Why are goalkeepers allowed to get away with this?

By Paul Gardner

The picture below is from Saturday’s Dallas-Kansas City game. It shows Dallas goalkeeper Chris Seitz in the process of punching the ball away.

Not a very successful punch, the ball was punched downward and hit the ground not that far from Seitz. But it was belted upfield by Dallas, and play continued. Kansas forward Dominic Dwyer, who was flattened by Seitz on the play, was “slow to get up” to use the standard phrase.

The picture also shows Seitz in the process of committing a violent foul against Dwyer. Seitz’s punch was mistimed because he had to stretch himself forward, over Dwyer, to reach the ball. And to do that, he had to jump and make solid contact with Dwyer.

Referee Jair Marrufo saw nothing wrong with any of this, and allowed play to continue. That’s not the way I saw things. I think Marrufo got this horrendously wrong. What he should have done was to award Kansas City a penalty kick, and red card Seitz for “serious foul play” that endangered the safety of an opponent.

The foul was blatant. Seitz came charging forward -- yes, eyes on the ball -- as the ball dropped. But Dwyer was already in position to receive it, either to head it or chest it down. He too is looking upward at the dropping ball. But the fact that Dwyer was -- legally -- blocking Seitz’s run didn’t bother Seitz at all. He just kept going -- full speed ahead! out of my way! -- and jumped, with both his knees raised, high into the back of Dwyer.

A goalkeeper foul. And therefore not a foul? Had a field player, trying to head the ball, run at an opponent, leaped and planted both his knees into the guy’s back, can there be any doubt that the foul would have been called immediately and the red card waved?

Why, then, is a goalkeeper allowed to completely get away with a serious -- and dangerous -- foul that would be receive maximum punishment if committed by any other player?

I don’t have the answer to that, but someone ought to know why. FIFA? IFAB, perhaps? Or the referees themselves. To my mind, Marrufo erred badly, and dangerously, here. But he is in good company. Seitz’s wild play was almost a carbon copy of the one that German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer pulled off when he wiped out Argentina’s Gonzalo Higuain in last year’s World Cup final. On that occasion, Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli went one worse than Marrufo. He called a foul -- against Higuain. Blaming the victim, indeed.

One thing: In these plays the goalkeeper’s actions are so out of control that he runs the risk of injuring himself, or of smashing into one of his own defenders. Under the current rules, as far as I can make out, clobbering a teammate is OK -- the wording of the rules always insists that it be an opponent who is the victim of serious foul play.

In the light of the sport’s ongoing concern over concussion injuries, this type of play by the goalkeeper should be specifically outlawed. Of course it should. But just a minute there -- isn’t it already banned under the current rules? It surely is, it obviously qualifies as “serious foul play” -- so why do referees refuse to punish the keepers?

We get some help here ... because, as it happened, the color commentator on the telecast of the Dallas-Kansas City game was Andy Gruenebaum, who recently retired from MLS after a 91-game career with Columbus and Kansas City. As a goalkeeper. These are Gruenebaum’s comments as he watches the replays:

"This is Seitz coming for a ball that's low -- but he has made up his mind from square one, he's coming for this ball. He gets to the ball, and Dom Dwyer is just a factor in his way. That's what you're taught to do, protect yourself, you don't worry about them ... You are concentrating on that ball. I think it's great goalkeeping, but also unlucky for Dom Dwyer to be in the way of that."

Frankly, this is wretched stuff. Dom Dwyer is merely in Seitz’s way? What if it had been the other way round, Dwyer charging in on an already positioned Seitz, would it have been OK for Dwyer to smash into him? Just kidding -- Seitz would have gone down and all hell would have been let loose as his teammates raced up to let Dwyer know what they thought of him. And Dwyer would have been ejected prontissimo .

So, having decided that what Seitz did was OK, Gruenebaum tells us “that’s what you’re taught to do, protect yourself.” This is confusion confused. Gruenebaum is presumably referring to the way Seitz raised his knees when jumping into Dwyer.

Yes, it’s true -- we’ve been told over and over that a goalkeeper reaching up to snare or punch a high ball is vulnerable -- what might be called full-frontal vulnerability -- and in danger of being badly injured if an opponent charges him. All of which is very true. Under those circumstances, the goalkeeper must be allowed to protect himself by raising a knee.

But a distinction must be made. Using the raised knee as a shield that an opponent might run into if he charges the keeper is acceptable -- essential, I’d say. But that is quite, quite different from what we have here. Dwyer was not charging Seitz. Seitz was charging Dwyer. And Seitz was not using his raised legs as a protective barrier -- he was turning them into a battering ram. A highly dangerous assault weapon. That should not be permitted.

