Run of Play: Penalty Kickin’ It

Chelsey Bush May 3, 2017 49
Christen Press has four goals in two matches for Chicago this season. (Photo: Chicago Red Stars/Daniel Bartel)

Christen Press was in the thick of two incidents in Portland. (Photo: Chicago Red Stars/Daniel Bartel)

The referee blows the whistle and point to the spot. One team begins to argue vehemently, the other lines up, and the goalkeeper sighs in resignation. Penalty kicks are among the most controversial, as well as the easiest, of goal opportunities.

This NWSL season has seen more than its fair share of penalties thus far. Sky Blue and Seattle swapped penalties in their opening match, Nadia Nadim’s goal tally is solely comprised of PKs, and Orlando has given up two on handballs, to name a few examples. In fifteen games there have been seven penalties, a rate of 0.47 per game. For comparison, there were 27 penalties in one hundred games last season, a rate of 0.27 per game. What’s most surprising about that statistic is that most if not all of those calls have been correct.

The past weekend, however, it wasn’t the penalty that was called in Portland that stirred up controversy; it was the penalty that was not.

The handball call against Christen Press for the penalty kick that would prove to be the game winning goal was unfortunate but likely the correct call. FIFA’s Laws of the Game require the referee to take into account deliberate intent, movement of the hand towards the ball, and the distance between the opponent and the ball, but ultimately, like so much of the game, it’s the referee’s call. While there is little more Press could have done to avoid the handball in that situation, her arm was up, the call was made, and Nadim converted.

The non-call in question actually happened four minutes prior to the Nadim penalty kick. In the 22nd minute, defender Casey Short played a cross into the Thorns box at near post. Press leapt into the air in an attempt to redirect the ball while goalkeeper Adrianna Franch dove off her line to palm the ball away to safety, catching Press’ legs as she did.

Upon several replays, it appears to me that Press actually reached the ball first, while Franch gets her leg and didn’t appear to touch the ball, which rolled across the endline. If Franch did touch the ball, it was after a bounce.

Red Stars head coach Rory Dames didn’t mince words when talking about the incident.

To return to the Laws of the Game, FIFA states that a referee may consider an infringement to have occurred if an offense, including tackles, challenges, or trips, is committed in a careless or reckless manner. To go one further, to be considered a denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity, FIFA requires the referee take into consideration the distance between the offense the goal, the direction of play, the likelihood of controlling the ball, and the location and number of defenders.

The goalkeeper is generally going to get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to a keeper-field player collision, but it’s not a rule. Can it be argued this was a 50-50 ball? Likely. Would Franch have gained control of the ball? No. She was going out to push or punch the ball away in attempt to reach it before Press. Was it reckless? Probably. Franch was headed for a players’ legs, which always means an entanglement is going to occur, and given how close Press’s head ends up to the goalpost, in retrospect it could have gone badly. While I probably wouldn’t argue a red card situation – there was no intent, and when Franch went for the ball, she had a chance of getting there – it’s a clear foul, and it’s inside the box. Penalty, especially given the call against Press that followed.

Officiating will always be a hot topic. Not a game goes by when we don’t complain about something. As my colleague Dan Lauletta could tell you, it’s much harder than it looks, but when has that ever stopped anyone from being an armchair referee? They’re humans, and they’re going to get some things wrong. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean we don’t continue to push for better officiating, because it help the game.

The high rate of penalties is another story. Whether it’s less tolerance from referees, early season sloppiness from defenders, or a combination, the rate shouldn’t be this high. If the trend continues, hopefully coaches take a long look at the goals they’re giving away and figure out how to tighten things up. At the very least, maybe everyone will start keeping their arms down.

{Read more: Harris sounds off on Orland’s troubles | Vlatko’s latest challenge}

  • Silver Frost

    Sinc wasn’t kicking toward the CRS goal, she was kicking to her own goal one step away from Press, and still the ref gave a free point to POR. The “law” is stupid. How many close games have you seen ruined by a stupid handball call, perhaps the only point in the game? It shouldn’t come down to that.

    • Constant Weeder

      Sinc wasn’t involved. Sonnet was trying to get the ball to Henry, who was all alone behind the top of the arc. Henry had the time and space to get off a dangerous shot, with Sinclair, Long, Cox and others in position to redirect the shot or convert a rebound. The law says a handball has to be deliberate, but that requires the ref to read the player’s mind; hence all the stuff about unnatural position of the arm, etc. To me, if the team committing the handball gets an advantage, as the Lifetime replay clearly shows that CRS did, it has to be called.

