TUKWILA, Wash. — Maybe it’s a rite of passage for Seattle’s international strikers, but just as Fredy Montero earned a yellow card for trying to steal the ball off goalkeeper Matt Reis in 2009, Blaise Nkufo broke the rules by pilfering the ball from Donovan Ricketts on Sunday.
In the late stages of Seattle’s 1-0 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy in the Western Conference semifinals, Nkufo used a quick flick of his foot to steal the ball as Ricketts attempted to punt it downfield. The referee immediately stopped play, awarded LA a free kick and showed Nkufo a yellow card.
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When asked how many times he’d seen that play work in his 20-plus years of professional experience, Kasey Keller said, “Never.”
“I understand trying it, I guess,” Keller said. “You never know what a ref is going to do. But the ref got it right.”
It’s a situation that has come up before. The US Soccer Federation clearly addressed these infractions in ussoccer.com’s Referee Week in Review feature, dated April 14, 2010. In that piece, this very issue is discussed in "Interfering with Goalkeeper Distribution: Law 12 of FIFA’s Laws of the Game."
“A player must be penalized for playing in a dangerous manner if he kicks or attempts to kick the ball when the goalkeeper is in the process of releasing it,” points the rule.
If that wasn’t clear enough, US Soccer additionally clarified the rule in the 2009-10 publication, Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game. The guidance provided in this publication states:
“An opponent may not interfere with or block the goalkeeper’s release of the ball into play.”
In this case, the referee made the correct call by awarding the Galaxy an indirect free kick. (The issuance of a yellow card is left to the referee’s discretion.)
Seattle have had previous experience with goalkeeper interference. In a game against the New England Revolution in August 2009, Montero attempted the same maneuver against Reis, who was holding the ball like a waiter with a tray of entrees. Montero received the same punishment—a yellow card—and missed Seattle’s next game due to yellow card accumulation.
Nkufo escapes a similar fate and will be available for the return leg in Los Angeles on Sunday.
Keller believes that Nkufo’s experience should keep him from picking up a second yellow card, which would rule him out of a potential Western Conference championship.
Keller, while pointing to Nani’s recent goal for Manchester United in their 2-0 win against Tottenham on Oct. 30 as evidence that anything can happen, was pleased the referee interpreted the rule correctly.
“Strange things happen, but you can’t kick the ball out of the goalkeeper’s hands when he’s trying to distribute," Keller said with a chuckle. "That’s just a rule. It’s not allowed."
With the Galaxy ahead 1-0 on aggregate goals in the series, LA host Seattle in the second game of the two-leg, home-and-home Western Conference Semifinals on Sunday, November 7 at 6 p.m. PT on ESPN. BUY TICKETS