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The Love Cat: Breaking down the refereeing controversy from RSL vs. Tigres

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How the laws of the game feel about cats running onto the field.

MLS: Leagues Cup-Tigres UANL at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Everyone was very excited about the special visitor that ran on the field last night, but was it really worth Mike Petke catching a red card over? Moreover, is it worth all of the Twitter outrage?

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.

Law 3, Section 7

Law 3 mostly deals with Players, their equipment, and the rules and ideas behind substitutions and handling cautions. Section 7 deals with what to do if an “extra person” (not a player) enters the field or otherwise has an impact on play.

Here’s the full section with some bolded points that I’m going to come back to:

The coach and other officials named on the team list (with the exception of players or substitutes) are team officials. Anyone not named on the team list as a player, substitute or team official is an outside agent.

If a team official, substitute, substituted or sent-off player or outside agent enters the field of play, the referee must:

- only stop play if there is interference with play

- have the person removed when play stops

- take appropriate disciplinary action

If play is stopped and the interference was by:

- a team official, substitute, substituted or sent-off player, play restarts with a direct free kick or penalty kick

- an outside agent, play restarts with a dropped ball

If a ball is going into the goal and the interference does not prevent a defending player playing the ball, the goal is awarded if the ball enters the goal (even if contact was made with the ball) unless the interference was by the attacking team.

So here’s the sequence of events from how (I believe) the referee sees it.

The attacking player is running up the right touch-line when the cat runs onto the field. From his position, he can not tell if the cat makes contact with the ball, so he allows play to continue. The attacking player continues towards goal and ultimately misses his shot. This all happens in less than 7 seconds.

At some point, I would guess that the assistant referee would have radioed to the official to notify him that the “outside agent” did appear to make contact with the ball. I would also hope that there was some degree of input from VAR who would have been able to have a second look.

Since contact was made, going back to the drop ball was the correct call.

These are all decisions that had to be made very quickly, during the attacking phase of play, and in an absolutely unexpected manner. When all is said and done though, I think the referee made the correct decision conforming to the laws of the game.

In this situation, I would rather see them let play continue and go back to make it right (because then VAR can definitely come in) than make a split second decision. The optics of the series of events weren’t great, but I think looking for offside and/or potential penalty kick scenarios are more important in the overall timeline of the match.

But what if the ball went in?

In my opinion, if the ball goes in the goal stands. This is no different than playing advantage on a potential foul. In the VAR world, if VAR spots a foul at midfield and the play ultimately ends in a goal, we don’t take the goal away. Interference from an outside agent should be treated in the same way.

I hope this answers some of the questions that are plaguing you on this Thursday. Ultimately, I’m just glad the cat appeared to be okay and I’m hoping that someone is able to help it find a good home. Preferably around Section 35 so I can visit when I come to matches.

(Side-note, if you didn’t realize the title was taken from a song by The Cure, I’m very sad.)