      • DNG

        I’m not sure I completely agree. I think the referee can choose to swallow his whistle here in an effort to stay within the spirit of the rule. However, the play that led to the CK in the first place was a reckless tackle by Sam Johnson on Hayley Raso which I thought was a bookable offense and a penalty.

        • Constant Weeder

          Yes, Raso played the ball before Johnson got there, and the tackle was unnecessarily rough. Makeup no-call?

          • DNG

            It’s a foul and a card to me if Johnson gets there first even though officials often say play on in that circumstance. The line she took was always going to result in a dangerous tackle.

    • Paul Atkinson

      Handling has nothing to do with direction of play or moving the ball to a dangerous position. Any foul — handling included — that prevents an obvious goal-scoring opportunity may be additionally sanctioned with a card (used to be a red always, this year there’s a modification that allows a yellow when a PK is awarded).

      To be adjuged “deliberate,” a handling offense does not require mind-reading. Zero referees have ever had that ability, and that venerable law has been enforced for quite a long time (to greater or lesser effect, and with wavering accuracy and consistency, to be sure). When in the box, a defending player is often found to have deliberately handled the ball if her arms are out away from her body while defending and the ball hits the extended arm. Calling this any other way would invite players to spread their arms when defending, making themselves larger, then plead “ball to hand.” When defending in the box it is wise to move the hands behind the back, arms tight to the body, in order to make it absolutely clear you’re not defending with your arms.

  • DNG

    “The high rate of penalties is another story. Whether it’s less tolerance from referees, early season sloppiness from defenders, or a combination, the rate shouldn’t be this high.”

    I disagree with this statement. The rate of penalties should be however high as it needs to be. If players keep committing infractions that result in PK it’s their responsibility to change that. I’d argue that there have been plenty of infractions that the officials either haven’t seen or have let go so the figure could easily be higher than it is and I wouldn’t have a problem with it.

  • Tristin

    I think even that handball was questionable being it was on its way out the box and not impeding a goal opportunity. Portland always gets some soft calls at the expense of other teams. I guarantee next game the typical horrible officiating over there.

    • Reason

      Which is why they’ve never been the team who’ve been given the highest number of penalties, and were called for more fouls than any other team last season?
      Makes perfect sense to me.

    • Arcie Tillydee

      The Thorns are continually denied damned obvious calls by refs apparently working to appear unaffected by the big, noisy crowd…and they overcompensate. Exhibit A: last year’s semi.

    • KT5000

      LOL at “over there”. It’s the spatial equivalent of “you people.”

      All teams get soft calls at the expense of other teams.
      (In this case it’s extra-annoying, because the handball ended up deciding the game.)

      I agree that in this case the punishment was excessive, but the ref’s interpretation of the rules was not some “fringe” decision. It’s not common for refs to go through a lot of reasoning about every mitigating and co-occurring factor for handballs in the box; it was too much obvious contact to NOT CALL. It happens often.

  • AlexH

    I can’t understand why EQ is going over the PK and the non PK like it were the Zapruder film. Calls and non calls like these happen all the time in soccer and will continue to happen.

    • JL

      Because these two calls affected the outcome of the game. Who knows what would have happened had Chicago been awarded that penalty call?

      • tonysocref

        Same could be said about the non handball call last year in the semi. EQ didn’t do a write up on that.

        • Arcie Tillydee


      • guest

        Press would have missed it, same result.

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  • AlexH

    They really ought to simplify the handball rule to 1) Did the ball hit the hand 2) was advantage gained. I suppose you could also add a few exceptions like exempting people who are covering their privates in the wall, as I suppose preventing yourself from being doubled over in pain could be construed as “gaining advantage.”

  • Reality

    As regards the penalty not called on Franch, Press apparently got to the ball first and touched it past Franch who then cleaned out Press.

    According to IFAB rules governing “Law 12 Fouls and Misconduct”…

    “If an offence involves contact it is penalised by a direct free kick or penalty kick.

    • Careless is when a player shows a lack of attention or consideration when making a challenge or acts without precaution. No disciplinary sanction is needed
    • Reckless is when a player acts with disregard to the danger to, or consequences for, an opponent and must be cautioned
    • Using excessive force is when a player exceeds the necessary use of force and endangers the safety of an opponent and must be sent off”

    • mockmook

      That picture doesn’t tell the whole story:

      When Franch does arrive, does she get the ball and then Press collides with the ball while Franch bats it? IOW, does Franch get to the ball and only incidentally collides with Press?

