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Cameras catch Real truth

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I was all set to write a column about how Real Salt Lake star Clint Mathis had been treated unfairly by the MLS and Chivas USA's Isaac Romo had gotten away with one of the worst dives in sports history.

Through the wonders of modern television technology, I've changed my mind. I won't be writing that column.

Not that Romo comes off spotless in the five-plus minute incident at Saturday's game in Rice-Eccles Stadium, which was telecast by ESPN2. It was Romo who set off the entire incident by kicking the ball at Mathis as the RSL player lay on the turf after being fouled.

But, quite frankly, ESPN2 caught Mathis doing everything for which he's been suspended three games and fined $5,000. He did swing at Romo. He did kick the ball into the stands. He did argue with the ref. He did not leave the field in a timely fashion.

Judging by full-speed, even by slow-motion replays of what happened as he confronted Romo on his way off the field, however, it appeared Mathis had been wrongly judged. Even after watching it a dozen or more times, it appeared Romo had grabbed at Mathis' hand in an attempt to make it appear Mathis hit him, then took a dive as he crumpled on the field.

The ESPN2 announcers certainly thought so.

"That's a dive," Rob Stone said. "Romo, get out, go to the showers, be suspended and fined. I'm sorry, Eric, that is bush league."

"This is my opinion about this," Eric Wynalda said. "We just caught you on TV."

And, to all appearances, they were absolutely right.

But . . . I Tivo'd the game. Which allowed me to look at the replay of the incident frame-by-frame.

After several runs through, something caught my eye that left me stunned. Looking at it frame by frame, you can see Mathis' right hand come up in front of Romo. You can see Romo's shorts pulled away from his body. And, while it's not entirely clear because Romo turns his back to the camera, it also looks like what originally appeared to be Romo grabbing his stomach to fake being sucker-punched could be him grabbing an injury somewhat lower than his stomach.

Which would explain why the MLS came down so hard on Mathis. Why the statement included an exoneration of Romo for taking a dive. And why Mathis isn't fighting the suspension and fine.

The wonders of modern television technology can be painful if you're a fan — they can throw a bucket of cold water on your white-hot indignation.

REF CAUGHT: The referee at Saturday's game decided there would be three minutes of stoppage time at the end of the first half. But, let's see, a quick check of ESPN2's telecast shows that the game was stopped when Mathis was fouled at 16:48, and play did not resume until 22:03.

Just because you only give three minutes of stoppage time doesn't mean we missed the fact that you completely lost control of the game for 5:15.

CHANTING WHAT? It's always interesting to hear what sportscasters say about a game you attend.

On the Fox Soccer Channel's "MLS Wrap" on Saturday night, it was reported that fans in Rice-Eccles began chanting "Let's play soccer!" during the disturbance.

The only thing I could hear in the stadium — and the only thing you could hear if you watched the ESPN2 telecast — was "Chivas sucks!"

E-mail: pierce@desnews.com