POTW 7 Law 9 The Ball in and out of Play

In this week’s Play of the Week we are discussing Boundary Line Decisions and the difficulties officials face when deciding whether or not the ball has crossed the goal line or touchline.

This week we are highlighting two plays, a goal line decision from New York Red Bulls v New York City FC and a touchline decision from Toronto FC v Vancouver Whitecaps.

Firstly, at New York Red Bulls against New York City FC, which is nicknamed the “Hudson River Derby”, a fierce shot by Red Bull’s Kyle Duncan from just outside the penalty area is fumbled by City keeper Sean Johnson. He then desperately attempts to prevent the ball from crossing the goal line.

MLS does not have goal-line technology so it is left to the match officials with the help of VAR to make a decision. At the vast majority of games played worldwide, without VAR, match officials have to make a decision. This play highlights the difficulties.

Referee Allen Chapman is positioned where you would expect any referee to be, on the edge of the penalty area. AR Logan Brown is also in a good position and moves to the goal line at the crucial moment when the ball is smothered by the keeper. It is extremely difficult, almost impossible for the AR to see if the ball has crossed the goal line. Outside the highest levels of the game match officials would not be able to make a decision with any certainty and would have to guess. Therefore, the best outcome would be not to award the goal as you should never guess a goal.

In this incident the VAR JC Rivero recommends a review which Chapman initiates. Following the review, the referee awards a goal, the only goal of the game. We can see on the video that Chapman has the same footage that we have and if he is basing his decision on that alone I would find that surprising as there is no clear evidence that the whole of the ball crossed the line.

The law states:

The Ball in and out of play

The ball is out of play when:

  • It has wholly passed over the goal line or touchline on the ground or in the air”

Therefore, according to law, the whole of the ball has to cross the line. If you look at the video you will see that a front view shows daylight between the line and the ball, so it looks over the goal line. However, the ball is spherical in shape and if a view from above showed that if part of the ball is overlapping the line it has not wholly passed over.

I can only conclude that the VAR has other evidence that clearly shows that the ball has “wholly” crossed the goal line that we are not subject to. However, if the decision is based solely on the footage that is available to us they have guessed, and it is the wrong decision as the match official’s original decision in not giving a goal is not a clear and obvious error. In fact, the original decision appears to be correct and not an error at all and the restart should have been a free-kick as the ball was kicked out of the keeper’s hand.

The play from Toronto FC v Vancouver Whitecaps shows USA international and former Sunderland forward, Jozy Altidore, control the ball down the left channel. Eventually the ball is played over to his team-mate Pablo Piatti who slots the ball home for Toronto’s second goal. In the replay we can see that the ball is very close to going out of play and indeed most of the ball does go out, but the spherical shape of the ball is overlapping the line and therefore AR Gianni Facchini is correct not to raise his flag and allow the game to continue.

“Assistant Referees

They indicate when:

  • The whole of the ball leaves the field of play and which team is entitled to a corner kick, goal kick or throw-in”

To summarise, in the second play AR Facchini has a clear view down the touchline and makes the correct judgment that the ball did not wholly cross the line. Compare this to the first play where the match officials through no fault of their own did not have a view. The ball appeared not to cross the goal line yet the goal was given. If there is daylight between the ball and the line, it is not evident that the ball has wholly crossed the line due to the spherical shape of the ball.

If it is impossible to see something through no fault of your own, then you cannot be blamed for not acting on it. But if you guess and you are completely wrong, then there is no justification or excuse for your error. Even if you fortunately make the correct call, everyone will know it was a guess.


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