USA, Mexico, and a (Very) Brief Treatise on the Offside Rule

ImageThat was a goal. That thing that Eddie Johnson did late in the game: goal.

I’ll tell you what happened. At some point in the distant, distant past, maybe as far back as the Herbert Chapman days at Arsenal, men of rigid mind, the soccer version of Constitutional originalists, basically, seized control of the committees charged with interpreting the rules of the game and they proceeded to decide those rules using dark, bold lines.

Consider, though, the spirit of the rule. At its heart, what does (not did, but does) the offisde rule seek to prevent? Cherry-picking. It’s there to prevent forwards, or even midfielders, central attacking or otherwise, from spending the full 90 just chilling in the opposition’s 18-yard box. And that is totally sensible. That, I get. Even some of the stuff follows from the offside rule doesn’t bother me – e.g. the way defenses compact the field vertically to limit the attacking team’s room to maneuver. Hell, not even the offside trap really bothers me.

What happened tonight, though, on what would have been the winner for the U.S., that bothers me. Here’s why:

60% or so of Eddie Johnson was on-side – specifically, those portions of his body not leaning toward Mexico’s goal. His feet, legs, and hips, though: totally onside. The only reason this happened, the only reason, was that the Mexican defender was headed the other way, so as to draw Eddie offside. The little fuckhead. (Yes, yes, he’s just doing his job; “fuckhead” cheerfully withdrawn.) But the point, the point in all this? Eddie Johnson was emphatically not cherry-picking. He timed his run within 80% of perfection (+/-5%) and I just can’t see one good reason why that should be offside.

This isn’t about the U.S. failing to win. I’d call this point the same way every time. Remember the little rule tweak they made to the offside rule a while back, maybe (or maybe not) ahead of the 1998 World Cup? (No, it was 1990, as it happens.) They restated the rule to say that the attacking player could be even with the last defender. There was something in the spirit of that tweak that was disregarded tonight.

Look, I don’t blame the linesman for the call: it was close. What I do want is for linesmen to be trained to interpret the offside rule, at least that part of it that makes allowances for the player to be even with the last defender, in favor of the attacker. One, because fuck the offside trap; two, because being even with the last defender really does honor the spirit of the offside rule. Dammit.

Some other thoughts on tonight’s (2-2) draw
– Between the CONCACAF Champions’ League and tonight, I’m starting to notice that Mexican players can fucking crush shots from distance.
– A little more on Mexico: their #7, Miguel Layun, is hella fast. He wrecked all kinds of havoc on the U.S. right, especially in the second half. Speaking of, I have to credit Mexico generally for that second half. They came in waves that forced the U.S. to scramble again and again. That contrasted enormously with the first half when the Mexicans might have had more of the ball, but with half of the bite. Or, better, credit the U.S. for keeping Mexico in front of the last line of defense.
– U.S. players who impressed me tonight: Graham Zusi (in spite of some iffy give-aways), Maurice Edu (in the time he was given), Michael Parkhurst (who, to my surprise, looked a bit of all right going forward); Michael Bradley (good for, like, 80% of this one, maybe a little less); finally, I liked Eddie Johnson for as long as he was on.
– I’m treating Clint Dempsey as a separate case and for a couple reasons. First, I was about to write him off as missing tonight until, somewhat late in the second, he reminded me of why he’s a special player: those little flicks and turns are only annoying when they don’t work; think what could have been in that back-heel, forward-pass-to-self around the 80th minute came off.
– U.S. players who failed to impress: Brad “Was He Out There?” Davis; Landon “Bad Night” Donovan.
– A couple toss-ups: the Matt Besler/Omar Gonzalez pairing. I spotted a couple swell recovery runs from Besler, but I also saw Omar get ball-mesmerized on Mexico’s equalizer…raising your hand for the offside call was pathetic, Omar. I call them toss-ups, though, because I don’t really remember anything else. And isn’t that the calling card of a good defender? (Answer: not really. Or maybe sometimes.)

I’m not saying the U.S. deserved to win. In fact, I’d argue that Mexico’s second half was better than the U.S.’s first half (and why the hell hasn’t Mexico figured out how to defend set-pieces yet?). What I am saying, and emphatically, is that Eddie Johnson deserved that goddamn goal.

OK. Out of my system now. But glad I took the time to take it in.

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