When I first thought of suggesting a regular Dirty South Soccer column on significant decisions affecting Atlanta United games, I never imagined I would have to deal with two red cards in the first two weeks. Ah well. Such is life in MLS, I guess.
On top of that, I commented on a post earlier this week that we were getting Alan Kelly for the Montreal game and that I thought he was one of the better referees working MLS games. I didn’t think I was going to have to defend him. But defend him I will, because he got this one right. Not only that, but this is one of the tougher rules to apply correctly.
Ask the typical soccer fan what the most confusing rule in the game is, and 9 times out of 10 you will get the answer “offside”. If that tenth person is a referee, however, you may well get the answer “denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity” (well, he will probably say “DOGSO”, because the full name is a ridiculous mouthful). Offside is indeed confusing enough with all the factors referees have to consider; DOGSO actually has more factors to take into account. Additionally, it is much more rarely called, because game situations do not call for it often and so referees get less practice in applying it.
It is therefore interesting that in 6 ATLUTD games, DOGSO has been called twice. The other call was the red card shown to Johan Kappelhof of Chicago. Fire fans griped a lot about that call, but it was also quite correct.
Adding to the potential confusion, for the 2016-17 season, the International Football Association Board (IFAB), the entity responsible for reviewing and updating the Laws of the Game, decided to make a major revamping of the Laws. This included rewriting the Laws to make them more easily understandable, and to remove some of the sillier rules (such as, most obviously, requiring a kick-off to move forward). This was quite a radical thing for IFAB to do, because its members include representative of the four British Football Associations, which as any Brit such as myself can tell you are a notoriously conservative group highly resistant to change. Which is also why England has managed to achieve precisely nothing in the past 50 years. Excuse me; I digress.
Most of the changes did in fact achieve that objective. DOGSO is an exception, and intentionally so. Previously, any DOGSO offense was an automatic red card. IFAB opined that for DOGSOs in the penalty area, this was unduly harsh. A penalty and a sending-off seemed like a double-whammy for an offense that under other circumstances might not even deserve a caution. A very reasonable conclusion. But it made life harder for referees, and likely for players as well.
So what were two classes of DOGSO became three. These are:
- DOGSO by handball. This is basically a save by any player other than the goalkeeper. Under all circumstances, this results in a red card. Depending on where it occurred, the award to the attacking team is a penalty kick or a direct free kick. DOGSOH is almost never called outside the box, for the obvious reason that it is very hard to judge at that distance if a goal was likely.
- DOGSO by other means outside the penalty area. This results in a direct free kick and a red card. These are also fairly rare.
- DOGSO by other means inside the penalty area. This results in a penalty kick and a yellow card, except under specific circumstances.
The DOGSO committed by Kappelhof was of the second class; Gonzalez Pirez’ was of the third. (By the way, since his initials are GP, can we call him the Doctor?)
DOGSOH is pretty easy to call, and in the Laws consists of a single sentence. It’s the other two which cause problems. The big problem is the word obvious. That sounds like the call is heavily dependent of the judgment of the ref. Not so. Much like with handballs, there are certain criteria a referee is required to consider, and these are spelled out in the Laws. Refs know these as the “Four Ds”: distance to goal, distance to ball, defenders and direction. All of these involve a fair degree of flexibility depending on the actual game situation. But the ref has to assess all four criteria when calling a DOGSO. Let’s look at the GP situation:
In this case, the contact is close to the top of the penalty area, the only defender in front of the ball is goalkeeper Alec Kann, the ball is clearly in a position where Montreal’s Mancosu can easily gain control of it if he is not fouled (actual control is not required), and he is clearly headed in the general direction of the goal (an attacker does not have to be going straight towards goal for a DOGSO to be called). In this case, if a foul was committed, it appears to meet the criteria for a DOGSO.
Was a foul committed? I have to say it was. GP had very little chance to play the ball other than by going through Mancosu. I have seen comments that this was a 50/50 ball; I don’t think so. Mancosu clearly had the better position relative to the ball. I have also seen comments that Kelly was calling fouls inconsistently. Well, consider this situation that happened just 70 seconds earlier:
Mancosu was involved in this play too, except he was the guilty party, knocking Michael Parkhurst off the ball. The plays look very similar to me.
The final matter, then: was the DOGSO deserving of a yellow or a red card? The circumstances under which a red must be shown are as follows:
The offence is holding, pulling or pushing or
The offending player does not attempt to play the ball or there is no possibility for the player making the challenge to play the ball or
The offence is one which is punishable by a red card wherever it occurs on the field of play (e.g. serious foul play, violent conduct etc.)
That’s a direct quote from the Laws of the Game. Well, I think either of the first two conditions applies here. I already said GP had little chance to play the ball, but even if he did, he surely pushed Mancuso.
So, bad news, I’m afraid. This was a correct call.