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Controversial call serves as warning for USMNT on tight officiating

Jermaine Jones

Photo by John Todd/


SAO PAULO, Brazil — The U.S. Men’s National Team did not need a reminder of how tightly things might be called at this summer’s World Cup, but they got one anyway.

The U.S. watched the World Cup opener between Brazil and Croatia from its team hotel on Thursday, including the game-winner Neymar scored after Fred embellished contact to draw a controversial penalty kick. Some of the Americans admitted Friday that they did not necessarily agree with the call that has been discussed and analyzed at length around the world, but said it helped clarify how games may be officiated this summer.

“Being a defender, that was a tough one to see,” said centerback Matt Besler. “But I think it was a good one to see because it’s a lesson that maybe some of us learned just by watching. It’s going to be called tight in the penalty box, so we’ve got to be careful.”

FIFA tried to deliver that message to U.S., and presumably other teams, before the World Cup even began. The sport’s international governing body sent referees to visit the Americans two days before the opener, and the match officials went over some of the things they would be looking for at this World Cup.

“(The referees) say that some rules will be hard and we have to watch out with tackling in the box, holding on corner kicks and all that stuff,” said midfielder Jermaine Jones. “I think every team has the referees in the hotel, so we know it and (the message is) don’t touch the guys in the box.”

Goalkeeper Tim Howard echoed that last sentiment from Jones when explaining the strategy behind trying to earn a call. Howard did not condone diving, but said that trying to win a call is part of the game.

“Any team I’ve ever been on, if we feel contact in the box, go down,” Howard said. “That’s not our responsibility. It’s the referee’s job. It’s a hard job, but it’s the referee’s job to get it right. If it’s a dive, you book the guy or you play on. If it’s a penalty, you call a penalty. But that decision lies with the referee.”


  1. I am a huge soccer fan. But this still drives me crazy. The officiating has been horrible. What makes it worse is they don’t even try to get the calls right. Every other sport they try everything to get the calls right and apologize if it is wrong. FIFA shrugs and goes oh well its part of the game. I know this is my american mentality coming through. But why is that a bad thing. FIFA is stuck in the stone age.

  2. I have never in 50 years seen a penalty called for contact if a player DID NOT go down. So why try to stay on your feet if you have been clipped ? Tim Howard is absolutely correct, Let the refs decide right or wrong and leave the replay regarding those types of decisions out of it. Do not interfere with the crazyness of the game,

  3. As for the Mexico’s disallowed goals, the first one was clear and the second one not so clear. This is not the first time a team gets legit goals disallowed. It is irritating to see ESPN praising Mexico’s performance when Cameroon did not even show up to play. As for Mexico beating Brazil, good luck in that one. Do not be surprised with a 4-1 or 3-0 scoreline for Brazil; they are not as bad as that jittery first game. Like wine, Brazil will only get better. This is not Cameroon Mexico will be playing. Brazil will take it to them and will not give them the freedom to play they had against a disappointing Cameroon.

  4. To me Fred’s and Costa’s PK are in the same category. It is irritating to hear some, including Alexis Lalas, say that somehow Costa’s dive was a legit PK. In the end they did not define the end result of the game as Brazil scored a third goal and Netherlands went on to trash Spain. So, what’s all the wining about?

  5. The referees are already a fiasco.
    I expect this to continue throughout the WC.
    So far though only Croatia was screwed.
    Mexico prevailed despite the refs.
    Holland should have yellow/red cards galore as should have Neymar.
    There’s no integrity at all in the WC.

    • It’s not about integrity.
      It’s human beings being human and screwing up.
      Just hope we are not on the receiving end!

      • I am tired of the human being argument. When everyone else in the stadium can see the call is wrong and borderline corrupt it’s time to do something different. We know human beings are going to make mistakes but only in soccer are calls so atrocious. Time for FIFA to come into the 21st century. Even before the other sports went to replay the games were reffed better. The problem is no one is held accountable. People like you shrug your shoulders and say its just part of the game. If FIFA was in charge of any other sport people would not put up with this.

      • “When everyone else in the stadium can see the call is wrong”

        Makes you wonder if they would say the same thing if they were actually on the field doesn’t it?

        Or maybe we should just have those people ref the match from the stands.

  6. What the officials REALLY need to crack down on is flopping…it should be an immediate yellow card. It takes so much away from the game.

  7. Someone asked me today, who do you think will win world cup?
    I answered: Germany.
    My god Klisnman is rubbing off on me too much

  8. It’s going to be tough for the US.

    Ghana’s forwards are $%^&ing fast. Ronaldo is #$$ing fast. Germany has a bunch of offensive players that are #$%^ing slippery.

    We need to watch ourselves, and we need Tim Howard to do stupid, indcredible things to keep things level, because of it.

    • We’d better hope our defenders can recover in time. Beasley’s probably fast enough to catch Ronaldo, but he’s much smaller and on the other side of the pitch. Cameron’s pretty fast, but probably not fast enough to catch a streaking Ronaldo without a head start. Besler supposedly is the fastest guy on the squad, but after seeing him get torched by Joel Campbell in Costa Rica, I don’t know that he can translate it to the game.

