Walter Lopez is widely considered to be one of the best referees in CONCACAF, which is why he was assigned last night's World Cup qualifier between the United States and Mexico. He had a rough game.
Javier Hernandez was shoved in the back, in the box, by Michael Bradley in the 13th minute. The linesman raised his flag to indicate that he had seen a foul. Lopez waved play on, even though he was in a worse position than the linesman to see the infraction. In the 76th minute, Maurice Edu clattered Javier Aquino from behind in the penalty area, coming nowhere near the ball. Again, Lopez did not see a foul.
The first call was questionable. It's tough to get too mad about that one either way. There was contact from Bradley without a doubt, but Chicharito went down a bit easily, looking for the call. It appeared that the linesman was signaling a foul in the box on Bradley, but it's not entirely clear that's what he was flagging for. Calls like that happen in almost every game and could have been a penalty or play on.
Edu's foul in on Aquino, though? That's as clear of a penalty as you're ever going to see. Lopez was in a great position and looking right at Edu and Aquino. He saw Edu barge him from behind, coming nowhere near the ball, and inexplicably swallowed his whistle.
That missed call came from a neutral referee, in CONCACAF, where the U.S. always seems to get the short end of the stick on the road. They especially get the short end of the stick at Estadio Azteca. Any former USMNT regular could tell you about a dozen phantom foul calls in Mexico's favor and a half-dozen clear penalties that they should have been given in that stadium.
This has become the norm in competitive matches in North America. Whenever the United States is not the beneficiary, their fans repeat the same refrain over and over again.
Here's the thing about getting CONCACAF'd, though: It happens to everyone. Lopez does as much as fans can reasonably expect from a referee in that he gets himself into positions where he can see which calls need to be made and he doesn't show any kind of bias in his officiating. U.S. fans complained for large chunks of the game about how Mexico was getting all of the calls, but when Edu got away with one, the overwhelming tone of the discussion about the referee turned from 'we're getting screwed' to 'oh well, them's the breaks, Mexico'.
Last night, Mexico got CONCACAF'd, just like the United States has many times before. It didn't happen because CONCACAF hates them, or because referees are crooked or because the fans intimidated the ref. It happened because Lopez didn't have a good night, and because he probably isn't as good of a referee as the top officials in UEFA, CONMEBOL and AFC. These things happen to every team in the region and will continue to happen as long as the referees in the region are well below the standard of those other three confederations.
Refs aren't cheats, or out to get us. They're just bad, and they screw everyone. Last night, we got a break. If we were fans of Mexico, we'd be crying bloody murder and insisting that we were robbed by lousy CONCACAF referees. Let's try to remember that going forward.
The U.S. has seven more qualifying matches, and will almost certainly be screwed out of points by the officials in at least one of them. It sucks, but it happens to everyone. We're not special.