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.)

Brett Brown says Ben Simmons will return in January

Brett Brown says Ben Simmons will return in January

Ben Simmons is on track to return to the Sixers in January, Brett Brown told the Philadelphia Inquirer on Friday. 

Previous reports indicated that Simmons, who suffered a Jones fracture in his right foot in the Sixers' final training camp scrimmage on Sept. 30, would be out three months. Friday's news jives with that, but this is the first time the Sixers have given a timetable.

"It's not doom and gloom," Brown said. "Ben is coming back in January. We are still trying to find information on Jerryd (Bayless). Jahlil (Okafor) is still trying to touch the court in his first preseason game."

With long-term ramifications in mind, there had been some speculation that Simmons' camp wanted him to sit all season. 

This is rather encouraging news and it means the Sixers may avoid watching another of their top picks miss his entire first year.

Union offering great deals on field level seats ahead of MLS Cup Playoffs

USA Today Images

Union offering great deals on field level seats ahead of MLS Cup Playoffs

Playoff soccer is returning to Chester for the first time in five years, and while fans prep for the Union’s first postseason games since 2011, there is no shortage of seating options for Union tickets on the primary market.

Perhaps most importantly, fans won’t have to break the bank to be on hand as the Union compete for their first MLS Cup in franchise history. Union field level seats are available for both the team’s final home regular season game against the New York Red Bulls and the Eastern Conference Semifinal on October 30 should they advance past the knockout round.

The team’s official website lists feet-on-the-pitch seating starting from $155 per ticket for this weekend’s game against the Red Bulls. The first-place Red Bulls head to Talen Energy Stadium with a first-round bye secured, but Union head coach Jim Curtin expects them to bring the pressure with them on Sunday. Fans can look on up close – and for relatively cheap - as the Union look to hand the Eastern Conference leaders their final loss of the regular season.

The Union will take on either New York City FC or Toronto FC in the knockout round either next Wednesday or Thursday. Pending a victory on the road, they’ll return to Talen Energy Stadium to host an Eastern Conference Semifinal game on October 30. Field level seating is still widely available for the team’s first home playoff game since 2011 and start from $178 per ticket.

2016 marks the franchise’s second MLS Cup Playoffs berth in its seven-year existence. They clinched a first-round bye in 2011 but fell to the Houston Dynamo by a 3-1 aggregate in the Conference Semifinals. The Union bring a much different vibe into the playoffs this season, however, after a formidable stretch from September on nearly drowned their postseason hopes. The team won its last game on August 27 against Sporting Kansas City, losing four games and drawing in two others since. 

Despite the team’s recent struggles, there is a sense of renewment that will carry them into the MLS Cup Playoffs. Records are cast aside and the slate is wiped clean, beginning a new path on the long and often tumultuous road to a national championship.