Commentary

Kaka comes through; Villa not quite; Kelly not at all

By Paul Gardner

The great Orlando-New York clash managed to do what so often doesn’t get done ... it produced a wonderfully climactic finish and the right result.

There was no way not to be impressed by the atmosphere in the Citrus Bowl -- even via television, it came over charged with everything you, and MLS, could want -- noise, color, excitement, enthusiasm, and expectation.

That the game itself didn’t really live up to the hype came as no surprise -- such games rarely do. Much of the hype inevitably focused on the stars, Orlando’s Kaka, and NYC’s David Villa. And we saw yet again -- how many times have we seen this? -- how difficult it is for one player, however brilliant he may be -- to put on a 90-minute show. Villa was poorly supported by his teammates, several of whom -- were this an audition -- would surely not be asked back.

NYC spent most of the game looking like what they are -- a disparate group of players who are not yet a team. Who probably never will be, for some personnel changes are surely necessary. Mix Diskerud made a satisfying debut, becoming more assertive as the minutes passed until, at the 76th minute, he found himself with space and time, at the edge of the area. Not much of either of course, but more than enough for him to get off a gracefully curving shot to give NYC the lead.

Kaka fared somewhat better than Villa, getting off one thunderous shot in the first half -- unfortunately for Orlando it was straight at NYC goalkeeper Josh Saunders. It was also the only shot of the first half. But Kaka is a free kick specialist, so set-plays (I’m not sure why they get called set-pieces these days -- sounds pretentious to me) are important to him.

Right at the end, one minute into added time, Kaka came through -- his free kick wasn’t that great, but one of the NYC players managed to give it a huge deflection that brutally wrong-footed goalkeeper Saunders, and Orlando had tied the game.

It deserved at least that, and in a moment all the pent-up atmosphere in the stadium transformed itself into a wondrous display of ebullient relief.

There was, really, only one lamentably jarring note sounding in the game, and that was referee Alan Kelly and his three diving calls. All of them against Orlando players.

I’ve spent over half an hour studying and restudying those calls, forward, backward, sideways, slo-mo, real time -- the whole lot.

My verdict? Quite simple: All three were calls that should not have been made. Because none of them is clearly a dive. But that seems not to be the Kelly approach. He is out there looking for diving. So anything that looks like diving -- he’s going to call it.

But if he -- or anyone -- can study the replays and then honestly avow that they saw clearly that there was no contact in any of those incidents, I’d be very surprised indeed. Taking the calls in order:

No. 1 -- 29th minute. NYC’s Andrew Jacobson moves in to tackle Brek Shea -- or maybe only to stop him from passing the ball. Shea is quicker than Jacobson, moves towards the goal line -- Jacobson is a step behind. What the replay shows -- according to me -- is that there was plenty of contact between Jacobson’s left leg and Shea’s right leg. Enough to destroy Shea’s balance. There’s more to say about Jacobson, I’ll come to that shortly.

On this play, referee Kelly is about 10 yards away, with an unimpeded view. The other important point is that this took place in the New York penalty area. So Kelly saved himself the bother of having to call a PK.

No. 2 -- 40th minute. In midfield -- the center circle actually. Orlando’s Kevin Molino receives the ball and immediately starts to dribble strongly forward. NYC’s Ned Grabavoy tries to keep up, actually puts his arm across Molino’s shoulder, trying to hold him back -- a foul that passes unobserved, certainly un-called, by Kelly. As Molino continues his dribble, Grabavoy’s attentions force him to his left, where Jeb Brovsky awaits -- though what Brovsky then tries to do is difficult to work out. As Molino, moving fast, approaches, Brovsky moves his left leg forward and plants it firmly -- into the path of Molino. It doesn’t look like a tackle (anyway, Molino had played the ball away well before Brovsky moved his leg. Very obvious contact as Molino trips over (or is tripped by) Brovsky’s leg. I can’t see any reason at all -- other than a perverse determination to make a diving call -- why this should be anything other than a foul by Brovsky (a yellow card, too -- as it’s a tactical foul). It could be argued that Molino could have avoided Brovsky’s leg. Possibly he could, but the moves necessary would probably mean a loss of balance, and he’d surely lose any hope of catching up with the ball. The key here is this: Why did Brovsky firmly plant his leg in Molino’s way? Any problem that results from that is obviously Brovsky’s fault. Though not to referee Kelly -- who was some 20 yards behind the play on this one -- not well-positioned.

