Postgame observations: D.C. United 1, Philadelphia 1

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Well Mark Geiger sure turned a fairly forgettable match Sunday night into one to remember, didn’t he?

Lets go ahead and fast-forward to the 86th minute of last night’s game, when the referee took United captain Dwayne De Rosario’s go-ahead penalty kick off the board, citing striker Hamdi Salihi for encroachment.

Speaking as a onetime registered referee (alas, no more time left in my schedule for it), I’m going to explain why I think Geiger got that call wrong.

Yes, replays showed Salihi was a yard or two inside the semicircle as De Rosario struck the PK. But that sequence was a textbook example of “trifling.” The widely used term is defined in this FIFA Laws of the Game clarification provided by U.S. Soccer: “A trifling infraction is one which, though still an offense, has no significant impact upon play.”

The clarification notes that “constant whistling for trifling and doubtful breaches produces bad feeling and loss of temper on the part of the players and spoils the pleasure of spectators.” (I bet that sounds familiar to Branko Boskovic and Emiliano Dudar.) Therefore, “The referee’s fundamental duty [is] to penalize only those violations that matter.”

Trifling is the reason players have a few yards leeway on where they can conduct throw-ins and free kicks. Or why the goalkeeper is typically allowed more than the allotted six seconds to distribute.

Specifically referring to a situation such as the one Geiger faced last night, the aforementioned U.S. Soccer clarification says: “With regard to entering the penalty area early, we can say that if it had no effect on play, then it need not be punished, as this would disrupt the flow of the game unnecessarily.”

In other words, if Zac MacMath had saved the penalty kick and Salihi had converted the rebound, then Geiger correctly would have waved off the goal. That would be Salihi gaining an advantage from the violation. But since De Rosario scored and Salihi’s encroachment clearly made no impact, the goal should have stood.

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