By Paul Gardner
I'll confess to amazement when referee Terry Vaughn allowed Jaime Moreno's goal against Philadelphia last Saturday. Not that I saw anything wildly wrong with what Moreno did, anything that smacked of a foul, like crude body contact. Nothing like that at all. But we’ve become accustomed to the fact that goalkeepers are granted considerable privileges and seem at times to be almost untouchable.
What usually happens in cases like this one -- where the goalkeeper has possession and is releasing the ball within his allotted six seconds -- is that any sort of proximity by an opposing player is immediately whistled as a foul. Even if the referee allows proximity, the whistle will surely blow if the opposing player attempts any sort of movement toward the ball.
Moreno certainly did that, he came up with the ball, and he scored. And Vaughn allowed it. Hence my amazement. Evidently my surprise was justified, because I now see that Paul Tamberino, the refereeing tsar at the USSF, says that the goal should not have been allowed.
Tamberino, who is American, chooses to use the pompous British word laws, instead of the American word rules, I don’t know why, so we get this: “By law there can be no interference ... with the goalkeeper’s ability to release the ball within six or seven seconds.” Right -- what Rule 12 actually says is that it is an offense to “prevent the goalkeeper from releasing the ball from his hands.” But there is an obvious difference between what Tamberino is saying, and what the rules say: The words “from his hands.”
The implication of the rules wording is that once the goalkeeper has released the ball from his hands, then it is up for grabs, and an opponent may surely make a play for it. The question then becomes this: had Philadelphia goalkeeper Chris Seitz released the ball “from his hands” when Moreno took possession of it?
Moreno was certainly hovering nearby -- maybe two yards away -- as Seitz held the ball forward with his left hand (therefore still in control of it), getting ready to punt, I assume. At this point there is no evidence of any aggressive move from Moreno toward the ball.
What happens next is -- or seems to be from the not very good TV replays -- that Seitz lets the ball slip from his left hand. As it heads downward, toward the grass -- and at this point, Seitz is not (by law, you understand) “in possession of the ball” -- Moreno starts to close in, and only after the ball hits the ground does Moreno actually play it.
That fact, I believe, exempts Moreno from punishment. In the “Interpretations” section of the rule book, there is this: “A player must be penalized for playing in a dangerous manner if he kicks or attempts to kick the ball when the goalkeeper is in the process of releasing it.” Moreno did not do that -- Seitz had clearly lost control of the ball (and could hardly be said to be “in the process of releasing it”), which was then on the ground before Moreno kicked, or attempted to kick, it.
I realize it is considered rather bad form to actually criticize a goalkeeper, but I’d have to say that Seitz made a mess of this. His assertion that Moreno stepped in front of him is inaccurate. Moreno did nothing wrong.
Goalkeepers definitely need special protection -- particularly when they’re leaping to grab a high ball, and when they go to ground, when their hands and head are in danger. In those two specific plays, maybe the referee is justified in blowing his whistle early, if he sees danger looming.
Of course goalkeepers exploit this situation, introducing a new element of danger into the game by going hard into challenges with their knee dangerously raised. As a protection to hold off a challenger, the raised knee is acceptable; as an offensive weapon used when a goalkeeper is himself moving to challenge, it should not be permitted, as it is a flagrant example of dangerous play.
As I said -- at first glance, I was surprised that Vaughn allowed the goal, because I am totally used to seeing forwards called for a foul when they so much as get anywhere near a goalkeeper. Moreno was certainly close to Seitz -- but was he “interfering” in any way? Physically, no. Mentally, possibly he was making Seitz nervous, making him hurry his punt. But is that an offense? If it is, then goalkeeper protection is beginning to look like wet nursing. So that we all know where we are, perhaps we need a new “law” (should that be a capital L?) stipulating the goalkeeper protection radius, say two or three yards?
What I’m saying is this: I was wrong in my first impression that Moreno had interfered. And I think Paul Tamberino is wrong when he says the goal should not have been allowed. I think referee Terry Vaughn got this one 100 percent right.