No. 3 -- 78th minute. We’re in the NYC penalty area again. Cristian Higuita bursts forward, with the ball. And who is there to challenge him? Why Jeb Brovsky. And once again Brovsky is alarmingly late with his tackle -- he is nowhere near the ball as he slides in and swings his right leg toward Higuita’s legs. And down goes Higuita. This action takes place at full speed, all over in a second or two. Referee Kelly is not well placed -- some 12 yards away, with at least two players in his sight line. But again he absolves Brovsky. And books Higuita. And again he avoids having to give a penalty kick. <br.
A very lucky man, Mr. Brovsky, I’d say (though his luck suddenly failed 13 minutes later when he was the player who deflected Kaka’s free kick into the NYC net).

I strongly believe that diving calls should only be made when the referee has -- not just a reasonable certainty -- but a strong certainty that a player has dived. That could not possibly be the case in any of these three incidents, because the evidence suggesting dives is is far from convincing. Unless . . . you are determined to find diving. But if you are doing that, then you have seriously compromised your refereeing objectivity.

Three diving calls -- all against the same team -- in one game. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before. Two of the calls featuring the same defending player Jeb Brovsky. The other call featured Andrew Jacobson, and his actions after the clash with Brek Shea are worth looking into. Because these are actions that we frequently see from defenders nowadays.

Firstly, as Shea starts to fall, Jacobson peels away and raises both his arms, in the fake “hands-up” position -- which is supposed to indicate “It wasn’t me. Never touched him.” Then we get Jacobson leaning over Shea on the ground shouting at him -- talking to him? Now, who is that aimed at? Could it be that Jacobson -- and all the other defenders who can’t time their tackles properly -- have found that snarling at a grounded opponent is a good way to lure the referee into making a diving call?

Which can certainly be interpreted as an attempt to con the referee. But it won’t be seen that way by referees who are already disposed -- or have been conditioned -- to make diving calls.

18 comments about "Kaka comes through; Villa not quite; Kelly not at all ".
  1. Tom Symonds, March 9, 2015 at 8:38 p.m.

    "But if he -- or anyone -- can study the replays and then honestly avow that they saw clearly that there was no contact in any of those incidents, I’d be very surprised indeed." I'm surprised that by your statement it seems you don't know that soccer is a contact sport. Yes, there was contact on those plays; but it's what a player does when he feels contact...continue to play or flop/dive. I thought Kelly was spot on. The real test to MLS' anti-diving campaign will come when the big names, like Dempsey, flop. Will the cards come out? I hope so.

  2. Gonzalo Munevar, March 9, 2015 at 8:56 p.m.

    Soccer is a contact sport, but tripping is forbidden contact. When players running at full speed are tripped, they fall. Paul is absolutely correct. I was neutral between the two sides as I began to watch the game, but the ref's scandalous calls made me cheer for Orlando.

  3. Lou vulovich, March 9, 2015 at 9:43 p.m.

    What a lot of people don't understand is if referees call the game by the rules players would never dive. Diving was invented to state the obvious that the fouls were not called. I hope the MLS is sincere in their efforts to get rid of the goons. While there are very good players in the MLS I would say 40 to 50% the rest you could replace with any other college player and probably improve the level of skill.

  4. Footballer Forever, March 9, 2015 at 10:13 p.m.

    Paul Gardner likes to take the controversial side or play the devil's advocate side. I am supportive with MLS cracking down and discouraging footballers timo dive just at the thought of something touchinv them . This ain't basketball and every football should be fought for not fall on. If MLS can get that negative tendency of our league it will improve, the league profile and even the sport which can only be a good thing. Maybe PG might want to work as a lawyer and represent all the cheaters of the world.

