Case Study: How Much Contact Is Too Much?

Case Study # 21-2013
Date 24 July 2013
Competition CONCACAF Gold Cup, Semi-Final
Fixture/Result USA 3 – 1 Honduras
Referee/Badge Walter Quesada (CRC)
At Issue The referee allows heavy contact during the match, much to the chagrin of the USA coach.

USA won their semi-final match against Honduras 3-1, and with relative ease.  But Coach Juergen Klinsmann missed the finals after being dismissed with only two minutes of normal time remaining.  To the casual observer, it may appear that Klinsmann overreacted to a non-call when a Honduran player kicked USA captain DeMarcus Beasley in the stomach.  In fact though, Klinsmann had been upset with the refereeing for most of the second half.

While watching the match with my wife – who is no huge soccer fan – she asked me the following question in about the 80th minute:

“How many times is the ref going to let Honduras foul him [Beasley]? I thought you told me that was illegal?”

So, I started paying attention (read: I put down my iPhone), and noticed that the referee was allowing a lot of heavy contact.  I watched the entire second half again, this time counting fouls and watching the reaction of the players and coaches. Between the 52 and 87 minutes there were 8 incidents that resulted in a foul or at least made me wonder if a foul should’ve been whistled.

Watching Klinsmann’s reactions on the touchline, I could see his temperature rising and wondered if the referee was going to address it.

Klinsmann’s temper finally boiled over resulting in his dismissal by the referee.  Without excusing Klinsmann’s behavior, it is might be instructive for us to ask: could this have been avoided?  Do we really want a coach to miss the opportunity to be on the touchline during the finals of a “major” (well, it is here) tournament?  Could the referee have taken steps to avoid what was clearly coming?

Watch the video below and draw your own conclusions.  Note the reaction of the USA players to the level of contact that the referee is allowing.

After the clips from the USA v HON match, there is a short sequence from the Martinique v Mexico match from the group stage of the tournament. Mexico (white) player #13 is fouled hard from behind by a Martinique player.  The referee (Mark Geiger, USA) intervenes quickly and decisively, showing the universal “NO MORE” gesture.  Less than one minute later, a different Martinique player fouls Mexico #13 in much the same manner as the first foul (late, hard tackle with no attempt to play the ball).

What do you see that is different about the way Geiger approaches the problem?  Is it more or less effective?  Or just different?

4 responses to “Case Study: How Much Contact Is Too Much?”

  1. There is definitely a difference in how the referees handle the situations. In the USA vs. Honduras match, we see that something weird must be going on. Why did the referee allow this much contact in a high-tension game? Honduras was clearly getting frustrated (after going down 3-1, who could blame them), and you can surely expect these types of fouls in that type of match. Maybe the last foul (where Jurgen got dismissed) was a little bit exaggerated by Beasley, but there is no reason that more fouls should have not been called. Even a simple whistle and a dressing-down of the player would have helped so much in the early portion of the second half. While there is no excuse for the way Jurgen reacted, I can clearly see that it is because he is fed up with the referee in general, not necessarily the foul itself.

    However, Geiger makes the right call, and, since it is early in the second half, it is right to give the verbal player the verbal warning, and issue the caution the offending player on the foul immediately following.

    I sure hope that this Gold Cup puts Geiger one step closer to refereeing the World Cup next year. He (even though Marrufo did outstanding in his match at the Gold Cup) is definitely this country’s best referee.


  2. Jurgen was definitely right to get upset — and I don’t mind him getting ejected from this match. The Honduran tackles were, most of them in this anyway, out of line and, I would say, dangerous.


    • It is never okay for a coach to blow up like that, there are lots of codes and clinics they go through on how to conduct themselves during a game. Besides that, I can see the reason for his frustration, but his handling of it was incorrect.


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