Saint Louis FC now has four rounds of US Open Cup competition under their belt and I’ve noticed a theme in the games played in the second round. The USL team is typically larger, more aggressive, and especially more physical. On one hand, this dichotomy of play is fun to watch. On the other hand, it must be an absolute nightmare to officiate.
My first inkling that this might be a problem was early in the game when Jake Bond got the ball to the right of AFC Cleveland’s box. He took a touch or two and the defender put in a slide tackle of sorts. Jake stammered back a half step, put another touch on the ball, and made a great cross into the box. In the NPSL or college, where this defender plays most of his games, a slide tackle of that level of physicality very well might have wiped out the possessor of the ball. In this case, Jake is well versed in USL play and shrugs it off.
History also gives us a very good indicator of this officiating challenge. In the same round last year, Saint Louis FC faced the Des Moines Menace. That game had many cautions, a penalty kick, and two ejections—both to Des Moines.
Speaking of Des Moines, let’s talk Vince Cicciarelli. The leading goal scoring forward for Saint Louis this year is what I think of when I picture an all American striker. He’s big and physical. He works hard all 90 minutes. One of his signature moves, especially in USL, is to split the center backs, and shake them off his back as he dribbles into the box for a goal. This is something you just won’t see in other countries, as the forward is more likely to take a dive in the box for a penalty.
Enter NPSL sides. Vince is used to attacking, offensively and defensively, USL players. He goes in with his body as much as he goes for the ball. NPSL players sometimes just fly off of him. They don’t dive. They just go down naturally as their bodies aren’t prepared for the 200 pound force that’s about to collide with them. Well, to a referee trying to span the great divide that is between NPSL and USL, do you call that a foul even if it’s a 50/50 ball? One league calls it, but the other doesn’t. It’s a difficult choice.
I’m willing to bet Cleveland fans went home thinking the refs let the game get out of control. I know for a fact that St. Louis fans thought they were calling too many fouls. Who’s to say which is correct? Not this writer. –PG
Photo by Will Bramlett - http://www.workinthemorning.com