A soccer player was “forcibly removed” after entering the match officials’ locker room after the Major League Soccer (MLS) playoff game between FC Cincinnati and the New York Red Bulls earlier this month, according to the Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA).
The incident occurred after Cincinnati defeated the Red Bulls on penalties on Saturday.
“After the Nov 4th NYRB/FC Cincinnati match, a player gained unauthorized entry into the Officials’ locker room & was forcibly removed by stadium security while acting in an aggressive & hostile manner,” the PSRA said in a statement on X, formerly known as Twitter.
The PSRA represents referees that are licensed to officiate soccer matches by the Canadian Soccer Association or the United States Soccer Federation. The PSRA did not name the player.
“No one’s safety should ever be at risk & we expect MLS to act accordingly,” added the PSRA statement.
“This is an unacceptable and, as we recall, unprecedented violation of league policy and sporting integrity.”
MLS confirmed to CNN that it is looking into the November 4 incident, saying: “The safety of PRO officials must never be compromised and an investigation into this matter is being conducted.”
Multiple reports, including from the Cincinnati Enquirer and The Athletic, said that the player involved was Cincinnati center-back Matt Miazga, who had wanted to speak to referee Victor Rivas after receiving two yellow cards during the game.
According to the Enquirer, “a league source with direct knowledge of the events at Red Bull Arena took issue with the characterization of Miazga being aggressive and hostile while forcibly removed” and “said that security was not involved and a member of FC Cincinnati’s communications department helped move Miazga along from the area of the referees’ locker room.”
Miazga did not receive a red card as he received his second booking during the penalty shootout, which is counted separately.
However, Miazga’s two cautions combined with the yellow card he received against the Red Bulls in game one of the best-of-three series mean that he will be suspended for Cincinnati’s conference semifinal game, which is single-elimination.
Miazga is a former Red Bulls player and came up through the team’s youth system. He told the Cincinnati Enquirer that one of the yellow cards was given for holding a heart-shaped hand gesture towards the home New York crowd. This display, which also included the defender appearing to blow kisses to supporters, was interpreted as provocation by some fans, per the Enquirer.
The American was vocal about his frustration and explained that he felt singled out by the referee, according to the Enquirer.
“I’m annoyed,” Miazga told the Enquirer after the game. “The referee gave me a yellow card. For what? I went to my fans that I played for since I was 14 years old and gave them a heart. I gave them a heart and I was showing them my love. I get a yellow card for that? For what?”
FC Cincinnati told CNN that it had no comment on the matter, while Miazga’s representatives have not yet responded to a request for a statement.
After winning the opening game of the series 3-0, Cincinnati entered the Red Bull Arena on Saturday with a chance to progress in the postseason. Regulation time ended with the game tied at 1-1, meaning a penalty shootout was required.
Cincinnati eventually won the shootout 8-7, advancing to the semifinals after a series-clinching save from Roman Celentano.
The Ohio outfit will face the winner of the series between the Philadelphia Union and the New England Revolution in the next round.
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