SILVER SPRING – A referee’s whistle started the match between Gaithersburg-based World Class Premier (WCP) and Mass United FC in the United Premier Soccer League (UPSL) Northeast Conference Championship Game on Dec. 14.
However, a hit to a referee’s face ended it moments before halftime, a shock ending to a vital championship soccer match.
Referee Paul Seiberlich was hit in the face by Cesar Deossa, an unofficial assistant coach for Mass United FC, forcing game officials to abandon the game being played at Montgomery Blair High School at 1-1 before the intermission.
According to USPL Communications Director Dennis Pope, the referee applied the FIFA rule, article five in the referee handbook, that allows the official the discretion to stop the game for outside interference after being hit. League officials were contacted following the incident to find out how to proceed forward.
“There was a determination made by UPSL officials to grant World Class Premier the victory,” Pope said. “He was not an official coach; he was a parent who made the trip with Mass United.”
According to Seiberlich, Deossa received a yellow card after multiple verbal warnings for behavior. Right before the halftime whistle, Deossa ran up on the field and hit the referee to earn a red card for violent conduct, according to Seiberlich. The official also noted that Mass United FC’s Warren Johnson received a red card for ‘foul and abusive language’ shortly before the incident with Deossa.
“(The assistant coach) was given more verbal warnings, and then at halftime, he ran 40 yards onto the center circle to strike the center referee, resulting in a red card for violent conduct,” said Seiberlich.
Seiberlich also said he would press charges against Deossa, who was not available for comment after the game. Montgomery County Police confirmed that they were called to the venue following the incident, but charges have not been filed at this time.
Games are rarely replayed in the USPL, and even if tied, the league makes the ultimate determination on who advances if a playoff game is called off for any reason, Pope said. The game decided the Northeast Conference Champion and who would head to the UPSL’s National Championships in Miami in February.
The investigation into what happened will continue once league and U.S. Soccer Federation officials receive the referee’s match report with possible sanctions and punishments announced after the new year, Pope added.
While the play was contentious in the first half, nothing was out of the ordinary during the semi-pro match. The decision to call off the game left both teams feeling incomplete in finishing the match in that fashion. Players from both sides urged the officials to continue the game after the incident, but the referees were adamant that protocol mandated a halt to the game.
The Mass United FC players traveled from Massachusetts to Maryland out of high cost to some.
“They are definitely down because they have no control over what happened,” Mass United FC Head Coach Stefano Franciosa said. “It wasn’t a situation that happened on the field, meaning part of the 22 players on the field. They are very upset; it was a long commitment to come over here, an eight-hour drive for some of us, a flight for others, a big financial commitment.”
Both teams showed a promising style of play in the only half played. Mass United FC was opportunistic with their shots and chose to take advantage of the breakaways, while World Class Premier either fed balls to their wingers or lobbed them upfield.
Mass United FC’s Marco Martinez received a thorough ball pass and outran World Class Premier’s defense to go one-on-one with goalkeeper Joel Isyaq. He hit a low shot past Isyaq for the first goal of the game.
“Going down one goal really woke us up, and as you can see shortly after the first goal that they put in, we quickly bounced back with the penalty and started to control the game,” said World Class Premier Head Coach Phil Nana.
It would not take long for World Class Premier to find the equalizer, as moments later, a player was brought down inside the Mass United FC penalty box. Olakunle Banjo came forward and converted the penalty to tie the game with a low shot to the right side of the goal net.
“We’re happy now, but we’re not done,” said Banjo.
Mistakes on both sides exposed scoring opportunities, but converting those opportunities into goals proved to be harder. A free kick by Kao Medele could have given World Class Premier the lead, but the shot hit the crossbar. Mass United FC’s Willian Bonora Santana also had a chance denied by the posts early on in the game when his rocket of a ball also hit the crossbar.
“It’s great, we didn’t expect it to end the way it ended, but we’re grateful to God that we got the victory, and we get to move on to the national final four,” said Jide Saba, president and part-owner of World Class Premier. The team announced on Nov. 8 that both World Class Premier and World Class Premier Elite, who play in the spring and summer months, will be rebranded into Maryland Bobcats FC as they join the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) next year.