Atlanta United’s players didn’t hold back in their criticism of referee Joseph Dickerson for his decisions to allow play to continue through the cold and torrential rain on Saturday against Columbus at Mapfre Stadium.
Neither manager Frank de Boer, Brad Guzan or Leandro Gonzalez Pirez said the weather was the cause of their 2-0 loss.
Instead, they said the game should have been suspended and resumed because of temperatures, a slicing wind and puddles all over the field that made passing, dribbling and even running almost impossible.
“We don’t help anyone,” de Boer said. “We don’t help our players. We don’t help Columbus’ players. It’s dangerous. Certainly we don’t help the public, we don’t help the people sitting behind the television because you can’t call it football.
“You have to make it clear that this isn’t the sport you want to see.”
The game was delayed for almost an hour in the 31st minute because of severe weather. During the break, the rain continued to turn the normally pristine playing surface into a soupy mess.
“Probably shouldn’t have come back out after the break,” Guzan said.
The game resumed.
During the second half, as the conditions worsened, players on both teams said that Dickerson said he was considering calling the game at the 76th minute. Under old MLS rules, that would have made the game official. However, the rule was changed to games must be completed in their entirety, and that they can be suspended and re-started to accomplish that.
Atlanta United centerback Leandro Gonzalez Pirez said he wishes that is what Dickerson had decided because of concerns about safety. In the second half, fullback Franco Escobar was subbed out after straining an adductor. Julian Gressel slid into a sign board and stayed down holding his hip. He continued playing.
“Maybe after halftime or maybe delay the game 30 minutes or maybe suspend it,” he said.
There was a foul near Columbus’ bench near the 65th minute. Players said that Dickerson was telling them before the foul that he was considering asking for the field to be squeegeed. As players from both teams gathered around Dickerson after the foul, he decided to do nothing and play continued.
“He didn’t know what was going on,” Guzan said. “We needed a ref to be strong about a stance. He didn’t have that strength.”
At the final whistle (there was no added injury time), players from both teams sprinted to their locker rooms. An Atlanta United veteran said players jumped into hot showers while still wearing their full kits, which is something he’s never seen.
Atlanta United has played in difficult conditions the past two years. It has played in two of the three coldest games in league history in Minnesota. One game featured snow. The other freezing temperatures. They have played in a cauldron of heat in Dallas and at Denver. They played in a steady rain and temperatures in the 30s in D.C. earlier this season.
But, of a few players polled, none of them said they have ever played in anything like the second half of Saturday’s game in Columbus.
“You might as well have been playing on the beach,” Guzan said. “Guys were flicking the ball up and trying to pass it in the air. It was crazy.
“...Conditions in the second half, it was a disgrace to be out there.”
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