The Strangest Union Goal Ever: An (Indirect) Explanation

The Strangest Union Goal Ever: An (Indirect) Explanation

One of the best things about going to Union games the last three-plus years has been meeting lots of great people who DIDN'T grow up around the game.

There are plenty of people -- including my semi-regular tailgate crew (I promise to get down there early again sometime soon, guys) -- who don't wake up at 7 a.m. for EPL games and for whom Union games are simply a great way to spend a Saturday. They got dragged to a game once, not knowing the difference between an indirect kick and a penalty kick -- and have been fans ever since.

For some at PPL Park (you know who you are), these people are a nuisance, ruining their soccer snobbery with a few uneducated questions.

For me, I've found out those people are a large segment of the audience here at The Level. So, from time to time, I'll try to break down a play, moment, or trend that might seem commonplace to a soccer-head, but drew a "WTF?" from everyone else.

There's no better place to start than with the Union's second goal last week against Chivas USA. See it for yourself.

I watched this game from my couch, and immediately saw countless "What the hell?" tweets from fans. Well, here goes:

Nearly every single whistle in soccer results in a "direct" kick. It wasn't always that way (at least not from what 14-year-old me remembers from referee classes, but I digress). Handballs, dangerous tackles, push-offs, etc., all result in a "direct" kick, which simply means the kick-taker can shoot directly on goal if he so desires. You'll often see a teammate roll or touch the ball on a free kick before it's hit, but that's simply an attempt at misdirection or to gain an extra foot of space.

There are SOME fouls that result in "indirect" kicks. This simply means that someone other than the kick-taker must touch the ball before a goal can be scored (technically, the kickoff to start halves and after goals is also an indirect kick -- as is a throw-in).

There are really only two whistles you'll ever seen in a professional game that result in an indirect kick. One is for an offside violation. But since the farthest forward that kick can ever be taken is just inside midfield (you can't be offside in your own half), the ball will always touch another player anyway. So it's a moot point.

The other is what you saw Saturday.

After a ball into the box by new signing Fabinho, Chivas' Edgar Mejia seemed to stumble on the wet grass while going for the loose ball. What his intentions were, it's hard to tell. But according to the referee, he INTENTIONALLY passed the ball back to goalie Dan Kennedy. That's the key word: Intentionally.

Passing it back to your keeper is fine. But if you do it on purpose, the goalie is not allowed to use his hands. The moment Kennedy picked up the ball, the whistle blew, and everyone was confused. Usually, players are given the benefit of the doubt on backpasses, especially in a hectic and crowded penalty area. And ESPECIALLY when Noah was preparing the ark behind the River End. In my opinion, only the most blatant backpass should be whistled in those conditions.

The catch in this situation is that unlike every other foul committed inside the box, illegal touching (::giggle::) by the goalkeeper is not a penalty kick. So the ball is placed at the spot of the foul (about seven yards out, in this case), and it must be touched before going in the net (an opposing player would also count, so in theory you could blast it off the keeper's hands and in).

On any free kick, defenders must stand 10 yards away. In this case, there aren't 10 yards to give, so all Chivas players SHOULD have been on the goal line until Sebastien Le Toux touched the ball. Clearly that didn't happen, but it didn't much matter.

Once Le Toux touched the ball, it's fair game (if I remember from my reffing classes, it is supposed to roll one full rotation). And to his credit, Michael Farfan -- who I have been critical of this season -- perfectly placed a shot that is MUCH harder than he made it look.

It's the kind of goal you likely won't see again for a long, long time, and one of the most bizarre plays in the sport. Chivas USA fans (if they really exist) have every right to be apoplectic about the call that led to the kick. But if you're a Union fan, three points is three points.

Oh, and judging by the forecast, we could see even more biblical rain during Saturday's game against Portland. So maybe things will get weird yet again. (Jack McInerney will be eligible after being released from national team duty Wednesday night. He did not appear in three group games for Jurgen Klinsmann.)

Howard homers, embraces the moment, looks forward to final salute Sunday

Howard homers, embraces the moment, looks forward to final salute Sunday

BOX SCORE

The New York Mets and a slew of their supportive fans took over Citizens Bank Park on Sunday afternoon. The Mets posted a 5-3 win over the Phillies and streamed out of the dugout like school children at recess to celebrate clinching a National League wild-card playoff spot on the penultimate day of the season (see Instant Replay).

As the Mets players congratulated each other on the diamond, several thousand of their vocal fans cheered in the stands while Phillies fans headed to the exits longing for those days when their team used to have celebrations on the field.

