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Seeing Red: A look at Red Cards Over the Last Three Seasons

The results of Saturday, April 27th’s away match against the Montreal Impact left many Fire fans, myself included, red faced in frustration. The red card violation handed out to “Big Red” Jeff Larentowicz in the 63rd seemed unjust to say the least.


As Ryan Sealock pointed out in the post game analysis, Larentowicz was racing after Andrea Pisanu and visibly pulled up to avoid contact when it became clear he would not catch up, but clipped the heel of Pisanu despite his efforts. Johnson had an apparent bead on the ball so it was not the clear goal scoring opportunity that referee Fotis Bazokos must have thought it was, to justify the red card he pulled out immediately. The red card probably should have been a yellow at most and some would argue it should have been nothing more than a foul.

Although the Men in Red are appealing the red card, the damage was already done and the Fire played for 30 minutes a man down, taking steam out of the Fire attack all together. Although some would argue that the Fire attack seemed insufficient to the task of scoring against the Impact throughout the match anyway it is clear that the red card changed the complexion of the match and a win or draw for the Fire became an insurmountable task. With my eyes red and bloodshot from fits of rage at the call, I began to wonder about the impact of red cards on Fire matches over the last few seasons, seeing as Saturday was the first one in a Fire match in 2013.

When a bad call such as this happens to the team you support it is easy to become biased that your club is the victim of bad calls. Have the Fire been impacted negatively by the red card over last few seasons? Have they benefited from red card violations by opponents? Below I will take a look at red card violations by both the Fire and their opponents during the matches for the 2012 season, starting at the beginning of the 2012 season across all MLS competitions (excluding pre-season) to take a look at how it has all panned out. In addition, I will look at the statistical outcomes for red cards in the 2011 and 2010 seasons.


-April 28, 2012: The First and second red card for the Chicago Fire in 2012 occurred at the end of a heated match in Bridgeview against the Seattle Sounders. After a high pressure match with 3 yellows given out to the Sounders and 1 to the Fire, tempers flared and after the whistle blew in the 97th a scuffle occurred. This scuffle led to both Jalil Anibaba and Frank Klopas each being dealt a red card. Although many complained the match was poorly called and the send offs were ridiculous there was no impact on the results of the match by the red cards since both occurred after the whistle. The Fire would beat Chivas in their next match so the 1 match suspension of Klopas and Anibaba was not felt (No impact)

-May 12, 2012: In an aggressive match at home against Kansas City the Fire was behind Sporting after a 31st minute goal by Bobby Convey. In the 60th minute Dominic Oduro was taken down in the box leading to a goal by Sebastian Grazzini on the ensuing penalty (61st). One minute later Roger Espinoza was red carded after elbowing Grazzini in the face. With Sporting playing a man down, a heads up pick pocket by Patrick Nyarko led to an Oduro go ahead goal. (Positive Result)

-May 23, 2012: Drew Keeshan for FC Dallas received a red card post game. The Fire won 2-1 (No impact)

-June 23, 2012: When taking on that yellow team at home and after going up two goals in the 1st and 26th minutes, respectively, Gonzalo Segares received a 29th minute red card after an errant tackle. Playing with 10 for the majority of the match the Fire went into defensive mode and held on against the Crew for a 2-1 victory. The Fire would beat Sporting again on the road in their next match 0-1 without Segares, leading to a surprising positive result to the early red card (Positive Result)

-July 14, 2012: The Fire took on the Vancouver Whitecaps at home starting the day after 2 straight matches without a goal. Pavel Pardo connected with a curling free kick putting the Fire ahead of the Caps 1-0. Arne Friedrich would receive two yellow cards in as many minutes in the 67th and 69th leading to his ominous red. The Fire would hold on and receive the victory 1-0. The Fire would lose their next match against the Red Bulls without Friedrich. I am going to call this one a wash since the Bulls would have been tough to beat at home even with Friedrich, and give the Fire credit for holding out against the White Caps. (Positive Result)

