PRETORIA, South Africa – Following the USA's 3-1 loss to Italy in their opening game at the Confederations Cup, the American players pointed to Ricardo Clark's red card as the pivotal moment. And more than a few of them voiced their opinion about the decision handed out by Chilean ref Pablo Pozo.
"Anybody watching the game will know it wasn’t a red card," said U.S. striker Landon Donovan after the game. "The referee, after the game when he watches it, will know it isn’t a red card. Eleven guys from each team were prepared to play the game but the guy in the middle wasn't. That was unfortunate because we wanted to put on a good show."
Clark was shown his marching orders for a foul on Gennaro Gattuso in the 28th minute, when the game was lively and still even at 0-0.
"I think it was a bad call," Clark said. "It was definitely a foul, possibly a yellow, but definitely not a red. It affects the whole game. It obviously put us at a disadvantage."
Even Gattuso admitted Clark's action probably didn't deserve an ejection. His teammate Giuseppe Rossi, who subbed on in the second half before scoring two goals for the Italians, was more certain in his opinion, though he was on the sidelines at the time.
"Truthfully, I don't think it was a red card," the Italian-American said. "It was more of a yellow card. But that’s how soccer is."
Jozy Altidore, who set up the penalty that led to the U.S.'s goal, believed the timing of the red card was disappointing. And the Villarreal striker even insinuated Pozo's decision was influenced by Gattuso's theatrics after the fact.
"It was a bit harsh, so early in the game," he said. "Yeah, it was a tough tackle. It was late, but he had no intention of hurting anyone. It was good acting and there you go. That's how the cookie crumbles."
Ultimately, the U.S. team fell victim to the man-up Italians, tiring as the second half wore on. Clark's absence in the middle opened up spaces that the Italian midfield exploited, leading to both of Italy's first two goals.