The Latest Wrongheaded Ref-Bashing

By Paul Gardner

Here we go again, alas, alas. And, for me, it really is alas, because once again we’ve got a good young American coach losing it and berating the referee. A few weeks back, it was John Hackworth and Caleb Porter. This time it’s D.C. United’s Ben Olsen erupting after his team’s 1-0 loss to Vancouver on Saturday.

In all three cases, the criticism is simply not justifiable. It can be excused, I suppose, as blind frustration having its say. A sudden release of pent-up anger which can have only one target. Referees are used to this sort of thing, they’d better be.

But these cases invariably find the referees accused of faults and crimes they have not committed, while the coaches end up looking unpleasantly embittered. Because these bursts of barely controlled anger nearly always focus on incidents that the referee got right. They are simply calls that the coach doesn’t like, calls that he feels robbed them of a goal, or presented the opposition with a goal. And the later in the game that the call comes, the greater is likely to be the coach’s departure from reality.

Of course Olsen is feeling the pressure -- D.C. United now has the worst record in the league. And the frustration in this particular game was cruel. D.C. did do enough, did play well enough, to win it. Instead they were defeated, and Olsen found it necessary, post-game, to bury referee Matthew Foerster with scornful criticism. Calling the officiating “a clown show,” Olsen told us “the joker in the middle did not do a good job.”

The second of the two complaints that Olsen raised during his rant concerned a very late 94th-minute non-call by Foerster.

D.C. should have had penalty, claimed Olsen, because Vancouver defender Brad Rusin handled the ball. But Olsen’s claim -- “If the ball hits a guy's hand in the box right in front of the referee, it's a PK” destroys his own argument. If the ball plays the hand, that is normally regarded as accidental contact, so no call. And that’s what happened -- there was very slight, incidental contact with Rusin’s hand -- even as Rusin was trying to draw his hand away.

The other injustice that Olsen went on about involved a first-half penalty that Foerster did call -- against D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid for bringing down Vancouver’s Matt Watson. This is Olsen’s version: “If Bill Hamid touches the ball, and his follow-through tends to trip the guy, it's not a PK.”

That is more or less what happened -- Hamid did get the ball first -- and he did then wipe out Watson. Many will agree with Olsen’s interpretation, but many will not. Me, for one -- because I see the sort of challenge that Hamid made as certainly careless, and likely to be reckless, play. Both are fouls -- there is nothing in the rules that excuses goalkeepers from having to consider the safety of opponents.

But goalkeepers, aided and abetted by refereeing complacency, have become quite used to getting away with their careless challenges. Appropriately, it was Hamid himself who later gave us an almost perfect example of the way that goalkeepers feel that crunching into other players is an OK thing to do (you will have noticed that goalkeepers are usually the biggest guys on the field).

It was a desperate gimmick-play from D.C. -- to send Hamid upfield, hoping to get on the end of a last-gasp D.C. corner kick. Hamid did his job -- he did get his head to the ball (the D.C. claim for a hand-ball penalty followed) -- but the ball was partially cleared. Hamid saw another chance to head it -- and raced to meet it, crashing violently into defender Jordan Harvey, without getting anywhere near the ball. A dangerous foul for which Foerster quite rightly gave a yellow.

Getting back to the penalty kick call on Hamid, there is also this to consider. In getting his hands to the ball, Hamid did not push it very far away -- had Watson stayed on his feet, he would surely have reclaimed it very quickly. But thanks to Hamid’s demolition job, Watson was on his back, not his feet.

I have no sympathy at all for the goalkeepers in these situations. All they’re being asked to do is play the game according to the same rules as everyone else -- to show consideration for the opponents and not to make wild challenges.

The day before Hamid’s fouls, you may have seen an even clearer example of the problems that goalkeeper violence can cause. This was during the wonderfully exciting U-20 World Cup game between Mexico and Mali. At the end of the first half, Mali played the ball into the Mexico penalty area and, to punch it clear, goalkeeper Richard Sanchez raced forward ... into a crowd of players. What was immediately noticeable was that, as Sanchez leaped to get to the ball, his knee was raised in that menacing way that goalkeepers use to protect themselves from players who charge into them.

