Saturday night’s matchup between Eastern Conference strugglers Atlanta United and New York Red Bulls was a predictably dull affair. But there was one significant talking point coming out of the match when NYRB’s winning goal came after more than a hint off offside on Daniel Royer, who stood directly in the path of Caden Clark’s fantastic volley, evading the shot at the last moment before it nestled into the back of the net. The goal proved to be the difference in a 1-0 game.
Atlanta United personnel were adamant that the goal should’ve been disallowed. But Jair Marrufo and his crew determined on the field there was no infraction, and a further review from VAR stuck with the original call without the experienced referee even taking a second look.
“We’re undone by a refereeing decision,” Atlanta interim manager Stephen Glass said after.
So, was this a botched call from the officials? A closer look at the replay, and the offside law in question, shows a much closer call that was left to the judgement of the refereeing crew on the pitch, and had no way of being reversed by VAR.
Clark’s stunning volley was the only goal of the match. And it’s a fantastic strike, no doubt. But peep Daniel Royer’s positioning after the ball leaves the youngster’s foot. The Austrian is clearly standing in an offside position, and has to get out of the way of the shot.
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, Royer being in an offside position and moving out of the way of the ball does not alone fit the definition.
The highlighted section is the key. Was Royer in Guzan’s line of vision? Did he make an “an obvious action which clearly impacts ability of opponent (Guzan in this case) to play the ball?”
Jair Marrufo defended his crew’s call after the match, referencing the exact law we’ve just discussed.
“Royer is not in the line of vision of Guzan. He also does not make any clear action that has an impact on Guzan’s ability to play the ball,” read a statement from the matchday crew.
Let’s take a look.
Firstly, was Guzan’s vision clearly impacted by Royer’s positioning?
No. His vision does not appear to be impeded at the moment of Clark’s strike, and Royer moves to his left after the shot was taken - not into Guzan’s line of vision.
Secondly, did Royer’s movement impact Guzan’s attempt at the save (“an obvious action which clearly impacts ability of opponent to play the ball”)? Let’s watch the replay from behind the goal, which gives us the best idea of Guzan’s vantage point.
Indeed, it is impossible to say for sure whether Guzan would’ve reacted differently . After moving to his right to get a better view with a crowd in front of him after the corner, he can clearly see the point of contact and reacts immediately to the strike. Unfortunately, he just can’t get there in time. One could certainly argue that even if Royer was theoretically not in the picture, this wonderful strike still nestles into the back of the net regardless.
There is also the question of whether Royer’s presence impacted Guzan’s initial positioning, but there is no way to tell for sure if this is the case in the minute amount of time that passes between Larentowicz’s headed clearance and Clark’s volley. Moreover, the law tells us that offside is determined at the point of contact on the strike from Clark, likely nullifying anything that may have happened previously.
Certainly a biased Atlanta United were right to cry foul. And this is a call that could go either way. But in the end, Royer’s position is not a clear cut example of an offside offense, as it doesn’t fill the criteria of impeding Guzan’s vision nor did we see “an obvious action which clearly impacts ability of opponent to play the ball,” as required by the applicable law. The replays give us the evidence we need - Guzan’s vision was never obstructed. And Royer’s action of moving out of the ball’s path does not clearly impact the goalkeeper’s attempt at a save, as Guzan never hesitates at any point in his attempt to make the stop.
In the end, the Five Stripes will feel justifiably unlucky, especially in a match where neither side particularly deserved a goal. But the very close non-offside call that was part of Red Bulls’ winning goal was just that - very close. Marrufo’s explanation after the match checks out with the law, and the replay. And with no clear video evidence to determine if Guzan was effected by Royer, there was no way for VAR to get involved.