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Ahem, we need to talk about that awful call in U.S-Canada Olympic classic

Aug 6, 2012, 6:27 PM EDT

London Olympics Women Soccer

All credit to the United States for finding a way, for three determined rallies from a goal down, for reaching deep into the reserves at the 122nd extraordinary minute to locate that sensational game-winner – and for willing their way into Thursday’s Olympic gold medal match.

But I think we need to address one particular Canadian killer: the strange referee decision to whistle an indirect free kick at a critical juncture, not long after Canada had taken a 3-2 lead.

Jenna Pel will be back later with more thoughts and deeper analysis of Monday’s incredible evening in Manchester; she’s got the serious knowledge on all things U.S. women’s national team.

(MORE:  the brilliant Alex Morgan saves yet another day)

Meanwhile, I’ll address the less popular issue, this unpleasant little matter that I’m sure most U.S. soccer supporters would prefer not to mention:

What a horrible moment for Norwegian referee Christina Pedersen to make such a highly significant decision, to award an indirect free kick to the United States in the 78th minute, adjudging Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod of time-washing.

And make no mistake, an indirect free kick from 17 yards may not be a gift from the heavens (as a penalty kick might be), but it’s a wonderfully fortuitous turn of events for the attacking team – especially one that is a goal down with 12 minutes remaining.

I’ve watched more professional soccer matches than I can possible count.  (Best, ridiculously wild-ass guess: somewhere north of 2,000.) I have never – no exaggeration here, never – seen that called.

(MORE: A fresh look on Tuesday morning, regarding a fresh round of media excuse making here)

I went back and counted. McLeod (pictured above) had the ball in her hands for 11 or 12 seconds; some of that was on the ground, which referees typically wouldn’t count toward the six permitted seconds for distribution. Or that’s what I’d guess. Again, I’ve never seen this be a big issue.

Yes, her 11- or 12-second hold represents a clear, technical violation of the “six second rule,”  a law that is violated at least a dozen times in every professional match.


The penalty kick that resulted from the U.S. free kick? I have no problem with that; it was the correct decision. The problem is that it never should have gotten there.

I’m not the only one who feels this way. Here’s what my NBC colleague Kyle Martino said of the Canadian ‘keeper kerfuffle:

“My heart goes out to Canadian players, because it was such a tough moment,” Martino said. “To be playing so well, to bring your best game, against the best team in the world. And then to have the game flipped on its end because of a call like that? If I was playing in that game, it would have drove me nuts.”

It really was a heartbreaking moment; no matter your rooting interest, you hate to see something like that weight so heavily into a result.

(UPDATE: Some reports say McLeod may have been “warned.” We’ll keep alert for what she says, but know this: it’s irrelevant here. A violation would need to be egregious to make this kind of critical decision, and McLeod’s breach certainly was not.)

  1. snowstrat - Aug 7, 2012 at 4:08 PM

    Ugh most of you people are idiots. FIFA Laws of the Game, page 37…

    “An indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a goalkeeper, inside his own area, commits any of the following four offenses:
    – Controls the ball with his hands for longer than six seconds before releasing it from his possession”

    And also in the event of a yellow card…

    “The match is restarted with an indirect free kick, taken by a player of the opposing team FROM THE POSITION OF THE BALL AT THE TIME OF STOPPAGE”

    This is rarely called (should be called much more often) because most goalies get rid of it by 10 seconds, which I think most refs think is acceptable. McCleod had been doing it all game and blatantly ignored 6 seconds and actually doubled it, its an obvious call to make. She made an idiotic mistake, the referee made the correct call under all of the circumstances. You also have to take into account the situation of the game; if this happens in a scoreless draw in the 20th minute, it may be that she is waiting for her team and no call is made. When it happens in the 78th minute when you’re up by 1, it is stalling, and thus illegal. If McCleod isn’t bright enough to figure out a warning given to her by an official at halftime, then her team doesn’t deserve to complain…

    PS next time you’re in court, try arguing that even though what you did was illegal, that nobody ever gets punished for it so you should get off. See how that works out for you.

