Soccerstoriesbook's Blog


A RARE CALL … FOR A REASON

FIFA has announced that it will look into statements made by Canadian team members the previous day following their dramatic 4-3 overtime loss to the United States in the women’s Olympic semifinal at Manchester’s Old Trafford.

The U.S. scored the winner on a looping header by forward Alex Morgan three minutes into added on time, making the Americans a perfect five-for-five in women’s gold-medal game appearances.  What raised the ire of the Canadians in particular was a sequence that began in the 79th minute with Canada clinging to a 3-2 lead.  Norwegian referee Christine Pedersen whistled Canada goalkeeper Erin McLeod for holding the ball in her penalty area beyond the allowable six seconds.  On the ensuing indirect free kick from inside the top of the Canadian penalty area, U.S. midfielder Carli Lloyd sent a shot into the Canadian wall that was ruled to have been handled by defender Marie-Eve Nault.  American striker Abby Wambach converted the resulting penalty kick to send the match to overtime.

Among the Canadian quotes:

From captain and forward Christine Sinclair, whose brilliant hat trick went for naught:  “We feel like it was taken from us.  It’s a shame in a game like that, which is so important, that the ref decided the result before the game started.”

From coach John Herdman, who also took issue with a non-call on a possible U.S. handball in the box:  “The ref will have to sleep in bed tonight after watching the replays.  She’s got to live with that.  We’ll move on from this–I wonder if she’ll be able to.”

And from Sinclair’s strike mate, Melissa Tancredi:  “[Pedersen] could have done a better job–a way better job.  This is the semifinals.  We’re supposed to be professionals and they should act like one too.  I feel robbed.  That’s all I can say.  I said to her, ‘I hope you can sleep tonight and put on your American jersey because that’s who you played for today.'”   [August 7]

Comment:   The six-second call on goalkeeper McLeod has been called everything from “unusual” to “bizarre.”  But it was justified.

McLeod took her time in playing the ball after gaining possession several times during the game.  It was so obvious that at the end of halftime a linesman told her to speed things up, but McLeod didn’t take it “like a real warning,” in her words, because it didn’t come from Pedersen.

Bad mistake.  McLeod was at it again in the 58th and 61st minutes, prompting Wambach to start loudly counting out the seconds as soon as the Canada ‘keeper picked up a ball.  By the 79th minute, with McLeod holding the ball for as long as 10 seconds, Wambach had cowed Pedersen into a decision.

“I got to 10 seconds right next to the referee,” said Wambach, “and at 10 seconds, she blew the whistle.”

It was indeed a rare call.  So much so that after the whistle, NBC play-by-play man Arlo White mistakenly thought that McLeod had been caught taking more than four steps with the ball–the 1985 restriction on goalkeepers to prevent time-wasting that was replaced in 1998 by the six-second rule (he quickly corrected himself.)   But there’s a reason why it’s rare at the highest levels of soccer.

The six-second rule is the only part of the Laws of the Game that doesn’t leave time-wasting–and the indirect free kick that goes with it–to the discretion of the referee.  Six seconds is six seconds.  It’s a rule that’s been fudged by ‘keepers for the past 14 years, along with the rule that’s supposed to keep ‘keepers glued to their goal line during a penalty kick.  But any goalkeeper who repeatedly flirts with nine and 10 and 11 and 12 seconds in a first division or international match is asking for it.  And any ‘keeper who calls attention to herself by doing it repeatedly while trying to protect a slim 1-0 first-half lead in an Olympic medal-qualification match is downright dumb.



NOPE, HOPE

U.S. Olympic Team goalkeeper Hope Solo will not be disciplined for a series of tweets in which she ripped NBC color commentator Brandi Chastain for criticizing the Americans’ defense during their 3-0 rout of Colombia in a second group-round match the day before in Glasgow.

Said coach Pia Sundhage after a meeting with Solo and team captains, “We had a conversation:  If you look at the women’s national team, what do you want (people) to see?  What do you want them to hear?  And that’s where we do have a choice–as players, coaches, staff, the way we respond to certain things.”

Solo’s tweets:

o  “Lay off commentating about defending and gking until you get more educated @brandichastain the game has changed from a decade ago. #fb”

o  “Its 2 bad we can’t have commentators who better represents the team&knows more about the game @brandichastain #fb”

o  “I feel bad 4 our fans that have 2 push mute, especially bc @arlowhite is fantastic.  @brandichastain should be helping 2 grow the sport #fb”

o  “Its important 2 our fans 2 enjoy the spirit of the olympics.Its not possible when sum1 on air is saying that a player is the worst defender!”

(Note:  Arlo White is NBC’s play-by-play man.)

The response by Chastain, best known for her winning penalty kick for the U.S. at the 1999 Women’s World Cup final:  “I’m here to do my job, which is to be an honest and objective analyst at the Olympics.”  [July 29]

Comment:  We’ve been down this road before.

Solo has popped off numerous times during her 12-year, 118-match international career, most infamously after she was benched in favor of back-up Briana Scurry for the USA’s 2007 Women’s World Cup semifinal, a game won by Brazil, 4-0.  That lineup blunder by coach Greg Ryan cost him his job, but for essentially throwing Scurry under the bus, Solo was voted off the squad, temporarily, by her teammates.  She also twice touched off other controversies via Twitter, the most recent in 2010 when, while playing for WPS’ Atlanta Beat, she questioned the integrity of match officials, drawing a one-game suspension and $2,500 fine.

Of course Solo is entitled to her opinions.  And many view Solo sticking up for herself and the players in front of her in Glasgow as demonstrating the same outspoken leadership traits as those exhibited by such notable male ‘keepers as Gianluigi Buffon, Peter Schmeichel and Toni Schumacher.  (Ironically, Chastain, in a newspaper interview before the Colombia match, praised Solo for her swagger.)

But Solo would do well to realize that she’s part of something very special in American sports.  What initially made the U.S. National/Olympic Women’s Team a sensation, winning hearts and minds among fans and non-fans alike was its good humor, good sportsmanship, and positive, one-for-all, all-for-one attitude.  Winning certainly didn’t hurt, but away from the field, if there were problems, apparently they stayed behind the scenes while they got solved.

This is Solo being the aptly named Solo.  The product of a broken home whose relationship with her occasionally homeless father, a Vietnam War vet, has been well documented (the latest, in a Newsweek cover story)–evidently she will continue to be the only U.S. player to take the field with a large chip on her shoulder.  But in the last couple of days she has helped make the U.S. women’s team–that oasis in a sports world drowning in greed, ego, poor sportsmanship and, yes, reckless tweets–a little less special.