A VAR-y bad call by referee Ted Unkel compounds the Crew's historic woes

To say a struggling sports team is “inventing new ways to lose” is an old cliche, but with its fifth straight loss, Columbus Crew SC might have actually come up with one. More accurately, referee Ted Unkel devised it for them.

When Pedro Santos scored in the 22nd minute at DC United on Saturday, May 4, Columbus thought it was on the verge of breaking its slump. Instead, Unkel used VAR, FIFA's controversial video review system, to overturn the goal. Unkel said Wil Trapp began the play while fouling Luciano Acosta at midfield. But video evidence shows it was Unkel, not Trapp, who knocked Acosta down.

“It's a fair goal. It's a fair goal, 100 percent,” Coach Caleb Porter told reporters after the match. “The referee gives it away, referee fouls Acosta, and then the referee looks at a television to bail himself out. I've never in my life seen anything like that.”

Porter continued: “It's unbelievable, guys. It's unprecedented. Nothing like this has ever happened, where a referee literally gets in the way and then uses an excuse on VAR to bail himself out; for a fair goal that was scored, which was 10 seconds after the play. It's bad that he got in the way, obviously. But even worse that he looked at the VAR. I'm seeing the same thing he saw, and the fact he's looking at the VAR and trying to bail himself out, there should be massive ramifications for that.”

DC went three goals up and won 3-1. Who knows what would have happened had the Crew maintainted its lead? As it stands, Columbus has its first five-game losing streak in 19 years. And with both LA franchises coming to Columbus within a four-day window this week, the first seven-loss streak in franchise history feels distinctly possible.

First up are Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the Los Angeles Galaxy in a Wednesday-night clash set to kick off around the time this publishes online. Self-regarding superstar Zlatan, who recently assured himself that MLS won't punish him for critical remarks about officiating because, as he said, “I am the MLS,” has guided the Galaxy to second place in the West and second in MLS overall. He's also bagged nine goals already — more than the whole Crew roster combined.

The only higher goal tally so far is 11 for Carlos Vela of LAFC, the only club above the Galaxy in the standings. The second-year franchise has been playing some of the most electric soccer in MLS history, piling on the goals in stylish fashion while suffering only one loss so far.

Facing these two squads back-to-back would be rough under any circumstances. With the Crew at its nadir, it will be even harder. Porter hopes last weekend's referee catastrophe will be the catalyst that helps his team finally find its killer instinct. If the team is going to marshal its anger into a momentum change, taking down one or both of the LA teams would be a spectacular start.