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Stott, in the Name of Love: Examining Kyle Beckerman’s sending off

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Please not a yellow card.

Lucas Muller | RSL Soapbox

Why don’t you “relax and sit down.” I’d like to take a moment to wax poetic about the incidents around Kyle Beckerman being sent off in the 63’ minute of Saturday’s match against the Vancouver Whitecaps.

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 U-16 and older. 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.

Unsporting Behavior

Since both of Kyle’s cards were classified in the match report as “Unsporting Behavior”, I want to start by taking a look at what that means per the Laws of the Game. I’ve bolded the section that I think is relevant to both cards.

Cautions for unsporting behaviour

There are different circumstances when a player must be cautioned for unsporting behaviour, including if a player:

• attempts to deceive the referee, e.g. by feigning injury or pretending to have been fouled (simulation)

• changes places with the goalkeeper during play or without the referee’s permission (see Law 3)

• commits in a reckless manner a direct free kick offence

• handles the ball to interfere with or stop a promising attack

• commits any other offence which interferes with or stops a promising attack, except where the referee awards a penalty kick for an offence which was an attempt to play the ball

• denies an opponent an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by an offence which was an attempt to play the ball and the referee awards a penalty kick

• handles the ball in an attempt to score a goal (whether or not the attempt is successful) or in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent a goal

• makes unauthorised marks on the field of play

• plays the ball when leaving the field of play after being given permission to leave

• shows a lack of respect for the game

• uses a deliberate trick to pass the ball (including from a free kick) to the goalkeeper with the head, chest, knee etc. to circumvent the Law, whether or not the goalkeeper touches the ball with the hands

• verbally distracts an opponent during play or at a restart

As we can see, the first yellow can really only be for committing a foul in a reckless manner.

I’ve watched this foul more times than I care to admit, but I don’t see how it was any way “reckless”. Kyle tries to make a play on the ball from the side, is too far away, pulls his foot back in, and somewhere makes contact that brings Cristian Dájome down. Maybe it’s the right foot? I don’t know. It’s all looks to be pretty soft from the replays available, but it’s possible from referee Kevin Stott’s position that he saw more contact and immediately goes to his pocket for a yellow card.

“Thinking Linearly”

In the before times, I was able to make a trip to one of the top-level youth tournaments in the state of Idaho. They were able to bring in high-level assessors and assignors from USSF to watch the games and have training sessions every night. I learned a lot of things in those 4 days, but the one that has probably most impacted how I referee is the idea of “thinking linearly”.

The idea is that you think of your decisions in the scope of the entire match and how your decisions early may effect your decisions later. It’s entirely possible that there’s a better way to word it, but it’s how it was presented to me so that’s how I call it.

Basic idea here is that everything you do in the first part of the match will set the tone for the rest of the match. If you let a hard tackle go, you’re signaling to everyone who saw it that you’re going to allow a high degree of physical play. If you stop the game on the first slide tackle, you’re setting the bar pretty low for fouls. It’s a very subtle art, but it can have wild impacts on the general flow of a game and the responses you receive.

In this case, I think Stott is trying to signal that he is going to set a pretty low bar for reckless tackles. PRO Referees have briefings and video sessions before matches. He would have seen how both teams play and might have made a decision to take quick control. Unfortunately, I think in trying to set this pacing for the match, he inadvertently changes the outcome of the match.

From the 8th minute forward, you have a well-known physical midfielder with a yellow over their head and at least one team that is going to expect a yellow card for every hard tackle across the next 82 minutes.

Sometimes, a stern talking to is the better option. You know, like telling the coach to be quiet when they point out a substitute running across the field instead of going out at the nearest touch line. That talking to may not change the behavior, but at least you have set the tone and the expectation for when that first yellow does come out.

(Quick aside: this really only is applicable to “subjective” calls. The yellow in the 15th minute to Jamio Bikel isn’t necessarily a subjective call. Stopping a promising attack is pretty clear in this case, not a lot of subjectivity.)

Serious Foul Play

Again, we’ll start with a quote directly from the Laws of the Game:

Serious foul play

A tackle or challenge that endangers the safety of an opponent or uses excessive force or brutality must be sanctioned as serious foul play. 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 or endangers the safety of an opponent is guilty of serious foul play.

In the 63rd minute of the match, after a bizarre series of events in the 6-yard box, VAR Younes Marrakchi sends Kevin Stott to the monitor to check for serious foul play after the bottom of Kyle’s boot meets the back of goal keeper Thomas Hasal’s head.

I do not understand this decision in the least bit and I truly hope it is discussed on the PRO YouTube channel in their VAR review video. It’s is pretty clear that Hasal doesn’t have control of the ball and as Kyle attempts to play the ball, Hasal puts his head underneath it.

Was it reckless of Kyle? Probably.

Was it serious foul play? I just don’t see it.

However, on review, Kevin Stott had a second chance to determine that it was reckless and, because of his earlier decision, has to show Kyle both a yellow and a red card. The rest is history from that point forward.

Going back to the previous concept of “thinking linearly”, we can see how that early decision to give a yellow changed the entire face of the last 27 minutes of the game. Not only did it leave a team a man down, but the 10 who remained would have felt aggrieved by both decisions. Everything escalates from this point. Tempers flare.

Which all might have happened anyways, but I reckon we can apply some suspension of disbelief to say that the whole match turns out differently if that yellow isn’t given in the 8th minute.