ThINQing Out Loud: A soccer victory replete with heroics - and blown calls

U.S. star Abby Wambach scores past Brazilian goalie Andreia to knot the score. By all accounts, the game was poorly officiated.
U.S. star Abby Wambach scores past Brazilian goalie Andreia to knot the score. By all accounts, the game was poorly officiated. (MARCIO JOSE SANCHEZ / Associated Press)
Posted: July 12, 2011

It happened last year to the U.S. men in the World Cup and again Sunday in the Women's World Cup. What are the odds of the U.S. team scoring on last-play goals to advance in the last two World Cups, men and women?

Abby Wambach joined Landon Donovan in the pantheon of last-ditch heroic goal scorers. Wambach's 122d-minute header pushed Sunday's quarterfinal against Brazil into a penalty-kick shootout, won by the U.S. team, advancing the Americans into Wednesday's semifinal against France.

The game had layers of tension released by Wambach's overtime goal. The Americans had been on the short end of the biggest (and worst) refereeing decision of the game, one of the worst in the history of big-time soccer competition.

Without Wambach's goal, the decision by referee Jacqui Melksham of Australia to have Brazil retake a second-half penalty kick would have been the game-decider. Melksham ruled that an American player had taken one step into the penalty area as Brazil took the penalty kick. That one step had no impact on the play after American goalkeeper Hope Solo stopped the penalty kick. But Melksham allowed Brazil another shot, which resulted in the tying goal.

It was the equivalent of an NBA referee calling somebody for taking one step across the three-point-line behind a foul shooter in a cliff-hanger NBA Finals game.

You think this is just an American viewpoint? In its recap, the German magazine Spiegel wrote that the U.S. team prevailed "despite the at-times grotesque decisions of the Australian referee Jacqui Melksham."

There were other hashed calls, including a missed offside call on Brazil's go-ahead goal in overtime. On the U.S. side, midfielder Carli Lloyd got lucky that she didn't receive her second yellow card after clearly handling the ball with her arm.

Before Melksham's penalty-kick decision, ESPN commentator Julie Foudy already had made the point that FIFA's decision to only use female referees has an impact on play. FIFA uses referees from around the world, but only a couple of countries have topflight domestic leagues, so the refereeing pool is limited at best.

As it turned out, Philadelphia Independence player Megan Rapino's amazing long-distance feed to Wambach's head, and Wambach's steely conversion, turned the refereeing into a historical footnote.

I don't get why . . .

The Phillies are worried about their pitchers going a few innings in the All-Star Game. Seems to me that home-field advantage in the World Series is no small thing. If I were Charlie Manuel or Rich Dubee, I'd want Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee pitching three innings each Tuesday night.

Where in the world is . . .

Leroy Burrell? The Penn Wood High graduate, for a time the fastest sprinter in the world, and part of the world-record gold medal U.S. 4x100 relay team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, is the head track and field coach at his alma mater, the University of Houston. Burrell has coached 39 all-Americans in his 11 years at Houston. Locally, his greatest feat was single-handedly winning a state track title for Penn Wood, scoring all 40 points in 1985, when he won the 100, 200, long jump, and triple jump.

Contact staff writer Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489 or


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