Perkins and Nyassi were just doing their jobs

Attackers going for goals and goalies determined to prevent them will occasionally produce incidents like the one last weekend when Montreal's Sanna Nyassi accidentally kicked Portland keeper Troy Perkins in the face. Yet in this case, both men were within their rights.

I hope everybody who thinks are goalkeepers are over-protected in the modern game watch video of the foot to the face that Perkins suffered in a clash with Nyassi Saturday night.

I do agree that too many times the referee will blow his whistle for a foul on the goalkeeper that looks a legitimate challenge even to me, a former amateur keeper of commendable spirit but dubious ability. If an attacker goes straight up for the ball and keeps his elbows down, or stretches out his foot for a pass he can realistically reach, a foul call should not be automatic.

Nyassi and Perkins contested the latter situation in the 64th minute. From midfield Collen Warner slipped a ball into the left channel and as Nysassi tried to wheel past defender Hayner Mosquera, his off-balance lunge with his right foot went over the ball and raked Perkins on the nose and forehead.

Perkins needed a few minutes of medical attention to continue, and with his nose covered by six small bandages he finished the game. In his post-game comments Timbers coach John Spencer called it “a stone-cold red card,” and with all due respect I can’t agree.

Nyassi had a real chance to get the ball and simply missed it as Mosquera jostled him just enough to disrupt his stride. Nyassi didn’t crash into the goalkeeper a second or so after he’d collected the ball; and players who slide into the keeper as he smothers a ball or lead with their elbows as they contest a cross are far more punishable than was Nyassi in this case.

Timbers TV commentator Robbie Earle, a forward in his playing days and like Spencer a veteran of such confrontations, described it thusly: “It was really brave goalkeeping, good goalkeeping, because he saw the danger, he saw the threat of Nyassi on the back of Mosquera. He gets there and he gets a boot in the head for his trouble.”

Earle’s reference to ‘danger’ is the threat of Nyassi on the Portland goal, not the player protecting it, yet goalkeepers do need to be brave, for the chance of serious injury is real. The attacker’s zeal to score a goal is as powerful as the keeper’s instinct to stop him, and with two or more players going full-bore collisions are inevitable.

Former U.S. keeper Brad Friedel, who through zealous training and rigorous mental preparation is still tending goal in the Premier League at the age of 41, says the goalkeepers’ code demands actions that call their sanity into question.  “In those situations, once in a while, somebody’s going to get hurt,” said Friedel in an interview before he retired from the national team. “No matter what the forward does, the keeper’s not going to back off.”

Revs' keeper Matt Reis got a reputation as a headhunter for a series of nasty collisions, including a clumsy challenge in which his knee drilled Alecko Eskandarian in the head and left him concussed. While forwards sometimes veer off at the last second, or jump over a sliding keeper as he collects the ball, a keeper who bailed out would be ridiculed. So usually, they don't.

Such encounters occur frequently without significant injuries, so we take for granted how harrowing those moments can be. It’s only when a Peter Cech suffers a near-fatal skull fracture that the danger that keepers brave nearly every day bursts back into the general awareness. In October, 2006, in the opening seconds of a game against Reading, the Chelsea goalie dived to smother a ball and though clearly Cech had the play covered, Stephen Hunt barreled forward.

Hunt’s right knee smashed into the side of Cech’s head and knocked the keeper senseless. Cech continued on for a few minutes but soon needed to be stretchered off the field. He was rushed to Royal Berkshire Hospital, where a depressed skull fracture was diagnosed. During surgery, two loose pieces of skull were removed and replaced with metal plates. Had those pieces penetrated his brain more deeply, he could have died. Cech returned to play wearing the protective head covering he wears to this day.

I can’t defend those who badger their teammates at every innocuous shot from 40 yards out, or feign injury when a nick catches them in passing. And though Nyassi deserved a caution for his challenge on Perkins, the keeper’s remarks about a tackle made no sense. Nyassi was trying to shoot or dribble around the keeper, who in effect, was the one making a tackle.

I still want keepers to be fairly challenged when they go for a corner kick, and I love the back-pass restriction that forces them to get real with their feet. I like the idea of a goalie being less of a specialist and a little more of a soccer player.

Opponents charging in to score aren’t the only threats. Keepers collide with goalposts and teammates. They come out to challenge for a high ball as a forward angles for it, perhaps with a  defender or two clawing desperately. A through ball slices apart the centerbacks and the keeper’s only chance is to dive at the forward’s flailing feet. A wildly bouncing ball ping-pongs between the bodies until the keeper plunges in to grab or swat it.

It happens all the time, in every game, and when a perfectly timed smother takes the ball a few inches from the opponent’s foot or snatches it away from an outstretched head, I shake my head in admiration and respect. Those guys may be crazy but they got guts.

12 comments about "Perkins and Nyassi were just doing their jobs".
  1. Amos Annan, May 4, 2012 at 9:22 a.m.

    Perkins put his face in the way of a 50/50 ball. Perkins never had any control or position with the ball. No card was deserved.

  2. Marc Silverstein, May 4, 2012 at 9:48 a.m.

    the attacker has a right for the ball on that 50/50 play but he was really nowhere near the ball with his foot, I think that Spencer is right in that it was careless and reckless.

  3. Heather Scott-molleda, May 4, 2012 at 9:52 a.m.

    Couldn't agree more with Ridge. This was a fair play that perhaps merited a yellow card for going over the ball -- the same yellow card that would be given on the field for a clumsy tackle that hits a knee rather than the ball -- but not red. Perkins' technique was perfect and he covered his face, but Nyassi went over the ball and the GK's hands. Fortunately the injury wasn't worse.