-July 28, 2013: On a road match against San Jose the Fire would go ahead of the Earthquakes in the 37th on a slick move by Chris Rolfe slipping between midfielder Sam Cronin and the Quakes back line to receive a pass from Patrick Nyarko and hit a shot from 23 yards. The Fire held a 0-1 lead throughout the match and Fire fans watching from home groaned in unison when the official indicated that a minimum of 8 minutes extra time be added. In the 93rd Alan Gordon was sent off after a second yellow card when he lost a 50-50 battle with Dan Gargan. The short Fire advantage would be spoiled with a Steven Lenhart goal in the 98th of stoppage to end the match. Though a frustrating draw there was little time to capitalize on the player advantage, but a strong case could be made that the Fire should have been able to hold off San Jose for those last few minutes. Fire fans argued that the Quakes were rewarded too much extra time after two 93 minute foul delayed the match, but for arguments sake we will call this a negative result. (Negative Result)

-August 4, 2012: The very next match against Toronto FC the Fire fell behind Toronto in the 16th minute as a Marco Pappa errant pass to Austin Berry opened the door for a Ryan Johnson goal. Pappa would recover some pride by scoring an equalizer in the 84th. In the 79th Logan Emory collected his second yellow card giving the Fire a player advantage for the remainder. With the advantage, Berry would do his part with an 84th minute header that found the net. (Positive Result)

-September 28, 2013: The Men in Red would make it all the way to the end of September before the next red card to appear in a match. The Fire faced Sporting once again in Kansas City. The Wiz would go ahead of the Fire in the 11th off of a Kei Kamara cross from the left that found Graham Zusi in front with Johnson, who was dodging the wrong way. Sporting would keep the 1-0 advantage right into stoppage time. Segares would see his second yellow in the 94th minute, missing the end of the match. Although the match was already lost when the red was received, this will go as a loss since the following match against the Union was lost with an ineffective looking Dan Gargan playing for Segares. (Negative Result)

-October 3, 2013: Speaking of the Union, the next red card the Fire would receive was against the Union. After going down 0-2 on a 7th minute goal by Jack McInerney and a 67th by Gabriel Gomez, Dominic Oduro would answer in the 69th and it was all strikers on deck for the Fire. The plan for full attack would fizzle fast when Guillermo Franco was sent off in the 79th for a high tackle. The Union would poor lemon juice on the wound with an 87th minute goal by Antoine Hoppenot. There would be no more red cards for the 2012 season and the Fire would fade through the rest of the regular season and post season (Negative Result)

In the 2012 season the Fire received positive results following a red card violation 4 times. Negative results occurred 3 times, and the red card had no impact 2 times. This says that 66.66% of the red cards received in 2012 were either positive or inconsequential. Realistically, with such a small sample size this is not the most in depth picture. With the end of the season going so poorly for the Fire in 2012 it likely feels to the watching fan that red cards resulted in negative outcomes for the Fire more often than they did in reality.

Without going into the gritty details and using the same style of review I expanded the search to include the 2011 season. In 2011 there were 3 red cards that resulted in a positive outcome, 3 that resulted in a negative outcome and 3 that had no impact. Again this is 66.66 % of red cards resulted in a positive outcome or no impact on the outcome. Expanding further to 2010 there were much fewer red cards. There was 1 resulting in a positive outcome, 1 resulting in a negative and 1 having no impact. You guessed it. That comes out to 66.66% of red cards resulting in either a positive result or no impact. It does not take a math genius to figure out how that adds up over the 3 year period prior to Larentowicz’s card this past weekend. 66.66% of the red cards were a positive result for the Fire or had no impact on the results over a 3 season survey of MLS play.

Now clearly some of these red cards may have been unjustified, and those tend to be the cards fans remember most. Also there are some intangible factors that can occur even when a team does obtain a positive result after receiving a red card. A player missing a match could lead to another receiving more playing time or perhaps there were injuries that would not occur if a player was not on the bench because of a red card. Clearly red cards cannot be seen as an advantage under any circumstances but soccer is not as simple as this evaluation. The numbers do suggest that the red card situation in recent years has not been as bad for the Fire as it has been for their opponents. Maybe we should not get as hot and bothered by red cards when they occur?

Still, that does not take the sting out of Larentowicz red card. The Fire desperately needed a big road win on Saturday to continue forward momentum and a bad call on Saturday killed any chance of that opportunity. Referee Fotis Bazokos closed out the match with blood red hands and now the Fire will have to wait through a long bye week for any sort of on field justice, even if they win the appeal. Until then, I am seeing things in red.