MONTRÉAL - Philadelphia Union manager John Hackworth was in a quite talkative mood after watching his team lose to the Montréal Impact, 2-0, at Saputo Stadium on Saturday night.
He knew what the first question was going to be about, and he was ready with an answer. So when he was duly asked about Impact defender Nelson Rivas' headbutt of Antoine Hoppenot and the retaliatory shove from Jack McInerney - and the resulting red cards to Rivas and McInerney - Hackworth did not hesitate.
There's a huge lesson to be learned, for lots of reasons. Let me start by saying that as a team, we did a lot of things well tonight. We didn't execute in front of goal, and when you don't do that, when you don't finish your chances, that's the most important part of the game.
However, that being said, in the 68th minute of that game, we should be up a man. It's unbelievable that we're not up a man for the last 22-plus minutes of that match.
I asked Hackworth if he was disappointed in the way that McInerney reacted to Rivas' headbutt. Hackworth replied:
Jack goes to defend our player [Hoppenot], who our medical staff is looking at right now. You cannot tell me that a headbutt to the nose and cheekbone, and a player literally going to push another player, is even justifiable for equal punishment. There's no possibility
And in fact - now I'm not going to talk about any Montréal players, it's not my job. But there's a lot of things that happened in that game where the referee - I can't even say it. We should be up a man for the last 22 minutes of that game.
Hackworth was then asked whether the affair will help this still-young Union team grow together as a unit:
We always fight for each other, so I think that's what you saw Jack McInerney doing. He's a young player who watches his teammate get headbutted, and he's sticking up for his player.
But what he does - and anybody can go watch it on video - go watch it, because he doesn't do hardly anything on the play, and he gets a red card. Same as the Montréal player does. I just can't understand how that is done in this game.
Soon thereafter, I headed for the Union's locker room. I first asked defender and captain Carlos Valdés whether the older heads on the team can use the incident as a way to teach some of the younger players how to keep their composure in the heat of the moment.
Valdés' English isn't perfect yet, but it's more than good enough for him to be able to do an interview without an interpreter. So I think you'll understand what he had to say:
Yeah, I think we have to learn about these things. We made a couple mistakes and we paid a lot for them. When you are playing like this, you have to score - we created a couple of chances to score, and we lost. In the game of soccer, you have to score to win.
I think that is a sign that we looked confused sometimes. The guy from Montréal, Rivas, he made a foul. It was obvious that he would have a red card. So we made a mistake when Jack came to him and tried to create a problem. I think they have to learn these things, and just keep working hard.
The last person I talked to about the fracas was Freddy Adu. Even though he's only 23 years old, the midfielder/forward is one of the most experienced players on the Union's roster. Whether in Turkey, Portugal, or any number of places with the U.S. national team, Adu has seen plenty of on-field flashpoints up close.
I asked Adu the same question I asked Valdés.
had a talk with the referee afterwards, and he said - and these are his words - that Jack tied his hands by pushing the guy [Rivas] down to the ground. I was like, "Listen, we just want to protect our teammate." We're a team, we've got to stand up for each other.
At the end of the day, yeah, we've got to do a better job of keeping our heads. At that point, I think maybe we could have had a one-man advantage. That would have been huge for us. It happened, and we didn't start it. I'm not blaming anybody.
We've got our teammate's back, plain and simple. The referee thought Jack's push was worthy of a red card. I never thought a push was worthy of a red card. I thought it was a yellow card. A headbutt is a red card, yes, but a push - I think that's a yellow card. At the end of the day, the referee made the call, and we live with it.
You may be curious as to what the view of the headbutt incident was from the Montréal side was. Impact manager Jesse Marsch was repeatedly asked about it in his postgame press conference. Here's what he had to say:
I didn't see it very clearly. I heard it was a headbutt. I don't know how much contact there was, so I'm not really sure on everything. I'd have to go back and look at it... Honestly, I just didn't see it well enough to comment on the severity of it. It's unfortunate, because Nelson has just now gotten himself healthy and going.
I think, in general, Nelson is an intimidating defender. As a starting point, I don't think he needs to respond like that to show how physically intimidating he is. All competitive players have moments where they lose it, where they feel like they're not going to back down.
We don't want our guys to back down. That's for sure. But it's got to be done in a smart way. I don't know much this one crosses the line, if it crosses the line, all the rest. I'm certainly hopeful that this is a one-game suspension, because Nelson is an important guy for us.