U.S.-Canada women’s soccer: Strange calls, but maybe ref was right

LONDON — Most of Canada will disagree, but some have found justification for the controversial calls made by Norwegian referee Christiana Pedersen late in the second half of the U.S. soccer team’s 4-3 overtime win against Canada in Monday’s semifinal.

First, to review:

With Canada protecting a 3-2 lead with 12 minutes left in regulation, Pedersen flagged Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod for holding the ball longer than six seconds, a rarely invoked infraction. But rather than issuing a warning or a yellow card, the referee gave the U.S. an indirect free kick.

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Then, with Megan Rapinoe’s close-range shot heading directly for Marie-Eve Nault’s chest, the Canadian defender twisted her body, moved her arm in front of her body and the ball struck her elbow. Pedersen called a hand ball and awarded the U.S. a penalty kick that Abby Wambach converted to tie the score, 3-3. The U.S. then won the game in overtime on Alex Morgan’s header with less than minute left in stoppage time.

Now the analysis:

Mike Woitalla, writing in the online newsletter Soccer America Confidential, says the referee’s calls were correct.


McLeod admitted an assistant referee reminded her at halftime that she was taking too long to get rid of the ball after making saves, though she said she didn’t take it as an official warning. So with a fatigued Canada trying to run out the clock McLeod held the ball for more than 15 seconds, well over twice the permitted time, four times in the second half before the foul was assessed.

“In the 58th minute she held the ball for 17 seconds, in the 59th for 12 seconds, in the 61st for 16 seconds, in the 68th for 11 seconds,” Woitalla writes.

As for the hand-ball call, Woitalla consulted FIFA’s rulebook guidelines for help. There referees are told to take into consideration the movement of the hand toward the ball and the distance between the opponent and the ball.

“On the second point,” he writes “Nault would have expected the ball to come her way because she was standing in front of a free kick. On the first point, her hand did move toward the ball.”

If Nault had not raised her arm she would have gotten blasted in the chest, he continues, so a case can be made that she was punished for protecting herself. But that is not something FIFA has asked the referees to take into consideration.

“So if there is injustice in the call,” he concludes “it’s the rulebook’s fault and not Pedersen’s.”


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