Canadian Women Robbed by Referee in Loss

We need to talk about this Canada/U.S. women’s Olympic soccer game.

Alex Morgan (middle) celebrates her team’s huge win after the game…but it never should have gone to extra time in the first place. (USA Today)

Now that may not be the most glamorous way to begin an article, but it’s the way my opening needs to be in order to make people understand; after all, I am a Canadian first and a Hoya Paranoia writer second.

For those that weren’t aware, the Americans – the #1 ranked women’s soccer team in the world – faced the Canadians – ranked #7 – in the semi-finals of the Olympic tournament on Monday, with a place in the finals against World Cup holders Japan on the line. The US has historically owned its northern rivals, losing only three of 51 previous matchups, with the Canadians’ last victory coming back in 2001. But this sounds like a preview, and chances are that if you’re reading this, you already know what happened.

The United States’ 4-3 extra-time victory was, above all else, an outstanding soccer game, one that will hopefully raise interest and viewership for the upcoming 2015 World Cup in Canada. Both teams played extremely well, and their countries should be proud. But, as is often the case in sports, there is a dark cloud of controversy hovering over the Americans’ victory, as a couple of successive favorable calls led to the tying (3-3) goal that allowed the U.S. to take the game to extra time and eventually triumph.

Obviously, the Olympics is a time for fans to tune into sports that they’ve rarely watched before, and this means that in times like these, casual fans (or even non-fans) become self-proclaimed experts. They claim to understand things that go beyond the basics, and that involves nuances that even the best commentators and analysts on the planet occasionally miss. Now I don’t care if you dismiss my argument as “sour grapes,” because it’s true that if this was a Hungary-Lichtenstein Lawn Bowling match I likely wouldn’t be so outraged as to write this piece.

But I’m not here to tell you that the Norwegian referee was biased, or that the match was fixed, or that the outcome was predetermined. (That’s just what the Canadian players are claiming.) But I am here to tell you that she made two incorrect calls of the most crucial variety, on one of the biggest stages, at one of the worst possible times.

1)   The Six-Second Rule

In the 78th minute, referee Christina Pederson awarded an indirect free kick inside the Canadian penalty area to the United States, adjudging Canadian keeper Erin McLeod of time wasting. Now, as the traditionalists would say, the official FIFA rules do state: “Goalkeepers are not permitted to keep possession of the ball in their hands for more than six seconds.” That said, I think any frequent soccer/football watcher would agree with me in saying that this rule is never actually applied.

Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod’s time-wasting penalty was an almost unconscionable decision by the referee. (AP)

If you don’t believe me, esteemed NBC soccer writer Steve Davis wrote, “I’ve watched more professional soccer matches than I can possibly count.  (Best, ridiculously wild-ass guess: somewhere north of 2,000.) I have never – no exaggeration here, never – seen that called.” Therefore, the first argument against this call would be that you don’t enforce a rule that hasn’t been enforced in recent memory in the semi-finals of a major tournament.

The second argument would be that if you do, it had better be because the goalkeeper is intentionally wasting time, which, it’s pretty clear by watching the video, she is not doing.

Finally, it is widely considered – reasonably so -  that the time the goalie spends on the ground while waiting for the opposing players to exit the box doesn’t count towards the six seconds. As McLeod herself stated, “The referee said I had the ball for ten seconds. She obviously counted the time when I was on the ground with the ball. Once I got to my feet I calculate I only had the ball for five seconds.”

I’ve heard the objection that McLeod may have been warned at halftime about time-wasting behavior, but in practice a warning is a yellow card. A casual “Hey nice half, by the way make sure you don’t hold onto the ball too long” doesn’t quite make for justification in my books. So that’s that.

2)   The Hand Ball

On the resulting free kick, the ball was driven into the arm of Canadian defender Marie-Eve Nault, at which point the referee awarded a penalty kick to the Americans, which Abby Wambach netted, tying the game. The most common reaction seems to have been “Well, the ball touched her arm, so clearly that’s a hand ball,” which frankly makes me ashamed to be a North American soccer fan. In fact, the matter is quite a bit more complex.

The official FIFA rules state: “Handling the ball involves a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with his hand or arm. The referee shall take the following into consideration: a) the movement of the hand towards the ball (not the ball towards the hand), b) the distance between the opponent and the ball (unexpected ball), c) position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an infringement.”

