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The Strangest Union Goal Ever: An (Indirect) Explanation

Jul 18, 2013, 9:19 AM EDT


One of the best things about going to Union games the last three-plus years has been meeting lots of great people who DIDN’T grow up around the game.

There are plenty of people — including my semi-regular tailgate crew (I promise to get down there early again sometime soon, guys) — who don’t wake up at 7 a.m. for EPL games and for whom Union games are simply a great way to spend a Saturday. They got dragged to a game once, not knowing the difference between an indirect kick and a penalty kick — and have been fans ever since.

For some at PPL Park (you know who you are), these people are a nuisance, ruining their soccer snobbery with a few uneducated questions.

For me, I’ve found out those people are a large segment of the audience here at The Level. So, from time to time, I’ll try to break down a play, moment, or trend that might seem commonplace to a soccer-head, but drew a “WTF?” from everyone else.

There’s no better place to start than with the Union’s second goal last week against Chivas USA. See it for yourself.

I watched this game from my couch, and immediately saw countless “What the hell?” tweets from fans. Well, here goes:

Nearly every single whistle in soccer results in a “direct” kick. It wasn’t always that way (at least not from what 14-year-old me remembers from referee classes, but I digress). Handballs, dangerous tackles, push-offs, etc., all result in a “direct” kick, which simply means the kick-taker can shoot directly on goal if he so desires. You’ll often see a teammate roll or touch the ball on a free kick before it’s hit, but that’s simply an attempt at misdirection or to gain an extra foot of space.

There are SOME fouls that result in “indirect” kicks. This simply means that someone other than the kick-taker must touch the ball before a goal can be scored (technically, the kickoff to start halves and after goals is also an indirect kick — as is a throw-in).

There are really only two whistles you’ll ever seen in a professional game that result in an indirect kick. One is for an offside violation. But since the farthest forward that kick can ever be taken is just inside midfield (you can’t be offside in your own half), the ball will always touch another player anyway. So it’s a moot point.

The other is what you saw Saturday.

After a ball into the box by new signing Fabinho, Chivas’ Edgar Mejia seemed to stumble on the wet grass while going for the loose ball. What his intentions were, it’s hard to tell. But according to the referee, he INTENTIONALLY passed the ball back to goalie Dan Kennedy. That’s the key word: Intentionally.

Passing it back to your keeper is fine. But if you do it on purpose, the goalie is not allowed to use his hands. The moment Kennedy picked up the ball, the whistle blew, and everyone was confused. Usually, players are given the benefit of the doubt on backpasses, especially in a hectic and crowded penalty area. And ESPECIALLY when Noah was preparing the ark behind the River End. In my opinion, only the most blatant backpass should be whistled in those conditions.

The catch in this situation is that unlike every other foul committed inside the box, illegal touching (::giggle::) by the goalkeeper is not a penalty kick. So the ball is placed at the spot of the foul (about seven yards out, in this case), and it must be touched before going in the net (an opposing player would also count, so in theory you could blast it off the keeper’s hands and in).

On any free kick, defenders must stand 10 yards away. In this case, there aren’t 10 yards to give, so all Chivas players SHOULD have been on the goal line until Sebastien Le Toux touched the ball. Clearly that didn’t happen, but it didn’t much matter.

Once Le Toux touched the ball, it’s fair game (if I remember from my reffing classes, it is supposed to roll one full rotation). And to his credit, Michael Farfan — who I have been critical of this season — perfectly placed a shot that is MUCH harder than he made it look.

It’s the kind of goal you likely won’t see again for a long, long time, and one of the most bizarre plays in the sport. Chivas USA fans (if they really exist) have every right to be apoplectic about the call that led to the kick. But if you’re a Union fan, three points is three points.

Oh, and judging by the forecast, we could see even more biblical rain during Saturday’s game against Portland. So maybe things will get weird yet again. (Jack McInerney will be eligible after being released from national team duty Wednesday night. He did not appear in three group games for Jurgen Klinsmann.)

  1. gootman2017 - Jul 18, 2013 at 9:27 AM

    Considering Fabinho pretty much set up two goals in 12 minutes of play, I he gets the start over Gaddis.

  2. Matt P. - Jul 18, 2013 at 9:47 AM

    WOW. I was away last week and missed the game and haven’t had time to catch the replays. That was an amazing roofing by Farfan.

    Nice breakdown of the play too, Steve. We’ve introduced some friends to the game at PPL in the way that you mentioned, and they love it. I haven’t myself seen the snobbery though (at least not in person).

  3. tylercunnion - Jul 18, 2013 at 9:50 AM

    Nice writeup! I was at the game had and no idea what the kick was awarded for (nor did anyone else around me) until I got home and saw it on TV. The only thing I’d add is on the “pass back” rule, there are only three components that need to be met (this is from a 2008 USSF position paper):

    -the ball is kicked (i.e., with the foot)
    -it’s kicked deliberately (not deflected)
    -the keeper picks it up

    The intention doesn’t matter; if those three points are true, it’s a violation. This specific incident is very close of course, but it really does look to me as if while diving into the challenge, the Chivas player (if I can borrow a piece of hockey parlance) makes a distinct kicking motion. If he just dives in and blocks it away, I’m not sure you could call it a kick. As it is, I think the referee got it right, even if it is a low-percentage call.

    Also, since you mentioned it here, the requirement that the ball move a full revolution was removed from the Law several years ago. Nowadays the ball is in play once it is kicked and moves (the kickoff and penalty kick have the additional requirement that the ball move forward).

  4. hitnrun - Jul 18, 2013 at 10:29 AM

    I’m still an anti-soccer snob, but that rule, play, and explanation were all awesome.

  5. themajor - Jul 19, 2013 at 6:52 AM

    I watched the replay a few times and as former keeper I can say in this instance I think it is the right call. the keeper also had plenty of time to just clear the ball and not pick it up. On a play like that only if everyone is crashing in around me would I pick it up.

  6. bravewimp - Jul 19, 2013 at 7:00 AM

    in the coaching world, that defensive strategy is called a “team picture”


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