The scab referees are a JOKE: Charlotte FC 2-0 Columbus Crew

The Columbus Crew were shut out by Charlotte FC and were handed their first loss of the 2024 season after some really dodgy and scummy calls from the replacement MLS officials.
Mar 23, 2024; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Columbus Crew goalkeeper Evan Bush (24) gives up a
Mar 23, 2024; Charlotte, North Carolina, USA; Columbus Crew goalkeeper Evan Bush (24) gives up a / Cory Knowlton-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus’ match against Charlotte should highlight one of the things that is wrong with Major League Soccer, which seems like a never-ending list at this point. The MLS is heading into the second month of using these scab referees as replacements for the ongoing strike at PRO. As of right now, it looks like we’re not close to a solution and won’t change until it affects the new media darling in the league, Inter Miami - best believe if this happened against Lionel Messi’s team, changes would’ve been made that night. I’m not here to say it only happens to the Crew because that’s not the case; several teams have also been affected by highly questionable calls. According to The Athletic, in the initial month, calls made by the replacement officials are being overturned on video review at a significantly higher rate than they were a year ago. Multiple games have been tarnished by glaringly missed or incorrect calls that have altered the outcome of the match.

MLS has not exactly presented itself positively this year - in addition to the officials’ lockout, the league withdrew its teams from the US Open Cup. Backlash from supporters led to a partial reversal, permitting eight senior MLS teams (Columbus Crew not included) to partake in this season’s tournament. However, the ultimate result is that MLS essentially terminated the US Open Cup as it had stood for over a century but this is a topic for another day.

Bizarre night at Bank of America Stadium

Honestly I dont know where to start - so let’s unfortunately relive it. First things first, Columbus had a few guys out. Assistant Coach Kwame Ampadu stepped in as Head Coach on the night because it was announced just a little over two hours before the game that coach Wilfried Nancy couldn't make the trip due to illness. Additionally, the Crew were missing their usual starting goalkeeper Patrick Schulte and midfielder Aidan Morris, who were with the United States national U23 team in preparation for the Olympics.

The chaos commenced even before the game started, as Charlotte's first two kickoff attempts were invalidated, requiring the ball to be brought back to the center of the field. From then on it was just chaos, more specifically that first half if you want to call it that.

Early in the match, Crew defender Rudy Camacho sustained an injury, prompting his substitution for Derrick Jones at the 18-minute mark. Shortly after, forward Christian Ramirez had to be assisted off the field due to what seemed to be a hamstring injury from an awkward landing. Columbus assistant coach Ampadu provided no update on the status of either player after the game.

The Black & Gold of Columbus have had a history with injuries while playing on turf fields, and it happened twice in quick succession. Will Sands picked up an ACL injury on this very stadium LAST APRIL. Yes, their injuries won’t be as lengthy as Sands', but surely there’s some correlation there. The home side ended up having a casualty of their own later in the match, so there’s certainly an issue. Soccer is notoriously played on natural grass, and while injuries happen, they are not to this extent as we see in these NFL stadiums. The World Cup requires natural grass, so hopefully, the league adapts to it sooner rather than later. However, I do understand it’s difficult for some due to not having their own soccer specific stadium.

Was Derrick Jones’ ejection justified?

Jones then received a red card eight minutes after coming on for Camacho, following a VAR review at the 26-minute mark, which left the Crew down a man for the rest of the game. Was this a straight red? Absolutely not. Jones was in possession of the ball and was shifting it to the right when he made contact with Djibril Diani. Again - Derrick Jones had the ball, and Diani came to challenge for it and ended up losing in a 50/50 duel. At most, it’s a yellow card, but more often than not, that wasn’t Jones’ fault. It just looks so much worse in slow motion which is what they’re basing it off. However, it’s too late now, and after a VAR review, the decision is final. That adds to MLS's ongoing officiating controversies, and more are expected throughout this match, which has faced scrutiny for using replacement referees during an ongoing labor dispute with the Professional Soccer Referees Association.

What exacerbates the situation is that Scott Arfield made a significantly more dangerous tackle on Darlington Nagbe than the one Jones was penalized for, yet he walked away without consequences, only to be substituted at halftime.

Longest first half in MLS history

It felt as though we had watched a full 90-minute game in that first half. There were several noteworthy moments in the 61-minute first half, marking the longest first half in MLS history. It was initially indicated that there will be ten added minutes of stoppage time, and more than 16 minutes were played after the 45-minute mark.

The Black & Gold managed to score deep into first-half stoppage time when Max Arfsten located Hernandez making a run towards the top of the box. Arfsten's pass found Cucho's right foot, and the Colombian forward drove the ball into the back of the net. However, upon further review from a satellite view in space, it was somehow determined that Arfsten was offside during the goal buildup. Once again yes - that’s the actual angle the officials were using to determine when Evan Bush played the ball.

Columbus's fortunes took a downward turn when Yaw Yeboah was penalized for a very LIGHT touch inside the penalty box, awarding Charlotte a controversial penalty kick in the 14th minute of first-half stoppage time. The resulting free kick taken by Luri Tavares soared high over the crossbar, leaving both teams scoreless at the break.

Two unanswered goals

Heading into the second half, Columbus did well in taking the sting out of the match while still sticking to their identity and playing the Nancy way, even with a numerical disadvantage. The team never let their heads drop and kept fighting to achieve the result they deserved, but unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. The performance was admirable, all things considered, but it still leaves quite a bitter taste in one's mouth, even after sleeping on it.

In the 83rd minute, the home team finally broke the deadlock, as Ashley Westwood unleashed a shot from distance past Bush to give them a 1-0 lead. Just five minutes later, Charlotte doubled their lead with a goal from Patrick Agyemang, handing the Crew their first defeat of 2024.

Where do we go from here?

Will there be changes after last night's shenanigans? Heck no. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen these scab refs having a disasterclass. Some may say it's due to recency bias, but let’s be honest, these replacements are making a mockery of the league, and the higher-ups don’t care until it affects their pockets. From referee-related issues to officiating controversies, turf quality, and more, us fans and even players in this country deserve better. If we want the sport to grow from grassroots to the top, it starts with listening to the fans and not solely focusing on money and sponsorship for the Messi hype train, while forgetting everything that was being built. It’s a shame that nothing will change, but we move on to the next match against Nashville on Saturday at GEODIS.