  2. manspirit1 - Aug 7, 2012 at 4:40 PM

    Idiots eh? even the American coach had never I REPEAT never seen this call. It was beyond absurb. Second, as to the handball call it has to be deliberate….hand to ball not ball to hand….and with the speed that ball was travelling and my view of it in slow motion….there was nothing deliberate about that, and ks otherwise plete denial. Third when the referee was called on the first call by Mcleod…..she simply Giggled. Something was defi incompetant, egomaniacal ref. Maybe she had it in for the Canadian coach, who had previously commented on bad refereeing. In any case, you have just proved my point about winning at any cost, even if that means giving up your honour for greed. It is little wonder, given such a lack of ethics that some Americans express, that America is viewed with such ill repute by much of the rest of the world. This too, is wrong as all Americans should not be painted with the same “Ugly” brush as some deserve. Nevertheless, I have watched alot of soccer games, and never, and I mean never, have I seen such a dispicable decision, particularly in such a pivotal game. She obviously wanted to be a player in deciding the game, and she accomplished that goal in spades. For you to try to rationalize it is beyond delusional.

    • snowstrat - Aug 7, 2012 at 5:00 PM

      How is simply adhering to the laws of the game unethical? Once again, just because it is rarely called doesn’t make it right. Every time the goalie holds the ball for longer than 6 seconds, s/he is putting themselves and their team in jeopardy. Don’t want it called, kick the ball quicker. IMO, the referees discretion ends after 10 seconds…McCleod took 13. Stop blaming the ref for the failing of the Canadian player.
      If you really don’t get that at this point there will be no convincing you, but as to your second point if the arm is away from the body and blocks the path of the ball towards the goal, that is a penalty kick. No questions asked.

      • adzs - Aug 7, 2012 at 9:05 PM

        Looool the lack of objectiveity in this comment is seriously amazing; Yes its written into the laws about this ”6 second rule”; but for real i’ve watched many thousands of games in my 18 years on this planet and played at the highest levels of youth football (5years of academy footy in england) and no one, i repeat NO ONE, ever enforces this absurd; for you to come out here in your nonchalent and blatent subjectivity and act as if such a the making call is ethical at such a moment is absurd. By you’re reasoning if any goalkeeper were to bounce a ball and recatch it an indirect freekick should be awarded (via a rule that states that A goalkeeper cannot pick the ball up again after he has let it out of his possession until another player has touched it, possession is counted as his arms or hands). The point is some rules are so obscure that they are simply laughed at and ignored, and to enforce one such meaningless and obscure rule at such a pivotal time was a fatal and indefensible error on the referees part

      • snowstrat - Aug 7, 2012 at 10:52 PM

        …cool, I’m glad you played at a high level, I have as well. I’ve seen it called, and the reason I haven’t had it called against me is when I get warned, I stop doing it and/or I waste time on goal kicks where the yellow card is essentially worthless.
        As to your “point”, when a goalie bounces the ball, they still are in possession of the ball. You can argue if ‘possession’ means they have to be physically holding the ball the entire time, and I’d say that it doesn’t mean that but at least you can make a case. There is no arguing 6 seconds. Do you get a yellow card every time you argue with an official? No. Could you? Yes. Thats the risk that you take.
        In such a high profile, high stakes game, why is your keeper playing with fire after she had been warned?

      • adzs - Aug 8, 2012 at 7:56 AM

        I’m curious as to when you’ve seen it called???? I hear your point about interpretation of rules but the premise is the same nonetheless; some rules are so stupid referees in their wisdom choose to ignore them and rightfully so; And one final point: In the England vs South Korea mens match the Korean goalkeeper was booked in the 120nd minute for timewasting similar to the eprceived timewasting by the canadian goalkeeper; however the difference was that the Korean goalkeeper dallied over taking a goal kick, when the ball was not live and thus he truly was trying to slow the game down; in comparison the canadian goalkeeper was waiting for the players to clear out of the area, whilst the ball was live (as evidenced by her waving at the full back to push up). With this in mind, should the korean goalkeeper not have received harsher punishment than the canadian for this more blatent act of timewasting?? The point is goalkeepers waste time on a regular basis, but never has the punishment been more than the customary yellow card (which means the goalkeeper wouldnt risk wasting anymore time); To give an indirect freekick while citing an obscure rule that most referees bypass surely can not be seen as fair or normal, especially under such circumstances…

    • hejind - Aug 8, 2012 at 4:57 PM

      Here’s a video of Hope Solo being called for six seconds back in 2009.

