Why are referees reluctant to punish simulation.

On January 27, 2019, U.S. Men’s National Team hosted Panama in State Farm Stadium, Glendale, Arizona. This was first game in charge of USMNT for Gregg Berhalter.  New era for USMNT soccer began.  And it began well.  Even though it was comprised of mostly young and many uncapped players, USMNT registered a resounding victory of 3:0 over Panama.


This was not a difficult game to referee and the all-Mexican refereeing crew, led by Mr. Adonai Escobedo, did not have trouble managing the game.  USMNT was dominating the game for most of the time and had most of the possession.  The game was played at a rather leisurely pace with only a few fast-paced counter attacks.

However, in the 90thminute of the game, Mr. Adonai Escobedo’s refereeing skills were truly tested when USMNT striker Sebastian Lleget was fed a nice pass inside the Panamian’s penalty area. As he received the ball, Lleget turned and attempted to dribble past the Panamanian defenders.  One of them, stuck out his foot to dispossess Lleget of the ball and stop his dangerous run.  However, Lleget appeared to be too fast and it appeared that the Panamian defender struck Lleget’s foot instead of the ball.

Lleget for his part, fell to the ground and, seemingly riving in an excrusciating pain, was rolling on the groung clutching his “injured” foot.  However, this was not a day for Mr. Escobedo to be fooled.  Displaying his eagle-eye abilities, the referee shook his head, indicating that he spotted no infraction, and allowed the play to continue.

This was a truly incredible no-call.  It was not easy to spot.  The play developed very quickly and the two players came together from two different angles almost instantaneously.  It helped that Mr. Escobedo was well positioned but his sightlines were not exactly unobstructed and there was a lot of going on in the area (see picture above).  Mr. Escobedo deserves high praise for not getting fooled by Lleget and his deception.

Unfortunately, having make this incredible, may we call it brilliant, no-call decision, the referee let Lleget escape without any punishment.  This decision was somewhat perplexing because the Laws of the Game cover these very specific instances of misconduct and are clear in their direction of what the referee is required to do.  They state that:

There are different circumstances when a player must be cautioned for unsporting behaviour including if a player … attempts to deceive the referee e.g. by feigning injury or pretending to have been fouled (simulation)           

Mr. Escobedo should have cautioned Lleget for his attempt to deceive him.  Now, to be entirely fair to the referee, we will note that this was an international friendly ( not a high-stakes game), the incident happened in the last minute of the game, and by then the final result was already determined as the USMNT was leading by a score of 3:0.  Some will argue that in this context Mr. Escobar’s decision to withhold the punishment was reasonable.

We disagree.  For one, the Laws of the Game are very clear that the referee is required to caution a player who attempts to deceive the referee or pretends that he/she has been fouled.  The referee has no discretion.  The caution is mandatory.  Referees should not be cherry picking which and when the Laws of the Game should be enforced.  Such approach to enforcement of the Laws of the Game would only sow discontent and put the game into disrepute.  Secondly, such unwarranted leniency sends a wrong message to the players who, having escape the punishment, will continue in their deceptive ways in future games.

Deception, feigning injury and pretending to be fouled is a blight in the modern game of soccer.  We can only rid of the beautiful game of this scourge by enforcing the Laws of the Game uniformly and without equivocation.

Let us know what you think.

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