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The Third Yellow vs. Delayed Offside Flags and Stutter Step PKs

The Third Yellow will die on the following hills and has well entrenched fortifications upon these two neighboring points.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at CF Montreal Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

Today is a tremendous week in the history of The Third Yellow. For today we dig in and stand shoulder to shoulder for causes not just to benefit the New England Revolution, but all of soccer.

Because, if we’re being honest, both Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls are kind of pissed right now and they should be. Not because the referees’ did something wrong, no, to the contrary, the referees did exactly what was asked of them. And therein lies the problem.

Not for the first time this column is here to talk about how laws SHOULD be enforced or interpreted, rather than how they ARE actually adjudicated on the field. Our disdain for these policies lies not with the on field officials or PRO, but from the higher ups at FIFA, the IFAB, MLS, etc., etc., who somehow in defiance of Law 18 have saw fit to pass these judgements.

I am willing to die on both of these hills. My hatred for delayed offside flags and stutter step PKs are well known and last week presents two spectacular opportunities to discuss why the interpretations being handed down from above go against the intent and nature of the laws as written, and will continue to be wrong until changes are implemented.

Delayed offside flags are asinine and fly in the face of the player safety initiatives that the sport has worked so hard to implement for the benefit and change of soccer as a whole over the last several years. In the VAR era where so many things are under a microscope, the concept of allowing play to continue to allow VAR to possibly intervene if needed on a potential goal scoring play 15-30 seconds after a potential offside infraction is the dumbest of several continually dumb changes to the offside law and its enforcement.

I’m not going to get into the history of the offside law, which originally began as needing to be behind (not level with) three players (not two) before it’s current disastrous state that we have today. To make a proper offside call, an assistant referee must judge to simultaneously moving objects down a single, intersecting plane against an entirely different moving object at a very precise moment in time.

Trying to judge two differently players moving at the same time against the ball is border line impossible event even at a grassroots level, it’s is actually amazing that for the most part, professional and international referees get the majority of these right with the elite constraints of using the leading shoulder or forehead of an attacker against the absolute farthest part of a defender’s trailing leg rather than just a general center of mass/judgement call of more ordinarily skilled referees.

In the 67th minute, Adam Buksa plays a flick on near midfield to Gustavo Bou with Reds midfielder Ralph Priso standing on the halfway line and another TFC defender stepping up and his trailing leg about 1 yard behind the center stripe. Bou at the time of the flick appears to be about two yards into the attacking half, a solid yard behind the last defender and in an offside position. But the AR flag stays down, forcing Bou and Primo into a 50 yard run (increasing the chances either player pulls up with a muscle injury), Primo challenging for the ball (increasing contact/injury), TFC keeper Alex Bono charging everyone by coming off his line (increasing chances for collision/injury), and then Primo expertly clearing the ball off the line (again another chance for a stretching/pull type injury if he has to extend a leg or something on the save).

Primo then pulls up with an injury after clearing the ball off the line, which he very obviously sustained while challenging Bou for the ball and then 10-15 seconds AFTER the flick on, the flag comes up and the whistle blows for offside.

TFC head coach Javier Perez is understandably pissed about this, and he should be. Ralph Primo was absolutely stellar in that start and for him to hobble off with an injury for trying to defend an offside player on a 50-plus yard run towards goal is ridiculous.

(UPDATE: 8/19/2021 5:45pm EST - Toronto FC announced that Priso underwent ankle surgery and is out for the year.)

The reason we have rules and discipline on the soccer field effectively boils down to maintaining a competitive balance and fairness between the two teams by enforcing the rules in a manner which PROMOTE. PLAYER. SAFETY.

So when instruction from high above comes down that allows play to continue despite a likely obvious infraction, on the small chance it might be wrong, that decision to play on usually leads to situations that endanger players (GK charging onrushing offside attacker needlessly). Since these actions are being taught and applied correctly, then said instructions and interpreations are absoutely, 100%, scientifically stupid and were made with a tremendous lack of common sense and total disregard for player safety. There’s no other way to phrase it. It’s negligent to the mission of the laws of the game to not only allow this situation, but for it to be encouraged and commonplace.