      Go to the 1 minute mark.

  3. manspirit1 - Aug 7, 2012 at 5:45 PM

    The referee has discretion, and as you ypourself admit this has been rarely applied, and for good reason, as it can dramatically alter the direction of a game with insufficient justification. This is why referees VERY rarely applly it, choosing instead to let the game rely on the efforts and abilities of the players themselves. DO YOU GET IT. This was a pivotal game and applying such a standard would be as absurd as giving someone a ticket for going 4 kilometres over the speed limit, regardless of the letter of the law, as you put it. The audience understood this, the rest of the international community with I suspect the exception of the Americans who benefitted from this fiasco, why can’t you…..oh yeah….you’re american and will take any win regardless of how you get it. As to the arm being away from the body, that is not the main criteria, it has to be deliberate…get a clue.

    • snowstrat - Aug 7, 2012 at 11:01 PM

      Thats the point…a cop CAN give you a ticket for 4km/hr over the speed limit. YOU ARE CHOOSING TO TAKE THAT RISK EVERY TIME YOU DO IT…especially if you had previously gotten off with a warning. You can’t then go into court and say “Your honor, everybody else does it and its hardly ever enforced” and get off. She had been delaying THE ENTIRE GAME, even in the first half. It was so obvious that I noticed it even before the US was in a bad situation…this is probably why she was warned.

      An obvious analogy is the penalty kick rule where players cannot enter the box/the goalie cannot move off the line. Is it regularly enforced? No. But if you break the plane of the box before the kick, you can have no argument if the kick has to be retaken and/or a save is voided. You can certainly enter the box whenever you please, but you’re taking a risk and putting your team in a bad situation, and if I were your teammate and you did something that idiotic I’d let you have it.

      • manspirit1 - Aug 8, 2012 at 12:13 AM

        Un…expletive…..believable….anything for a win eh? I suggest you read a post I have in the thread….its near the bottom and is from a well respected referee….who will inform you that rules are not set in stone, they require the referee to exercise common sense discretion which apparently you are sorely lacking…maybe you should read it twice… you get it and quit making inane comments about a game you obviously don’t know….despite your lame assertions to the contrary.

      • snowstrat - Aug 8, 2012 at 12:33 AM

        Yeah 2 state championships and a national runner-up here in America…I know the game…apparently much better than you do. When I was in referee training, they taught us about “Law 18: Discretion”…I understand that, but when a player has 1) been blatantly breaking the rules the entire game and 2) has been previously warned, there is no longer discretion. You act like she had been following the letter of the law for 78 minutes and then out of nowhere appeared this call, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth. She pushed the boundaries multiple times for 78 minutes, and it finally bit her in the butt. She has nobody to blame but herself, and you apparently need to get a clue

      • gkrm36 - Aug 8, 2012 at 11:34 AM


        I’m sure in all of your infinite wisdom, I can only imagine that if the call HAD NOT been made, you would be on here flipping your lid about such blatantly missed call. I’m sure you were counting the seconds out loud yourself, and always do, right?; consequently, I can only imagine about how frustrated and upset you would have been about such an obvious rule violation.

        Or wait…….would you have even noticed?

        That being said, I think maybe you should, being the straight-edge guy/girl that you are – turn yourself down at your local precinct for all those times you went 4km/h over the speed limit and didn’t get caught. At the same time, please call Interpol or the FBI to let them know that you need to pay a $250,000 fine and spend up to five years in jail for either that mixtape you made your boy/girlfriend back when you were winning state championships or the time you recorded that MLB baseball game without express written consent.

        Or wait…..does the above sound silly or absurd to you?