But no one was charging into Sanchez. Quite the opposite -- he was the one doing the assaulting, and his knee crunched heavily into the face of a player. The game was delayed for over 3 minutes until the player, looking understandably dazed, could be removed on a stretcher.

So a penalty to Mali? No -- the player whom Sanchez had clobbered was his own captain, Bernardo Hernandez. Luckily, Hernandez did come back into the game (whether, given the severity of the knock he took, he should have returned is another matter).

But the matter of the penalty kick is unresolved. The way Sanchez went for the ball -- which was absolutely typical of what all goalkeepers do, and are repeatedly allowed to do -- was surely careless play.

Surely, it is irrelevant that it was a teammate who took the knee to his head -- that was sheer chance, it could easily have been an opponent ... isn’t that sort of random damage what “careless” means?

The rule book, defines three ascending categories of foul play -- careless, reckless, and using excessive force. For the reckless and excessive force categories it specifies that the danger or injuries must be to an opponent.

But for careless, as it happens, there is no mention of opponents. That “the player has shown a lack of attention or consideration when making a challenge or that he acted without precaution.”

There is surely enough justification there for referees to penalize goalkeepers for these dangerous challenges,

What makes the challenges so frightening is that they are more likely than not to involve head injuries and concussions. I discussed this topic a few days ago, and suggested that MLS let us know what instructions its referees have been given on dealing with head injuries.

Not a word from MLS ... but this from Columbus coach Robert Warzycha after his team’s Saturday loss to Kansas City: “The referee [Juan Guzman] didn’t stop the play for a head injury ... You have a player with a history of concussions [Chad Marshall] go down. The play should have been stopped.”

MLS needs to clear this up. Quickly.

As for Ben Olsen, he will be fined, but I’m hoping his chastisement goes no further than that. He won’t look back on his rant as a shining moment, but I’m hoping he’ll get over it quickly and will persevere, will be allowed to persevere, through his team’s sticky patch.
28 comments about "The Latest Wrongheaded Ref-Bashing".
  1. tom brown, July 1, 2013 at 1:15 a.m.

    This is beyond incompetance. its blatant match fixing. Booking Watson on Dallas into the locker room & then missing the goal! How many coincidences do you need?
    Garber needs to go. This man is sick.

  2. R2 Dad, July 1, 2013 at 2:07 a.m.

    Good points, PG. Keepers really should know better, but I'm curious how often they sit down with coaches to discuss the finer points of the LOTG. I'm guessing never, hence their assumption they are bulletproof in the box. Yes, the laws protect the keeper but the stances and challenges we routinely see them take (and are allowed to take) raise the level of violence in the sport.

  3. Jogo Bonito, July 1, 2013 at 2:39 a.m.

    with Ben Olsen, it's what happens when you give coaching jobs to players. Ben Olsen has never coached before getting a well-paid pro job as DCU's head. It's kids coaching kids and kids should be seen not heard. As far a GKs go, I agree with PG on everything. Zach MacMath (Philly 's GK) can't cleanly hold a a lofted ball with his long arms while other "armless" people are jumping for it and he cries foul! ridiculous. The whole league comes across as a bunch bratty kids. Players, coaches, administration, TV commentators. It's difficult to watch really

  4. Charles O'Cain, July 1, 2013 at 8:39 a.m.

    I agree with Mr Gardners comments here, but wonder why he was not similarly outraged when the Real Madrid keeper received no punishment for his clear punch to the head of Vidic (with absolutely no contact with the ball), producing an actual head injury during the match at Old Trafford? Then Mr Gardner focused entirely ( on the ghost foul on Arbeloa by Nani,for which Nani was ejected. What we would like is some consistency, both from the officials and from the commentators (Mr Gardner included).

  5. Glenn Auve, July 1, 2013 at 9:36 a.m.

    The problem with calling a foul on the "careless" goalkeeper as outlined above is that in order to have a foul in the first place several conditions must be met including that the "victim" is an opponent (except for handling).