      The worrisome thing is…Fabian’s our slowest defender and he’s the one directly matched up with Ronaldo. That is…if Ronaldo even plays.

      • …by torched by campbell, you mean campbell flopping away from the ball without contact to draw a yellow card? That was shameful. Campbell should have been punished for that shameful display. The again, if he keeps it up he can run for head of FIFA.

      • Not sure where you get the stat that Fabian’s our slowest defender. Wasn’t he timed as one of the fastest players in the Bundesliga?

    • I believe Dempsey is still the guy, although this has not been confirmed in friendlies, or in anything I’ve come across.

      Here are the guys who have taken successful penalties with the first team at club/country level in the last 5 years so far as I am aware:


      I believe that’s it. Zusi took a potential MLS Cup winning penalty last fall, but…

      Am I missing anyobody? If we were to pick from amongst the others, Bradley, FJ, Diskerud, and Beasley come to mind. Also, somtimes defenders have a skill for this — Fernando Hierro comes to mind, although there are numerous examples.

      • Well I do know that they have been practicing both set pieces and penalty kicks at the end of their practice sessions after kicking everyone out, including press and VIPs who were invited to the closed practices. And closely monitored social media to ensure none of it was picked up by anyone.
        So I’ll trust whoever is picked.

  9. it was an obvious dive… not quite sure what the message from FIFA to USA was…

    did FIFA warn Altidore, Clint, Wondo not to flop in the box?

    did FIFA warn Besler, Geoff, Gonzo not to push/hold defenders?

    One thing I know is the US players arent known for being floppers…

    • Sounds pretty clear from the write up and quotes what the referees told the U.S. and presumably every team, and that message doesn’t seem to be to stop diving. Defensive contact in the box puts you at risk.

      And attackers knowing that will continue doing the things they do – hopefully not blatant no-contact diving (but we all know some will and already have this tournament), but the more grey area that Howard was talking about. If you feel any contact in the box, go down. Plus, the attackers with speed up will try lunging at defenders to create contact.

  10. I am getting SO sick of all the conspiracy cries following all the bad calls and generally poor officiating so far. It’s unsubstantiated and uninspired commenting that requires no original or creative thought, and it provokes no meaningful conversation.

    The truth is that it will happen with no meaning or premeditation, yet produce severe consequences in some cases. There will be bad calls against the USMNT and I will be fuming, but I won’t put on a foil hat.

    • Thanks for this excellent thought. As a partisan supporter, it is far better to expect the worst and be surprised if something falls your team’s way, than to be outraged in the aftermath. As you’ve said, there will be errors. Treat it like a waterlogged (or snowbound) pitch- unforseen and impossible to control. Incredibly rare that there is bias or motive, particularly on a stage with so much microanalysis.

      I thought our “friends” and neighbors from the south did a superb job in maintaining focus with this in the early game.

  11. Spain’s strategy of “if you feel a gust of wind, go down” finally blew up in their face. Well done Netherlands.

    Remember, FIFA cannot simply pick the 12 best referee crews in the world. If they did, probably ten of them would be from Europe and all the non-European countries would be up in arms. FIFA is obliged to bring in African refs, Asian refs, even CONCACAF refs (shudder). That’s why the officiating at the WC is always so inconsistent.

  12. We got Julian Green to flop for penalty kicks…that’s what he has been trying every time out on the field. We will be alright.

    • does the Jurgen effect begin to turn that tide perhaps? got some nice calls in Azteca. would make perhaps the biggest difference in the USMNT chances?

  13. As some pointed out, Diego Costa just earned a very dubiou PK for Spain too…

    Is this consistent rigor or just bad officiating?

    • “Any team I’ve ever been on, if we feel contact in the box, go down,” Howard said. “That’s not our responsibility. It’s the referee’s job. It’s a hard job, but it’s the referee’s job to get it right. If it’s a dive, you book the guy or you play on. If it’s a penalty, you call a penalty. But that decision lies with the referee.”–Tim Howard

      ha! was my analysis of the Costa play

      • Yeah it’s just lying, I mean what’s it matter there’s no such thing as morality anyways. I suppose if there was a keeper ahead of Tim Howard in the ranking and he wanted that spot he should work really hard to create lies about that keeper, hopefully then he’d be gone and Tim would get the job.

        Behind honest, upstanding, or having integrity doesn’t matter, F everyone.

    • Blatant diving would be so easy to eliminate from the game. Review after the match and award a 12 match suspension for blatant divers. It would be gone in an instant. Corrupt, incompetent FIFA simply has no desire to do anything to improve the game and insists on veiling the assessment of referees in shadows and refuses to even discuss or explain bad calls. Get rid of FIFA or force them to elect an outsider to reform this ridiculous organization.

  14. why is Jermaine Jones on the cover? because he’s most likely to commit a dubious foul?

    I’d say Cameron is the odds on favorite to surrender a penalty


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