The LA Galaxy managed to beat amateur UPSL side La Maquina FC on Tuesday in the US Open Cup, but not without a level of controversy that set the internet ablaze with hot takes.
For those unfamiliar with the event, the controversy came in extra-time when the Galaxy broke the deadlock on a set piece. While Galaxy player Jose Villarreal was down behind the play, Baggio Husidic of the Galaxy quickly took the free kick, passing the ball to an unmarked Dave Romney, who took the shot on an unsuspecting keeper.
Ok. So. LA's Villareal is laying down injured, LA Maquina are waiting for him to move Romney scores. That's unusual. pic.twitter.com/NgvaiLZb62— Total MLS (@TotalMLS) June 15, 2016
Immediately after the incident, the media's reaction was swift and heavy handed in their indictment. "LA Galaxy Require Cheap, Fake Goal to Beat Fifth-Division Beer League Team" a DeadSpin headline screamed. "The LA Galaxy needed a cheap goal in extra time to beat a team of amateurs" yelled SB Nation. "If pros have to resort to that to beat amateurs, that's a joke," Tony Kornheiser leveled on the ESPN program Pardon the Interruption.
But is this wave of outrage deserved? Was this bad refereeing? Was this unsporting behavior by the Galaxy? Let's examine the situation more closely.
The play starts with Jose Villarreal being fouled at the top of the box. The whistle is blown and a direct free kick is called. If we look to the US Soccer directives on free kicks and restarts, we can find the guidelines for this situation and how it should be handled. The document clearly distinguishes the difference between "Quick free kicks" and "Ceremonial Free Kicks" and states there are "separate methods for managing each."
According to the directives:
"Quick Free Kicks (QFK)
Definition: The attacking team takes the kick as soon as the ball is properly placed, with no separate signal needed by the referee. The attacking team does not ask for (verbally or visually) the minimum distance to be enforced.
*Should be the method encouraged by the referee except where a specific reason exists requiring a CFK."
Ceremonial Free Kicks (CFK)
Definition: The kick cannot be taken by the attacking team until the referee gives a separate signal - the whistle under the following circumstances:
1. The attacking team requests a CFK by asking the referee (verbally or visually) for the minimum distance to be enforced or "to move the wall back."
2. The referee or assistant referee (AR), with the referee's acknowledgment, chooses to enforce the distance for game management purposes."
The key part to this is that a quickly taken free kick does not need a whistle to start. Even the most casual soccer watcher will know that quickly taken free kicks are a common element of the game. The only question that exists is whether there was any reason for the referee not to allow a quickly taken free kick.
For this, US Soccer lays out 4 criteria which I will go through one by one. If any of the 4 are met, a ceremonial free kick is required and thus should have prevented it from being quickly taken.
CFK must only be used when:
1. A red or yellow card is to be given for misconduct occurring prior to the restart.
There was no card handed out on the play.
2. A serious injury occurred requiring the trainer to enter the field to attend to but not treat the player
Here we must look to what is meant by the "serious injury" language used. This is language the federation uses for instances where the referee deems it necessary for play to stop so medical treatment can be given to the players down. Head injuries, for instance, have become a big point of emphasis of late. Any time a player goes down with a head injury, play should be stopped.
But any regular watcher of soccer will know that, when a player goes down, the vast majority of the time the referee does not stop play for it as the standards for serious injury are not met. When Jose Villarreal went down, the ref did not deem it serious enough that medical assistance was needed. There is nothing suspicious our nefarious about this judgment and, had it occurred anywhere else on the field, nobody would have thought twice about the referee not stopping play. La Maquina should have been aware that the referee never signaled for trainers.
3. The attacking team requests that the minimum distance requirement be enforced against the opponents.
Baggio Husidic never requested his 10 yards and the referee at no point indicates where the opposition wall should stand. This should have been yet another clue to La Maquina that this ball was live.
4. The referee decides to slow down the tempo of the match for game control purposes (for example, to have an extended/formal conversation with a player).
Here again we have to deal with another matter of referee language. The language of "game management" is used as a matter of keeping teams in line from a disciplinary perspective as can be seen in the example given. We've all seen a referee whistle a play dead in order to talk to players who are engaged in behavior the referee wants to nip in the bud. It is not, however, used stop a play because the opposing team isn't paying attention.
Having failed all 4 criteria, Baggio Husidic has every right to take that quickly.
Breaking down the anger
I get that this was a fun story from a neutral perspective and it sucks to see a Cinderella go down in such a way, and perhaps the referee didn't deal with the situation in the clearest of manners on the field, but it is incumbent on players to know when a ball is live. Baggio Husidic did. More importantly, nothing about the goal was is in any way illegal.
If we look at it from an ethical perspective, the outrage also falls short. Some have called the play "unsporting," which, to me, severely misses the point. The play begins with an infringement from La Maquina. A Galaxy player is cynically chopped down before he can enter the box where he would have been 1 v 1 with the keeper. In many ways, this is just as unsporting, but it is an accepted part of the game.
By that same logic, so is the ability to quickly take a free kick. Yes it catches the opposition off guard, but that's the point of quickly taking a free kick and is a right afforded to the aggrieved party as a matter of advantage. To have a problem with this play by the merit of the players being caught off guard is to take issue with the very notion of quickly taken free kicks which is not at all how the arguments against the Galaxy are being framed.
Furthermore, this is an opportunity which you would expect any pro soccer player to take. To say that it is somehow mean spirited to do it against amateur opposition would be to deny that opposition the competitive dignity they deserve. Baggio Husidic treated La Maquina like he would any opposition and to fault him for that is silly.
No matter how you slice it, be it from an officiating or ethical stand point, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this goal.