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The 'everybody does it' defense
by Ridge Mahoney, April 11th, 2008 2:30PM

TAGS:  mls


Revs coach Steve Nicol let loose a bitter tirade against referee Baldomero Toledo after he punished a clumsy tackle by Jeff Larentowicz with a straight red card in the seventh minute of New England's 4-0 loss at Chicago last week [VIDEO].

Nicol ranted after the game, claiming such tackles don't warrant reds anywhere else in the world.

Two days later, TFC midfielder Kevin Harmse flew into D.C. United's Gonzalo Peralta with a two-footed tackle and referee Mark Geiger immediately sent him off.

Of the two fouls, Harmse's carried more menace and left Peralta stretched out on the grass. Larentowicz didn't injure or maim Brandon Prideaux. Yet Toledo's ruling, while harsher, wasn't incorrect. Both were deemed to be "serious foul play."

Larentowicz's right foot went right over the ball as he lunged into the tackle, and his left leg, while not fully extended as in the case of Harmse, wasn't far behind the right foot.

Nicol's claim that such fouls in the EPL, for example, aren't punished by red cards isn't necessarily true. While many European referees are rather lenient with two-footed tackles if one foot makes solid, legal contact with the ball and the other doesn't saw off the opponent at the ankle, they are not averse to punishing players who show their studs whether or not the ball is played.

He is correct that strong tackles that are a fraction of a second late rarely draw a red card, but Larentowicz's tackle endangered his opponent and barely touched the ball while going over the top of it. Had his foot been a foot lower, he'd have cleared the ball cleanly and stayed on the field. Rather than a bad call, this was a case of bad technique.

Where referees in MLS, as well as everywhere else, can do better is consistently punish similar fouls with similar decisions. As in the interpretation of offside, if officials deviate significantly on what appear to be similar plays, players and coaches take the field even more uncertain of how the game is to be handled.

OFFSIDE, REVISITED. In last week's edition an offside situation during which the referee's assistant mistakenly flagged for offside in the Kansas City-D.C. United game was itself mistakenly cited.

Rather than the goal scored by Ivan Trujillo from a first-time pass by Jack Jewsbury, the play in question referred to another play during which Trujillo put the ball in the net but the goal was incorrectly disallowed. The referee's assistant had spotted Claudio Lopez in an offside position and raised the flag even though Lopez didn't touch the ball and had no influence on the play.

The phrase "passive offside" is no longer part of the soccer nomenclature. The rules simply refer to players "involved" in a play and those who are not involved, and it is in these gray areas that interpretation, not to mention confusion, still come into play as officials try to discern in split-seconds if a player is offside or not.

"We had an explanation on how referees are being taught to call offside so we could all get on the same page with the various recent interpretations coming down from FIFA and all over the world," said Joe Machnik, who oversees many aspects of on-field operations, including refereeing, for MLS. Machnik said that on the first weekend of play, four situations during which officials might have erred were reviewed.

But no directives or decisions coming down from FIFA can legislate against poor calls, such as the offside call that annulled what would have been the first goal scored by the reborn San Jose Earthquakes last week against the Galaxy at Home Depot Center. Ryan Cochrane emerged from a cluster of players to head a free kick into the net; he'd been onside when the ball was struck, yet up went the flag and instead of falling behind 1-0 in the second minute, the Galaxy restarted play with a free kick.

  1. Len Oliver
    commented on: April 11, 2008 at 2:49 p.m.
    Soccer Folks:
  1. Len Oliver
    commented on: April 11, 2008 at 3:03 p.m.
    Soccer Folks: Several points emerge from Ridge Mahoney's piece today: "The 'Everybody Does it' Defense." 1. They are "Assistant Referees," not "Referee Assistants." Our beloved announcers continually get it wrong. Would a baseball commentator call an "umpire" a "referee?" 2. It is "Serious Foul Play," but the relevant Law (Law 12) in talking about cards, refers to "Excessive Force" as the culprit (red), "Reckless" (yellow), and "Careless" (blow the foul, no card). 3. The concept of "passive offside" ("No longer part of the soccer nomenclature") was never part of the Laws, and should be eliminated from our soccer vocabulary. 4. In our day playing the pros, the referees talked to us, calming down situations with their voices, not cards. I fear the cards are creating havoc in imbalanced sides. 5. Take on the "dives" ("Any simulating action anywhere on the field which is intended to deceive the referee"--warrants a yellow). They are destroying the game from within, especially with newcomers to our sport. It is just silly to watch grown men fall down on the slightest touch, grab a body part, writhing on the groud, moaning, all the while appealing to the ref for a card! Come on! Len Oliver, Director of Coaching, DC Stoddert VYSA State Staff Coach, National Soccer Hall of Fame (1996)

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