    As a GK who has had concussions from kicks to the head and collisions with the goalpost, I agree it can be a dangerous position. All GKs are a little crazy. But I've also unfortunately broken two noses because both I and the forward were focused on the ball, not on each other. It is a contact sport and not every collision is a foul.

  4. Futbol Genio, May 4, 2012 at 9:54 a.m.

    Ridge: I respectfully disagree. Nyassi's challenge was very reckless, as his chance of getting to the ball in an advantageous position was slim to none. His stabbing at the ball, missing it, and catchng Perkins squarely in the face with momentum seemed an awfully poor choice to me. At some point, you don't have to kill the next guy to get some sort of an advantage. Nyassi could hope for no advantage on this play, and he merely neglected to think through what a rash challenge would do to Perkins' face.

    Yes, Perkins was brave, but Nyassi was no closer to scoring on this play than he was just running past the play. At some point, you really have to think through your chances and avoid the unnecessary contact.

  5. Ryan Brown, May 4, 2012 at 10:52 a.m.

    Ridge - your general comments are sound, but in this case note the ground level replay - studs are up, over the ball-ankle level at contact. Even on 50/50 ball, if you replace Troy with outfield player who kept legs and feet down, Nyassi is red-carded for reckless challenge.

  6. Ramon Creager, May 4, 2012 at 11:21 a.m.

    The section on Law 12 of the "Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees" covers the safety of the goalkeeper (or any player), and states: "Playing in a dangerous manner is defined as any action that, while trying to play the ball, threatens injury to someone (including the player himself). It is committed with an opponent nearby and prevents the opponent from playing the ball for fear of injury." A reckless challenge like Nyassi's seems to be covered here. (It could be argued that the phrase "including the player himself" also implicates Perkins, but it is far likelier that the goalkeeper is injured in these situations and the unique job of the goalkeeper demands some latitude here, i.e. what Perkins did was not reckless, it was an expected part of his job.) The "Interpretations" are plainly saying that 50/50 doesn't trump player safety. As for the call to discipline Nyassi, the "Interpretations" further state: "Playing in a dangerous manner involves no physical contact between the players. If there is physical contact, the action becomes an offense punishable with a direct free kick or penalty kick. In the case of physical contact, the referee should carefully consider the high probability that misconduct has also been committed." Note the wording here: the benefit of doubt does not go to the reckless player.

  7. James m Evans, May 4, 2012 at 12:59 p.m.

    Sorry Ridge, you're dead wrong on this one. Nyassi went over the ball with his studs showing when he should have jumped over the goalie and avoided contact. If this play is ok, all goalies would be wearing Petr Cech type helmets and we would be reading articles in SA and other soccer publications around the world on a weekly basis about another keeper in a coma or serious head injuries. Ridge, I really enjoy your writing and your soccer knowledge, but I'm really surprised this is your belief.

  8. Christopher Young, May 4, 2012 at 1:28 p.m.

    While the yellow card/red card decision can be debated, what can't be debated are the facts of the game: "Perkins needed a few minutes of medical attention to continue, and with his nose covered by six small bandages he finished the game." Ridge, Perkins left the game in the 67th min and was replaced by Bendik. Did you watch the game and the challenge? Tough to agree or disagree if I question your recall of the game facts.

  9. Alex Stroessner, May 4, 2012 at 4:51 p.m.

    All your comments are sound and unfortunately there is no right answer. You ask every ref on his interpretation and I'd bet you'd have 30% giving red, 30% giving yellow and 30% not warranting any card. The other 1% would say "What tackle?" .. That's just how it is.

  10. Karen Willoughby, May 4, 2012 at 4:57 p.m.

    Sorry, Ridge, I disagree. If the keeper is playing the ball and gets hit by an opponent, I say protect the keeper. Because if the refs don't protect the keeper, bad things continue to happen. Guess, you have never held a dying gk like I have. Horrible modeling for our youth. Being a tough "man" is deadly.

  11. Carlos Thys, May 5, 2012 at 4:41 a.m.

    I just saw this video for the very first time. Didn't even know about this until seeing the video link. My initial thoughts: One, this is on the very edge of the penalty box, out in everyman's land for all players. This is not the goal box, a more protected zone for GKs. Two, and most importantly, I'm not sure that the Montreal player even knows the GK is there on the scene or coming out until perhaps the final 1/16th of a second -- when there is nothing that he can humanly do to avoid any potential contact. The Montreal player's focus is on the moving ball, the pass, the run he's making, and trying to outsprint /outmaneuver the Portland defender. I almost get the sense that the Montreal player is over-focused on this because he knows he should reach this ball and do something productive with it, but he's being outpaced and not making the most of this opportunity. He, I believe, does not see GK Perkins or know him to be there (rather far out and where one normally does not see a GK). Not sure you can give any blame to a Montreal forward who's head is down and who knows he should get his feet on this ball. My last thought (after only watching it three times) is: Maybe the Timbers GK (or any GK) should approach this sort of tackle with one's feet, just as a defender would. If you're going to come out like this (and this is not an absolute given for a GK in this situation), how about a slide tackle clearance, Mister GK? Maybe because his GK decision-making was a tiny fraction of a second too late? That's not harsh. A GK at this level has done this perfectly and flawlessly many times in his career and also gotten it all wrong in his career -- and learned from lots of experiences. I agree with the author of this article. No card. Medical treatment of course for the GK and the requisite stoppage time added on. I'd say chalk this facial injury up to about 25 - 40% poor reflex decision-making on the part of the Portland GK Perkins.

  12. Kerry Ogden, May 5, 2012 at 10:06 a.m.

    Definately a reckless challenge for the ball by Nyassi. This is a red card offense and Nyassi should be suspended for atleast 3 games!

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