When the USA women’s national team beat England, 2-1, on Alex Morgan’s goal, it secured USA’s third straight World Cup Final appearance. Before you watch USA play Netherlands, these are some things you ought to understand.
1. Video Assistant Referee (VAR)
Arguably the most controversial thing this World Cup, VAR has been used many times, including twice during England-USA. VAR is supposed to be used when a referee doesn’t know exactly what happened, doesn’t have a good angle, or just flat-out misses a play. Typically what happens is the ref makes an original ruling, talks through a microphone to the people in the booth, and then checks the play themselves using VAR. This can be used on anything from a foul to a goal.
A good example of VAR happened during the USA-England game in the 79th minute when a cross by England went to Ellen White, who appeared to miss it. She appealed for a penalty, and when the ref checked VAR, she decided that USA’s Becky Sauerbrunn interfered and caused the miss by ramming into Ellen White’s leg. A yellow card was given to Sauerbrunn, and England got a PK. Fortunately, this is England that we are talking about, and they had it saved in an English-like fashion. Just Google: England PK curse.
The other thing about VAR, though, is what most people hate. The rule is that a play cannot be overturned unless it is a “clear and obvious error”. Many people dispute what is a clear and obvious error. Back to the USA-England game. In the 68th minute, a through-ball, which is a pass that leads a player, went to Ellen White of England. White kicked the ball into the net past Alyssa Naeher, but USA called for offside (keep reading, I explain that more in a bit). The player should probably have been called offside from the get-go, but once in VAR, it had to be proved a clear and obvious error. Now, considering the announcers were wondering whether or whether not White was offside, the decision should’ve been easy. It should have been a goal for England. If there is that much thought put into it, it is not a clear and obvious error, and the goal should’ve stood. In the end, however, the goal was called back, and England, like many others this World Cup, was a VAR victim.
Many people believe this is a complicated rule, and it sort of is, but not as complicated as people think. The rule is basically this: if a player who receives the ball is behind the last defensive player closest to their own goal (who is not a goalkeeper), by the time the ball has been passed, the person with the ball is offside. The player has to be involved in the attacking play, so defenders can never be offside unless they are part of their team’s attacking play.
Here’s a quick example:
There are some odd additional rules that make people think it is confusing. If the player who passes the ball is in front of the player who receives the ball – meaning they passed the ball backward – then you are onside, even if they are behind the other team’s last player. This is why most crosses and corner kicks remain onside because they typically pass the ball backward across the field. Also, there are no offsides on a throw-in, which is what happens when the ball goes out of bounds on the side of the field.
If the player starts to pass the ball to a player in an offside position, behind the last player, they are offside, even if the player receiving the ball runs behind the last player. The only positioning that matters is the location of the player receiving the ball when the player who is sending the ball starts to pass. Or said a different way, it doesn’t really matter where the player is when they receive the ball, it just matters where the receiving player is when the ball is being passed. Got it?
3. Penalty Kicks (PKs)
A PK is called when there is a foul against the attacking team in the penalty area, which is the big box around the goal. PKs are also called when the defending team has a handball in the penalty area. And, of course, when there’s a tie after extra time.
PKs have also been under much scrutiny because of a new rule. The English FA association says, “When the ball is kicked, the defending goalkeeper must have at least part of one foot touching, or in line with, the goal line.” The goalkeeper has to have at least one foot on the line until the ball is kicked. At the beginning of the tournament, if the goalkeeper took both feet off the line, which happened many times, the PK would be retaken and the goalkeeper would receive a yellow card. For now, the rule with the yellow card has been suspended, but if the goalkeeper takes both feet off the line, the penalty kick will still be retaken.
Thank you for reading. The Women’s World Cup final, USA vs Netherlands, is on Sunday, along with the Gold Cup final, USA vs Mexico and the Copa America final, Brazil vs Peru. As always, keep watching soccer.