Posted by: mdegeorge | June 27, 2010

Instant replay a must in soccer; could the U.S. lead the way?

They were two matches that accomplished so much. They showed the beauty and fluidity of the beautiful game. They renewed rivalries each at a distinct loss for love. And they revealed the game’s most hideous blemish.

If there were doubters of the value of instant replay in soccer this morning, I suspect many have undergone a conversion after today’s results.

Both England-Germany and Argentina-Mexico featured ghastly calls that drastically altered the course of the match. The team on the short side of those calls ended up on the short side of the ultimate result, leaving the pro-replay contingent one of the few winners on the day.

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The pendulum of momentum was swinging in the Three Lions’ favor when Frank Lampard unleashed a strike that threatened to put the teams back on level terms at 2-2 before halftime. His long drive sailed past the outstretched arm of German keeper Manuel Neuer, off the underside of the crossbar, bounded nearly a yard into goal, hopped back off the crossbar and into the unsteady hands of Neuer after a juggle or two.

The linesman, still well up field even with the last defender at least 20 yards from goal, didn’t have a definitive angle on the play and erred on the side of caution. Referee Jorge Larrionda, also behind the shooter, did the same.Where the lost goal by Lampard stemmed the tide of England’s push forward, the phantom offside by Carlos Tevez jumpstarted Argentina’s advantage. The Mexican defenders did their job, pulling up in tandem and, even with goalkeeper Oscar Perez off his line, leaving Tevez two yards past the next-to-last defender. But the flag stayed down on the sideline and the goal went up on the board.

Neither call was the singular reason why the jilted team lost (certainly England’s inability to defend and Mexico’s inability to create chances are also very much to blame). In Mexico’s case, the situation would have been avoided altogether had Perez not fumbled the ball onto the waiting foot of Lionel Messi. But they came at such crucial junctures that you can’t dispute their irrevocable impact on the course of play.

When there’s an error in officiating, it’s so easy to rain criticism down on the different-shirted man most often in the spotlight: the referee (though Larrionda and Roberto Rosetti were free of blame today). That confusion is precisely where Sepp Blatter and the many opponents to instant replay completely miss the boat.

Both calls were empirical calls that had a right and a wrong answer. The ball could have been completely over the line or not (we’ll ignore Heisenberg’s thoughts on this query for simplicity’s sake). A player is either in front of, even with, or behind the next-to-last defender. There are no gray areas.

Fortunately, the job of linesmen in most cases involves decisions with no fuzzy dimension. The exception is when they call fouls, but even those are subject to overrule by the referee. Aiding them (not replacing them) with video technology for these type of boundary calls—ones that don’t involved player-to-player interactions—won’t rob the sport of it’s element of human error, just of error all together.

Even the time-wasting argument that is so often the most damming factor against replay in other sports is minimized because soccer already puts stoppage time back on the clock.

Replay technology, something akin to the Hawk-Eye system that has so successfully taken root in professional tennis, would be amazingly simple to implement. If ESPN can tell me a player is offside five seconds after the play, why can’t FIFA tell me and then correct it? The system would be used only on empirical calls like offsides, touchline, and goal line boundaries, allowing refs to retain dominion over judgment calls like fouls and penalties (so, nothing that could repair Koman Coulibaly). At the very least, goal line technology to correctly identify ever so precious goals has to be put in place by the time Euro 2012 rolls around.

The advent of replay would bring along one other vital development: it would instill the fear of the soccer gods into referees, making them less reticent to conference with their fellow officials to adjust a call before the videotape does it for them. A meeting between them and a second chance to just ponder the sheer physics of Lampard’s un-goal (how did it go crossbar-ground-crossbar-out had it not gone over the line?) may have led to a reversal.

If FIFA is against the use of replay in its sanctioned matches, then I propose a bold step: use MLS as the instant replay pilot program for goal line and offside calls. The furor in the country over instant replay of any kind has been piqued by the Jim Joyce-Armando Galarraga saga. We’ve also been a driving force behind successful implementation of replay in tennis, football (also controversial at its introduction and re-introduction), baseball (on its limited basis), and expanding replay in college and pro basketball and hockey.

The Americanization of replay may be another strike against it in the eyes of many purists, but it could achieve the kind of results to make the world stand up and take notice (of the replay and the American game). It could put America on the front line of innovation in soccer.

And though it can’t relieve heartache in two traditional footballing nations today, it can prevent miscarriages of justice in the future.



  1. Great blog you got going here and a very well written article! I think it was brutal to see the Germany-England game go the way it did. Also, you think you check out my post cuz I really wanna hear your opinion on my thoughts.

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