Wednesday, August 8, 2012

U.S. Women's Soccer Win Over Canada in Olympics Reminds Some of Merkle Game

On Monday, the U.S. Women's Soccer Team defeated Canada in a very tough contest that featured several come-backs on both sides. Both teams are known for their tough physical play and this one was no exception. It will also be remembered as one of the most exciting soccer contests in Olympic history--a game that went down to the wire and beyond.

The scoring began when Canadian star forward Christine Sinclair nailed a shot into the left side of the net after moving around the U.S. defenders right. Midfielder Megan Rapinoe scored the first U.S. goal off a corner kick. Sinclair put Canada up again when she headed in a cross from teammate Melissa Tancredi. Rapinoe scored again when she let fly a long-distance shot that bounced off the left post into the net. Canadian Christine Sinclair countered by a heading midfielder Kaylyn Kyle's corner kick a few minutes later for a hat trick.

It looked grim for the United States late in the game as they trailed 3-2 when an indirect free kick in the box was awarded as a result of Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod holding the ball too long in perhaps a tactic to delay the game. According to some reports, the U.S. players had openly complained about McLeod's holding the ball for long periods during the match and one of the officials had warned the goalkeeper. According to some sources, the goalie was blatantly violating the rule throughout the game. Additionally, according to some sources, when the infraction was called, she had held the ball for 15 seconds, over twice as long as the rule allows.

On an indirect kick, no goal is awarded unless the ball contacts another player before crossing the goal line. In soccer, players stand the allowed distance from the kicker on an indirect kick forming a barrier. This is where you see players put their arms behind their backs to avoid using their hands or arms to deflect the ball and get called for a "handball." A handball called inside "the box" results in a penalty shot. In this case, the indirect kick shot out towards a Canadian player who turned to avoid getting hit straight on and her arm contacted the ball. This is exactly the play that teams dread when defending an indirect, but this is how it works in soccer. Such contact is routinely called a handball at high levels of play and it resulted in a penalty shot. Abby Wambach tied the game when she nailed the penalty kick. Both sides had opportunities during the extra time allowed, but it was Alex Morgan who headed a cross from Heather O’Reilly over the Canadian goalkeeper for the win in the waning moments.

The U.S. Team heads to the gold medal match against Japan. The game was played at Old Trafford, the home field for Manchester United. The gold medal match is Thursday, August 9, at Wembley Stadium in London.

The Canadians were frustrated. Christine Sinclair made a comment that referee Christina Pedersen who made the call against the Canadian goalie had “decided the game before it started.” Remarks like this often result disciplinary action. The FIFA Disciplinary Committee has stated that they are not in a position to take action prior to the bronze medal match between Canada and France on August 9th. Some suggest that this is a concession to the Canadian team. It should be noted that Sinclair is a veteran professional soccer player who has played for 10 years on the Canadian National Team.

It's hard to argue that the calls went unfairly against Canada when the goalie blatantly disregarded the rule even after she was warned. Also, another play has gone viral since the game that shows Canada's Melissa Tancredi apparently stomping on Carli Lloyd's head that was undetected by the officials. Many have made a case that the stomping was the biggest miss of the game by the officials. Many believe Trancredi should have been ousted from the game. Like Sinclair, Trencredi is another veteran player who plays professionally. in fact many players on both teams have extensive professional experience.

Some posts indicates that Trancredi made negative comments to the referee about favoritism towards the United States. If this is true, one would imagine that some disciplinary action may result.

We are reminded by Erich Murphy of the Pontiac Daily Leader in his August 7th post that the rule enforcement in the U.S.-Canadian game is somewhat reminiscent of the famous baseball incident by Fred Merkle that has been immortalized in thousands of newspaper accounts, books and postings--as well as our book, Public Bonehead, Private Hero.

Fred Merkle, was a young 19 year old New York Giant who was filling in for an injured veteran in an important game against the mighty Chicago Cubs in 1908. The game was tied going into the bottom of the ninth inning in the Polo Grounds. Merkle who was on first, walked off the base path and ran to the clubhouse after the apparent end of the hotly contested game when a teammate on third scored on a base hit to the outfield. Merkle was called out for not tagging second based on a rule that was rarely enforced (if ever) under the circumstances at the time. The flight from the field was even more common the Polo Grounds because the second a game ended a large part of the crowd exited right through the field. In those day, if fans didn't like a player's performance or an umpire's call, they might take it up with them right on the field seconds after the game. In some ways, you would have been a "bonehead" to stick around after a game!

The main reason why Merkle was called out that day is because Cubs second baseman Johnny Evers had primed umpire Hank O'Day for the call by discussing the particulars of the rule after a similar situation had occurred when the Cubs played the Pirates a few weeks earlier. A baseball article had also appeared in a newspaper question and answer feature calling attention to the rule and thereby calling attention to its obscurity and lack of use at the time.

Because thousands of fans had run onto the field on their way to the exits, the umpire ruled the game a tie rather than attempt to have the crowd return to their seats for extra innings. Merkle's team cried foul, but the press focused all of its muckraking venom on the unfortunate Fred Merkle and christened him “bonehead” for the remainder of his life. Merkle became baseball’s number one scapegoat and obviously continues in that role over 100 years later despite the efforts of Mike Cameron and others to set the record straight.

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Mike Cameron's Public Bonehead, Private Hero: The Real Legacy of Baseball's Fred Merkle and other fine sports books. To order. Of course, there are also several great differences between the Merkle call and the one that went against Canada in the Olympics. Unlike, the Canadian goalie, Merkle's infraction was a one-time occurrence that came without any warning. In Merkle's case, the ruling negated the winning run--in the case of the Canadian loss, the ruling was just one point in a series of mistakes. A second mistake (handball) was needed to cause the damage and the game went on another ten minutes plus extra time before the United States scored again to cement the victory.

Copyright 2012 Sporting Chance Press