You Seem Like A Regular Joe, Does this Look Like A Foul to You?

Real Salt Lake defender Jamison Olave was shown a straight red for the following play against San Jose striker Steven Lenhart (at the 55-second mark):

Leaving aside the homerism of the local broadcast team (we watched it originally on the San Jose feed, where there was little to no questioning of the call), we do think the ref got this one wrong.

It’s just two big, fast guys in pursuit of the ball, and the contact—apart from Lenhart’s shorts-grab—is shoulder-to-shoulder. Okay, Olave is slightly behind, and puts his shoulder into the back of Lenhart’s shoulder, but still, there’s not much from Olave that’s out of the range of normal jostling-for-possession on the play.

Indeed, Lenhart bounces right back up and shoots on goal—not necessarily the action of a man who believes he’s been denied an obvious goalscoring chance by the last defender back. That, of course, is the language of the rulebook that dictates a red card be shown to said defender. Which is exactly what happened: Olave was sent off; and it was RSL’s second red of the night, reducing them to nine men and opening the door for San Jose to score twice in stoppage time and win the game 3-1.

It’s a tough call to make in real time, chasing the play (the linesman was playing catch-up, too), and the officiating crew got it wrong. Seems to us that Lenhart drew this foul and card, Dennis Rodman–style.

Do you agree or disagree? Let us know in the comments.

Red Bulls GM Soler Issues Statement on Refereeing in Portland Game (But Henry’s Red Was Deserved)

The New York Red Bulls and Portland Timbers played to a wild, back-and-forth 3-3 draw last night at JELD-WEN Field.

Here are the highlights, with the not-even-trying-to-hide-their-bias local announcers (one of whom is former Jamaica international Robbie Earle, who scored that nation’s first ever goal in the World Cup finals. The more you know….):

Absent from the clip are a penalty miss (off the post) by Jack Jewsbury that would have put the Timbers up 4–2, a bicycle-kick goal-line clearance by Teemu Tainio, and a red card issued to Thierry Henry in stoppage time for smacking the head of Portland midfielder Adam Moffat.

Yes, it was an eventful, strange game. And here’s perhaps the oddest occurrence: New York was whistled for 25 fouls to Portland’s five.

There’s home-field advantage, Red Bulls GM Erik Soler has apparently decided, and then there’s … WTF?

Today, Soler issued the following statement regarding the match:

“We have carefully reviewed the film of our match against Portland last night and I can safely say that the level of refereeing was absolutely below the standards of what is required for a MLS match and completely unacceptable. First, the red card given to Thierry Henry was inexplicable. There was no violent conduct on his part whatsoever and this decision was made by a linesman who was more than half a field away. Second, in any soccer game, there is no way that one team can draw 20 more fouls than the other team, especially in a match where one team drew just five fouls. I have never seen this occur in my 30 years in the game.

“We are aware that U.S. Soccer and MLS are working hard to improve the officiating in this country and we support those efforts wholeheartedly. However, if we want to continue increasing the level of play, we cannot let these types of refereeing performances occur. We look forward to speaking with the League to appeal Thierry’s automatic red card suspension and expect that it will be rescinded so that he is available for our match Thursday in Seattle.”

As for the imbalance in foul calls—and just five being called on the home side—Soler has a valid point. That’s more than an anomaly.

As for Henry’s red card, it’s true that the linesman who helped the ref make the call was not right on top of the play, but the statement “there was no violent conduct on his part whatsoever” is demonstrably false.

Click here to take a look at the clip.

Henry does the time-tested “Yeah, yeah, we’re good, man” multiple pats on the head delivered with enough force to suggest exactly the opposite.

It’s a first cousin of the “Here, let me help you up” move seen so often on soccer fields that actually communicates “Get up, a—hole, I barely touched you.”

If it were Henry’s only borderline action of the game (or his brief MLS career), we’d say it deserved a yellow at most.

But Henry—who had an incredible game, by the way—was on the edge for much of the match, getting in little cheap shots here and there and twice planting his knee in the backs of Portland defenders while going for headers.

In that context, the red makes more sense—and regardless of the situation, Henry did strike an opposing player.

We’d be surprised if the league agreed with Soler (and 86% of the respondents to the MLS poll on the topic) and appealed the Frenchman’s automatic one-game suspension, making him available for Thursday’s game at Seattle.

Besides, with his sore knees, does Henry really want to play two FieldTurf games in a row?

Stadium Sparkles, Game Fizzles in Livestrong Sporting Park Opener

Watching last night’s historic home opener for Sporting Kansas City, we were reminded of something Billy Bob Thornton said in Bad Santa: “They can’t all be winners, can they?”

After spectacular stadium openers in Vancouver and Portland earlier this season, we got a dud of a game in the debut of Livestrong Sporting Park. While the stadium looked terrific, the two bottom-sitting teams in the Eastern Conference, SKC and Chicago, played to a choppy 0-0 draw.

Both sides entered the game with just one win on the season, prompting many observers to say that something had to give last night. Surprise: nothing gave—though something probably should have in the 85th minute, when Kansas City’s Omar Bravo was scythed down in the Chicago box:

ESPN announcers John Harkes and Adrian Healey claim that the referee got it right, but we beg to differ. Chicago defender Bratislav Ristic may have gotten some ball there, but he definitely clipped Bravo’s foot on arrival.

Put it this way, if the ref had given a penalty, would anyone have complained? No. And the home crowd would have gone home happy—doubly so since KC was playing with 10 men at the time of the above challenge.

Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen had been red-carded in the 67th minute for handling the ball outside the box while stopping a Dominic Oduro breakaway. Nielsen was the last man back, and the ref had no choice but to send him off.

