A few things at the outset:
DC United did not lose tonight's U.S. Open Cup semifinal against the Columbus Crew because of the refereeing of the match. United lost the game because they could not convert two beautiful chances on goal -- one from Andy Najar and one Dejan Jakovic -- and can not do enough in the attacking third to profit off dominating possession and slick ball movement.
Pablo Hernandez dives. He does so ridiculously, shamelessly, and most importantly, unnecessarily.
Pablo Hernandez also deserved the red card he received for kicking out at Danny O'Rourke.
With that out of the way, I watched the Crew's game against Santos Laguna and, while the refereeing was not good, much of what was complained about by Crew supporters appeared (to me) to be unjustified.
On the other hand, tonight represented the single worst refereeing performance that I have witnessed this season at RFK. And it does not make sense to me. I have seen games called by Chris Penso before (he was the head ref for DCU's US Open Cup game against Dallas where he tossed Onalfo -- justifiably) and while I might quibble with some calls, he has been generally a decent referee. Not tonight. Penso lost control of the match by repeatedly and egregiously applying different standards for fouls. Eddie Gaven dove as brazenly as Pablo Hernandez in the game and yet received calls for almost every theatrical dive. Crew players went through United players on challenges and with elbows up on 50/50 balls and fouls were repeatedly waved off. At times Penso would glare at the United player on the turf. The most ridiculous moment for me came in extra time when Hedjuk launched two studs up tackles immediately in front of our seats -- a tackle that had earned yellow cards when similarly made by a DC United player early in the game. Not only was there no foul, let alone card, awarded, Hedjuk rolled around on the ground after missing the second tackle with a cramp and Penso stopped play.
I think it is generally poor form to question the integrity or impartiality of a referee, but Penso's performance, a referee who hails from Ohio, was so awful and one-sided tonight that it is impossible to believe that he is that incompetent.
And I have no doubt that others perhaps saw things differently. But we sit on the field at field level and have the same line of sight as the referee. What Penso saw was often the mirror image of what we saw. Some calls are close and our perception of events might be wrong. But it happened so often and so ridiculously tonight that I don't think I am wrong on this. It was consistent, it was frequent, and it was obvious. And the one word that each of us had on our lips while exiting the stands will be familiar to Crew supporters: "travesty"