Official Bias?: CONCACAF and the USMNT
We have had a great deal of discussion this week about officials’ bias in CONCACAF towards Mexico. However, I was a bit disappointed that many American fans see the US as a victim in all this. The truth be told, the US benefits from much of the same bias, albeit perhaps from different parts within CONCACAF.
A key distinction must be made between American and Mexican players. It is the unsporting, cheating nature of simulation that bothers me about Mexico. But the same arguments, which I made about economic considerations and ethnic officials within CONCACAF benefiting Mexico can be as easily made and applied to the US.
I was surprised by all the whining American fans and even some journalists engaged in after the defeat at Azteca in August about fouls and yellow cards. Watching every Mexico qualifying game the last three cycles, the fouls committed by Jay DeMerit and Carlos Bocanegra typically result in sending offs at Azteca, had they say, been Honduran, Canadian or Guatemalan. So while officials do favor Mexico, they do not treat the US the same way as other opponents at Azteca.
In the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup, the USA received a penalty kick in four straight matches. Additionally, a Panamanian player was sent off somewhat frivolously in the quarterfinals, a late Canadian goal disallowed because the official appeared to not understand the offside rule and its non-applicability to back passes (The match would have been drawn level with the US down a man) and a tangle which should have been a non call resulted in PK in the final versus Mexico, when the USA was trailing 1-0.
So while the US had a “successful” 2009 Confederations Cup, perhaps the missing storyline is why Mexico or Canada was not representing the region instead of the US. For whatever reason, this fortunate succession of strange calls has been quickly forgotten by American fans and writers.
In the first game of the semifinal round of qualifying, the match official, Courtney Campbell of Jamaica missed an obvious hand ball in the area on Heath Pearce, and later sent off a Guatemalan player. He also did not award Carlos Ruiz a pk when he was taken down in the box, perhaps because of Ruiz’s reputation for diving or perhaps for other reasons. (in fairness, Ruiz dives a great deal, but the take down by Carlos Bocanegra was a foul.)
Throughout 2009, many questionable calls, 50-50 in nature seemed to go the way of the Americans. Who can forget the take down of Cornell Glen last month in the box in Port of Spain that wasn’t even called a foul?
Often time’s American fans complain about some sort of bias against US players in competitive international matches outside the region. For example, three American players were sent off in the first four games of the Confederations Cup, and at least one other was quite fortunate not to be sent off. (in that case, with Brazil up 3-0 and up a man, the match official simply gave Benny Feilhaber a yellow for what would normally be a red card offense.) We saw the same sort of lack of composure and discipline at World Cup 2006 and at the recently completed Under 20 World Cup.
Why do Americans show such a lack of discipline outside of CONCACAF? A simple explanation is the lenient treatment American players get within the Confederation.
It’s simple and fair to point the finger at Mexico for El Tri’s shameless diving and simulation. While it is no fault of the US players that they get favorable treatment within the region, it is unquestionably apparent to the supporters of other national teams (Mexico aside) who have seen the incidents I detail above and many more played out in front of their eyes.
Part of the difficulty Mexico and the US have in big internationals is that they are so used to being judged one way in CONCACAF, that when the World Cup roles around and FIFA mandates are actually enforced, both struggle. Obviously, Mexico has overall been more successful than the US at the World Cup level (with the obvious exception of 2002) but El Tri also has not fulfilled its vast potential. Bottom line: it would benefit both the US and Mexico in the long term, if CONCACAF began to remove the officials bias from situations and enforced FIFA’s mandates a little more strictly.