As part of MLSsoccer.com's Referee Week, we asked four-time MLS Referee of the Year Paul Tamberino, who currently serves as a director in the league's Competition Department, to review some controversial plays from throughout this season.
For our third call, we once again revisit the D.C. United vs. LA Galaxy game from way back in April...
One of the persistent beliefs about officiating is that “getting the ball” negates other factors in a tackle. The implication is that if a defender gets a piece of the ball, then he has successfully challenged the attacker and should not be whistled for a foul.
But, in fact, the ball is not a consideration when it comes to the interpretation of serious foul play. The law reads:
A player is guilty of serious foul play if he uses excessive force or brutality against an opponent when challenging for the ball when it is in play.
In this play, D.C. United’s Josh Wolff has possession of the ball and is approaching LA Galaxy defender Leonardo. His way forward impeded, Wolff slows down.
Meanwhile, LA’s David Beckham arrives to provide defensive support. The Galaxy duo appears to have Wolff cornered, and Beckham inches closer with the intent of dispossessing Wolff. Sensing the trap, Wolff tries to escape, then turns to shield the ball from the incoming Beckham.
And that’s when a simple play becomes complex.
Beckham leaves his feet and lunges at Wolff. Beckham’s leading left foot nicks the ball while his right leg scissors through Wolff’s legs, bringing him down violently.
Referee Abbey Okulaja whistles a foul and brandishes a yellow card for Beckham. Should it have been red?
Conclusion: There is no denying that Beckham fouls Wolff. Some may argue that the fact that Beckham “got the ball” was enough to remove the red-card option. But “getting the ball” is irrelevant when a player uses excessive force in his challenge.
So, did Beckham use excessive force? The key is the lunge and the scissoring motion of the tackle. According to the law, "any player who lunges at an opponent in challenging for the ball from the front, from the side, or from behind, using one or both legs, with excessive force and endangering the saftey of an opponent is guilty of serious foul play."
Therefore, Okulaja got the call wrong: Beckham should have been shown a straight red card.