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Clint Dempsey

Dempsey’s Foul: The Right Call


I have now reviewed video of the foul called on Clint Dempsey that nullified a nice goal by Jozy Altidore the other day over a dozen times. While the official could have certainly just waved on the play (which I may have done, but I am not an official and do have a rooting interest when the US plays), which often happens when the US plays at home in CONCACAF (just ask Canada or Panama) I have to defend his decision to stop play and disallow the goal.

US’s official account of the match had the following passage:

The U.S. appeared to gain the insurance goal in the 58th minute off the foot of Jozy Altidore, but the breakaway goal was called off. Starting the attack in their own end, Donovan sent a long pass along the ground to Dempsey at the halfway line. Pushing it around his defender, it appeared to go too far ahead before Dempsey raced to lunge and push the ball through for Altidore from just inside the half before sliding into a defender. The pass fell perfectly to Altidore, who walked in alone and slotted a shot right through the Montes’ legs, and while the offside flag stayed down, Pineda whistled Dempsey for a foul and the goal was nullified.

FIFA’s Laws of the Game state the following:

The act of charging an opponent is challenging for space using physical contact within the playing distance of the ball without using arms or elbows.

Here is how explain the officials actions:

Dempsey had taken a poor touch on the ball and played the ball into space forward while moving in a pacey manner. The Salvadorian defender attempted to win the ball with a clean challenge to which Dempsey responded by lunging, studs out at the defender, bringing him to the ground while achieving the goal of poking the ball forward to Altidore who was in an onside position. This is a foul if you stick to the letter of the law. It is as simple an explanation as that.

Would I have called a foul? Perhaps not, but the various conspiracy theories floated by American supporters the last few days are completely off base especially when the officials actions fell within the letter of the law per the FIFA rules. I have seen goals called back for fouls with much less intent and recklessness that the one on Saturday night.

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  1. georg

    September 10, 2009 at 12:09 am

    Regarding Coming Over.
    You are flat out wrong in this case, I am a offical and I do live the game. This ball was open to be played by both players. Only when the offending player is seen as being behind the play, or late in his challange is this called a foul. The fact! that Dempsey was far ahead of the defender in playing this ball, would lead the great majority of officials to see this play as legal. “Week in” “Week out “this fact will be shown as true in every league in the world!!!!. As to having an American Bias? perhaps a quick look into the mirror may show you that bias may lay closer to home.

  2. Rex

    September 9, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    It’s not a conspiracy, per say, as the ref did not go into the game thinking, “im going t blow a call against the US” but when you go into a game with an anti-american notion, the 50/50 calls will always go against the USA. This biased, along with just plain bad officiated makes CONCACAF a joke. Anybody see Neal Brizan ref the Dynamo/Arabe Unido game? After that horrible outing (which in Europe would have had him out for a while maybe never to return), he was back to ref a WCQ this weekend.

  3. LLCJ

    September 9, 2009 at 11:56 am

    It’s pretty amazing to me the variety of thought on this call and that indicates to me the referee was justified in pulling back the play. It was a fantastic piece of skill from Dempsey, but when you are at a distance from the play like the ref was, you have to judge intent and he flew in aggressively. It’s the same thing that got Bradley sent off versus Spain. Recall, he won that tackle also.

  4. Coming Over

    September 9, 2009 at 11:38 am

    It is truly amazing the number of American fans who don’t get it.

    I even find fault with Krishnaiyer because while he says the call was technically correct he is trying to say he wouldn’t have made the call.

    Those who say this is never called in the EPL are flat out wrong.

    I’ve seen it called numerous times. I’ve seen it called in leagues across the world. The Erevdiese, the Bundesliga and especially La Liga.

    The Salvadorian defender cannot be blamed. He had every right to the ball as did Dempsey- it was Dempsey and not the El Salvador player who slid in aggressively. That is a foul. A ref can choose to ignore it, but it is a foul by the rule book.

    Those who claim this is part of some sort of anti-American bias in CONCACAF, please tell the Canadians, Hondurans or Jamaicans that.

    Some of you need to take your biased, American-centric blinders off. I dare each and every one of you, including Kartik who says he wouldn’t have made the call to watch 10 qualifiers today and tell me a similar call is not made in at least 2 to 3 of those games.

    Anyone up for a challenge? Don’t spout off your mouths unless you really know the rules and watch enough of the sport from outside the US to understand them.

  5. Ford Prefect

    September 9, 2009 at 9:32 am

    Gotta agree that it was a horrible call–The play would have been called a great pass/goal had it been Fulham vs Chelsea, and likely would make the end of season best goals highlights show–Don’t agree w/ any conspiracy theories tho–Refs are human, meaning sometimes they miss things, see things from a bad angle, or just f***-up the call

  6. Mtnplay

    September 9, 2009 at 8:09 am

    I was at the game, lower level, Kartik is wrong. Being there and watching it on the replays Dempsey never went in studs up and was well ahead of the ES player, it was a poor decision, not to mention the ref wasn’t even watching the play at the time. Fans had thought initially that it was incorrectly called offsides.I felt the game was called much in ES’s favor all night. You are correct that is the right rule, but it did not apply in this case.I don’ consider it a conspiracy, simply poor officiating as usual.

  7. Joey Clams

    September 9, 2009 at 8:01 am

    Let’s see. If it had been Garcia Aspe or Benjamin Galindo “charging” Mike Sorber or Alexi Lalas in the Azteca, how do you suppose the call would have gone?

    There is no way on God’s green earth that that was a foul.

  8. Dave

    September 9, 2009 at 1:20 am

    Yeah, that play could have been called either way. It wasn’t like the referee was dirty or anything. He made his call and I think we can all live with it.

    However, this play illustrates why soccer struggles in America. What the hell, seriously? That should never have been even an arguable foul. