09 November 2007

Soccer as a Neutral - Either Fan or Referee

I wish I could say that DC United's exit from the MLS Cup playoffs made me able to appreciate the game last night more. Instead, from the first time we saw that half of the stadium in New England was empty, all I could think is how much more I would enjoy the game if one of the teams was in black.

So instead I began the time-honored tradition of waiting for moments that would delight me as a DC fan. Every time Mr. White went to the turf and Kevin Stott waved play on was a joy. I enjoyed the 60th minute collision between Matt Reis and Paulo Wanchope, and only wished that Paulo had led with his knee -- you know, "to protect himself" from Reis. I enjoyed hearing Eric Wynalds offer a "tut tut" for each Chris Armas or CJ Brown tackle. And I even enjoyed the goal. And, hell, the game calling on ESPN was actually half-way decent.

That being said, there is one thing that Wynalda says that consistently annoys me, and it annoys me because I feel so many of my fellow fans feel the same way. When talking about how many New England players, including Shalrie Joseph had cards coming into this game, Wynalda and company seemed to agree that Kevin Stott had to be careful about giving another card. Similarly, on Twellman's goal, it was a dangerous play. His foot nearly took out Robinson's jaw. Just because it was tremendously athletic (it was) and dramatic (certainly) and fun to watch (of course) doesn't mean it wasn't dangerous. That's the point of having a rule. If a play is dangerous, you don't let it go simply because it makes the game more interesting. They are the laws of the game, not the well-meaning suggestions for the game. From Law 12 (emphasis added):

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. The action becomes an offence only when an opponent is adversely affected.

A scissors or bicycle kick is permissible provided that, in the opinion of the referee, it is not dangerous to an opponent.

Playing in a dangerous manner involves no physical contact between the players.
Given that in real time you could see Robinson pull out of the challenge when he saw a foot flying at his face, I find it hard to believe that this shouldn't have been called.

Which gets to another issue. You will hear commenters and fans in all sports say about referees "you simply can't make a call at that point in the game." There's some belief that the laws and rules of a match should become flexible depending on how important a given moment in time is, and only the most flagrant fouls should be called. That's ridiculous. A referee should always use their best judgement as to whether a foul occurred, no matter at what point the game is at. To change the standards of a foul later in the game is to give an unfair advantage to questionable tactics at the end of the game. As much as the goal called back against Christian Gomez hurt me, it was the correct call according to the rules. The fact that it was a vital moment for DC at the end of the game does not change what the laws are, nor should it affect the referee's judgement. I applaud the referee for making what he knew was a tough call in a hostile atmosphere because he knew it was the right call to make. I wish Kevin Stott had done the same, even though it would have deprived the game of a great highlight.

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At 09 November, 2007 11:58, Blogger Brian said...

It is posts like this that makes me always check your site first thing in the morning.

Very well put.

At 09 November, 2007 11:59, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's worth noting that last week, Kevin Payne asserted Wynalda and co's exact point with regards to the Gomez hand ball -- that is, a referee must have a "sense of the moment" when making/not making that sort of call.

At 09 November, 2007 12:21, Anonymous BigKris said...

Best post in a long time. Great point, clearly articulated.

At 09 November, 2007 12:38, Blogger D said...

Brian/Kris: Thanks. It's a point I've been thinking about for a bit.

Anon: I love Kevin Payne, I just think he's wrong in this instance. It's the difference between having a referee on the pitch or having a theatrical director.

At 09 November, 2007 15:27, Blogger Sean said...

I'm agreed with the general point. Of course. As far as the Twellman's goal:

Advice to Referees 12.13 (USSF's "commentary," if you will, on the Laws)

"Playing 'in a dangerous manner' can be called only if the act, in the opinion of the referee, meets three criteria: the action must be dangerous to someone (including the player), it was committed with a player close by, and the dangerous nature of the action caused this opponent to cease active play for the ball or to otherwise be disadvantaged by the attempt not to participate in the dangerous play..."

"In judging a dangerous play offense, the referee must to take into account the experience and skill level of the players. Opponents who are more experienced or skill may be more likely to accept the danger and play through."

What this all means, I think, is that Kevin Stott judged that we were at a sufficient skill level where Twellman was not playing "in a dangerous manner." It's a very "in the opinion of the referee" judgment call and Stott has the reputation for letting 'em play. It was a consistent call and defensible, even if others may have seen it otherwise. I doubt it had to do with the drama of the moment.

At 12 November, 2007 10:23, Blogger D said...

Sean: That's a good counter argument, but even with that caveat, it is clear that Twellman was playing in a dangerous manner. In effect, I've seen that guidance apply more to the issue of whether a player is likely to injure themselves. More skilled players can probably execute higher complexity acrobatic moves without breaking their hip, but in this case it seems clear to me that Twellman clearly put Robinson at risk of a broken jaw, and it should still be a dangerous play, even though Taylor can do a bike.


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