But, Gruenebaum tells us, that is what goalkeepers “are taught.” Are they? I’d hate to think so. Surely he can’t mean the battering-ram approach, can he? The problem is that even if that is not part of a keeper’s education, he’ll see top keepers, including Neuer, doing it, getting away with it, so he is entitled to assume it’s accepted practice. And “protecting yourself” sounds so much more sportsmanlike than “wiping out an opponent.”

Gruenebaum concluded his short pronouncement on the joys of goalkeeping, by telling us that what Seitz did was “great goalkeeping.” But Gruenebaum, somewhere deep down in his goalkeeper conscience, evidently suspects there’s something not quite right with that verdict. He adds, lamely, that it was “unlucky for Dom Dwyer” to be in Seitz’s path.

Unlucky hardly covers it. Only if you’ve already accepted that a goalkeeper must be allowed unrestricted movement, that everyone must get out of his way when he races to get the ball, can you absolve Seitz. And Neuer.

As there is no such rule in soccer, then we can return to the question: Why are goalkeepers allowed to get away with this flagrant violence? First, there is the traditional leniency that referees show to goalkeepers under all circumstances. Second there is another tradition, that referees dislike calling penalty kicks; most of the goalkeeper fouls of the type under discussion occur inside the penalty area. Third is the still flourishing, though inexplicable, bias that referees display of giving the benefit of doubt to defenders -- so when goalkeepers and forwards clash, the keeper is more likely to get the call. This bias was cruelly exposed by Rizzoli’s surreal decision in the World Cup final to rule that Higuain had fouled Neuer - a decision that Rizzoli later admitted was wrong. There was no foul by anyone, he said.

When highly experienced referees make brazenly bad calls -- calls that virtually encourage highly dangerous fouls -- when they feel justified by “accepted practice” in ignoring the rules of the game, then we’ve reached the alarmingly lamentable stage when it’s necessary for “the authorities” (no, I’m not sure who might have that responsibility) to explain to referees just what the rules say.

20 comments about "Why are goalkeepers allowed to get away with this?".
  1. Andrew Bermant, March 15, 2015 at 1:32 p.m.

    As a USSF Grade 6 Referee, USSF "D" Licensed Coach and goalkeeper coach / former goalkeeper, I agree completely with Paul's assessment of this incident. Maruffo (and the AR's) made an incorrect call. Gruenebaum is partially correct - goalkeepers are taught to gain additional height and protect themselves when jumping vertically by raising one knee. However, and this is a big "however," there is a significant difference between protecting yourself versus aggressively going "through" a player. In this instance (was well in the Neuer/Higuain incident), clearly a foul was committed by the goalkeeper and should have been sanctioned by a send-off the offended player/team awarded a penalty kick.

  2. Joe Linzner, March 15, 2015 at 2:08 p.m.

    I am shocked that I agree with Mr.Kennedy entirely. There is absolutely no excuse for missing that call. Unfortunately protecting the goalkeeper is paramount and protecting an attacking player from a keeper is not. Sadly however this is an issue that has been around and mishandled forever. Back in the 60's against a semi-pro team, a keeper did the very same thing to me. Both Knees into my lower ribs. No call at all. Three broken ribs and foaming blood as I exhaled. Lying on the pitch in agony, the keeper screamed obscenities at me for being a P+++y, while bending over me. I put both sets of cleats straight up into his Rancheros. Not a kick, but a concerted lift and he screamed and rolled and rolled. I got the red card to go along with the red foam allover my Jersey. Keeper received a free-kick.....So it has been around forever. IT DOES NEED SOME ADDRESS. It is not the only thing though. Shielding the ball is also misinterpreted. In too many cases there is absolutely no contact with the ball. The ball is four or five feet from either player and they both have a right to it. When does shielding become obstruction? Then the player "shielding" the ball lurches backwards or sideways and the call goes his way. WRONG and Ridiculous!\

  3. Glenn Auve, March 15, 2015 at 2:34 p.m.

    Why not ask your friend Peter Walton at PRO? :-)

    Matt Reis basically ended Alecko Eskandarian's career be kneeing him in the face while charging out to collect a ball. No foul called there either.

    It is time to end allowing gk's the get away with murder.

  4. Allan Lindh, March 15, 2015 at 2:49 p.m.

    All true, only thing to add is that the Goalie Box is presumably there for something. Inside the 6 yard box, allow the goalie some latitude. Outside the 6 yard box, he's just another player, albeit with hands.
    This is however, not the biggest problem in MLS, or the EPL for that matter. The major problem is "hatchet men" being allowed to batter the other teams skill players at will. Fix that, and make a significant step toward the "beautiful game" we all love.

  5. Thomas Sullivan, March 15, 2015 at 3:01 p.m.

    Allan, Well said.

  6. Scott Johnson, March 15, 2015 at 3:12 p.m.

    I don't know if field defenders get the same respect--on the same day, Toronto defender Justin Morrow was sent off for what looked like a clean tackle on a Columbus attacker--he got ball, just outside the box, both players went down. But the ref disagreed--and a red card was pulled out. Even the ESPN crew was astonished.

