MLS Referee Chris Penso shows Segares red during a 2012 match at Livestrong Park.
Frank Yallop and the last place Chicago Fire aren't doing a lot right at the moment, but in Sunday's match between Chicago and Columbus it was the referee, Chris Penso, who stole the show.
12 seconds in, he awarded a questionable penalty to the Crew. In the 11th minute, it appeared the Fire had pulled one back but Nyarko was ruled offside (granted this goes down to the line judge not Penso). Johnson was given a very soft yellow in the 35th minute for a foul on Chris Klute. In the 50th minute, Jason Johnson earned a 2nd yellow for embellishment (he throws his hands and legs up, but it was clearly a late challenge from Tyson Wahl). Finally, in the 86th minute (if you stuck around that long), a goal by Guly do Prado was whistled off due to an unexplainable foul call.
This isn't Penso's first laughable job. Three years ago, HTIOT legend Tweed Thornton wrote this piece on Penso's management of the game clock: Chris Penso Screwed Up
He's been behind the whistle on some other game-deciding calls:
Many of these matches included either the Crew or the Fire.
So what's the deal with Chris Penso?
In 2003, at the age of 21, he ran for mayor of his hometown Dover, Ohio. Dover is less than two hours from Columbus, the host of Sunday's despicable display. After losing the mayoral race by just seven votes he spent time managing his family's pizza shop and working as a TSA screener and highway patrolman (this guy loves to be in charge). He didn't like being the low guy on the totem pole in the police department so he left his job in 2006 to pursue officiating full time.
He was hired by MLS in 2009 and spent his first two seasons as a line judge.
"When I entered MLS in 2009 I worked strictly as a Fourth Official and it was expected that after a year you would progress to blow the whistle the following season. In 2010, the year I was supposed to start being in the middle, the league put a halt on rookie whistles. So I had to stay on the sideline strictly as a Fourth Official. If you talk to anybody about how I felt in 2010, they would have described me as a disgruntled, grumpy young man."
He eventually became a FIFA-approved international referee in 2012 and has officiated matches including Thierry Henry's high-profile New York Red Bulls debut against Tottenham Hotspur in 2010 and the MLS Conference semi-final second leg between Real Salt Lake and Seattle Sounders. Penso now lives in Akron, OH. Again, that's less than two hours from Columbus.
Now I know how hard refereeing a game can be, and not every game will be perfect. However, I expect MLS to at least look to avoid scheduling referees who may have a bias for their local club. I also expect international referees to control the game, not decide it.