      • aussiehome - Jun 11, 2013 at 4:37 AM

        I can see the valid point about the letter of the law. If one is going to be a stickler for the rules, then that starts from the first minute of the game and continues until the end. It did not happen in this match. What should be very clear to all observers is that this ref was out of her depth. There were a lot of awful calls– especially unmade ones– that went against both teams. FIFA has to own up to its choice of Christiana Pedersen.

        This ref exercised the right to use her discretion. Fine. Agree or disagree with that initial time-wasting call, most people agree that her decision was super uncommon!

        The most mind-boggling call was the following ball-to-hand one! I have seen a lot of refs, even in the Premier League, make this same error in judgement. Typically, that contact is not judged to be deliberate. The rarer call is to say it is illegal.

        Abby Wambaugh was counting (!) at the ref. Say, Pedersen had cautioned Wambaugh (not even the captain) for being unsporting, just for telling her how to do her job. That would also have been another rare judgement. Many strange calls were made/missed and the rules of soccer were applied in an uneven way. As for Wambaugh, she was smart to pressure Pedersen because she saw that Pedersen was out of her depth.

    • hejind - Aug 8, 2012 at 5:04 PM


      Yes it does sound silly and absurb because he hadn’t been count and would be turning himself in after the fact. He didn’t get caught, so it should be over and done with.

      However, McLeod DID get caught. And it’s the Canadians who sound absurd fishing for something to happen with a game that’s over and done with. Had she not been caught, I’m sure she wouldn’t have turned herself in. However she was caught, so your analogy makes zero sense.

      You don’t need to “turn yourself in” if the police already arrested you. Like the other guy said, you are pushing the limits every time you go 4 km/h over the speed limit. Sure you won’t get caught 90% of the time, but when you do get caught you can’t complain because you WERE breaking the rules.

  4. billobrienschindimple - Aug 7, 2012 at 8:08 PM

    My list was not meant to pertain to this case in whole. I was listing the 4 reasons a yellow can be given, in any situation.

    Having stated all of this, I have been involved in the game as a player (32 years), coach (17 years), official (9 years), and fan(lifetime) and have never seen a free kick given for this.

  5. crusty14 - Aug 7, 2012 at 10:41 PM

    Excellent point adsz! Every gk dribbles the ball a bit from time to time. I’m not a huge soccer fan, but am an athlete that has played many sports, and I’ve never seen a call as ridiculous as this one! I’m not even going to start with the handball call, as it never should’ve occurred in the first place.

    I would wager that if you re-watched the entire game, both teams , especially the USA though as they had more corners, took way more than10 seconds setting up there corner kicks, or throw ins, etc.

    • manspirit1 - Aug 8, 2012 at 6:52 AM

      obillobrienschinpimple….referee to be, ….if you have that kind of discretionary sense, you should in no way be a referee, go to the other thread and see when the last time this was called in a professional match…2002…does that tell you anything, …or are you thick as a brick……in this game alone it would have been called multiple times on both sides….remember 2002 ….that means even the worst professional referee has even that much common sense… advice, do the players a favour ….dont become a referee unless you think doing so would be preparing them for later disapointment

      • hejind - Aug 8, 2012 at 5:06 PM

        How about you stop lying because this called has been called after 2002. I posted a video above for Hope Solo getting called for it in 2009.

      • boohowdy - Aug 9, 2012 at 11:38 PM

        It’s because Canadians and their newspapers are claiming it hasn’t happened since 2002, IF EVER. I’ve been told that it has never been called in history by Canadians, at work.

        plus, the stupid keeper was warned, and you should read her description of what she was told, and how she rationalized it. Pathetic.

        Canadians are truly annoying.

  6. billobrienschindimple - Aug 8, 2012 at 7:47 AM


    I have no clue what you are adressing me about.