  6. Joe Linzner, July 1, 2013 at 9:38 a.m.

    Goal keepers have been getting away with ugly play forever. In 1972, playing in La Cienega stadium against a Greater LA Semi pro team I personally felt the skill of a bully keeper. I had stopped a cross with my chest with my back to the goal near the penalty spot. During the picot towards the net I tasted that knee on my right rib cage and went to the ground with two broken ribs and one displaced between the broken pieces. As the keeper stood over me ranting about being a sissy I planted my right cleats on his eggs and really scrambled them. You guessed it, I got the red card. After a protest both immediate and later written the opinion rendered was as follows. Even though I had the ball under control with a chest stop that held the ball and allowed me to pivot to launch a shot on goal the ball was in the air and not under my direct control thus giving the keeper the right to go for the ball. Problem being that he never got the ball. It was cleared by a defender. Got up, coughed up some blood, was out for six weeks. Only satisfaction for me was the crumpled keeper tasting a sample of deliberate mayhem he was famous for.

  7. beautiful game, July 1, 2013 at 10:41 a.m.

    Too often MLS refs swallow the whistle, allow encroachment, and let physical play get out of hand. The former "butcher of Torino", Gentile, would have been a superstar in the MLS.

  8. Kent James, July 1, 2013 at 10:57 a.m.

    While I agree with the tenor of the column, is PG really suggesting that the referee of the Mexico match call a PK because the Mexican keeper took out his own man? I won't be holding my breath on that one...

  9. Nicholas Hurd, July 1, 2013 at 11:13 a.m.

    On the goalkeeping and the general inclination of Refs to favor the defense in the penalty area (on corners and free kicks) I totally agree. Goalkeepers wipe out strikers all of the time, they are looking at the ball and the player most times, whereas a striker is looking back at the ball, away from the keeper. However if the striker so much as touches the keeper a foul is called.

    On a different point however, it is time the handball rule is changed. Even a good ref is not a mind reader. He or she can not determine intent. And hand to ball vs. ball to hand is ignorant. Based on that logic, defenders in a wall should raise their hands in a surrender pose, every ball struck is ball to hand. The hand ball, like every other important law should be "advantage". If the ball is headed towards goal and a defender does not get his hand out of the way, it is a hand ball. With that rule USA-1 / Germany-1 in Korea/Japan. Clear advantage on Frings handball, while no clear intent.

  10. tom brown, July 1, 2013 at 3:12 p.m.

    Hamid played the ball, got the ball & then a collision occurred. The intent was to PLAY THE BALL not the man. No foul no pk. I don't care who you are what rag you write on how many dumb suckers read your rag or how many years & different rags you propagandized. Only a fool could call that a legit pk. It was blatant match fixing any way shape or form you look at it. Gardner is senile. Maybe he could join the vatican where senility is cherished.

  11. soccer talk, July 1, 2013 at 4:32 p.m.

    Like fore mentioned, most of the time strikers
    As well as keepers are fucusef on the and don't
    See the inevitable collision, or simply cannot react.
    Hand ball incident should be viewed as did the
    Player have his arms in an unsaturat position
    To effect to play whether intentional or not.
    All comes down to a refs judgement on the spot.

  12. Kent James, July 1, 2013 at 5:25 p.m.

    Handling should be called when either one of two things happens; the player moves his hand to the ball and strikes it (one cannot always tell intent, but this suggests it pretty strongly), or if the player has his hand in an unnatural position and the ball strike it (such as in Nicholas' wall with their hands over their head). What happens after the contact has no impact on the call (the ref plays advantage). Many people (players especially) believe that if the contact benefits the team of the player whose arm contacted the ball, the referee must call a foul (even if the 2 aforementioned conditions did not apply). But this is wrong, and should be wrong. Essentially the way the rule is written and enforced, players cannot use their arms/hands because allowing them to do so makes it too easy; but as long as a player is not trying to seek an advantage by using them in this way, a player cannot be blamed for having them. Then the arms are just like any other part of the body (legs, back, etc.), and if the ball bounces off, we play on. Where this can be controversial is interpreting what is a "natural" position; pumping your arms while running is certainly natural, and if the ball strikes an arm in such a position many people want a foul called (unless the player alters the path of the arms to strike the ball, it shouldn't be). Harder still is when a player executes a slide tackle with the arms out for balance, and the ball strikes them (I think we got a PK v Jamaica when Wynalda hit a cross in a qualifier at RFK on such a ball). I don't think that should be handling, but many would disagree (because the hand is away from the body; unnatural if you're standing, but not if they're helping you balance). I think the general idea (which I like) is that if you're not doing anything you shouldn't be, you shouldn't be punished.