Captain Christine Sinclair’s hat trick wouldn’t be enough to overcome a couple harsh calls against her team. (AP)

First off, it’s pretty clear from the replay that the defender’s touching of the ball with her arm was not deliberate, as her arm was in front of her chest, meaning the shot would have been blocked either way. Second, the ball may have come from 10 or more meters away, but the shot was blasted and may have been deflected, meaning that it was very much in fact an “unexpected ball.” Finally, since much of this is discretionary, one most consider the reasoning behind the handball rule. Soccer is a game played with the feet, and one shouldn’t be able to use one’s hand intentionally to score or prevent a goal. Considering the factors I previously mentioned, it’s clear Nault did no such thing. As such, the call absolutely shouldn’t have been made.

I’m not sure what possessed the Norwegian referee to make these calls, especially the goalkeeper violation. Maybe it was a sense of purist duty, maybe an unawareness of soccer norms. More likely, I think this was a combination of the two.

I believe it was a woman who dreamed of making a bold decision in the interest of maintaining judicial integrity, unaware of the backlash it would cause; it was a referee wanting to steal a bit of the spotlight that would normally be shined solely upon the players.

Of course, that is all speculation. All I can confirm is that two great teams played their hearts out on Monday night in Manchester, and one of them deserved a better fate. Hopefully the 2015 World Cup will provide the stage for an epic rematch.

17 thoughts on “Canadian Women Robbed by Referee in Loss

  1. guwinster says:

    “Second, the ball may have come from 10 or more meters away, but the shot was blasted and may have been deflected, meaning that it was very much in fact an “unexpected ball.”

    The “blast” was indeed deflected into Nault’s hand. In fact, it was deflected off another Canadian’s finger tips. The ball touched two different Canadian arms.

    While I doubt either of them touched the ball intentionally, as you mention there are some rules that are never applied due to tradition, or culture or whatever. One such rule is that you need to “intentionally” handle a ball to receive a penalty. I have probably watched roughly a thousand soccer matches myself and have seen very few instances where a player intentionally handled the ball. Yet, I have seen thousands of penalties for handling the ball.

  2. anon says:

    I love me some America, but they got lucky. The six-second call was really bad. The handball could have been a bad call, but NBC didn’t have a great angle (unclear if the Canadian defender stuck her arms away from her body or if the ball was headed into her stomach).

    • guwinster says:

      I agree that the US got lucky…mostly because they played sloppily, didn’t control the midfield, had horrible distribution out of the back, had horrible defending more generally, and took the foot off the gas every time they pulled a goal back.

  3. Tracy says:

    The goal keeper had been warned in previous games, and intentional delay of game is a foul. SHe had done the same thing previously in the same game. running around as if she were going to get the ball on the field and pulling back each time. SHe deserved the call. The hand ball hit two separate players and was directed away from goal. Hand balls are called all the time and not only when they are intentionally batted out of the air. Also. The Canadian coach obviously encouraged his players to double slam into Abby and many other questionable plays that were not called. Any of those fouls made by Canadian players could have been called and been a game changer too. This coach has no charactor, he calls the USA team cheaters before the game, and the Referee a cheater after the game.

    • Paul says:

      Here here. I agree it was an unfortunate situation for Canada, but the idea that they are victims here is rather silly. Canada played rough and fouled with no penalties called, and the US had it’s own share of instances just like those. All soccer games do. Hand ball being called only because it is intentional? LOL at that one. I see hand balls called all the time in MLS and EPL with absolutely no intention on the part of the player. Canada has a right to be upset, it was a strange but legitimate call. They do not have a right to be bitter and vindictive (well of course they do, but it is petty and sophomoric). Remember please, the GK did in fact break the FIFA rule on this. It started with her. Congrats on the bronze, you were damn close to a shot at the gold. It will be nice to see another team win gold next time, and I think it will happen.

  4. Kursk says:

    Solo held the ball for far longer near the end of the match and was not penalized..

  5. Anon says:

    Still upset about Canada beating the US in the gold medal hockey game in 2010, so I really can’t say I feel bad for Canada’s loss at all. In fact, I very much enjoyed that the US won this one in the last minute…similar to the hockey game.
    Also, I’ve seen handballs called when players’ hands are at their sides, and if the hands are up it’s going to be called every time.
    You do have a point about the keeper delay of game penalty. It’s never enforced though I’d like to see it be. Goalies clearly delay the game as much as possible in the waning minutes, and soccer’s a slow enough game as it is… get the damn ball back in play already. Well maybe Canada will snag the bronze.

