What a thrill it was to watch the United States soccer team pull out a win yesterday in the final minutes of their match against Algeria.  Now it’s on to the field of sixteen and a chance at destiny.  However, the team’s success in the World Cup thus far has not been without controversy.  In their game against Slovenia last week, they were robbed of a victory by a referee who inexplicably disallowed what should have been the team’s third goal.  And in yesterday’s game the U.S. team was ripped off again through a phantom off-sides call.

For a long time I’ve been critical of the game of soccer, at least as regards how its design and rules make scoring so difficult.  Now, to be clear, I do not favor higher scores in soccer just for the sake of fan satisfaction.  Rather, the problem is that where there is so little scoring this amplifies the effect of bad officiating.  One blown call can easily decide an outcome of a close soccer match, as we saw last week and as would have happened again yesterday were it not for Landon Donavan’s winning goal in the 91st minute.

Of course, in all sports a game can turn on a bad call by an official.  And even historic accomplishments can be nullified, as was Armando Galaragga’s perfect game three weeks ago.  But the point is that soccer rules and design make this far too common, much more so than in any other sport.

The saddest thing of all is that the problem could be easily solved with a simple rule change (e.g. legalize off-sides) or design change (e.g., slightly increase the goal size).  But, alas, I don’t expect we’ll ever see such adjustments made, even though it would dramatically improve the sport.  Not only would it make the game more interesting for viewers but it would make the game, well, more just.  Sporting events should be decided by the players’ performances, not officials’ misjudgments.  And until the game of soccer is somehow altered to correct for the frequency of the latter, it will remain a significantly flawed game.

4 Responses to “A Flaw in the Game of Soccer”

  1. Mike Austin


    Hi Jim,

    I’m going to have to disagree on this one, though at times in the past I’ve been sympathetic to your point of view on this. The problem with legalizing off-sides and increasing the size of the goal is that certain forms of excellence would be much harder to come by on the pitch, as they say. While this limits scoring, it generates excellence in passing, making runs, and accurate shooting. These changes would undermine the sport, I believe.

    While it is true that the effect of bad officiating (and luck, I would add) is amplified by the current rules, a better solution might be to have instant replay for offside calls only. One of the ESPN announcers noted after the disallowed goal against Algeria that FIFA gave a directive that attackers should get the benefit of the doubt on close offsides calls, but as we’ve seen this needs to be more fully implemented by the officials on the field. I’ve got more thoughts, but this is good for now.

  2. Marc Belcastro


    Just a general comment.

    Given the impressive instant-replay technology available (especially for slow-motion), it perplexes me that more human error in officiating isn’t eliminated. If some controversial or uncertain scenario is captured on film, it seems to me that there’s no good reason for officials not to employ or appeal to instant-replay.

  3. Thaddeus Fennig


    The problem with the instant-replay is that it is the Pandora’s box of professional sports. In games such as football, basketball and baseball, there are breaks where playing time stops, teams have time-outs, and celebrities can be shown on the mega-tron. It would be difficult to find an effective method for using instant-replay and consequently for not using it.

    p.s. Heyo Marc!

  4. Marc Belcastro


    Thaddueus! How are things?

    I wouldn’t consider myself extremely knowledgable about sports—that surely needs to be admitted—but I don’t think the relevant sports would face considerable complications by implementing (more) instant-replay. At the very least, I imagine the benefits would outweigh the difficulties, particularly over time as instant-replay methods and technology steadily improve. It seems that technology is enjoying an unprecedented significance in a variety of sports currently, but this wasn’t always the case, and yet we’ve successfully developed ways of utilizing technological advancements. At any rate, I think the inconveniences would be worth, say, preventing mistakes like the ones involving Galaragga, the U.S. team, and others (which, I’m guessing, come readily to the minds of many ardent, yet disappointed, sports fans). =)


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