Monday, August 20, 2012

Youth Soccer: Refs, Rules, Smart Players and Fools

One of my readers asked this question about the US vs Canada Women's Olympic soccer game.

"Just wondering if you would write a post on the debatable calls made by the ref in the Canada v US semi final? Being a ref myself I obviously don't want to hear her [the ref] bashed, but being a Canadian it was obviously very hard to watch. If you purposely avoided this iffy topic sorry, but I would appreciate your thoughts."

My daughter played her season opening tournament this past weekend. The first game was an 8-0 blowout. My daughter, the team's goalie, touched the ball once the entire game. The second game was a 4-0 win. Again, my daughter was not challenged. The third game was a different story. Every ball in this game was contested and both goalies were tested. The girls from both teams were working hard because the winner would advance to the championship bracket and the loser would go home.

Direct Kick Deflected Over the Cross Bar
My daughter made save after save including a save off a direct kick right outside the box. The questionable penalty was called at the top of the box on a 50/50 ball. Luckily, my daughter was able to knock the ball over the cross bar.

Late in the second half with our team winning 1-0, the opposing center midfielder ripped a low hard shot from outside the box. One of our defenders put her hands up to defend herself and knocked the ball down. The defenders hand was extended, but the ref did not make the handball call.

I whispered to the head coach, "If our defender were Canadian, the ref would have blown the whistle." The coach gave me a knowing smile.

I watched every US women's soccer game with great interest and national pride until the ref called the Canadian goalie for holding the ball too long. It is a penalty that is rarely called. At the time, I thought it was a ridiculous call, especially at that point in the game because the call determined the outcome. (The resulting indirect penalty kick led to the somewhat questionable hand ball call in the box. That handball penalty led to the game tying PK goal by Abby Wambach.) The Canadian women would have won that game and advanced to the gold medal game against  Japan, if the ref had kept her whistle silent.

I hate when a ref's call determines the outcome of a game, but many non-calls determine outcomes too. The bottomline is that refs need to enforce the rules to protect the players and the integrity of the game.

The ref in the US vs Canada semi-final London 2012 Olympic games made a call at the end of the game that was technically correct, but rarely enforced. The rule in question governs how long a goalie can hold the ball. According to the official rules, goalies can hold the ball up to 6 seconds before they need distribute it. Many goalies, including Hope Solo, hold the ball for way longer than 6 seconds. The Canadian goalie held the ball over 16 seconds several times before in the game and according to reports had been warned by the sideline ref and the head ref. She foolishly risked a penalty to shave off a few precious seconds.

What the goalie did not know was that Abby Wambach was in the refs ear. Everytime the goalie made a save late in the game, she would go close to the ref and count out - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - 6 - 7 - 8 - 9 - 10 - etc. seconds to highlight how long the goalie held the ball. Amy Wambach was smart. She knew the ref could not blantanlty ignore the infraction because it's a rule for a reason.

The Main Point

Good soccer players play with their head. Abby Wambach uses her head to score goals better than anyone I have ever seen play the game. What I didn't know about Abby Wambach is that she uses her brains too. The Canadian goalie did not use hers and cost her team a chance for a gold medal.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed watching the US Women get World Cup revenge over the team from Japan, the calls against Canada, although technically correct, tarnished the gold medals of the US women for me.

Suggested Rule Change

If the 6 second rule is going to be enforced it should be enforced all the time not arbitrarily. In basketball a player has 10 seconds to get the ball across the half court line. This rule is in place so a player cannot delay the game in the back court. When a player has the ball in the back court,  the ref moves his / her hand back and forth to count seconds. Once the ref gets to 10 seconds the ball is turned over to the other team. Soccer should adopt this same approach. The ref should use a visual clue and call it at 6 seconds every time the goalie holds the ball too long. And I think that the other team should get the ball on a throw in instead of a indirect kick from outside the 18. That would keep the game moving and fair.

Finally, a good lesson for young players - Know the rules and use them to your advantage.

Side Note: Many youth soccer teams are instructed to kick the ball as far out of bounds as possible when the team is winning the game and time is running out. There are no ball boys / girls so lots of time is consumed when this happens.


  1. It's tough watching any ref make a call that influences the outcome of any game, we want everything to be fair. Just this weekend my daughter's team was up 2-0 and the ref made a questionable call (what foul? that wasn't a foul!) that led to an off-side goal by the opponent. And then there was a PK (again, what foul?) that was called mainly because the other coach came screaming onto the field demanding a red card. At that point the game became 2-2. The great thing about the situation was the way our team handled it, they continued to play a skilled, composed game and ultimately won.
    Not all refs are good, some are really bad, but it is a good lesson for how to deal with things that don't go your way. Now, if only the parents could learn to deal with it.

  2. Thank you for answering my question so fairly and simply, as well as very gently and kindly towards all parties involved. I agree, Erin McLeod did hold the ball for way too long, and it is a rule, though one rarely exercised. The 'handball' in the box I do not think was a good call however, the Canadian girls were a couple yards away and did not move their hands, but that is the refs decision.