  6. AmyinSC says:

    Oh, please. Abby’s dives are plentiful in matches – ironic since everyone keeps saying she is SO strong, but she flops down with barely a touch. And she most definitely fouls other players. To act like it was only the Canadians playing physically is incorrect. Both teams gave it back and forth, though even Brandi Chastain said the Americans’ behavior in the box on set plays was “highly illegal.” (Take a look at one of the shots captured in this article: http://sports.nationalpost.com/2012/08/06/canada-loses-a-heartbreaker-to-u-s-in-olympic-soccer-semi-final/)

    And the Americans also had handballs that were more egregious in the box that were not called. I am pretty sure Hope Solo held onto the ball too long when she was kicking it out of the penalty box, thus making THAT a handball. It sure wasn’t called.

    I am American, and support the US Women’s Soccer team, but this was the worst officiating I have seen at this level. The referee decided the game. We shouldn’t even remember her name, but after the bad calls/no calls Pedersen made, I think she will be remembered for a while.

  7. Laura Farina says:

    As every athlete knows, in a sport with referees, sometimes you are on the good end of a call and sometimes not. Barring any impropriety by this referee, a Norwegian, the USA team won the game fair and square. Understandably, the Canadian team is disappointed as USA would be had it played out differently for them. But this is sport and it doesn’t help to cry foul. These are two great soccer teams and it was one of the best games I have ever seen.

  8. mark edward says:

    I am Not a huge soccer (football) fan but I know sports and I know rules of most of the games because I love attending live games. Anyways, the world saw it the right way including the American coach, including American sports writers, including FIFA, the list goes on but unfortunately there was one extra played on the field playing for the US squad…I already put an “X” through Norway on my world map; you should all do the same.

    Yes I am Canadian and yes I am a sports fan and yes I am a fan of fairness but we are not crying foul, we are not shouting out looking for a handout, and we are certainly not saying we are a better team the the number 1 ranked US squad. But this game Canada was the better team and were more deserving of the win and even with all the bad calls going against the Canadians, they still held on to the very last minute.

    My take on this, look into the referees bank account and see what has been deposited into it.

  9. Gabe says:

    I have seen in professional soccer delay of game by the keeper being punished by a yellow card and that is it, not a free kicks by the opponent. Referee was bought, how watch, The Americans first used their friendliness towards the referee, patting her on the back in several occasions, giving her praises and ultimately winning her sympathy and approval. Watch the game and you will see! Throughout the tournament and specially in this game they played with illegal tactics and harsh fouling and in this game uncalled by the official, plus they have no class by laughing and taunting all their opponent this is pure garbage. This is not a good example for future female soccer players emulating this so called professionals in the olympic games. Watch their games specially this match and you will see that this is all they got. Foul after foul no calls or warnings. Canada outplayed them, but they had the referee in the bag.

  10. [...] it stay that way through the rest of the Olympics. We would apologize, but we’d like to think Arik’s piece on the USA-Canada women’s soccer controversy more than sufficed. In any case, our recap of Day 11 in London is [...]

  11. Ward says:

    Parness if you want to use Steve Davis as a source to support your position on the indirect free kick, include his comment on the penalty kick, quoting Steve Davis, “I have no problem with that; it was the correct decision”. Therefore, it is clear the keeper was in violation of the 6 second rule, regardless of how infrequently it is called, the indirect free kick was was fouled by the Canadians and the goal was scored. You may wish for a different outcome, but that is the way the game is played.

    How about the highly illegal and dangerous head stomping of Loyd by Tancredi which should have been her second yellow card and a resulting red card and Canada should have been playing one girl down, but this was not called. Where does all the second guessing stop.

    Bottom line, the game was called correctly (the keeper call was correct, the rule is on the books period) and many would have called it differently, but it was according to the rules.

    • Anonymous says:

      Not sure how you’re using Davis’ comment on the penalty to justify your position on the 6 second violation, doesn’t really make sense. Of course there are other things that could be second-guessed, but calls that ARE made are always more poignant and important than calls that aren’t.

  12. Ward says:

    Come on read Anonymous. Parnass wants to use Davis to support the position on the 6 second call then goes on to complain about the call on the indirect kick, So, the author wants to use Davis expertise to support the position on the 6 second call, but not reconginze his expertise that the call on the indirect Kick was the correct call. The complain agains the ref was inconsistency, then Parnass goes about and provides the same inconsistency in the article.