BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Contentious plays are a part of soccer. These perhaps be heightened when a team is down a man and a goal, like the Fire were on Saturday night.
I take you back to the 73rd minute of the 1-0 defeat at Philadelphia where Fire substitute forward Sherjill MacDonald begins to beat Union defender Sheanon Williams down the left side.
The Dutch striker pushes towards the box as Williams uses his right arm to tug MacDonald’s left and referee Allen Chapman gives the advantage to play on – fair enough.
This is however the first of four cynical tugs from Williams on MacDonald’s left arm. The next comes with his left on MacDonald’s left before two more tugs back on his right.
The last pull comes as MacDonald has clearly beaten Williams into the box and is brought down. Chapman blows his whistle but he doesn’t point to penalty spot, rather back to the spot of the original foul.
As a witness at the game and admittedly without the benefit of a replay in the press box, I was pretty sure it was a penalty. I logged onto my MLS Live account and caught the delayed feed just in time to at least heighten that belief.
Enter The Pool Reporter
MLS has a system by which referees can be asked up to three questions of by media through a designated pool reporter post-game.
With that, I submitted the below question:
“It appeared Sherjill MacDonald was fouled twice in the 73rd minute. Once outside the box and once inside the box. Why was a penalty kick not awarded on the play?”
Not too long after the match I received the below answer via the Philadelphia pool reporter:
“There was only one foul outside the penalty area. The advantage did not materialize, the referee called the foul and cautioned Sheanon Wiliams for a tactical foul.”
The statement lines up with what Chapman called but the bigger question is why did the advantage not materialize?
At least on video, it appears MacDonald lost the advantage following what appeared to be the foul in the box as Williams tugged his arm.
At the very least, there’s no doubt that Williams was making contact with the player who was on the ball in the box, making it difficult for any advantage to further come from the play.
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The only other conclusion one could make was perhaps Chapman felt MacDonald went down too easy. Of course, in the pool reporter process there's no opportunity for a follow-up question.
And yes, even if a penalty was called, the Fire would still have needed to convert it but for a team down a man, trying to find an equalizer on the road, this seemed like one that might have gotten away.