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Referees’ organization acknowledges missed handball call in Sporting KC playoff loss

The Professional Referees Organization (PRO), which provides the referees for Major League Soccer, has admitted an error on a pivotal call — or non-call, rather — against Sporting Kansas City in their 1-0 loss in Houston.

And it could’ve drastically changed the course of the match.

That play has been discussed at length on social media, soccer talk shows and podcasts. Players have commented on it, and so too has Peter Vermes, who spent nearly 20 minutes discussing the implications of that non-call and his frustrations with the video-review process on Wednesday.

On Friday evening, PRO released its weekly “Inside Video Review” segment, highlighting plays sent to the Video Assistant Referee (VAR). The video series provides insight into the video-review process and explains why calls were made.

Three plays were highlighted, including the pivotal non-handball call in the first half of Sporting KC’s loss to Houston.

In the 42nd minute, Daniel Salloi’s shot caromed off defender Erik Sviatchenko, who was standing in front of an otherwise open net. In the video shared by PRO, you hear the conversation between the Video Assistant Referee, Carol Anne Chenard, and her assistant. In reviewing the play, she says the ball “hits his upper arm.”

“There is a bit of movement,” Chenard said. “But he’s bringing it (his arm) in, and it’s tight (to his body) for me.”

If that handball occurred elsewhere on the field, that ruling would’ve been correct.

However, PRO’s video assistant review manager, Greg Barkey, said in the video there is a “nuanced difference” with plays that take place on the goal line.

“His overall actions are those of a player trying to prevent a goal,” Barkey said. “And there’s an expectation that a player who blocks the ball from entering the goal with their arm, even by their side, should be penalized for handball.”

While Barkey and PRO did not formally apologize for the error in the video — Sporting did receive a direct acknowledgment in 2021 for a different missed call — the video would seem to admit the mistake.

If the proper call had been made, Sporting would’ve had a penalty kick and Sviatchenko likely would have been sent off, meaning Houston would’ve had to play a man down for more than half the match.

But the call was not made, and despite numerous chances throughout the remaining play, Sporting KC failed to find the back of the net.

“I’m not saying that we would’ve won the game,” Vermes said on Wednesday. “We were just not given the opportunity we should’ve been afforded.”

Daniel Sperry covers soccer for The Star. He can be reached at sperry.danielkc@gmail.com.