing to say is probably if I say what I really think I’m going to be in even hotter water than I’m already in,” O’Connor said. ”So I think, look — you people all saw the game, everyone can see the game. It is what it is. My focus is on Pittsburgh and making sure we can control what we can control. I have no control over any of that and I have no wish to control over that.”

While I doubt there was any intentional malice on Freemon’s part on Saturday in not overturning Petrescu’s horrible call — I am a firm believer that incompetence is more prevalent than conspiracy — it’s an unexpected twist to what has been a major talking point this week among Orlando City fans. And it’s an unbelievable coincidence that Orlando City’s USL team was the other side the night that O’Connor and Byrd initially ran afoul of Freemon.

Still, PRO should do its homework in making its assignments and avoid assigning Freemon to any more matches involving O’Connor and Byrd — just in case.

This story was based on a tip about the O’Connor criticism (in the link above the first JOC quote) from former Mane Land writer Austin David, who saw a Reddit post by user uaiu. From there, it was a fun romp down the Google wormhole to related stories, the USL match video itself (go back and watch the end of it from 2:11:00 onward for fantastic Louisville City announcer jinxes) and even back to our own website. Thanks to Austin, uaiu, and Jeff Milby.