Being Critical of International Officiating Can Only Benefit the U.S.
The manager's post-game officiating complaint is probably the longest, most expected broken record in soccer, but one track is missing from the international compilation: an American soundbite.
It doesn't matter if your team is the underdog or the favorite, if a penalty was erroneously given or missed entirely, there is one certainty in every game: the outcome could have been different if the referee would have been competent.
Of course, he never is.
But if a fan was to only watch the post game comments from the United States, then a manager's protestation towards poor officiating would come as a surprise. Rarely is there a report of someone taking umbrage with questionable calls (or lack thereof).
It's not as if they don't happen in a U.S. international match. United States Men's National Team games are a laundry list of questionable cards, dismissals, non-calls, inconsistent judgements, and injuries (see Nigel de Jong's tackle on Stuart Holden during the recent Netherland's friendly as the latest entry of tragic decisions by officials).
And yet, time and time again, when American players are fouled, injured, or dismissed, there is no fall-out from dismal officiating.
Granted, a United States international friendly post-game press conference isn't going to make the news, but the United States has a little clout, and this is a team, coaching staff, and federation that has been known for proving itself on the field, not in the media.
If the team were to make a concerted effort to demand excellence from the refs for the remaining friendlies as well as the group stage of the World Cup, then it might help the U.S.'s chances this summer.
At the very least, it would make waves and maybe a few headlines.
Sunil Gulati and Bob Bradley aren't known for rocking the boat in international waters, but what would happen if all of a sudden they appeared sullen and surly for the next couple of months?
What if they appeared in news conferences with an imagined chip on their collective shoulders? The U.S. is a long shot to win the World Cup anyway, so maybe it isn't so imagined.
Keep in mind, there's nothing more dangerous than a team with a modicum of talent and a "nobody believes in us" attitude.
Imagine if Bob Bradley were in front of a microphone saying, "My players leave their feet, and they expect to see a card before they even stand up. I have to design four, five, and six different rosters because I don't know how many of my players will be forced to watch the game from the bench because the referee has made an error. How am I supposed to win in a climate like this? "
Picture Gulati with a microphone in front of him and instead of his smiling mug, a scowl and these words:
"I'm tired of the U.S. being issued second-rate officials that can't protect our players, can't keep up with the speed of the game, and cost us wins. It's because the world is afraid of the United States. We've gotten better, we've beaten the best, and they're frightened that we can actually win everything. "
Certainly it's a bit of grandstanding, but would it give a referee pause before issuing a card on a strong tackle?
Would the fourth foul by the same player against an American result in a card?
Maybe it would result in one extra free kick at the edge of an opponents' box.
Remember, the United States is at its best from dead ball crosses.
At the very least, it should keep referees from rival countries from officiating games (see the last U.S./Honduras match. I know that's a CONCACAF decision, but FIFA should have stepped in after the assignment was announced).
It's true that too much complaining can create "the boy who cried wolf" syndrome. All one has to do is look at Alex Ferguson, Rafael Benitez, and to a lesser extent, Arsene Wenger (he might have a gripe seeing as to how many players he's lost in recent years to ridiculous challenges) to see that calls of officiating injustice fall on deaf ears. Nevertheless, the timely criticism can be effective.
Like, perhaps, during a World Cup year.
There are plenty of reasons on why it's better to leave the officiating to the officials. You have to beat the king to be the king, and that doesn't mean by a technicality. So at some point the U.S. will have to consistently beat opponents by a number of goals.
Also, games shouldn't be decided by the refs. A team should be talented enough to win without a referee's assistance (however, there's little that separates the teams at the top, and players, managers, and owners look for the smallest of advantages, or otherwise, officials wouldn't be needed).
And there is a possibility of upsetting the powers that be, but if they're not supporting you anyway, why fear their wrath?
A stoic approach is admirable, but so is standing up and demanding an equal opportunity. The current philosophy hasn't stopped the cards, the uneven officiating, or American injuries. Maybe it's time to try something new.
It's not as if the U.S. would be fabricating such an argument. There's enough evidence in recent USMNT's history to support a case. All one has to do is start at the 2006 World Cup group match against Italy (should the U.S. have gone down to nine men?) and move forward to the last match.
When asked if there was a particular policy towards the officiating, the USSF stated that there was no organizational philosophy when it comes to officials.
Perhaps it's time to be proactive, to demand a fair shake on the world's stage, to protect players from injury, and to keep all players on the field until they deserve to be sent off.
At least, it couldn't hurt to try...I don't think.
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