U.S. players accept bizarre decisions

[MY VIEW] Sad to say, soccer players are used to referees erring at critical points of important matches, and the World Cup is not immune. Diego Maradona’s fisted goal that helped Argentina beat England in the 1986 quarterfinals is perhaps the most egregious example, but there are dozens of others. Co-host South Korea reached the 2002 final four in part thanks to terrible officiating decisions in their knockout matches against Italy and Spain. True, the Koreans still needed to score a golden goal to eliminate Italy and defeat Spain on penalty kicks to get that far, but in a tight match with tension infecting every touch, it's inevitable that the officials be affected as well as the players.

On Monday, perhaps, FIFA will address the Koman Coulibaly issue. He won’t be running the center at this World Cup again, as the disallowed Maurice Edu goal is just one of numerous strange decisions he made during the 2-2 tie with Slovenia last Friday. On a free kick swung into the penalty area by Landon Donovan and volleyed into the net by Edu, little evidence of a foul committed by a U.S. player could be found.

He could have even punished Clint Dempsey after the fact; on a previous set play, Dempsey had his arms wrapped all over an opponent – and vice versa – and Coulibaly might have been looking for a similar infraction to punish. So many pairings were wrapped around each other, the penalty area looked like the floor of a dance marathon with a few survivors struggling to stay upright.

At a press conference Sunday, the U.S. players voiced assurances they would be able to put the incident behind them and concentrate on Algeria. Even if the hype machine that is ESPN and several Web sites haven’t let go, the players seem ready to move on . “Some of those stories have been trickling into our camp, how people are up in arms and can’t believe the call, and that’s pretty cool," said Tim Howard with a big smile on his face.

“For most people who are soccer fans, that’s a small detail of that game, it was so up and down. At the end of the day it was just a referee’s call that got the American fans to show that: one they care, and two, that they are getting into the game and understand how it all works.”

How it works at a World Cup is that games are marred by officiating, and even very experienced referees err, as occurred in 2006 when English referee Graham Poll cautioned Josip Simunic three times in the same game. Sometimes regional imbalances are blamed, as was the case at those games in 2002 and in the case of Coulibaly, a native of Mali who was working his first World Cup match. Yet referee Alberto Undiano of Spain took severe criticism for his handling of the Germany-Serbia match in which Miroslav Klose was sent off with two cautions, both of which were borderline calls.

The hue and cry emanating from America ignores the stark fact of its own sports: bad calls by referees and umpires are not subject to review, no matter how glaringly obvious. Umpire Jim Joyce will forever live with his blown first-base call that deprived Armando Galaragga of a perfect game. Baseball umpires are only permitted to use video in deciding whether a batted ball has cleared the line or fence or other barrier that denotes a home run.

We can hope and dream that one day FIFA will at least use goal-line cameras to determine if a goal has been scored, and don’t be surprised if one such incident arises at this tournament. In the case of goalmouth grapple-fests, the only solution is more eyes on the action. A second, and equal, referee is one possible solution; FIFA is experimenting with goal-line sentinels to scrutinize the action more closely.

American players also expressed their frustration at what they perceived to be Coulibaly’s inconsistency in such situations. Batters gnash their teeth when a home-plate umpire’s strike zone seems to vary from game to game, or even inning to inning. On other hand, in the Germany-Serbia match, referee Undiano had called the game tight from the opening kickoff, so maybe the players had been warned and just didn’t adjust.

As previously stated, Dempsey and his teammates believed Coulibaly had established he’d tolerate a fair amount of pushing and grabbing. Apparently not. Against Algeria, they will monitor how the game is being called, and take it from there.

“We’ll have to gauge that, said Dempsey. “If someone has their arms around me, I’m going to sit there and say ‘OK, that’s fine.’ I’m going to try to bust out of that and get in position to try to score a goal. If they let that type of thing go on, then that’s how you play. If the ref is calling it tight, then you’re not going to do that. You have to adapt to the game and that’s what we’ll do.”

8 comments about "U.S. players accept bizarre decisions".
  1. Luis P. KIFUTSAL, June 21, 2010 at 8:03 a.m.

    They must accept and move on! Very rarely referee calls and comes back on his call. That's soccer and that's the way it is. The call is made, the call is made no matter how right or wrong the call is. On this particular case, whatever the referee saw, he made the call before the American player took a shot on goal. Too bad the ball went in and would have been the best USA comeback so far...against Slovenia??? If the game would have been USA 5 x 0, the call wouldn't have been an issue. Nobody mentioned that in 90 minutes of game USA was just uncabable to show any quality soccer and barely did enough to tie the game. Two ties in two games and if they are lucky they will beat Algeria to come back home in second round playing this weak kind of soccer they have been showing...Nobody spent a second talking about that weak Dempsey fall over the ball, which sent the Slovenia player out of the world cup...