  13. soccer talk, July 1, 2013 at 6:06 p.m.

    Like i said and Kent elaborated on handling
    Quite well; the natural position is what is in question. Every Coach, fan wants a favorable
    Call. Especially DC which is frustrated.
    I feel that too many people view the goalie
    Getting to the ball first as a legal act as a successful slide tackle by a field player. In some
    Instances the goalie "carelessly" wipe
    Out the offense which is wrong. In addition to that
    If the keeper gets a hand on the ball and inadvertently trips the striker while the striker
    Still has a play on the ball to score or assist them
    As likely case this game, grant the PK.
    As a ref its the judgement calls on the spot that
    Are most challenging. I have always had
    The second guesses Its easy to officiate from
    Your arm chair in a non hostile environment w/
    The luxuary of replay.

  14. Jogo Bonito, July 2, 2013 at 7:01 a.m.

    "tom brown" with all due respect (and despite you're very strong opinion) you are 100% wrong (as well as disrespectful to a US Soccer Hall Of Famer, Mr Gardner). Anyone who knows anything about refereeing knows that the word "intent" does not exist when it comes to calling fouls (except handballs). That was 100% a penalty and I hope fouls like that one and similar challenges with outfeld players using feet will be fouls forever. Maybe then people will stop flinging themselves at opponent's feet and we can get back to playing soccer. Of course, I've seen great slide tackles where a player got the ball and may have gotten some harmless leg immediately after. In Hamid's case, he did quite well to get the ball, but unfortunately for him, in the process completely wiped out the player therefore causing a clear foul. "Intent" should never be considered when it comes to calling fouls.

  15. Ramon Creager, July 2, 2013 at 8:37 a.m.

    Consistency. This is the problem. Ref got it technically right, perhaps, but 9 out of 10 times they don't call this, as even Mr. Gardner admits ("But goalkeepers, aided and abetted by refereeing complacency, have become quite used to getting away with their careless challenges.") So when a ref calls something that most don't, players and coaches get angry. And they have a point. If the league wants to start calling these consistently, make it a point and start doing it. But, odds are, Hamid will do this again and get away with it, and Matthew Foerster will probably let the next few slide. So what he did appears arbitrary.

  16. Ramon Creager, July 2, 2013 at 10:04 a.m.

    Also on the "hand-balls." My experience as a ref is that handballs are fairly easy to call. Fans apparently don't think so; they haven't read the Laws (as most players and coaches also have not) and assume that any contact between hand/arm and ball is a foul. Kent explained it well above. I think it's pretty clear that the example in the DCU game was not a foul; nor was the handball by a Brazilian defender in the box in the Confed Cup final. One thing that would help is if TV announcers would refrain from manufacturing controversy where there is none. I'd like a buck for every time some jackass announced (usually with an English accent) "there is suspicion of handball on that cross", something I hear at least once per EPL game watched.

  17. tom brown, July 2, 2013 at 1:07 p.m.

    "tom brown" with all due respect (and despite you're very strong opinion) you are 100% wrong (as well as disrespectful to a US Soccer Hall Of Famer, Mr Gardner). Anyone who knows anything about refereeing knows that the word "intent" does not exist when it comes to calling fouls (except handballs). That was 100% a penalty and I hope fouls like that one and similar challenges with outfeld players"
    You need to find another sport. You are a complete idiot. The goalie Hamid played the ball. NOT INTENT. He played it GOT IT. There was no foul. His job is to stop goals by pushing balls away from the net. He pushed WITH HIS HAND as he is allowed THE BALL away from the net. LEGIT goaltending occurance. P G is senile.

  18. tom brown, July 2, 2013 at 2:54 p.m.

    The problem with Soccer America board and MLSnet is they are trying to sell the fans a bogus and upsetdown version of reality TO GET MONEY. They will say any lie & swear to it to GET THE MONEY. Ridge, PK & PG have to do this. Maximum selling of lies. Every lie bigger than the last one. What you are going to do is lie your way out of a sport. Once fans get wise & NSA every word cannot be believed Anymore. Is that what you want? To get Money its so damn important to risk losing fans in a crookedly operated league. YES ITS a Crooked league. But its OUR crooked league...............

