USWNT: Olympic Send-Off Match – Hope Solo’s Save: Goal or No Goal?

In the final home friendly before the Olympics, the United States Women’s National Team defeat Canada 2:1, thanks in part to Hope Solo’s reflex save of a Christine Sinclair shot. That shot deflected off the leg of Amy LePeilbet, forcing Solo to suddenly reverse her dive. Solo was able to get a hand on the ball, however the ball was still bouncing toward the far post. Both Solo and Canada’s #6, Kaylyn Kyle went for the ball, with Solo getting the first touch, but Kyle slide-kicked for the ball while Solo lunged for it. Solo appears to have possession of the ball, but Kyle’s second effort pushed the ball farther across the goal line, and perhaps all the way over the line, but no goal was awarded.

Was a no-goal call correct?

At live-action, it is a very justifiable decision for a referee, but what about from a postmortem perspective? The video evidence is inconclusive as to whether the ball crossed the line. However, Solo appeared to have control of the ball before Kyle’s second kick on the ball, thus, turning Kyle’s second challenge on the ball into a foul, if not her first effort, one as well.

U.S. Soccer Highlight – Hope Solo’s Save:

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The strongest argument for not allowing a goal in this situation is that the play is effectively over once Solo gains control of the ball. However, other aspects of the Laws could be used for alternative justifications, such as “playing in a dangerous manner” and “charging a goalkeeper.” Those two aspects are spelled-out in the Discussion section, below.

Law 12: Fouls and Misconduct

(Bold emphasis has been added to some of the quotes in this section.)

Although no foul appeared to be called, Law 12, Fouls and Misconduct, provides the most relevant framework for this situation. Specifically, in the addendum titled “Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees,” there is additional guidance. Most notably, under the subheading “Offences committed by goalkeepers” (PDF, page 114):

A goalkeeper is considered to be in control of the ball:
• while the ball is between his hands or between his hand and any surface (e.g. ground, own body)
• while holding the ball in his outstretched open hand
• while in the act of bouncing it on the ground or tossing it into the air

When a goalkeeper has gained possession of the ball with his hands, he cannot be challenged by an opponent.

Except that the addendum is not clear in how the above subsection applies through Law 12. This is somewhat esoteric for the present discussion of the play, but from a technical standpoint, it is very important. So, based on the use of the word “challenged” in the above quote, it appears that an illegal challenge on a goalkeeper is governed by the “Direct free kick” section of Law 12:

A direct free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a player commits any of the following seven offences in a manner considered by the referee to be careless, reckless or using excessive force

While, the specific infraction appears to be the first bullet point, “kicks or attempts to kick an opponent,” since if the goalkeeper has the ball in her hand, then the ball effectively becomes an extension of the goalkeeper.

This is because the phrase “making a challenge” is used in the definition of the word “careless” which is defined in the addendum’s section for Law 12:

“Careless” means that the player has shown a lack of attention or consideration when making a challenge or that he acted without precaution.

This is backed up by Section 12.16 of U.S. Soccer’s Advice to the Referee on the Laws of the Game, which is the definitive set of rules for interpreting the Laws of the Game in the United States. (But, outside the USA, not so much.) From the 2011-2012 edition:

The goalkeeper is considered to be in possession of the ball when the ball is held with both hands, held by trapping the ball between one hand and any surface (e.g., the ground, a goalpost, the goalkeeper’s body), or holding the ball in the outstretched open palm. Once established, possession is maintained when the ball is held as described above, while bouncing the ball on the ground or throwing it into the air. Possession is given up if, after throwing the ball into the air, it is allowed to hit the ground. For purposes of determining goalkeeper possession, the “handling” includes contact with any part of the goalkeeper’s arm from the fingertips to the shoulder.

While the ball is in the possession of the goalkeeper, it may not be challenged for or played by an opponent in any manner. An opponent who attempts to challenge for a ball in the possession of the goalkeeper may be considered to have committed a direct free kick foul. However, a ball controlled by the goalkeeper using means other than the hands is open to legal challenge by an opponent. The referee should consider the age and skill level of the players in evaluating goalkeeper possession and err on the side of safety.

Since this was a friendly match in the United States, with an American refereeing crew, the above section of the ATR is specially relevant.

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At the time Kyle initially commits to slide-kicking a shot, the ball is loose (0:31 mark in the above video). But, Solo gets her hand on the ball first:

Frame 1: Solo’s first touch on the ball, following her initial save.

Following this, Kyle’s right toe seems to strike the ball, forcing it toward goal. But, as Solo continues to slide, she is able to wrap her left arm around the ball as it goes behind her head. Solo is able to stop the ball on the goal line.

However, as their momentum takes them the post, Kyle’s right foot continues into the path of Solo’s head, specifically her forehead and eyes area:

Frame 2 (Zoomed): At the end of Kyle’s initial effort, her foot slides under Solo’s face.