    It was also very refreshing to hear an American say that their gold medals were slightly tarnished, after Abby wambachs comment that "she didnt care how they got there.(the gold medal game)"

    1. P.S. I also do not think Abby wamchach's counting strategy was 'smart' if anyone I ref even gets close to trying to do my job they get a talking too, that is unsportsmanlike behavior by forcing the ref to make that call.

    2. Thank you for following my blog and adding to the conversation.

    3. Regarding Abby - She is a competitor and her head is in the game so that is why I think that she is smart - I can see your point that it could be considered unsportsmanlike to badger the ref. Good point.

      If I were the ref, I would have given a very visible warning to the goalie first. Then if it continued make the call. But I probably would have ignored it because it is done all the time.

  3. Americans got all the key calls, including the non hand ball call by Tobin Heath in final game between USA & Japan.

    The six second ruling was a bad call - Here's what I wrote in real time

    This is a B.S. goal - How often do you see a ref call a 6 second violation.

    Soccer announcer made a good pt. about 6 secs violation - call should only be made if center ref gave a warning. That ? has to be asked.

    Can't wait to time how long the Canadian keeper kept the ball on controversial call -Ref should use better judgment in a game of this nature

    Actually just timed it - Keeper garners the corner kick, falls on the ground - gets up - allows her team to move forward to attacking half - ref blows whistle at 12 seconds; she drop kicks at 14-16 seconds. Sequence like that happens all the time - Center within her right to make the call, but it's poor refereeing b/c you don't give a team a goal scoring opportunity when an infraction has absolutely nothing to do with creating a competitive advantage.

    Here's another take -
    Don't put much stock in a delay warning coming from an assistant. The warning needs to come from a center.

    As for the hand ball - age old question - did the hand find the ball or did the ball find the hand. Not surprised the ref made that call, but wouldn't be surprised if it was ignored either - It's called judgment.

    Regarding the supposed warning - She said an assistant referee had said, "Make sure you don't slow the play too much" heading into the second half. "But it wasn't a real warning," added McLeod, who presumably thought a "real" one would be coming from the head referee.'

    It's a bad rule - frequently violated at all levels - should be changed to 10 seconds & enforced - 6 seconds is not a long time when you fall down & have to get back up.

    Also I hate the power that is given to center refs in terms of red & yellow cards. Should have the power to send somebody off, but wish soccer would allow a coach to replace player who has been sent off as long as they still have subs available. Seen too many ridiculous send-offs that affect the game.

    Read more:

  4. Also highlighted these comments the day after the game vs. Canada - Think you'll find them interesting given your daughter is a keeper.

    Good points made in comments section "Sorry, Canada, the ref was right" -

    Particularly these comments -

    "Here is part of the USSF's take on this: "The six-second count does not begin until the goalkeeper is clearly in possession of the ball and ABLE to think about releasing the ball into general play. Not while the goalkeeper is on the ground; not while he or she is recovering from a fall; not while he or she is rising: Only after the goalkeeper is clearly alert and ready to function. Anything beyond that time is a matter for the individual discretion of the referee, who is the sole judge of the passage of time in a soccer game. [...] Finally, a point we emphasize in our answers to this and similar questions about goalkeeper release of the ball: Most of the time the offense is trivial as long as you are seeing an honest effort to put the ball back into play." ( Again, what we see here is that the intent of the rule ("an honest effort to put the ball back into play") is what matters, not the letter of the law ("6 seconds"). Since in the USSF's interpretation it is the referee's judgement here that counts, if both GKs were releasing the ball in similar times, and the referee only called one GK for the violation, then it's a bad call. She's not applying the same standard to both teams. Further, Mr. Woitalla says "She took at least 11 seconds -- from the time she got to her feet -- to punt the ball into play. Based on that alone, the call was correct.", but based on the USSF answer above this is not so. The referee did not have to start counting from the moment she got to her feet, and 11 seconds is pretty typical in any case and doesn't represent a non-trivial offense. Cheesy call."

    "David, I though I made myself perfectly clear. Go and read the USSF interpretation at the link I provided if you haven't. When I refereed I'd consider delay only after, as the USSF says, the 'keeper is able to think about delivering the ball. There is no mention of being on her feet. That was Mr. Woitalla's "standard", not mine or any other ref I worked with. If someone is in her face, for example, I wouldn't start the count. As for the supposed "warning at halftime" that Carl talks about, that's a non-starter. Warnings, if they are issued, should be given at the time of the infraction, during play. See Steve Davis for more on this supposed "warning" here: For those of you persisting in trying to justify the unjustifiable, try this: Would you be justifying such a call if the US had lost because Solo had been called on a trivial infraction that is *never* called in professional games, because she held on to the ball a mere 11 seconds? (Which she and every GK routinely does and will continue to do.) I've got a pretty good idea as to the answer."

  5. I love the dialogue - thanks to all who contribute their POVs.

  6. "A goalkeeper cannot win the game for her team;she can only save it" so therefore, the Canadian gk did not cost the team the Gold medal. It was simply because Abby Wambach outsmarted the team, not only the Canadian Gk

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