The 3rd Yellow - Revs vs. Impact Part 1 - Goalkeepers, Red Cards and Denial of a Goalscoring Opportunity

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Sorin Stoica issued a straight red card to Matt Reis just five minutes in last Sunday, throwing the Revolution's match with the Montreal Impact quickly into disarray. And while the rule is fairly clear, did Stoica apply it properly?

I thought it couldn't get any worse. I thought my nightmare was over.

It's bad enough when readers are commenting after the game about my new, critically acclaimed (on Twitter) column on MLS refereeing, or at least MLS referees in Revolution games. It's another story when my column has enough content to dissect BY HALFTIME!

And if that wasn't bad enough, I have to do another two-part column all while losing my minding watching the United States go through qualifying. This was supposed to be maybe a monthly feature, explaining the occasional red card, not wading through amateur referees masquerading as professionals.

That's the performance the Revolution got from Sorin Stoica on Sunday, an amateur performance from a guy who has less than 20 games MLS experience. Today, I only have time to focus on the decision to send off Matt Reis in the 5th minute. We'll get to the rest of the game later in the week.

I want to put two things on the record before I start. One, during the game I agreed with Stoica's decision to send off Reis because that's the rule. Reis committed a foul, in the box and denied a goal scoring opportunity. There really isn't all that much to debate seeing the play live. Two, I hate the DGSO rule as it pertains to goalkeepers. And after writing this column, I no longer hate it. I despise it and it needs to be changed. Immediately.

First, let us examine the foul as it pertains to Law 12 - Misconduct of FIFA's Laws of the Game. As several readers have already discussed with me on the comments board and Twitter, there are specific criteria to determine whether or not a goal-scoring opportunity has been denied. Several years ago, at least in 2007, USSF had four criteria: Number of Defenders, Distance to Ball, Distance to Goal and Direction of Play. I was USSF certified in 2010 and as far as I know, this is the only way I've been taught and/or this is the only way I would've applied the rule if I the opportunity had presented itself - it never has in four years. Now under FIFA's Law 12 , there six criteria: Direction of play, Location of foul, Proximity of players to ball, Probability of player controlling the ball, Location and number of opponents, Opportunity for attempt on goal.


So, as we can clearly see from this replay, Matt Reis goes to ground in an attempt to make himself "big" and block Montreal Impact forward Marco Di Vaio's shot. Except, Di Vaio misplays the ball and ends up basically deflecting it with his right foot, hitting the ball forward and away from goal. Reis has clearly committed a foul here, as he does catch Di Vaio with his arm and since it's in the box, it's a very clear penalty.

And since the rule of thumb is to say Reis is the "last defender," language that doesn't exist in Law 12 but it's a common expression, it's an automatic ejection for denying a goal scoring opportunity.

Back to Law 12 quickly, from the view of Mr. Sorin Stoica, because again, I'm trying to validate his decision (in theory) according to the rules.

Where is the direction of play?

Well, the direction of the play is going, generally, towards the Revs goal. The ball, after it gets out from Di Vaio's feet, is going off to the right of goal. The phrase used completely sucks here as it is open to interpretation. As I have always known, the direction of the play (not the specific direction of the ball) must be generally towards goal. So attacking down the wing or preparing to hit a cross doesn't count as denial of a goal scoring opportunity if a player is fouled. It must be very clear that the player has or will get space enough with the ball to get to the goal. Let's give Stoica a pass on this one and say that yes, the direction of the play was generally towards goal and the criterion is met, although we'll revisit this later.

What is the location of the foul?

It's basically on the six yard box. Yes, it's close enough to deny a goal scoring opportunity.

What is the proximity of the player to the ball?

Hmm...a few yards? Two, three? Certainly seems reasonable that Di Vaio was still in possession of the ball despite the misplay, but it's also certainly close enough that Reis isn't egregiously late with the challenge either. Had Reis been an outfield player and made a similar sliding challenge, this would probably be a fairly simple yellow card.

What is the location and number of Revs players?

Well, Jose Goncalves and AJ Soares are the two closest players, but neither are in a position to defend Di Vaio so that makes Reis the proverbial "last defender." He's a keeper, he's usually the last defender...

Is there an opportunity for an attempt on goal?

Of course there is. Di Vaio has just bundled his way around the keeper and just has to finish, albeit from a very tight angle, into an open net. But...

What is the probability that Di Vaio will get to that ball/or maintain possession?

And here in lies the great mystery. Reis took Di Vaio down, so we won't know if could have caught up to that ball. Just like the previous question, if Di Vaio gets it, it is a very tough finish but one he would at least have a shot at. But when the foul occurs, Di Vaio can barely say he has possession, as the ball is technically loose under his feet and is eventually knocked away from goal and at a decent pace. In my mind, this is the biggest sticking point to the play.

