The 2013 Major League Soccer season began today and, unfortunately, it did not begin well for referee Baldomero Toledo. In the 38th minute of the game between Houston Dynamo and DC United, Mr. Toledo made a crucial mistake and awarded a penalty kick to Houston Dynamo even though the foul was committed outside of the penalty area. The fast developing action that led to Mr. Toledo’s error began with DC United’s center back Brandon McDonald losing his footing and Houston’s Ricardo Clark pouncing after the loose ball. As Clark was sprinting towards the goal, another DC United defender, Chris Korb, tried desperately to catch up to speedy Clark. Just as Clark was about to enter the penalty area and unleash his shot, Korb extended his leg and clipped Clark’s shooting leg, knocking him off balance and down to the ground. Mr. Toledo pointed to the spot.
As the video below makes it clear, however, Korb’s committed his foul outside of the penalty as he clipped Clark’s leg before the 18th yard-line. Unfortunately, referee Toledo, who was trailing the fast developing play several yards behind, was not well positioned to see the foul or the exact location of it. Indeed, there were several players between Mr. Toledo and the foul and they almost completely obstructed his view of the infringement. From his vantage point, it was nearly impossible to spot the exact location of the foul. Interestingly, though, the video footage of the game did not show that Mr. Toledo consulted his assistant referee as to the location of the foul. Unlike Mr. Toledo, the assistant referee was perfectly positioned to witness the location of the foul and – given the circumstances – he should have been consulted here.
Importantly too, given where the foul was committed, it was rather surprising that Mr. Toledo did not dismiss United’s Korb for committing a foul that denied an obvious goal scoring opportunity to Houston’s Clark. As we explain in detail below, we believe that all elements for a foul denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity were met and therefore Korb should have been dismissed.
According to the Laws of the Game, a player must be sent off if he denies “an obvious goalscoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player’s goal by an offence punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick.” As IFAB explained in its guidance to referees, referees should consider the following four circumstances when deciding whether to send off a player for denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity:
- the distance between the offence and the goal
- the likelihood of keeping or gaining control of the ball
- the direction of the play
- the location and number of defenders
The United States Soccer Federation also provided additional guidance in this area. The Federation explained that in order for a player to be sent off for denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity four elements must be present:
- Number of Defenders—not more than one defender between the foul and the goal, not counting the defender who committed the foul
- Distance to goal—the closer the foul is to the goal, the more likely it is an obvious goalscoring opportunity
- Distance to ball—the attacker must have been close enough to the ball at the time of the foul to continue playing the ball
- Direction of play—the attacker must have been moving toward the goal at the time the foul was committed
The USSF noted that “if any element is missing, there can be no send off for denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity. Further, the presence of each of these elements must be “obvious” in order for the send-off to be appropriate under this provision of Law 12.”
In our opinion, all of these four elements were present. First, there were no more than one defender between the foul and the goal. In fact, there were no DC United defenders in front of Clark. While DC United defenders were not too far behind, speedy Clark did leave them all behind and had an unobstructed view of the goal. Second, Clark was on top of the penalty area and in the center of it. He was perfectly positioned to take his shot. Three, Clark was in control of the ball and there can be no doubt that he was going to unleash his shot if the foul was not committed. Finally, Clark was moving directly toward the goal at the time Korb brought him down. Since all elements for a foul denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity were present, Mr. Toledo should have dismissed Korb from the game. Let us know what you think and be sure to visit our referee forum to share your thoughts with us and others.