There was a moment in the game, however, when it did feel like the good ol’ days at the ballpark, a moment when Ryan Howard owned the place like he used to and the Phillies fans drowned out the Mets fans with ease.

It came in the fifth inning when the Phillies were down by two runs and Howard came to the plate and turned on a pitch from Bartolo Colon and sent it into the right-field seats for a game-tying two-run home run. Phillies fans had seen Howard hit homers like this before because many of the 382 he has hit in his career have been clutch shots that have come in big moments, and though the Phillies have long been dead in the standings, this was an important game and thus a big moment because the Mets had a lot to play for and no competitor worth his salt would let another team walk on him.

The game didn’t stay tied long as reliever Patrick Schuster allowed a hit and a wild pitch in the top of the sixth before David Hernandez surrendered a two-run homer to James Loney as the Mets went up for good.

But at least Howard gave the Phillies fans in the house something to cheer about for a short while.

“It was cool,” Howard acknowledged after the game. “I was able to hit the home run, tying the game up. I tried to spoil it for them today a little bit, but they got us, and you’ve got to congratulate those guys because they scratched and clawed and did what they needed to do. That’s a good ball club.”

Howard’s home run, of course, was cool for another reason.

It might have been his last as a Phillie.

This is the veteran slugger’s final weekend with the team he helped win the 2008 World Series and a little love-in has developed between him and the fans. They gave him a standing ovation after the homer – his 25th of the season – and he responded with a curtain call.

“It was awesome,” he said. “To be able to hit the home run in the first place and then get the curtain call. To have the fans show that kind of appreciation is a great feeling.”

The Phillies will not pick up Howard’s contract option for 2017. On Sunday afternoon, he will play his final game for the Phillies. First pitch is at 3 p.m. The team will make an on-field presentation to Howard at 2:30.

Howard doesn’t know what the team has planned.

“I’m just going to show up and see what happens,” he said. “You know, I think it’ll be something cool. We’ll see what it is. Whatever it brings, I'll embrace it and take it and enjoy it."
 
Howard had spent the previous few days stiff-arming the attention that has come with his final days as a Phillie.

He put his guard down a little after Saturday’s game.

“I’m just taking the weekend as is,” he said. “I’m just trying to enjoy it, trying to embrace everything and take it as is. I’m not trying to look too much into anything. Actually, I’m just trying to go out there and win these ballgames. I mean, I’ve said it before, things will hit you when they hit you.”

The Phillies have not been to the playoffs since 2011, their last of five straight trips to the postseason. If anyone needed a reminder of what it used to look like around here, it was on the field after the game in the form of the Mets’ celebration.

Phillies manager Pete Mackanin did not watch the Mets celebrate. He’s waiting to experience a celebration of his own.

“There’s no doubt in my mind we’re going to get back where we need to be and we’re going to be one of those teams, just like the Mets are now,” Mackanin said.

Howard will turn 37 in November. He is the elder statesman on this club and he’s embraced that role in his dealings with younger players.

He used the Mets’ celebration as an opportunity to pass on some advice to the men who are his teammates for one more day.

“You never want to see somebody else celebrate on your home field, but for these young guys it's something where once you’ve seen it, you want to be those guys," Howard said. "When you see the other team out there, you want to be that guy next year. You want to be out there celebrating on your home field or somebody else's field.

“It's tough, but you take that and find a way to use that as motivation.”

North Dakota appears to be Eagles country

North Dakota appears to be Eagles country

It appears that Carson Wentz' fanbase in North Dakota is still pretty strong. Before North Dakota State’s game against Illinois State Saturday afternoon, fans were seen walking around the parking lot in Carson Wentz Eagles’ jerseys. 

Wearing Eagles gear at the tailgate was not all, however. A large group of people begun chanting “Carson” over and over to show their love and support for the Eagles quarterback. 

Wentz, along with Eagles practice squad cornerback C.J. Smith, a fellow Bison alum, showed up to North Dakota State's homecoming Saturday.

This is not the first time we have seen North Dakota State fans showing how much they adore Carson Wentz. Going back to the NFL draft, fans were seen on the red carpet wearing North Dakota State Wentz jersey’s and waving flags.

On Sept. 19, when the Eagles played the Bears, North Dakotans traveled to see Wentz play in person.

Clearly, Wentz has a lot of love from his fans back at home, but it is safe to say that Eagles fans love him just as much after he has led them to a 3-0 start.  

It doesn't hurt that Wentz' cousin, Connor, plays for North Dakota State. Connor is a redshirt junior tight end.

John Clark with Connor Wentz

A photo posted by Rob Kuestner (@rkuestner23) on