  5. Lou vulovich, March 9, 2015 at 10:27 p.m.

    Paul is making a great point. The problem with the MLS is not diving it is a lack of skillful players. I understood the MLS was intending to crack down on intentional and deliberate fouls which stop the flow of the game not diving. Reading most posts I would say there is no reason to change the game for the average fan, and that there is no difference to them between Donovan
    and Donivan as they have no understanding of soccer. Perhapse most MLS fans would enjoy the game more if the players wore helmets. As for most referees they understand the game even less then the fans.

  6. Ric Fonseca, March 9, 2015 at 11:11 p.m.

    Of good grief, Charlie Brown!!! So, are we going to be bombarded with PG's rants for the next, what 6+ months, about diving! Give it a rest PG, and btw, no one ever clarified or submitted any information regarding PG's previous soccer background other than that he was a school-boy player back in the UK, or anything thereafter, or if he just "honed" his knowledge by being what some would call a "soccer pundit..." Just asking!

  7. R2 Dad, March 9, 2015 at 11:52 p.m.

    Lou, no referee would assess 3 cards for diving unless Peter Walton specifically requested this emphasis. I had hoped the referees would be able to concentrate on properly evaluating and punishing horrendous tackles like Aurelien (hatchetman) Collin's attack on David Villa. Can you imagine if David Villa was injured just 7 minutes into his MLS league experience and was out for 9 months (or forever)? That could have set back MLS a decade! But no, we have 3 cards for diving, and the league and officials look like rookies as a result. I was hoping that PG was wrong insisting Walton was intent on reproducing the PL diving witch-hunt over on this side of the pond, but I think I have to agree with him now.

  8. Ginger Peeler, March 10, 2015 at 4:38 a.m.

    Ric, check out PG's extensive soccer background on Wikipedia. R2Dad, I agree with you. My concern was the New York players who, like Jacobson, immediately turned and started yelling at the Orlando player they'd just knocked over. I couldn't help but wonder if they had been coached to do that. If so, I will not be watching many of their games. I understand that some games get "chippy" as they progress. But to play that way from the start? Thanks, but I'll pass.

  9. Thomas Sullivan, March 10, 2015 at 6:34 a.m.

    Paul is right on the money, there is no scourge of diving. I am put off by histrionics after the fall but Paul points out once again that skilled tackling is far too rare and unpunished fouling is far to often the norm. It kills what is watchable, skilled play at high speed. Most players today are actors, always after the play, attempting to sway the ref whether defenders claiming innocence or those on the ball feigning a maiming. I hate that part of the game.

  10. Bobby Bluntz, March 10, 2015 at 9:08 a.m.

    Tom Symonds, I hope what you consider a dive does not become universally considered a dive domestically. Going down to easily after being fouled is not a dive historically. Now we're supposed to judge how much contact truly impedes a player, and any tumble deemed to easy is a cautioned dive? Big, gooney defenders can just throw their bodies in the path of attacking players and then yell at them for going down too easily when they jump out of the way? If this is the direction the sport is going domestically, the lifelong and new fans who enjoy skillful play will choose other leagues to follow. I love watching MLS games, but I agree with what I hope is the majority, that the increase in fluid, skillful play is what's attracting fans to MLS more so than a bunch of rough tackles.

  11. stewart hayes, March 10, 2015 at 10:16 a.m.

    Yellow cards for diving are analogous to imprisoning the innocent without a trial in many cases. Some players lose balance easier than others. Others are understandably fearful of their careers when playing against certain defenders. The issue is best dealt with by fines to the players and teams when it can be proven that a player dove. It should be the sole job of the ref to determine if a foul occurred and then make the call or no call. There are also numerous examples of gamesmanship going, such as claiming a throw-in is yours and picking up the ball to 'delay' the opponent or standing in front of the ball on free kicks to prevent an immediate restart. All of these actions and many more are equally damaging to the image and spirit of the game and should be given more attention since they are easy to spot.

