As much as I enjoy Kartik’s writing and analysis, let me add a counter-point on this. The referee clearly blew this call, and there are no rules of the game or replay angels that would ever indicate otherwise.
That being said, I try not to get fussed about blown calls. Soccer is a game of blown calls, and nobody knows that better than me. I referee in our local AYSO league, and probably understand the game better than most of the coaches and 95% of the parents in our league. Nevertheless, I blow at least one call every game. Most of them are completely inconsequential to the outcome, but they all plague me like a bad ache. Truthfully, the game is too fast, the field is too big, and the in-or-out, fair-or-foul differences are too narrow for any referee to be anything close to flawless.
Nevertheless, the Dempsey’s pass was fair but the call was foul. The rule the Kertik quoted starts off “The act of charging an opponent.” This is the end of the argument. Dempsey was never charging the opponent. He was charging the ball, connected with the ball, and while his studs were up, neither of his feet ever came in contact with the defender. He had kicked the ball away and was actually twisting his body away from the contact when the defender tripped over Dempsey’s knee. On a compass, Dempsey was running, diving and kicking west to east while the defender was coming, fractionally late, north to south. It was a rush to the ball, and Dempsey got to it first and kicked it away cleanly before the contact was made.
The referee was guilty of the most common mistake that referees make – anticipating a foul that never occurs and calling what could have happened rather than what actually did happen. I am sure the referee saw Dempsey dive in with his studs up and contact coming, and his mind registered a foul that never actually occurred. This mistake happens a lot, and when it happens in the middle of the field, it rarely has a giant impact on the game. This time, the impact was huge and the US lost a goal, and could have lost two points in the hex because of it.
Fortunately, the US did get all three points, and this blown call is a talking point rather than a travesty.