The Phantom Foul

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The Phantom Foul

It’s impossible to explain nothing. Because nothing, by it’s definition, is not a thing. It doesn’t exist.

So by that rationale, let’s all make our lives easier and stop breaking our TiVos trying to find the American foul on the disallowed goal against Slovenia Friday.

Because there wasn’t one. And referee Koman Coulibaly never had any intention of trying to pinpoint one before he blew his whistle.

Go back to the previous play where the Americans won the free kick. Slovenian player Valter Birsa was whistled for a foul on the Yanks’ Steve Cherundolo. Coulibaly could have signaled to play on, but chose to blow the whistle instead.

And I am fairly sure Coulibaly immediately wished he would have swallowed his whistle as soon as he called Birsa for the violation.

Look at the free kick replay. No, go back. All the way. The ball had barely left Landon Donovan’s foot before Coulibaly was shooting his breath through his whistle.

What did he see? The Slovenian defenders suddenly switching from soccer to Greco-Roman wrestling? Team USA’s Michael Bradley getting a stronger hug than his mother ever gave him? American attacker Jozy Altidore undergoing a roughing so violent that it surely would have sent Anderson Varejao into cardiac arrest? Nope. He didn’t see any of those things.

He saw nothing. In fact, he stopped watching the millisecond the play started. He knew he wouldn’t have to explain himself given FIFA’s stunningly unintelligent rules governing referees. The problem in Coulibaly’s plan came when Maurice Edu’s boot sent the ball into the back of the net, giving the United States a 3-2 lead.

Had Edu missed that shot, the scrutiny would not be on Coulibaly. And his attempt to fix his first refereeing “error” by committing a much more egregious one would be forgotten.

Let’s hope that the U.S. beats Algeria, so that they can advance to the round of 16. I’d like to think that soccer purists everywhere are secretly pulling for the red, white and blue as well, given that they should have four points in the group stage and not two.

I sincerely hope that when we look back on this refereeing mistake a decade from now, we won’t have to answer the question, “What kept the U.S. from advancing to the next round in the ‘10 World Cup?”

Because the answer will unfortunately be, “nothing.”

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