      No view is definitive.

      Watching the whole replay, I’d say odds favor your interpretation, but it is not an open and shut case.

      • DNG

        I think this is a fair take. It happened so fast that if the CR and AR had difficulty seeing what happened and decided to let play go, I think that would be reasonable.

      • Reality

        I agree that It is hard for us to come to any definitive conclusion based on the available video. However, it is the job of the officials on the field to call the plays correctly and the video indicated reasonable doubt for their judgement which is reinforced by the generally poor quality of their refereeing throughout the match.

    • KT5000

      I’ve been looking for a better view of this. DID Press get to the ball and touch it past Franch, or only “apparently”? I’m not being snarky, I swear. Based on the views I can find, I can’t figure out how people are so certain about this.

      (Which is not to say that, if Press touches the ball past Franch, it necessarily decides it. Franch has every right to go for it as well.)

      • Reality

        I think that the view we are lacking is from directly above. Not having that, we are left with our opinions. However, I think it can be inferred from the views we have that Press was going for the ball whereas Franch was going for Press as much as the ball leading to what could have been a disastrous (for Press) collision with the post which she just missed. This falls under the IFAB “Law 12 Fouls and Misconduct”…

        • Reckless is when a player acts with disregard to the danger to, or consequences for, an opponent and must be cautioned

        which would be a yellow card and penalty kick.

  • No one cares

    The game is over. Both calls could have gone either way. Are you just baiting Reality to write the same lengthy, overly verbose, passive voice, condescending posts over and over again?

    • Over Portland Haters

      Because Chelsea, like all the other writers for Backline Soccer, dislike Portland. Ask them why they have no one who covers (defends from RJ Allen’s constant attacks) Portland.

    • HOFCToDi

      USWNT Career
      FIFA Top 10 Ranked Opponents
      USWNT Goals Scored
      Morgan (DOB 02 Jul 1989) – 34
      Leroux (DOB 07 May 1990) – 8
      Press (DOB 29 Dec 1988) – 3

      Christen Press is the quintessential international FRAUD.

      4 years (2013, 2014, 2015, 2016)
      85 caps
      2 head coaches

      Christen Press has cemented her legacy with the USWNT:

      garbage time
      prima donna
      selfish shot hog
      tomato cans

  • smallchief

    I disagree. Franch didn’t commit a foul on Press. She went for the ball and Press ran into her — not the opposite. It was a 50/50 ball. .

  • lol

    I never realized how arrogant Christen Press was until her EspnW interview today.

    • guest

      Why is that a shocker? when you look like her and get paid millions to kick a ball around for a couple hours per day, not to mention being doted over her entire life, at some point the arrogance is going to show through. Too bad her play has never measured up to the hype.

      • HOFCToDi

        Christen Press is the most overrated athlete on the USWNT.

    • mockmook

      Can you be more specific? I think I read the interview you are referring to and I don’t see anything egregious.

    • HOFCToDi

      Christen Press sucks.

    • HOFCToDi

      Speaking of Stanford diplomas ………………………………………….

      At least one Stanford graduate came home with at least one gold medal from the 2016 Rio Olympics.

    • HOFCToDi

      .Christen Press
      09 Aug 2016
      2016 Rio Olympics
      USA 2 COL 2
      Goals 0, Assists 0, Shots Attempted 4, Shots on Goal 1
      Penalty Kicks Attempted 0, Penalty Kicks Converted 0

      Christen Press
      12 Aug 2016
      2016 Rio Olympics
      USA 1 SWE 1
      Goals 0, Assists 0, Shots Attempted 2, Shots on Goal 0
      Penalty Kicks Attempted 1, Penalty Kicks Converted 0

      Christen Press
      Aug 2016
      2016 Rio Olympics
      Goals 0, Assists 0, Shots Attempted 6, Shots on Goal 1
      Penalty Kicks Attempted 1, Penalty Kicks Converted 0

      • lol

        lol… the PK clip adds something special to this rant

    • HOFCToDi
  • Guest

    For how strong and agile Portland is, they sure do fall pretty easily in and around the box. They also seem to have really nailed that short free kick from just outside the box. I wonder if they are coached to hit the ground. Take look at how soft the fouls are that they have scored off of last season and so far. Long was interviewed after she was awarded one (PK) this season and you could tell she knew it was manufactured. If Portland stops playing to flop and had to play straight up their record would be much worse.