So obviously, I’m no expert on women’s soccer and its TV coverage. But that doesn’t stop me from having an opinion on it.
As I watched Sunday’s match, I became more and more engaged as time ticked on. But, while I was sporting my American pride and pulling for the U.S. women, I kept thinking, “This is why Americans don’t watch soccer. It’s got no credibility.”
If you didn’t see the match, here’s a quick rundown. With the Americans leading 1-0 early in the second half, a U.S. defender is called for a foul in her own defensive box. For that, she is given a red card and ejected from the game. Also, Brazil gets a potential game-tying penalty kick.
American goalkeeper Hope Solo blocks the penalty kick but Brazil is awarded a re-kick, for reasons still unclear to many. Brazil makes the second penalty kick and knots the match. The game then goes into overtime where Brazil scores an early OT go-ahead goal. But the Americans tied the match in the waning seconds to force a shootout, where they won and advanced into the tournament semifinals.
So let’s pick that apart piece by piece. First, the American defender, Rachel Buehler, was ejected for committing a foul in her defensive box. That’s a joke of a rule. Unless you deem the defender is trying to hurt the offensive player, why kick a player out?
In basketball, if someone gets a breakaway layup, you commit a hard foul to not give up the free points. In football, if a receiver is about to break away wide open, the defensive back grabs on and gets a holding penalty or commits pass interference rather than give up an easy touchdown. Not that soccer has to be like basketball or football, but committing a foul to avoid giving up points is good defensive strategy, not ejection-worthy.
After watching replays, it’s easy to argue Buehler didn’t even even commit a foul on the play. If an official calls a foul that leads to a penalty kick, they had better be darn sure it was a foul and not call some ticky-tack contact.
I was a little frustrated that Buehler, who with a red card now also must sit out today’s semifinal match, walked off the field showing so little emotion. She should have given the official an earful, just as a baseball manager does after getting tossed. Buehler has already been ejected and will miss the following game, so what’s the official going to do? Take away her lunch money, too?
You can bet if I got kicked out of a huge World Cup match, or the world championship of journalism, on a bush league call I’d let somebody know about it.
Secondly, Solo blocked the initial penalty kick try but Brazil was given a second chance and no one really knows why. Was it that Solo came off the back line before contact was made? Was the U.S. called for encroachment, entering the goal box before the PK was made? Your sport lacks credibility if officials don’t have to justify their decisions.
Additionally, Solo was given a yellow card on the sequence. The female official, Jacqui Melksham of Australia, was seen throughout the match stopping play and lecturing players. Here’s my thoughts: “Hey Jac, it’s the World Cup with the best adult players in the world, you don’t need to tell them how to play. Try officiating the game and not coaching it. You’re not very good at either.”
I certainly wanted the Americans to win. I was getting overly emotional and visibly wearing my Team USA pride with my body language. But if I were a Brazilian fan, I’d have been fired up in the end, too.
While the clock is running in overtime, a Brazilian defender went down and appeared to play hurt. I say play because replays show she takes a couple normal steps after the ball is cleared away and then turns actor, flailing to the ground in fake pain. The paramedics go onto the field and check her out. She is amazingly fine after a couple minutes. It was an obvious attempt to milk the clock. She won’t win an Oscar any time soon.
So, the referee adds injury time to the game clock. The Americans score the match-tying goal in injury time. If you’re an American fan, you believe that’s all fair and good. If you’re a Brazilian fan you say the official put too much injury time on the clock and the game should have been over before the U.S. scored. True or not, Melksham never had to justify how much time she put on the clock.
Maybe it should have been more, maybe less. Who knows? Considering one person can make the decision and never justify it to anyone else, there can be an appearance of impropriety.
I understand this is commonplace in soccer, but that does not mean it is good or should be acceptable.
The NFL, NBA and MLB all have instant replay in some fashion, and it gives those sports credibility. Instant replay could have shown Solo stayed on the back line and fairly blocked that penalty kick. You need officials and referees in sport. But you also need oversight and scrutiny.
Sports are as much a part of American society as pretty girls, fast cars and apple pie. Soccer is loved in America as a youth sport. Millions upon millions of kids play it. But it won’t catch on in our mainstream viewing, even in the World Cup and Olympics, until it gains credibility. It will remain a nice little side event that some people watch once every four years — maybe.
Dan Eckles is the Sparks Tribune’s sports editor. He can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org