  19. tom brown, July 2, 2013 at 4:47 p.m.

    Diving was so prevalent during the Havelange era that countries had "Diving Schools" Turned everybody off is an understatement. Now to replace diving as a match fixing maneuver, the handball has been elevated so games can be influenced. No matter how you slice it, fixers will find a way to do it because they make a living off fixing. If you know your man is ref, you can bet on games & you'll win every time. Your man can deliver an exact score & get double in winnings. If money was not involved, fixing would still be done because mankind is inherently corrupt in every other area of life.
    The human species has reached the end of the line.

  20. Jogo Bonito, July 2, 2013 at 11:09 p.m.

    wow tom brown ... it's ok my friend, these are tough times. I hope whatever is stressing you subsides and you can find peace ...... but it was a foul.

  21. R2 Dad, July 3, 2013 at 6:03 p.m.

    There are still so many "Tom Brown"s on the sideline of youth matches these days. "He got the ball" does not excuse in any way any excessive force that follows. This is not the 1970s, the LOTG have been rewritten to clarify and protect players from hatchetmen.

  22. Jogo Bonito, July 4, 2013 at 10:27 a.m.

    too many Brits on too many sidelines for too many years here

  23. tom brown, July 6, 2013 at 12:19 a.m.

    A "Cartel" controls world soccer. The "Cartel" consists of Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil------ all controlled by the Vatican. How the cartel operates: all groups are carefully put together to remove certain unwanted teams & push through wanted teams. Fifa (under vatican control) then presents an elaborate charade on tv by which eggs are removed from a bin by a child. & in the egg is a name of the country. A complete fraud. Cartel countries are reffed by cartel members. Ref swapping is rampant. Ref swapping example: England - Argentina reffed by German ref. England - Germany reffed by Argentine ref. No country can get thru a gauntlet of cartel refs. The cartel controls Europe, S. America & C. America
    Cartel refs: Italy, Spain, Portugal, Mexico, Swiss German ref, Austrian German ref & German ref. It is all sewed up. IN a Fair tournament the following would occur: No participating country can have a ref. Only refs not involved can be used. This way obvious collusion could be avoided. Fixing would still be rampant but it would be a possibility to lessen it. As it stands now Fifa is hopelessly corrupt and a criminal bilderburg type cabal operating in secret runs all soccer.

  24. Kent James, July 9, 2013 at 10:55 a.m.

    Tom, you seem a bit paranoid. The reason the Vatican has an interest in controlling the vast cartel of match fixing is...

  25. Brian Something, July 9, 2013 at 11:38 a.m.

    R2Dad: That's precisely the role of the goalkeeper coach. I work with keepers from 11 to 18 and I make it a point to talk about GK-related aspects of the LOTG in various situations during both training exercises and scrimmages. Surely, professional GK coaches are doing the same?

  26. Brian Something, July 9, 2013 at 11:42 a.m.

    Of course, it's easier to blame the ref when your team sucks or can't get the job done.

    Olsen's comment is sour grapes but it's borne of the frustration that no one really knows what the handling rule is. No one really knows what constitutes 'intentional.'

    In the common English definition of the word is used, intentional handballs are very rare (think Luis Suarez vs Ghana). Most handballs are not intentional in the common understanding of the word. But soccer has a different definition of intent. Unfortunately, it seems to vary from referee to referee. That is the fault of the governing body for creating a rule that's virtually impossible to apply consistently.

  27. Bill Anderson, July 10, 2013 at 11:22 a.m.

    Mr. Gardner: How is the USMNT doing these days? How long will you deny a follow up from your article on June 1st "Time runs out on Klinsmann". Waiting for their first defeat to respond? Will a tie game be good enough for you to come out of hiding?

  28. Annie Collins, October 6, 2013 at 1:03 p.m.

    Something needs to be done about the GKs in high school who also learn it is okay to charge field players in AND outside of the box inflicting injuries to the heads of players while they are already in motion (sliding) to win a ball.

    This child ended up with a jaw broken in 2 places and lost teeth. The boy gets to the ball first and clears the ball as the goalie's left leg continues on through to kick the kid almost on the ground in the jaw. This ended the high school career of the boy.

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