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4 reds, 1 win: Intention and deliberation in Justin Portillo’s red card

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Let’s talk about that Justin Portillo red card and the difference between “deliberate” and “intentional”.

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MLS: Real Salt Lake at Los Angeles FC Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

For my first post here on The Soapbox, I thought it would be good to flex a muscle that I’m strong with so I can hopefully overcome my inability to write relevant soccer analysis.

Let’s take a deep dive into an important bit of terminology that exists in the IFAB Laws of the Game and how it applies to one of the more controversial moments Real Salt Lake has faced this season.

First, a disclaimer:

I am not a PRO referee nor a professional referee. I primarily referee adult recreational and youth leagues and write software as my primary function in society. On average, I am involved in around 150 games a season, most of them U16 and older. My goal for this next year is to make my way up to a grade 6 in the USSF system. I have yet to be the center official in a professional level match. It is my goal here to look at the cards/incidents and how I feel the Laws of the Game apply to them and how I interpret those laws based on information I receive in my annual re-certifications through USSF

If you’re interested in becoming a referee, please check this link for information on how to locate your state officiating group.

Intentional vs. Deliberate

Before we dive too deep into this, I think it’s important to establish that these words are the same, but different.

Per Google, “Intentional” and “Deliberate” are described thus:

Intentional: Done on purpose; deliberate.

Deliberate: Done consciously and intentionally.

Right out of the gate, I’ve committed a crime. Per the definitions, these words are the same word. They even reference each other.

At this point though, you should have watched enough soccer to know that the normal rules of the English language don’t normally apply. Heck, we call it “offside” instead of “offsides” which has probably caused more than one fist fight.

I would like to propose a slight modification of those definitions and maybe expand on them a little further to explain better how they are used in the Laws of the Game and why one is favored over the other.

Intentional: Done on purpose.

Deliberate: Done consciously.

Basically, the idea here is that there is a slight difference.

You may have deliberately gone to the grocery store for a six pack of Heineken, but it may not have been your intention to drink all of them before the 45th minute of the FC Dallas match. Point being that it’s hard to know our own intentions most of the time, it’s even more difficult to know the intentions of others.

This is why the words are very important and are being changed as much as possible throughout The Laws.

Hand ball (formerly known as handling) was recently updated to make this distinction. It is not possible to know if it was the intention of the defender to extend their arm and gain an advantage, however, it is slightly more possible to determine whether or not they deliberately extended their arm.

Trust me, this has been a source of much contrition, but I think it’s making a difference.

So now that I have that out of the way, I want to turn this and apply it to one of the controversial calls that Real Salt Lake has faced in the first five matches of the 2019 season. Having an understanding of those words and how they are meant to be understood will prepare you greatly for the journey that lay ahead.

Practical Application

I hate to pile on Justin Portillo, but it just so happens that he has given the most recent example of how this difference is (or at least is supposed to be) applied.

As Justin is running alongside Diego Rossi, he looks back and extends his arm to try and keep Rossi off of the ball. While this verges into the territory of a professional foul or impeding, it happens that as Justin extends his arm he makes contact with the left side of Rossi’s face.

Was it Justin’s intention to hit Rossi in the face?

I don’t believe so. As I said earlier, it’s impossible to know what the “intention” of the motion was.

Was the contact Justin made deliberate?

Yes! He clearly looks back at Rossi and extends his arm. He may not watch the follow through to see where that contact lands, but it does land on the side of Rossi’s face and is therefore an exact fit into Law 12:

In addition, a player who, when not challenging for the ball, deliberately strikes an opponent or any other person on the head or face with the hand or arm, is guilty of violent conduct unless the force used was negligible.

If the law said “intentionally strikes an opponent” there may be an argument that this is not a red. However, it is very clear that intention has no meaning here.

It’s worth noting that, as far as I could find, this was added into the Laws of the Game as of 2015 and was always written with the word “deliberate” in it. I just felt that this was the easiest example to grab.

We’ll save offside and it’s intricacies for another day.

(For anyone interested, the title of this post comes from the song “5 Strings, No Wins” by The Attika State. I felt like it was just way too fitting.)