DURHAM, NH — All is fair in love and war. But soccer is neither. That was proven true in the University of New Hampshire (UNH) men’s soccer’s (12-0-2, 4-0-1) 1-1 draw to the University of Vermont (UVM) Catamounts (8-3-2, 3-1-1). While the teams scored only two goals, the game saw six yellow cards, one red card and a total of 36 fouls committed. There is little love lost between UNH and UVM and this game proved it.
It was a rivalry game from the second the ball was kicked. Both teams had their emotions up from the get-go. Vermont received their first yellow card just four minutes into the game. The referee may have been trying to end the physicality early by showing the warning. It didn’t work. After five more fouls went without a booking, Vermont received their second yellow of the game in the 23rd minute. The tension between the Wildcats and Catamounts was building throughout the first half. In the 27th minute, it boiled over.
While on the attack, graduate student Jacob Gould was fouled just after releasing the ball forward. While tumbling to the ground, Gould’s flailing foot found the groin of the Vermont player who had pushed him over.
Play initially went on, but the referee conferenced with his linesman once the ball was out of bounds. Vermont players swarmed the officials pleading their case, while the Catamount who had been on the receiving end of the kick writhed in pain on the turf. Gould was issued a red card after a lengthy discussion between the referee and linesman, and UNH fell to 10 men.
It seemed as if the officials used the jumbotron to make their decision, though this has not been confirmed. Whether or not the use of replay was legal is controversial. Video replay is not permitted to be used to check for serious foul play. Gould’s foul would have fallen under this category, but the foul was away from the ball, changing how the NCAA categorizes the incident.
The NCAA Soccer 2020 and 2021 Rules Book states that referees can use video replay to assess a red card for violent play against a player who does not have the ball. There are two levels to this rule, violent behavior I and II. It is unlikely that Gould was assessed a II, as the foul was not recorded as such in the official NCAA box score that the rule book states should be done.
If it were violent behavior I, then video replay by the referee would be legal. Violent behavior I is defined by the NCAA as an “unwarranted excessive act or use of force when not challenging for the ball.” If the referee felt that Gould connected with the Vermont player on purpose, it would seemingly fall under this category.
If the referee did use the replay, it was without the collaboration of UNH Athletics event staff. The referee was never in communication with the video board operator, so any knowledge gained from replay was unplanned. The America East Conference (AE) has no official review policy for men’s soccer.
The Wildcats felt the decision to use replay was illegal. An incensed UNH head coach Marc Hubbard was seen having a heated exchange with the officials and Vermont head coach Rob Dow at halftime. Hubbard did most of the talking.
Senior Chris Pinkham seemingly shared the same opinion as his coach on the red card decision.
“I didn’t see the play initially and neither did the referee,” said Pinkham. “They then looked at the jumbotron and made a decision which is completely illegal and unfair. It was their own personal video replay, and the referees somehow decided to use that to make their decision. After that, we were fired up because we knew it was everyone against us, and we had to respond immediately.”
The Wildcats did respond. Despite falling to 10 men, UNH remained in control and had several bright attacking chances in the half while dominating possession.
The harsh discipline shown to Gould did little to settle the simmering emotion of both teams. Things got physical on several occasions and verbal spats were omnipresent. The referee warned both benches after yet another crunching tackle occurred in the 44th minute. Pinkham said that emotions were high but that it played in UNH’s favor.
“It’s a rivalry game. If you don’t show up to that game with the right type of energy, it’s going to be a very long and difficult day,” said Pinkham. “You need to bring that fight, especially when you’re down a man for the majority of the game.”
Soon after, the referee drew more ire from UNH. UVM won a corner and headed the ball into the back of the net. Wildcats, including a heated Jassem Koleilat, had hands raised in disbelief. The argument appeared to be for an offside against Vermont, but the goal was given and UNH fell behind 1-0 in the 73rd minute.
The referee’s whistle was finally in favor of the Wildcats in the 74th minute. A Vermont defender’s hand made contact with the ball on a free-kick into the box, and the referee pointed to the spot. Senior Tola Showunmi stepped forward to take the kick from 12 yards out. The Englishman sent the UVM keeper to the wrong corner and slotted the equalizer in the back of the net. Wildcat Stadium erupted in cheers of vindication and relief.
Both offenses ran out of steam for the rest of regulation and overtime. UNH took away their second draw in as many games. But after falling to 10 men and a goal behind, this one felt much sweeter than the last.
Pinkham was beyond proud of the effort his teammates gave.
“I think for us to come out with a draw being down a man for over 75% of the game just shows the character we have on this team,” said Pinkham. “Especially going down a goal, we knew we had to give everything and then some. Every controversy we faced, we responded to immediately and looked the better team despite being a man down. I think if you asked anyone watching the game what team was a man down, they wouldn’t be able to tell you.”
UNH is back in action Saturday, Oct. 23, when they hit the road and take on the UMBC Retrievers (7-6-2, 2-3-1) at 7 p.m. After that, it’s just two more games for the ‘Cats until the America East playoffs begin. As it stands, UNH is the No. 1 seed and Vermont is the No. 2. If those rankings hold, the AE Championship could be another catfight between two teams with unfinished business.
“We would really enjoy playing Vermont again this season,” said Pinkham.
Photo courtesy of Jess Speechley