Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Importance of Being Honest

This is the tale of two confessions, the one that I'm about to make and the one that Bob Bradley didn't.

Mine is that I was wrong in my last post. One of the good things about soccer is not that there's no instant replay. Officials have managed to repeatedly demonstrate at this World Cup that they make mistakes. Horrible, blatant, game-changing mistakes.

While it would disrupt the rhythm of a match to stop play for a video review for every close call, there isn't any reason why the fourth official couldn't have reviewed either the goal that should have been but wasn't (Frank Lampard's strike against Germany) or the one that was but shouldn't have been (Carlos Tevez's goal from a clear offside position against Mexico).

On Tevez's goal there were no logistics to work through. Play was stopped anyway because a supposed goal had been scored. And clearly the goal would have been disallowed if it had been reviewed (I can maybe understand missing the call if one defender had been goal-side of him but none? Seriously?).

A review of Lampard's non-goal, which had to land at least a yard into the goal but was missed by the Assistant Referee, would have been a little trickier but could still be easily accomplished. Since his shot was inexplicably not ruled a goal, play continued so there was no stoppage in play as occurred after Tevez's goal.

It would be simple enough, however, to equip the fourth official (who stands at the touchline and acts as nothing more than a traffic cop for players entering and leaving the field 99% of the time) with video replay technology to allow him to review controversial calls or no calls while play continues. If he decides it should have been a goal, play stops, time is added for the duration of the review, and play restarts with a kickoff.

I would only allow replay in those two instances (that I can think of at the moment) -- offside rulings that lead directly to goals and determinations of whether or not a ball completely crossed the line and therefore was a goal. And I wouldn't allow any NFL-style challenges. Every close play in those two categories would be reviewed while play continues, or before play is restarted.

With the technology available and many other sports using it to get the call right (Wimbledon still makes players dress all in white but has electronic line calls!) there's no reason FIFA shouldn't use it in connection with the biggest, most lucrative sporting event on the planet.

Okay, I fessed up. Bob Bradley, on the other hand . . .

I don't like second-guessing coaches. I know as a coach I don't like it, and understand that there are many considerations that no one else, not even an assistant, is privy to when decisions are ultimately made regarding formations, personnel, etc.

That said, I was very surprised when it was announced that Ricardo Clark would start the match against Ghana instead of Maurice Edu, who had been very solid against Algeria. I figured Bradley knew something we all didn't, but was less sure when Clark gave away the ball early in the game to allow Ghana to score yet another early goal against the U.S. in this World Cup.

When Bradley substituted Edu for Clark in the first half (after Clark had been awarded -- that's an odd term, isn't it? -- a yellow card for a frustration foul shortly after allowing the goal) I thought that Bradley had admitted as much as well. According to, however, Bradley had a different explanation after the match:
[I] [t]ook him [Clark] off in the first half which is something that we almost never do, but I was concerned about the card. When we're already down 1-0 and now you're trying to push the game in that part of the field, when you play that role playing with a card is incredibly dangerous. I told him that the decision is solely based on the card.
This is a little too much for me to swallow. I understand Bradley's desire to not throw Clark under the bus, which is admirable. But clearly the substitution was an admission, albeit too late, that Bradley had gotten it wrong this time and should have started Edu. It's hard to see how Bradley's post-match explanation helps his credibility with the his players, the media, or, most importantly for him, his bosses at the U.S. Soccer Federation.

The decision to start Clark may well cost Bradley his job, which would be unfortunate. But you can't help but wonder if he had simply said "I got this one wrong, Clark is a useful player and important to our squad, but Edu was the right guy for the job in this match" it might have made a decision to bring in a new coach a little more difficult to make.

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