In blizzard-like conditions, the United States Men’s National Team bested dangerous Costa Rica team in World Cup qualifier played in Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado this past Friday on March 22, 2013. This was crucially important game for the United States. After playing listlessly and losing to a talented Honduras team 1:2 at Estadio Olimpico in San Pedro Sula, Honduras on February 6, 2013, the U.S. desperately needed a win and three points to right the ship. This was especially important because the next game for the U.S. is against Mexico in Estadio Azteca in Mexico City on March 26, 2013.
The U.S. went ahead 1:0 on Clint Dempsey’s goal in the 16th minute of the game. The U.S. was a bit lucky as Jozy Altidore’s shot ricocheted off Costa Rica’s defender Keylor Navas and landed right in front of Clint Dempsey. Dempsey, who was able to hold the line to avoid offside, simply tapped it into the Costa Rica’s goal and the U.S. was up 1:0. This was Clint Dempsey’s 32nd career goal for the U.S. National Team. The U.S. would not relinquish this slim lead for the rest of the game. In the 42nd minute of the game the U.S. should have been awarded a penalty kick after Clint Dempsey was clumsily brought down by a Costa Rica defender Roy Miller in the penalty area. Unfortunately, referee Joel Aguilar did not spot any infringement and let play continue. (See the incident at 2:45 into the video)
What also made this game memorable, however, were severe weather conditions. The game began with a heavy snowfall and as the game progressed the snow continued to fall heavily. Soon enough, the entire field was covered in a couple of inches snow. The end lines, sidelines and boundary lines for penalty and goal-kick areas became invisible. The ball was difficult to spot and even the players, especially the U.S. players who wore their white jerseys, were almost invisible in these whiteout conditions. Finally, in the second half of the game the referee suspended the game for a few minutes to evaluate whether it should be continued. Ultimately, after the grounds crews shoveled away some snow from the lines, the referee allowed the game to be resumed.
While abandoning a game is highly unusual and decision to do so should be taken after careful consideration, the referee has the authority to do so. In its writings on the authority of the referee, IFAB stated that referee may decide “that the condition of the ﬁeld of play or its surrounds or that the weather conditions are such as … not to allow a match to take place” and that he/she may decide to “abandon a match for whatever reason.” In its Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game, the United States Soccer Federation stated that “the referee may terminate a match for reasons of safety (bad weather or darkness).” In line with the Laws of the Game, the USSF also stated that “only the competition authority, not the referee, has the authority to declare a winner, a forfeit, or a replay of the match in its entirety.”
In fact, FIFA regulations for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil state that if a match “cannot be played or is abandoned as a result of force majeure, the FIFA Organizing Committee shall decide on the matter at its sole discretion and take whatever action is deemed necessary. If a match is not played or is abandoned as a result of force majeure, the FIFA Organizing Committee may in particular order a replay.” Force majeure describes circumstance that cannot be controlled such as severe weather conditions, including hurricanes, flooding, earthquakes, volcanic eruption or snowstorm to mention just a few examples.
Fortunately for the U.S. team, referee Joel Aguilar allowed the game to be completed. The question remains, however, whether he should have. After all, for the most of the game, the field markings, including penalty area lines, were completely covered by snow and were basically invisible. Any foul near the penalty area would have presented significant problems. The refereeing crew was a bit fortunate and no such controversy occurred during the game.
Also, the safety of the players is crucial and of paramount importance. Somewhat surprisingly here, despite very difficult field conditions, both teams played a clean game and no serious foul play occurred. Moreover, it appeared that, after the referee stopped the game in the second half to evaluate the situation, both teams tried to persuade him to let the game continue. Still, Mr. Aguilar made a risky decision when he permitted the game to continue. Let us know what you think about his decision to continue the game. Would you do the same?