  2. Scott Boegemann, June 21, 2010 at 8:23 a.m.

    Luis, you need to reread the post. The players have moved on. It doesn't matter what everyone else thinks about it.

    I like how you point out the U.S. weak play and not the level of play for the whole tournament. Let me refresh your memory. The defending champions, Italy, had to dive in the box to TIE NEW ZEALAND!! Slovenia is ranked #25 in the world. New Zealand is ranked 78th!! EVERY player from Brazil dove more than an entire Ronaldo season just to beat the the 103rd world ranked North Koreans by a single goal.

  3. Scott Boegemann, June 21, 2010 at 9:29 a.m.

    Ridge- It's also sad to say that referees and fans are used to their teams cheating during critical matches. More game changing cheats stick out in my mind than blown calls. FIFA has to get serious about modernizing the game with the number of officials that participate in a match.

  4. Will Lozier, June 21, 2010 at 10:22 a.m.

    No mention of Brazil's second goal which took TWO handlings by Luis Fabiano!? Paul, you grumpy old man. There is certainly a great deal wrong with modern soccer - incompetent referees, incessant fouls on attacking players, incessant diving by attacking players, coaches in denial acting like 5-year-olds (Mara"Prima"dona) etc., etc. I DARE you to find something positive to write about that doesn't involve your pet boys from Brazil.

    Bob Bradley, for all his shortcomings (i.e., opportunities for improvement) has EVERY reason to comment on this blown call. I agree, the whistle had blown before the finish and, therefore, this is not some sort of Muslim conspiracy (which some American Idiot claimed to be the case on ESPN's commentary boards). But, for christ's sake, show some empathy. You wouldn't have something to say about a, yes, "good goal" having been taken away for THREE POINTS IN A WORLD CUP when THREE OF YOUR PLAYERS ARE TRYING TO ATTACK A FREE KICK AND BEING BEAR-HUGGED BY THEIR MARKER if you were in charge. So much for defending teams trying to play positive football. The American team has every right to criticize the referee...then move on. This they seem to have done.

    It is AMAZING how you are INCAPABLE of giving credit when it is due, whatever team deserves it. Not sure what your soccer background is but if you were a player, your writing fails to reveal it. Go relax with a pint (or four) before you watch another match. Maybe you'll find something positive to write about.

  5. Daniel Lann, June 21, 2010 at noon

    I think that Clint Dempsey's take on the call was realistic. He set the table for the next game. As a coach, I have spent countless hours over the years trying to instill in my players the principle of playing each game to the referee's style. Players know that they have to adjust and adapt to their mark's style of play. If the player is faster than you, lay off a bit, don't try running with him. Same thing with the referee: If he/she is calling a tight game regarding physical play, be careful. Adjust... adapt to the referee's game. If the referee is thin-skinned and easily irritated, keep your mouth shut and your body language respectful when you disagree with a call. Any player who has control of his emotions can learn to live with the referee's calls. It is simply part of the game. Like it or not, it's a fact. The American players have the right attitude. What's done is done. Now move on and defeat Algeria. Then move on to the round of sixteen.

  6. bgix , June 21, 2010 at 12:45 p.m.

    I am happy with how everything sits. Thanks to the 0-0 draw between ENG and ALG, the US is in a "win and in" situation, with an advantage on tie-breakers should they draw. Starting with the round of 16, they are going to have to win to advance anyway, so they need to start winning anyway. Plus ALG is arguably the weakest side in the pool.

    I also appreciate how they have handled this whole situation: Direct but not over the top argument and "expressions of concern" on the field, and during the immediate aftermath; followed by acceptance of the new status quo, and recognition that they still control their destiny. This may have perhaps not been the case had ENG beat ALG, but that did not happen so we move on.

    I am proud of our boys, and am still confident of at least advancement out of the pool, followed by fighting chances in the first 1 or 2 knockout rounds.

  7. I w Nowozeniuk, June 21, 2010 at 12:49 p.m.

    The tie created front page press and interest in the U.S. like never before...USMNT needs to keep focus and play hard...this WC is America's time to get to the quarters and perhaps the semis

  8. George Harrison (Jr.), June 21, 2010 at 8:34 p.m.

    Daniel Lann, I agree with your comments. Noting what Ridge had to say about consistency was right on target. When I coached youth baseball the most difficult thing was umpire's inconsistency with the strike zone. I don't care if the zone is 6 inches wide as long as it is in the same place every time. Then, the players and coaches can adjust. If refs, umps, and officials are consistent then players can and will adjust.

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