The Botched U.S. - Algeria Offside (1)

Q.  Two games in a row?  No. Way.

A.  For those just joining us, the U.S.A. nearly got ref-evicted from the World Cup on Wednesday when they had another game-deciding goal disallowed on a bogus call.


Q.  Did this one have "plausible deniability"?

A.  This one wasn't (necessarily) cheating; it was just profound bias leading to a blunder by the assistant referee.

When the ball came across to Dempsey, the out-of-position referee could very feasibly have seen the play wrong.  In fact, not many people protested (loudly) until they saw the replays that definitively proved that Dempsey was onside. 

Fans on live blogs, the announcers, etc. assumed that the assistant ref knew what he was doing.  Terrible assumption.


Q.  Why charge bias, then?

A.  The single most important point -- of many! -- was made by Ian Darke, the British announcer, and he made the point instantly on seeing the call.

On offside calls, the line judge / assistant ref / East German judge / whatever is supposed to give all benefit of the doubt to the attacker.  He is not supposed to call offside unless he has a clear view and a confident call.  He's not supposed to "guess" an offside call.

Soccer offside calls aren't like horse race finishes, where you just compare noses.  In soccer, you're comparing feet against shoulder, waist against head, CG against CG ... it can be verrrrrrrrry tough to tell which player is closest to the goal, attacker or defender.  How do you define "closest"?  A hand is sticking out there...

When the two players are roughly even, it is not offside.


Q.  Were the two players "roughly even"? 

A.  No.  Replays showed definitively that the Algerian defender was actually closer to the goal, both with his back foot and also with the bulk of his torso.


Q.  Comp it to a baseball call.

A.  The U.S - Slovenia call was as if you had

  • Game 6 of the World Series
  • Mariners up 5-3 in the bottom of the 9th
  • Albert Pujols hit a 2-2 pitch two or three sections foul
  • The ump called a home run (this has happened in MLB, albeit on balls 10-20 feet foul)
  • The ump, rather than getting help, walked off the field with a smirk on his face, never to answer questions again

But the U.S. - Algeria call was like this:

  • Game 7 of the World Series
  • Mariners up 5-3 in the bottom of the 9th
  • 3-2 count, two on, two out
  • Rob Johnson plants his mitt on the outside third of the plate
  • Felix burns a 94 fastball in and Johnson doesn't move his glove, strike three
  • The umpire calls it a ball and sends the runner to 1st

There, a baseball fan isn't going to charge cheating, as such.  But a savvy baseball fan knows perfectly well that with two strikes, if the pitcher hits the mitt (in the zone no less), the batter's got to swing.

For an ump to let the pitcher hit the mitt, over the strike zone, and still call a ball, would tell you that the ump is certainly seeing the play from the batter's point of view.

In the U.S.A. - Algeria game, the linesman broke every principle of officiating to wave off a U.S.A. goal.  It probably wasn't outright cheating, but it was definitely a case of the ump seeing the game from the other team's point of view.

Just like when Felix gets 16 strike calls botched and James Shields gets only 1.  The ump might not be bent, but he is certainly sympathetic to the Rays (for whatever reason).


Part 2


Uncle Ted's picture

As I understand it, offsides is defined by any part of the body other than the arms.  
Here's the FIFA reading:
In the defi nition of offside position, “nearer to his opponents’ goal
line” means that any part of his head, body or feet is nearer to his
opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second last opponent.
The arms are not included in this defi nition.

scroll down to "decision 1" under law 11.
So, if my foot is slightly closer to the goal than yours is, then its offsides.  There is no doubt that the Slovenia call is an embarassment, especially since the Ref. couldn't even explain why he made the call that he did.  The Algeria call on the other hand was a legit close call.  I've looked at the replays several times (from several angles) and I honestly can't say with any certainty that we (the USA) we're onside.  Close offsides calls happen all the time in soccer.  I honestly don't think that was a "bad" call at all, and I wouldn't infer bias.  If the Slovenia call hadn't happened, nobody would be talking about the Algeria call today. 


Granted, I've only watched about 50 soccer games from Europe, which is about 1% of what some of these guys have. 
But in those 50 games I've never heard an announcer refer to offside in the way that you just excerpted from the rule book -- not a single time.  Just like I've never heard Dave Niehaus chew out an umpire by quoting a rule-book strike zone on him...
They draw the little shadow line based on where the #2 defender's back foot is, and then analyze whether the attacker's body is mostly over, or mostly behind, that line ... and then chew the ref out for calling it where doubt exists.
Perhaps CPB or GL can help us out here ...


We watched four or five postgames, from two or three countries, and nobody was even suggesting that the ref did anything but botch the call.
But, like we said originally, the complaining was mostly 20-20 hindsight after the replay.  I can see a ref blowing that call without sinister intentions...

Anonymous's picture

I just don't understand you Dr. D some times you slam dunk it on the baseball diamond. Sometimes you kick it around like a soccer ball. Sometimes you play chess. Sometimes you play battle ship.

Uncle Ted's picture

This is just my point.  That was a very close call.  Claiming bias on a call that close strikes me as a reach.  As for the offsides interpretation, I've NEVER heard anyone say that the attacking player's body has to be "mostly" over the imaginary line drawn from the hindmost part of the second to last defender's body.  Maybe by "mostly" you don't mean "more than half" of the defender's body has to be past the line?


That it is not *my* reach, correct?
The world was abuzz over the two straight games in which the refs tried to deny the U.S. victories.  Did you read the Euro commentary the next day?
Like we say, in MLB games you might see Felix get 16 strike calls blown, Shields get 1 blown, and we all know what was going on .... but still, somebody will say there is no way you can charge bias.   ... ever, apparently?
But IMHO, the fact that we are in tune with the MLB game, increases our sensitivity to when the umps are leaning too much in one direction. 
... those in tune with futbol were consistently offering their condolences at the bias the U.S. was facing.

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