  12. Thomas Hosier, March 10, 2015 at 10:19 a.m.

    Totally agree with Bobby Bluntz, Thomas Sullivan and Paul Gardner on this diving issue. Diving theatrics are disgusting but a nudge or nick at full speed can easily down a player. No call must be made on a "touch" foul. As no call must be made on a dive .... "play on" .... but the "big deal of the day" for me is the thuggery and muggery that takes away the quality of play of skilled players. This all starts at the youth level where the referees allow skilled players to constantly be mugged by thugs. Pushing/shoving, grabbing and tripping is a standard in youth soccer. No wonder we are not developing skilled players as thuggery and muggery is the standard in youth soccer. Skilled players are brutalized and the Ref sez: "play-on!"

  13. Kent James, March 10, 2015 at 12:10 p.m.

    Being human, referees will make mistakes, the question is, on which side to err? On (non-trifling) fouls, better to call one to many than one to few (unless the foul is in the box, then it is better to call one to few, than one to many). With diving, while I abhor diving, Paul is right, for a card to be issued, the ref had better be sure. The default should simply be no foul (and I agree with the other commenters who do not like the defenders' new emphasis on screaming at the 'diver' on the ground; yet more gamesmanship).

  14. Bruce Gowan, March 10, 2015 at 6:08 p.m.

    For a ref to call three simulation yellow cards in one game to me means he was looking for simulation rather than calling the play with an open mind. To the writers who support contact need to refine their opinion as to the type of contact. Getting a position advantage on an attacker and getting body up on the attacker to delay and divert the attack is good defending. Pushing, holding and tripping are not good defense and are fouls. Defenders who are beaten by attackers resort to foul tactics to stop the attack. Refs need to read the play and make the right call.

  15. Mike Jacome, March 10, 2015 at 11:10 p.m.

    Now, here is an idea for which I should probably get a lot of hate mail and name calling. What if... A penalty goal were worth one score-point, and a regular goal two score-points. Yes, I know it sounds crazy, now, but at first giving three points for a victory instead of two sounded pretty weird, and now is quite normal. FIFA took this decision because teams were becoming to conservative, and giving an extra point reward for a team that risked a little bit more to attack instead of parking the bus, was a great incentive.
    With that comparison in mind, a player who is in the area, would not go down so easily if he know the reward to persist and try to score is higher.

  16. Bobby Bluntz, March 11, 2015 at 10:20 a.m.

    Mike Jacome, that's ridiculous! A goal is a goal. Do you think that players go down in the box when they think they have a chance to score? No, they go down when the half/quarter chance is all but lost. Also, why as a defender would you not do everything, including taking a player down from behind and getting sent off, to prevent a two point goal when you only sacrifice a one point goal for your team? So if you score two legit goals you're up 4-0, you could concede 4 penalties and still get a point. It'd kill the game.

  17. Mike Jacome, March 11, 2015 at 2:35 p.m.

    Bobby, not long ago i read an article in this same forum about the triple punishment being so harsh for defenders because on top of being punished with a penalty kick (99% of a goal), they also get ejected immediately of the match and they would also get a one or two games suspension. If by preventing a two score-point opportunity they concede a penalty kick they will be trading two-score point for one-scorepoint, granted. But they will also risk an ejection and suspension, in which case the punishment will be a little bit fairer.
    I didn't say the idea was perfect, but sports rule change constantly depending on the problem at hand, and ideas like these should be considered.

  18. Rick Potts, March 13, 2015 at 9:35 a.m.

    Am I the only one that saw the defender actually pull his sliding leg back on the Higuita challenge? Higuita "fell" anyway. Yellow card for diving in the box. How can anybody see that any differently?? Shea did not argue the call or with the defender that got in his face. Why? To his credit, he knew it was a dive and didn't have a leg to stand on. Pardon the pun. The third one is questionable but the president had already been set by Orlando. Shame on them. Cards deserved...

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