No, we’re doing this wrong. If an assistant believes the attacking player has committed an offside offense, the flag should go up straightaway. Not when an offside player touches the ball 30 or 40 yards away, but the second they start running after it because as soon as they do they’ve affected the play and in my opinion have triggered the offside infraction to occur. If attacking teams want a remedy for a bad offside flag, where the attacker was clearly BEHIND, not level with, the second to last defender, VAR should intervene with a indirect free kick at the spot the flag went up originally or outside the box if applicable.

This is not a perfect solution. It should however eliminate the situation that Bou, Primo, and Bono found themselves in but for situations that are much closer to goal and within the box, the timing of the flag going up and the whistle stopping play will often times simply not be enough end play to avoid unwanted and unnecessary collisions between offside players and their opponents. Would I mind the flag staying down in this case? No, but I’d rather have play stopped and deal with some weird IFK placement then cart players off the field with serious injuries because the delayed offside flag indirectly caused them significant personal harm.

Ralph Primo was wronged over the weekend, the likelihood that Gustavo Bou or Alex Bono were to get injured on the same play was significantly increased, and many other players like Primo will be needlessly injured, miss games, or have their careers cut short because of this asinine logic coming from the powers that be governing this play.

Alright, onto Stade Saputo...

Okay, really quick, I agree here with the initial PK call on Amro Tarek. Yes, there has been more guidance regarding the handball laws for sliding/planted arms and such things. This is not one of those situations. Tarek’s slide is effectively completed, and he stays on the ground making himself larger rather than attempting to get up, which had he done so the ball striking his planted arm I think would’ve been a natural position and no foul.

Now on to the other things...for those that do not know my immense disdain for stutter step PKs, there’s a hashtag of my own creation (I assume anyway) that is nearly exclusively my own and goes back years. Stutter step penalties are dumb, ineffective, and in my opinion, illegal... though said opinion goes against current interpretations of the law.

I trust and respect both the opinions of the above persons who are beyond reproach but I will die on this hill as well. The above persons are indeed technically correct that a stutter step feint is legal in the run up but effectively become illegal when you get to the ball. MLSRefStats in particular has other tweets on this situation if you scroll through his feed. This is however, the worst kind of correct.

In the VAR era where we expect a GK to stay on his line until nearly the exact millisecond that the ball is kicked, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask penalty takers to end this absolute Bravo Sierra nonsense of almost quite literally stopping mid run up to a penalty kick. The first penalty, yes, Coronel is very clearly a half step or more off his line, stonewalls Bjorn Johnson’s simple run up and shot, and VAR recommends a review for a retake which is confirmed. The first review is textbook in how this process should play out.

However on the second attempt, Coronel clearly moves on the blatant stutter-step and/or complete and total stop from Toye (who netted a similar penalty against NYCFC last month IIRC) and gets carded for coming off his line for the second time in as many attempts. Toye might be two yards away from the ball at the time of his stutter as shown above, but as far as I am concerned once a penalty taker has started his run at the ball he must maintain the same direction and pace to it as well prior to his penalty attempt. Once the attempt is saved, play should be blown dead for the illegal kick, and restart play with an RBNY indirect kick (or a redo on the penalty if it was scored and rightfully disallowed for being pants, warning issued to the shooter).

That’s how the rule should be interpreted and I thought that long before VAR was reviewing the goalkeeper needing perfect feet on these plays even if they just have to have one on the line now (which was a good and positive change at least and Coronel should be working on footwork designed to leave a trailing leg on the line while he extends/moves towards a potential PK save).

If you want to do a little hitch or sidestep or whatever at the top of the run, I can live with that as a grudging compromise. But once a player is one or two, certainly three steps into his run up towards the penalty spot, said run up should not be changed or altered in anyway, and certainty not interrupted deliberately to feint the keeper let alone come to a complete and total stop before taking two more steps and shooting.

Also kids, when you do a stutter step on a PK, you’re distracting yourself more than you are the keeper cause you’re focused on doing something other than hitting the ball cleanly. Just don’t do it, it’s a bad idea and usually you hit a poor and saveable penalty. Simple run up, pick a corner or side netting and slot it him. If the keeper gets, he gets it, that’s credit to him, not a demerit against you.

This PK is bad and you should feel bad if you think it’s good. Looking at you Alan Pulido. Should’ve been a retake.