And do you know why Mr. Sorin Stoica issued said red card to Matt Reis? Because he assumed (and I am assuming he assumed) from 30 yards away that clearly Di Vaio had possession and Reis pulled him down. And without any direct communication to his AR (and they might have conferred on their radios, no one knows, but I'm betting against it) Stoica, without knowing the ball was clearly away from Di Vaio, issued the red.

That's the problem with the red card, is that Stoica assumes Reis has hauled down Di Vaio after he got beat, when really it's Di Vaio's lousy first touch that has created the whole play. If Stoica takes a second to confer with his assistant, who has a better angle on the ball I think, Stoica would realize that it's been misplayed and the opportunity for the goal is very slight or at the very least is not guaranteed. Instead, without hesitation he sends off Reis, blowing game management out the water five minutes into the match. And that's why he's an amateur.


Here's a bad example from earlier this season: Baldomero Toledo sends off Chivas USA's Dan Kennedy from taking down Sporting KC's Pablo Nagamura. Here, Nagamura is clearly through on goal, and (again, I'm going on what Toledo has called) is clipped by Kennedy after he beats him at the top of the box. I'm scared to say that because the touch from Nagamura is going slightly away from goal that this is the direction of the play, because it's not. The play is clearly goal bound, despite the specific direction of the ball, before Kennedy (probably) clips Nagamura's trailing leg, but the foul in itself isn't egregious and Kennedy has pulled up to actually avoid contact and Nagamura clearly has the time and space to play the ball into the empty net if not for the foul. So, Toledo got this one right.


Here's a solid example from Houston's Tally Hall, actually in the same week as Kennedy's play, as he takes down LA Galaxy striker Jose Villareal. Now, pay little attention to Villareal's touch, which is well wide of everything. Hall slides in legs first to break up the play, clearly playing the man, but there is at least one Houston defender back to cover the net (Bobby Boswell). Now Allen Chapman confers with his assistant and awards a penalty (it did happen inside the area) and correctly doesn't eject Hall. He doesn't caution him either, which I thought was needed for the challenge itself, but that's an example of a keeper not getting sent off despite giving up a penalty.

For all three of these plays above there is hardly unnecessary contact or serious foul play, even Hall's challenge has minimal contact despite Villareal doing his best to avoid it and being forced airborne. These plays should be viewed similarly to any outfield player committing a tactical foul. Yes, it's usually going to be a penalty and naturally a yellow card at minimum, but ejecting a keeper nearly every time he commits a foul in the box in a 1-v-1 situation is a ludicrous concept. And I hate it. Because if people are going to complain about an outfield player getting carded, giving up a penalty and getting suspended for the next game as too much...well what about adding bringing in your cold back up to try and block the penalty and ruin the game for however many minutes are left.

Now, giving goalkeepers their own version of a tactical foul does not mean that they get one freebie and a chance to stop a spot kick. But judging by the three examples above, if the rules were modified slightly, could the referee's have issued three yellows and awarded three penalties and continued the game, 11 v. 11 with a penalty kick to take? I say yes, but that's because I want to avoid at all costs sending off players if I don't have to. And when I look at all three of these plays, I don't see a red card in the bunch.

They're not violent or excessive, they're attempting to make a legitimate play on the ball and they're all just late. But because they're goalies and in two cases, they're the last guy left, it's considered an obvious denial of a goal scoring opportunity and a red. Sure, let's punish the only specialized position on the field for something they hardly ever do (foul, attempt to make a slide tackle, etc.) twice as harsh as any outfield player who does the same thing at midfield. Of course if they start doing things like Bill Hamid did here in 2011 vs. Toronto (the title is slightly over exaggerating), I'll start quickly changing my mind. But my point stands, I hate this rule when applied to goalkeepers because they're at too much of a disadvantage based on half the criteria of the rule and their expected skill set. So I'd like to someone much more important than me to review the matter, which I think can only improve the game by keeping better keepers and eleven players on the field.

Quite frankly, I can't tell you that Stoica is wrong here in his interpretation of the rule, but it's damn close. If he believes that Di Vaio could've gotten to that ball then however difficult a finish it might have been, it is a goal scoring opportunity that Reis has denied Di Vaio. But Stoica never consults his assistant (that's going to be a theme later) when issuing the card and potentially misses out on a very key piece of information when making a very critical decision. And that's the more important issue I have with the call. It's not the red card, which when I saw the play live I thought the very same thing automatically; it's the way it was determined very quickly with zero consultation with anyone. Because I can argue that Di Vaio doesn't have the ball, and might not get it, and that brief conversation and bit of information could be the difference in the play.

Regardless of Stoica's decision, this play brings up a tremendous problem I have with goalkeepers in this situation. They're always the" last defender," they're usually in the box and someone's usually free on goal. So keepers will usually get red carded when committing a foul in this situation no matter what and that needs to change. Not just to protect teams from the same situation the Revs found themselves in Sunday, but to not drastically affect the outcome of a game with one decision from a referee.

Because right or wrong, no one is talking about that soccer game, they're talking about a red card that quite frankly, in my opinion, shouldn't be given in the first place.

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