Friday, June 18, 2010

World Cup Day 8

It's nearly midnight, and by now, we've all seen it. Actually, it's what we didn't see that still has alot of us scratching our heads. Figuratively, of course. I suspect many reactions assumed a more violent tone.

We saw the scenario unfold before our eyes. In my case, it unraveled through my ears, via ESPN Radio somewhere along the New Jersey-Delaware border en route to my cousin's wedding in North Carolina.

The U.S., riding the tidal wave of momentum that often accompanies a pair of second half unanswered goals, were awarded a free kick tantalizingly close to the Slovenian box with a 2-2 score and less than five minutes before time. Landon Donovan, the most decorated American soccer player ever, loomed before the motionless ball, and awaited referee Koman Couilibaly's whistle.

The screech permeated the sea of vuvuzelas and nearly instantly, Donovan approached, then slammed the ball. It arched left. For a millisecond, the ball appeared headed for an unbelievably unoccupied space inside the six-yard box. That was, until Maurice Edu, who shed not only his defender, but also the doubters, the naysayers, and the critics who doubted that the Rangers reserve belonged on the team, filled the gap and stroked his right foot through the ball.


A sea of navy-clad teammates swallowed him. Smiles permeated through the television screen. It was the shining moment of Maurice Edu's brief but distinguished career. Then, it wasn't.


(*The first thing I thought of after the goal was disallowed was that beyond awesome Nike commercial with Wayne Rooney, Franck Ribery, and Cristiano Ronaldo. As soon as it was clear the goal was null, I pictured a bearded Maurice Edu popping out of trailor in some barren wasteland, only to look up and see a billboard with the Couilibaly's green and white painted mug. "Write the future?" More like "Rue the Future.")

Americans have acclimated themselves to the blown call, so long as it's immediately rectified. In American football, the referees review almost every questionable call. When the 17 camera angles prove the ref a mere mortal, corrections are almost always made. This technique is so effective that the NBA, NHL, and even MLB have employed instant replay, albeit on a far more limited basis.

Eveything must be perfect, especially the arbiters who oversee these games. When MLB umpire Jim Joyce pulled the rug on Armando Galarraga's perfect game when he called the final out "safe", the nation's baseball fans threw their collective arms up in the air. It could have cost Joyce, who has garnered annual praise from ballplayers and colleagues alike, his sparkling reputation, and further damaged the game of baseball.

The play wasn't reviewable. But Joyce, a true professional, publicly admitted his mistake. He was candid. "I cost that kid a perfect game." He did. But it made baseball fans feel better about it.*

(*Well, that and Galarrago's calm demeanor, along with the perfect "nobody's perfect" post-game soundbite. Class and candor. Like milk chocolate and peanut butter, only better.)

Now, going back to Edu's goal that wasn't a goal. The first thing Couilibaly should have done, right off the bat, is to recognize that a crucial, late-match decision, whether spotlessly called or laughably missed, demands an explanation. The Americans, bumrushed the referee for just that. They would leave emptyhanded, again. No words, no gestures, no insight. Nothing.

Mistakes happen. Couilibaly, like the rest of us, are human.* He could have issued a statement after the match, explaining his decision. Given the stakes - the goal would have lifted the Yanks through Group C in light of the 0-0 England-Algeria result - one was certainly deserved, and not just to Bob Bradley's boys, but to every viewer who watched (or listened to) the match and wondered what he had seen that the rest of us completely missed.

(*Except Heidi Montag.)

But no such words were offered. Instead of calmly outlining the basis of his decision, Couilibaly simply ran away from the responsibility. He could have taken a lesson from Jim Joyce and either admit the error, or offer justification, out of respect for the game.

Unfortunately, he did neither. Rather, he cowered. He put himself above the game. He did not offer the respect that the very same players he shooed way offered him for 90+ minutes. He simply walked away, and avoided the radioactive fallout he single-handedly unleashed. He showed the masses, via worldwide broadcast, that a spine isn't required to referee the sport's most important matches.

But more egregiously, he deprived millions of fans and viewers, not to mention the American players, the one thing they undoubtedly deserve when a controversial decision is made.

An answer.

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