Double-Edged Sword: Jaspers Struggling to Adapt to COVID-Altered Officiating, Without Sacrificing Emotion and Intensity 

by Josh Sawyer, Contributor

Frustration, confusion and head-scratching penalties. Any and all of these can be used to describe the Manhattan College men’s soccer season as the team enters the final stretch of the 2021 campaign. In a season defined by challenges, coach Jorden Scott and his team are dealing with yet another obstacle related to COVID. One no one could have predicted.

“There’s a shadow from COVID,” Scott said. “The level of officiating is really down this year. With the short-handed refs, it has really caused the level of officiating to decline.”

Manhattan has had a season filled with untimely fouls. They are second in the MAAC with 2.47 yellow cards per game and first in the conference with 0.27 red cards per game, more than double the next team. While Scott acknowledged that his team deserved many of the yellow cards, he wasn’t shy about the impact COVID has had on the level of officiating, and the short-handed crews that are working the matches.

“We’ve deserved yellow cards,” Scott said. “But the officiating level is so low right now because of COVID. The guys who are working are overworked and start handing out red cards really quick.” 

While COVID has certainly had an impact on many areas of collegiate athletics, short-handed officiating crews and a zero tolerance for any type of emotion in matches have proved to be a difficult obstacle to navigate for the Jaspers. Manhattan’s 0.27 red cards per game may be misleading, as they acquired two of those in the match at Temple, but it is indicative of a larger issue surrounding the way games are being officiated. 

In a shortened 2020 season, the Jaspers received just one red card in six matches. While there are many new faces on the 2021 roster, most of the 

yellow and red cards have been given to juniors or seniors, who were on the field for Scott last year. While Scott acknowledges the increase in fouls, he isn’t going to ask his players to change their style of play.

“I can’t ask them to play any differently,” Scott said. “If I ask them to play differently the intensity and energy goes down, they start to play passive, and we can’t have that as we make a push for the playoffs.”

As the Jaspers have continued to try and find a balance between channeling their emotion and not sacrificing how they play, it’s become very clear that their head coach is the calm side that helps to balance the fiery emotion of his players. Something that senior Simon Busch took note of.

“Jorden obviously wants us to play with emotion and energy,” Busch said. “He knows that’s just our game, but he’s the calm part of our team. It definitely balances the team and it’s definitely important that he is always so calm and collected.”

With the season coming to a close and the team facing a must-win game against Rider, it was quite clear in speaking to both players and their coach that there was no discussion about playing with less passion. The Jaspers will put their intense style of play, led by their passionate, yet calm head coach to the test as they continue to navigate a season marred by the effects of COVID.

“I’d rather have them go out and play their game,” Scott said. “And we will let the officials and consequences come as they may. The officiating has been horrendous, but I’m not going to ask them to turn down the intensity. When we play with that fire, that’s when we’re at our best.”