World Cup Refs And The US

Edu’s non-goal was the fourth notable unjustified pull-back by referees to the U.S. in World Cups and qualifiers.

During the 1994 World Cup, Alexi Lalas was incorrectly called offside against Columbia, pulling back a goal for the underdogs.  Fortunately an OG and Earnie Stewart’s partial volley were enough for the U.S. to upset Columbia.  Unfortunately, the guy who gave us the own goal was murdered after he returned home.

Taylor Twellman was treated like Lalas in 2005.  Twellman was tearing up the nets of Major League Soccer when National Team Coach Bruce Arena called him up.  There, he hit a skid, coming close a couple times but repeatedly short of his first international goal for the team.  Against Trinidad and Tobago, in his tenth national team game, Twellman put one away, but the assistant referee incorrectly called offside. The same referee blew three corner kicks and a penalty kick in the game.

Landon Donovan was victimized by a whistle-happy referee during the 2002 World Cup in our match against Poland in South Korea.

The U.S. needed a draw or win for a sure place in the next round, but Poland scored twice before the fifth minute. Donavan put one in the net but had it called back on a crap call for knocking over an opponent.

It would have been the first time in his career that Donovan played aggressively enough to knock over an opponent.  So surprised, the U.S. gave up another goal and lost 3-1.  (We made the next round due to South Korea’s win over Portugal, a game where the ref sent off two Portuguese players.)

Leaving the stadium, I was approached by a television crew from China, asking me what I thought of the Chinese referee, Lu Jun.  I went off on the guy for stealing a U.S. goal.

I felt vindicated several months ago when that referee was arrested for fixing matches in China.  I’m not saying that the Poland game was fixed, but similar rumors about referees in that World Cup have circumstantial proof.

FIFA really needs to look into this.  Are we supposed to believe that referees are only susceptible to corruption in the domestic leagues of Germany, China, and Italy?  Perhaps there is something greater going on.

Keep in mind that the referee in the U.S./Slovenia match also had a phantom whistle in the first half when the U.S. was close to scoring after a corner kick.

Even if there isn’t anything underhanded by the refs mentioned above, these guys need to be told how much they are hurting the game.  At best, they should be grouped with the refs who see no harm in calling fouls on offensive players for actions that refs would never call on defensive players.

These referees don’t want to allow a goal to be scored unjustly, so they error way too far on the side of caution.  They don’t care that they are preventing goals from being scored in a sport that needs more goals.

We especially see this in penalty areas, where referees feel nothing wrong with penalizing offenses but think twice about calling fouls on defenses.

FIFA took a step several years ago when it told referees that when they are unsure that offside should be called, they should not call offside.  Error on the side of the offense, FIFA stated.

FIFA needs to repeat that, but tell the referees that more errors like today’s will kill the game all together.

Jamie Clary is the author of The First American Soccer Trivia Book which can be purchased here. He can be reached via Twitter at @soccerprofessor.

Filed Under: June 2010

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  • Amy

    Excellent points Jamie– and let’s not forget the handball in the 2002 quarterfinals, which was a non-call that eliminated, if not a goal, at least a PK for the USA…

  • doorworker

    …or the 2006 Ghana PK–Gooch’s foul being inappropriate largeness, apparently–that was the dagger for the US in that game, and that year’s tournament.

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