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Yes, it was gross. A blatant awful call that cost the U.S. a 3-2 victory over Slovenia. Had the goal been allowed, the U.S. would have been sitting atop the group looking almost certain to qualify for the knock-out stage.
However, even with that brutal call, I still like that the U.S. controls their own destiny. A win against Algeria on Wednesday gets the Americans in. Troubling as that call is, it’s one of many examples of what I see as one of the biggest problems in sports.
Officiating. Whether it’s over-officiating or the inability to keep things under control, the bigger issue is inconsistency. After the game, Clint Dempsey, who some speculate was the reason for the controversial call, indicated that prior to the World Cup FIFA made it a point to tell players that “any type of holding on corners is a penalty, any type of grabbing around a player is a penalty.” If you’ve been watching any of the World Cup games, you know this statement simply isn’t true. Some referees call it tight, while others let them play.
This problem is not exclusive to international soccer, obviously. But I think the NFL probably does a better job than most in dealing with it. In the NFL referees are held accountable and coaches are given an opportunity to challenge a controversial decision if it’s going to effect the outcome of the game. FIFA does neither. Not only can calls not be challenged in soccer, but the referee in question, Koman Coulibaly, will never have to explain his actions. FIFA had a media session on Monday where they were to address the officiating at the tournament so far, although they made it clear that neither FIFA representatives or other officials would directly comment on any decision or performance of any specific official. So, what is the point of these things then?
I mentioned above that I feel the NFL does the best job at not only holding officials accountable but also giving them the tools they need to make the right call. Listen, I know that sports now are much different than they were 50 years ago. Players are bigger, move faster and hit harder. As training and tools available to players evolve, shouldn’t tools to allow for better officiating evolve as well, especially with the advent of new technology? There are certain calls that NFL coaches can’t challenge for a number of reasons, but there’s still a good amount that they can challenge. Major League Baseball is making strides with video replay for calling home runs. Do I think all calls in every sport should be subject to instant replay? Absolutely not. But on the other hand I firmly DON’T believe that the sanctity of sports would be compromised by adding new technology to help make the right call. In my opinion, that view is absurd. Why not get the call right? Sure it might add on a little time to the game, but I’d rather that than have to live with a bad call that cost my team the game.
Before I get going, I just want to point out that I love soccer, always have and always will. But the incessant diving at this year’s World Cup is a constant source of disappointment and should be a source of embarrassment for the players taking part. When I see a topnotch athlete fall to the ground clutching his head after a minor shoulder barge to the chest, I’m disgusted. Not only are players doing it, but they’re doing it and getting the calls and affecting the outcomes of games. It happened to Kaka this weekend. It just happened to Valon Behrami Monday in the Switzerland/Chile game. The diving (or simulation, as it’s called) is a black eye on the game.
The bigger question: Why to players do it? Because they get the calls! The field is massive and the head referee can’t be everywhere, so some of the calls can be difficult. This is a perfect case for instituting instant replay. Coaches should get an opportunity to challenge calls involving cards. As I mentioned before, they affect the game and can result in key players missing time. Us watching at home have the luxury of seeing the infraction many times from many different angles, and I’m willing to bet if these referees could get a second look at some of these ‘fouls,’ they would reverse their calls too.
So in closing, I think there is a lot that can be done to improve officiating especially in soccer. Keeping referees accountable and embracing technology is key. I think the notion of keeping ‘human error’ in sports is insane. Yes, that disallowed goal stings, but I haven’t watched a World Cup game yet where a suspect call has in some way, shape or form had an impact on the game, so we’re not alone.
For me, the bigger issue with the U.S. team is the very questionable defending and the lack of any type of finishing prowess around the net. However, as I mentioned before, they still control their own destiny, but if you think a win against Algeria is in the bag, you’ve got another thing coming.