After this, Solo begins to pull the ball toward her chest and bring her right arm in to fully corral the ball. Meanwhile, Kyle sits up on the ground and retracts her foot back.

Frame 3 (Zoomed): Solo appears to have the ball corralled between her left arm and head.

Then, Kyle’s left foot springs forward and kicks the ball, pushing it farther across the goal line, but Solo’s left hand and arm continues to hold onto the ball:

Frame 4 (Zoomed): Solo continues to hold onto the ball after Kyle’s second effort.

However, the ball goes under Solo’s head and up behind it. And, Solo’s hair is briefly between the ball and goal post, which may indicate that the ball crossed the line.

Also, the video does not appear to show the center referee, Kari Seitz, signaling for a foul or to play advantage. However, neither Seitz nor the assistant referee were visible for more than a few seconds during the sequence, so any signaling could have occurred off-camera.

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When Does Solo Get “Control of the Ball?”

The addendum to Law 12 is unnecessarily confusing as it alternates between the phrase “control of the ball” and “possession of the ball,” but the main issue is how long of a touch is required for control to be established, and thus a challenge illegal? Is it just a split-second touch, or does it need to be longer?

If only a brief touch is needed, then Kyle’s initial kick is a foul and the play should be whistled dead (Frame 1). If a longer spell of possession is required, then that was most likely met by Frame 3, if not Frame 2.

Regardless of Whether Solo Had Control of the Ball, Could Kyle Have Been Called For a Foul Anyway?

Solo and Kyle appear to lunge and slide for the loose ball at almost the same time.  Kyle’s right foot spins into the path of Solo’s face as she slides toward the post.

That might be considered “playing in a dangerous manner.” According to U.S. Soccer’s Advice to the Referee (12.13):

Playing “in a dangerous manner” can be called only if the act, in the opinion of the referee, meets three criteria: the action must be dangerous to someone (including the player committing the action), it was committed with an opponent close by, and the dangerous nature of the action caused this opponent to cease active play for the ball or to be otherwise disadvantaged by the attempt not to participate in the dangerous play. Committing a dangerous act while an opponent is nearby is not, by itself, an offense. The act becomes an offense only when an opponent is adversely and unfairly affected, usually by the opponent ceasing to challenge for the ball in order to avoid receiving or causing injury as a direct result of the player’s act.

An argument could be made that the action was dangerous as Kyle could have kicked Solo in the face, Solo was very close by, and this unfairly limited Solo’s ability to control the ball.

Even if Kyle’s first shot was not dangerous, then her second effort might have deemed a foul, since Solo’s position was more established as she had bunkered down trying to hold onto the ball. Also, this could fall under the Advice to the Referee‘s “Charging the Goalkeeper” section (12.23), which does not require the goalkeeper to have possession for a foul to be called:

Referees must carefully observe any charge against the goalkeeper and call as an infringement of Law 12 only those charges which are performed carelessly, recklessly, or with excessive force (direct free kick), are performed in a dangerous manner (indirect free kick*), or prevent the goalkeeper from releasing the ball from the hands (indirect free kick*). Charging the ‘keeper who is in possession of the ball must be considered an offense because, by definition, the charge cannot be for the purpose of challenging for control of the ball (see Advice 12.16). A goalkeeper can be otherwise legally charged if the ball is not in the goalkeeper’s possession (see Advice 12.16) but is being played by the goalkeeper in some other manner (e.g., dribbled at the feet, headed, etc.).

During This Sequence, Did the Ball Completely Cross the Line?

Bottom line, the video angles are very inconclusive. But, the only time that it appears where the ball may have crossed the line is after Kyle’s second kick and the ball goes under Solo’s head and up against the left side of her head. From the referee’s or assistant referee’s vantage point, this was probably quite inconclusive as well. And, considering the nature of live-action split-second judgment calls, a decision of a non-goal is more than a justifiable decision.

Could Kyle Had Been In An Offside Position When Sinclair Kicked the Ball?

When Sinclair played the ball, Kyle looks to be just behind the second-to-last defender, Christie Rampone. Even if Kyle was in an offside position at that point, the ball touches two USWNT players, LePeilbet and Solo, before Kyle gets a touch. The offside rule only appears to cover a single rebound off one opponent, so Solo’s initial save would make Kyle’s location irrelevant. (For more on the offside rule, see the post on Rodriguez’s goal.)

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During the sequence, it is possible that the ball crossed the line. But before that happened, there were multiple instances where Hope Solo likely had control of the ball before Kaylyn Kyle kicked the ball the final time, thus making that kick an illegal challenge and therefore, a foul.

And, as a comparison, this play was very similar to Megan Rapinoe’s disallowed goal versus North Korea in last year’s Women’s World Cup (AllWhiteKit).