    • manspirit1 - Aug 8, 2012 at 8:01 AM

      sorry billobrienschindimple….I got the wrong name…meant this last comment for snowstrat….my apologies

  7. tackledummy1505 - Aug 8, 2012 at 11:38 AM

    Like others have said, who cares. Even if that call wasn’t made the flip side would’ve been Tancredi’s head stomping, or Canada’s highly illegal clutching or grabbing, or even the 2 different times a United States forward was fouled in the box at the very end. It’s a shame with all the regular fouls that weren’t called the one thats a rule but never is enforced is called. Sore losers, it was a fantastic game just take the loss. Going away picking at moments and crying about them is poor sportsmanship. I would use this as fire for the next match and/or the next time you played the U.S.

  8. manspirit1 - Aug 8, 2012 at 11:57 AM

    Well this is the first time, I ve seen this…and as a Canadian with adequate vision…I definately concur that the head stomp was intentional and reprehensible. However, using this as an argument justifying the win from the bad call is like comparing apples and oranges. First, in any soccer match, as with any multiplayer sport, things will be missed by the referee. Sometimes those things are pretty egregious, such as the famous head butt, by the french player on the italian player in the final of the world cup a number of years ago….fortunately the ref eventually called it. In this case, the referee likely didnt see it, because it was an obvious and deliberate foul even if she was looking toward the ball when she did it. But the point is, this is a missed call, which happens all the time, and is distinct from a call that should never have been made in the first place, not to mention the ridiculous follow up call, where the Canadian players had no time whatsoever to get out of the way of the ball. So quit trying to use it as rationalizing an obviously tainted win based on a penalty kick that should never have happened. I find it unbelievable, the eyes with which some Americans seem to see with…they are by no means unbiased Just so you know were the situation reversed, I would have sided with the Americans, as would the majority of international spectators who know the game. They know right from wrong and are not corrupted in their viewpoints by greed for a gold.

    • hejind - Aug 8, 2012 at 5:18 PM


      You say the penalty kick should have never happened, but then by your own admittance Canada’s third goal should have never happened. You said yourself that the head stomp was intentional and reprehensible, meaning it should have been a red card. Canada’s third goal was an assist from Tancredi to Sinclair, which would’ve never happened if she had gotten ejected like she should have been.

      We aren’t using the stomp to “rationalize a tainted win”…but simply saying you can’t say that the indirect free kick changed the game. If Tancredi had been ejected, for all you know that score would’ve still been 2-2 and went into overtime, and the same ending could’ve still taken place.

      However, if you truly ARE an objective and unbiased Canadian, you would also admit that if Tancredi had been ejected Canada would’ve most likely lost in regulation anyway. Look over the steps we dominated possession 54-46…dominated shots…all this while playing 11v11. If it was 11v10 it would’ve been hell for the Canadian defense who were already having trouble keeping up with the American forwards.

  9. manspirit1 - Aug 8, 2012 at 12:04 PM

    Unbelievable…..a win at any cost right….you can try to rationalize this all you want….with your blinders on…”oh look what the Canadians did here and here, that they never got called for”, with absolutely no references to any such actions by the American players. But thats really besides the point, isnt it….you try and justify a tainted win with such feable arguments, and accuse Canadians who have a legitimate beef with a game changing set of decisions which directly resulted in a goal against a group of players who played their hearts out as did the American players. Again, I reiterate, this kind of thing has not been called since 2002, nor should it have now….for very good reasons as Ive already indicated. Also this is a huge difference between missed calls, and bad calls as anyone who watchs soccer on a regular basis can testify to. So again, I suggest you quit trying to rationalize your greed for gold, like a snot nosed spoiled brat you make yourself out to be….and admit the referee was incompetant and inexperienced on a professional level, and made a call that tarnished what was otherwise an extremely exciting and hard fought game…America didnt deserve to win that way and Canada didnt deserve to lose that way… get a clue and do yourself a favour, quit allowing your highly biased viewpoint to be corrupted by your greed for gold…..gee how come Im reminded of the financial crisis your country triggered by people with exactly the same attitude and exactly the same inability to know right from wrong

    • hejind - Aug 8, 2012 at 5:24 PM

      Again I reiterated stop lying on this forum. Six seconds DOES get called, and HAS BEEN CALLED AFTER 2002.