    Unless a professional foul is obvious and blatant, I'm for erring on the side of the defense, when the penalty otherwise is a sending-off.

  7. Carl Walther, March 15, 2015 at 3:14 p.m.

    Short answer---too many referees with major psychological problems.

  8. Kent James, March 15, 2015 at 3:39 p.m.

    Paul gets half this column right (albeit the more important half). Keepers get way too much latitude (Andrew's distinction is the key). A keeper can jump and reach over players to punch the ball fairly (even if there is some contact), but when a keeper (or any other player) is going THROUGH the opponent to get the ball, it is unquestionably a foul. The rules are fine, refs need to have the guts to make the call (which will ALWAYS be controversial, so it really does take guts). On the other hand, the Higuain-Neuer situation was completely different; in that case, both players were moving, and Neuer got there first (and their paths were at 90° from each other, so a collision was not pre-ordained). Because Neuer got there first, Higuain's head went into Neuer's knee, not vice versa. Not a distinction that matters to the danger faced by Higuain, but a crucial one in terms of legality. A dangerous collision, but one between two players both going for the ball at the highest level of competition, and that sometimes happens. Had Neuer been a split second later, he should have been red-carded. I would have preferred that Argentina won the game (so mine is not a knee-jerk reaction), but the ref got that one right (and it was an exceptionally difficult call, given the importance of the game and how little difference there was between fair and foul play).

  9. R2 Dad, March 15, 2015 at 5:42 p.m.
    MLS highlights only include the goals scored, not important turning points like this non-call.

  10. Thomas Brannan, March 16, 2015 at 1:17 a.m.

    To answer the title of the column: Because they don't enforce the law and their superiors let them get away with it. Or more cynically because they are required to do it that way. Besides this topic how many times have you seen the ball not completely over the touchline but called out? How many times have you seen a shirt pulled by a defender in the box "Holding" but not called. They simply do not enforce the law. etc. etc. etc.

  11. Thomas Brannan, March 16, 2015 at 1:20 a.m.

    One time before a game I heard a referee say, "I'm not calling a PK unless it is 3 yards inside the box". This man was a referee assignor.
    Didn't read all the comments above but ask Patrick Battiston.

  12. ROBERT BOND, March 16, 2015 at 8:53 a.m.

    the Higua-whiners like Paul & Rocky just need to stop griping, & leave the keepers alone, it's a tough job and they need to be left alone.........course, i'm a DFB fan, & my kid is a goalie,.....

  13. ROBERT BOND, March 16, 2015 at 10:43 a.m.

    Kent, they'll be griping forever, but if Manny can't win the yellow shoe, no keeper can.....and running over a player from behind should always be a foul, moving or not...

  14. Dan Phillips, March 16, 2015 at 11:37 a.m.

    Why? Because goalkeepers are God, don't you know. Just as the defense never commits a foul in the box on a 50-50 paly, only the offense!

  15. Jim Walters, March 16, 2015 at 10:49 p.m.

    What the author didn't point out is that SKC was crashing Seitz all night long.. Just look at the wreckless foul Opara laid on Seitz in the first half leading with his elbows..should have been a yellow card at a minimum.. I was at the game and the play shown here was the result of challenge after challenge against Seitz all night long and in the 88th minute Seitz had enough.. plus, Dwywer was an angry elf all night long mouthing off at everyone - he knows better too.. keeper gets free rein in the box for a good reason.. so, please consider the entire context before judging a play on a single frame

  16. Kevin Butler, March 17, 2015 at 11:35 a.m.

    The referee was Jair Maruffo. Antonio Maruffo is his dad, a former referee. :)

  17. Al Gebra, March 17, 2015 at 12:46 p.m.

    Joe Linzner: I agree with you (also unusual for me) re your take on "shielding the ball". The fairly recent re-interpretation of it not being obstruction is, in most cases, one more instance of making a mockery of the once beautiful game.

  18. Saverio Colantonio, March 17, 2015 at 10:59 p.m.

    The problem is that all rationality leaves the referees once the ball enters the 18 yd box. Another question that can be asked is why with all the shirt pulling, obstruction, an jostling that goes on in the box on corner kicks it is always the attacking team that is penalized? Why is a free kick given just outside the box that would never be called inside?

  19. John DiFiore, March 18, 2015 at 12:15 a.m.

    @R2 DAD - there are actually some pretty good highlight "Channels", like Instant Replay, Plays of the Night and Anatomy of a Goal on MLS's website:

  20. Kevin Sims, March 21, 2015 at 9:18 p.m.

    Great article ... great collection of comments ... liberal tolerance of GK error is ridiculous & dangerous ... excessive force used to go through a player is often egregious & quite often red-card worthy

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications