By Paul Gardner
What's this? An MLS goalkeeper ejected? Now there's something you don't see too often, so Chivas USA's Dan Kennedy can feel a bit hard done by ... really, all he did was trip Paulo Nagamura in the box. Sure, Nagamura was in scoring position, but referees are apt to give the penalty kick and then take pity on the keeper and give him only a yellow.
But referee Baldomero Toledo is made of sterner stuff. He gave the penalty -- and he ejected Kennedy. Elsewhere in MLS this weekend, it was business as usual, and the customary be-nice-to-keepers policy was operating normally.
The Houston Dynamo’s Tally Hall was the most obvious beneficiary. Under the complacent eye of referee Allen Chapman, Hall got away with two offenses in quick succession. In the 25th minute we got one of those increasingly familiar scenarios in which a goalkeeper comes racing out of his goal and demolishes an opposing forward ... in the penalty area. So Hall duly flattened the L.A. Galaxy’s Jose Villarreal.
A penalty kick to the Galaxy, then, and a red card to Hall for denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity. Yes ... and no. The PK was given. But not the red card -- because that’s when the devious and dubious rationalizations about the definition of “obvious” take over.
Soccer’s by now well-established antipathy to goalscoring comes into play and a host of reasons for not giving the red card are advanced -- well, it wasn’t really an obvious chance, there was another defender somewhere near, the forward was too far from goal, the angle was too tight, and possibly the get-out that was used here: the attacker was not heading directly for the goal.
Villarreal was, originally, heading for goal. But he started to move to his right to side-step Hall (yes, surprisingly, forwards do try to avoid getting clobbered by wildly charging goalkeepers). Hall missed the ball by about two yards -- but he got all of Villarreal.
The “not heading for goal” argument is therefore tenuous, at best. But even if one accepts it, there is still the fact that Hall’s challenge on Villarreal was late, violent and reckless. Very definitely a yellow card foul, and borderline red. But referee Chapman gave no card, neither yellow nor red.
There was another curious pro-goalkeeper angle to this one. Chapman’s assistant referee had a perfect view of the action, yet he never raised and waved his flag (something that ARs now do to indicate a foul).
Hall’s lucky day was not over yet. Minutes later he saved Landon Donovan’s poorly taken penalty kick. But what were Chapman and that AR of his looking at? Hall was a clear yard forward from his line (with both feet) before Donovan struck his kick. He was allowed to get away with that, too -- allowed to become the hero of an incident, when he should have been the villain.
There were more goalkeeper adventures in the Real Salt Lake-Vancouver game. As Luis Gil scored Real’s first goal, he was badly fouled by Vancouver’s keeper, Joe Cannon. Exactly what Cannon was trying to do as Gil dived forward to meet Joao Plata’s cross, only Cannon knows. But it ended up being another of these clumsy, dangerous, goalkeeper challenges that get nowhere near the ball. Gil got there first and headed the ball home -- he was then whacked by Cannon with the sort of reckless “tackle” that would surely demand at least a yellow card if carried out by a field player.
But referee Juan Guzman let it all go. No card for Cannon. Gil played on for another six minutes before having to hobble off to have his right ankle swathed in ice.
By a rather extraordinary set of events, Real’s goalkeeper, Nick Rimando, had also played a role -- a much more positive one -- in Gil’s goal. It was a quickly taken long goal-kick from Rimando that started the action, finding the sprinting Plata, who crossed the ball to Gil. Well executed, but pretty straightforward, action.
But not for commentator Brian Dunseth, who went into orgasmic mode to describe the apparent brilliance of Rimando’s long ball (the only keeper in MLS capable of doing that, or even thinking of it, it seems -- that’ll tell the rest of you guys). Well, yes, but the only thing unusual about the long ball was that it came from the goalkeeper -- it was the sort of long pass that any defender, spotting a gap in the opposing defense, would make.
No matter, the goalkeeper involvement made it special for Dunseth. A sort of novelty goal. He declared it a sure-fire goal-of-the-week -- if it’s not, then there’s something wrong, he insisted.
As it happened, later in the game there was a much better goal-of-the-week candidate scored by Real after a splendidly quick and crisp eight-pass sequence, featuring six different players. This one also started back in the Real penalty area, where defender Nat Borchers won the ball in a tackle and flicked it to Tony Beltran. From there it went up to Joao Plata who, after a neat give-and-go with Devon Sandoval, passed to Javier Morales, moving quickly into the Vancouver half. Morales passed forward to Sebastian Velasquez who niftily evaded a tackle and slipped a beauty of a pass forward to Plata -- Plata’s pass in to Morales was also perfect, and Morales finished the move by clipping the ball past Cannon from six yards. Great passing, ball on the ground all the way, great player movement, super finish.
A goal-of-the-week possibility? I’d say so, for sure. But I’m not about to underestimate the appeal of a goalkeeper-novelty goal.