      And anyone who watches soccer knows that missed called can change the game just as much as a bad call. Canada seems to think they should’ve been up 3-2 if not for the “bad” call, but wants to ignore the fact that Canada’s 3rd goal would’ve never happened if not for the “missed” call. If you don’t think the “bad” call should’ve been called, I think the “missed” call should’ve been made, which would’ve left the game at 2-2. As far as we know it would’ve still gone to OT and ended the same way.

      BTW, this call didn’t change the game. Canada still had over 40 minutes to score, but they didn’t. The US did, because the US outplayed Canada. I know you want to blame the ref, but stop making excuses for Canada’s lack of offense in the last 40 minutes of the game.


    • boohowdy - Aug 9, 2012 at 11:41 PM

      haha, what an idiot.

      Tancredi should have been sent off. Then your goal wouldn’t have happened. Your keeper was warned, she even stated the fourth official said not to delay the game.

      Canada should have had 10 men.

      Welcome to football. It’s not HOCKEY. You people are hilarious, though.

  10. lyleoross - Aug 8, 2012 at 5:11 PM

    I’m still laughing at Steve’s fixation on this issue. I was at a Red Sox game in the mid 80s when a player got called for not making enough of an effort to get out of the way of a pitch. It happens.

    There is a reason why this rule was instituted by FIFA. It doesn’t take much research to find it, it was only a few years ago. Too many outcomes were being impacted by clear stalls on the part of GKs. Whether or not it gets called on a high level doesn’t make it non-legit. That said, all this focus on whether it should or should not have been called misses the real point. How Abby W. got the call by being savvy and doing her job as a player is more interesting, and shows how a good player takes advantage of an opportunity. Talk about smart play.

    Now, you might call Abby out on this, but then you have to call out every player that ever took a dive, whined about getting hit, or that manipulated the ref to get an outcome. You have to call out all the illegal hits that Canada (and the U.S.) used to gain advantage during the game. And if you’re going to lambast soccer/football for this then you have to go after U.S. football (please look at video of what happens on the line) and basketball, please see John Stockton the king of flop, or Jordan, Mr. extra step, etc.

    As for the all Americans are dirty comments I’m seeing here, really? I’ve seen plenty of dirty play from, well gee, pretty much every country on every continent including the U.S. It is part of the game, and pretty much part of every sport that I’ve ever seen. That’s why we have refs.

    Beautiful game, great strategies by both teams, the U.S. won.

    • manspirit1 - Aug 8, 2012 at 5:30 PM

      Your point about all teams from all countries doing this is accurate….doesnt make it right…..anymore than lame attempts to rationalize it….both calls including the handball call were horrible, and the initial initial time delay call had not been enforced since 2002 on this level of play, by any referee no matter how incompetant, and every team does in in virtually every game. The discretion of referees must by exercised with common sense….this ref had none….in a pivotal match….she decided to be an extra player on the field, pure and simple, and changed the games outcome from being the result of the players efforts and abilities to a game decided by the bad judgement of an inexperienced ref. The players on both sides deserved better…..rationalizing it with the contention that this is part of every sport doesn’t change this fact.

      • manspirit1 - Aug 8, 2012 at 5:34 PM

        it underlines it….people like yourself have come to believe that because it is a reality makes it ok…..this is probably the reason it has become acceptable….because people don’t stand up and say enough….if you re not part of the solution you are part of the problem….get an attitude adjustment…..before sport caves in any further to your low expectations

  11. manspirit1 - Aug 8, 2012 at 7:47 PM

    I think everybody can learn from this about what winning really means……
    the story is as follows:
    17-year-old Meghan Vogel was in last place in the 3,200-meter run when she caught up to competitor Arden McMath, whose body was giving out. Instead of running past her to avoid the last-place finish, Vogel put McMath’s arm around her shoulders, carried her 30 meters, and then pushed her over the finish line before crossing it. Go to the link to see the picture…it is definately worth a thousand words.

  12. boohowdy - Aug 9, 2012 at 11:44 PM

    Canadians claiming the US played dirty? The player who assisted on your third goal should have been sent off.

    Fing canadian presumptuous and arrogant shtbags. I hate these people.

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