KC had a goal by midfielder Graham Zusi called back for a close offside in the 15th minute, and later in the opening half, Zusi struck a fizzing drive just over Chicago keeper Sean Johnson’s crossbar.

But nobody found the back of the net, and the draw extended both teams’ winless streaks into double digits.

(Sidenote: the U.S. will play Guadeloupe at Livestrong Sporting Park on Tues., June 14—9:00 ET, Fox Soccer Channel. Check out this edition of MLS’s The Daily for a glimpse at some of the slick details inside Kansas City’s new stadium.)

Lower-Division Italian Team Gets Caddyshacked

Remember the final scene of Caddyshack, where Danny Noonan’s $80,000-putt hangs on the lip of the cup for an eternity, then falls in after Carl the Groundskeeper goes nuclear on the gopher?

In the movie, the putt counted and Danny’s side won. But in a real-life golf tournament, according to ESPN, which checked with the USGA, golf’s Rule 16-2 would have kicked in.

That rule states that a player has a reasonable time to approach his ball and then ten seconds to determine if it is at rest: “If by then the ball has not fallen into the hole, it is deemed to be at rest.”

All of which brings us to the following clip of a penalty shootout (for promotion to Italy’s sixth level) between Termeno and Dro—and begs the question: Does soccer have a Rule 16-2 for penalty shootouts?

At what point is the attempt finished? The keeper even checks the flight of the rebound as he sprints out in (premature) celebration. He’s convinced it’s a miss. So is the shooter.

Physics—and the game’s referee—said otherwise. And when the next shooter for Dro was stopped, Termeno was promoted.

But the story may not be over. According to one commenter on the original YouTube clip, the rules are different for a penalty shootout and an in-game penalty. He claims this should have been ruled no goal and further that the match will be replayed.

What do you think? Goal, or no goal? Let us know in the comments.

MLS Sees 60 Cards—Eight of them Red—In NHL-Style Week 4

After opening his column this morning with a nice account of how U.S.-based coaches Thomas Rongen, Bruce Arena, and Steve Nicol behaved like stand-up guys in the wake of recent losses, veteran Soccer America scribe Paul Gardner moves on to bemoan the “physical” style of MLS.

He writes that commissioner Don Garber’s preseason mandate for referees to protect skill players and encourage attacking soccer is not being adhered to:

“Even though I am in total agreement with what Garber is seeking–a more attack-oriented, goalscoring game–I remarked at the time that it would be difficult to get the referees to comply. And so far–17 games into the season–I’ve seen absolutely no convincing evidence of any change in referees’ attitudes.”

The odd thing about this—apart from it being entirely incorrect, down to the number of games played so far this season—is that Gardner clearly watched some MLS games this weekend.

From that experience, he should have noticed that referees have indeed changed their attitudes: Two weeks after issuing 40 cards in a weekend, they doled out 60 this time around, eight of them red.

They handed a penalty to D.C. striker Charlie Davies after he made a decisive move in the box and got a whisper of contact from L.A. defender Omar Gonzalez. They’re even dutifully using the spray paint to mark ten yards from the ball on free kicks, and making teams’ walls stay there, to the benefit of would-be goal-scorers. (They’re also the only refs—on the planet—currently using the spray paint, so far as we know.)

In short, they’re following Garber’s mandate pretty much to the letter. It’s the players who must now adjust to get the game closer to where the commish, and most fans, want it.

Click here to read our entire recap of a very edgy Week 4 in MLS.

This Actually Happened….

Former World Cup referee Byron Moreno—the man who officiated the U.S.’s 3-2 upset of Portugal in 2002, as well as South Korea’s controversial 2-1 win over Italy in the same tournament—was arrested at JFK airport late Monday night with 10 pounds of heroin attached to his body.

The money quote of the story comes from Moreno’s attorney, Michael Padden:

”I’m looking into the circumstances that led to this unfortunate situation.”

You do that, Mike. Let us know what you dig up.

The Ecuadorean former ref, who ejected Francesco Totti, disallowed an apparent Azzurri goal, and awarded South Korea a penalty in that Italy-South Korea game, was arrested by JFK customs agents after becoming “visibly nervous” during a “routine inspection.”

Moreno once added 11 minutes of stoppage time to a game in Ecuador’s domestic league, then failed to record the decision, leading to a 20-game suspension.

He is being held without bail on smuggling charges.

Andy Iro Disallowed Goal: Update, Sort Of

Major League Soccer’s website published an article this afternoon headlined “Official Ref Report Explains Iro’s Disallowed Goal” and reading, in part:

“According to the official referee post-match report, Emilio Rentería entered the field without permission and was eventually booked for that infraction. Law No. 3 from the Laws of the Game (page 60) says that when a player comes onto the field without permission, the game is stopped and the opposing team receives an indirect kick.”

But the article does not directly quote from the official report or link to it, so there are still some unanswered questions, some of which are discreetly brought up by commenters on the MLS site (see link above) and the Columbus Crew team site (see here).

Chief among these are:

  1. Video replay suggests that Renteria got clearance to re-enter the game from the fourth official (clearly) and possibly from the referee in the center of the field (Fox commentator Brian Dunseth noted this during the broadcast). Renteria is an experienced player who knows better than to re-enter the field willy-nilly. Doesn’t the fault lie with the officiating team for not coordinating better?
  2. Why did the Columbus Crew say they were initially informed the play was ruled offside?
  3. Where does the ‘numberless jersey’ fit into the whole mess?

We may never know, but hey, at least they didn’t go all Koman Coulibaly (and FIFA) and give us the silent treatment.

Progress?