The U.S. Women Soccer Team defeated Canada 4:3 to reach the final at the London’s Olympic Games. The game was fast-paced, hard-fought and highly entertaining. Indeed, Canada led the U.S. Women on three separate occasions and the U.S. team came back to tie the game each time. The U.S. Women’s final game winning goal also came in a dramatic fashion. It was scored in the 123rd minute — the last minute of the added time in the second overtime — by Alex Morgan (click here to see the highlights from the game). Now in the finals, the U.S. will be given opportunity to avenge its loss from the last World Cup final against Japan. The gold medal match between the U.S. and Japan will begin at 2:45 p.m. ET on Thursday, August 9, 2012 at Wembley Stadium in London. It should be equally entertaining game.
However, in this blog we wanted to highlight one critical decision by the match referee Christina Pedersen. In the 78th minute of the game, Ms. Pedersen penalized Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod for holding the ball in her hands for longer than 6 seconds and awarded the U.S. an indirect free kick.
In penalizing McLeod, the referee followed Law 12. Indeed, according to Law 12, “an indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a goalkeeper, inside his own penalty area, … controls the ball with his hands for more than six seconds before releasing it from his possession.” In its Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees, the International Football Association Board further explained that “a goalkeeper is not permitted to keep control of the ball in his hands for more than six seconds [and] a goalkeeper is considered to be in control of the ball: (i) while the ball is between his hands or between his hand and any surface (e.g. ground, own body), (ii) while holding the ball in his outstretched open hand, (iii) while in the act of bouncing it on the ground or tossing it into the air.”
By our count, the Canadian goalkeeper held/controlled the ball in her hands for approximately 11-12 seconds (almost double the time during which she is required to release the ball from her possession). Therefore, the referee correctly penalized her with an indirect free kick inside the penalty area where the offence occurred.
We are highlighting this decision not because it was controversial but because it was courageous. Despite the six second rule’s clear directions to referees to penalize goalkeepers for maintaining possession of the ball for longer than six seconds, you hardly ever see referees enforcing the rule. For this, we applaud Ms. Pederson. Moreover, it was reported in the media that McLeod conceded that before the second half started she was warned by one of the assistant referees “not to slow down play” and Abby Wambach was reported as saying that she saw the referee warning McLeod previously about time-wasting. While not required, it is customary, and in our opinion a good practice, for referee to warn a goalkeeper about taking too much time before releasing the ball. Having received explicit warnings — one from the referee and one from the assistant referee — McLeod should have no reason to complain about the referee’s decision.
Wambach also said that she started counting aloud whenever McLeod held the ball because she thought that the Canadian goalkeeper was purposefully wasting time. She also counted when McLeod was penalized and said that when “I had gotten to 10 seconds counting out loud next to the referee, [the referee] blew the whistle, and I think it was a good call.”
We also highlight this decision because subsequent game events that stemmed from this decision proved critical. At the time the referee penalized the Canadian goalkeeper for violating the six second rule and awarded the U.S. an indirect free kick inside Canada’s penalty area, the U.S. trailed Canada 2:3 and only 12 minutes remained on the game clock. Tobin Heath of the U.S. took the indirect free kick and passed the ball to her right to Carli Lloyd who took a right-footed shot. The ball flew through the crowd of players in the penalty area and ricocheted off the first Canadian defender and then hit another defender, Marie-Eve Nault, on her arm/elbow. The U.S. team screamed “penalty” and Ms. Pederson pointed to the spot. But, unlike the six second rule violation call, the penalty call was controversial and, in our professional opinion, wrong. But Ms. Pederson waived off Canada’s protestations and Abby Wambach converted the penalty kick for a 3:3 tie.
After the game was tied by Wambach, the U.S. team dominated the game and ultimately scored the wining goal on Alex Morgan’s header in the 123rd minute of the game.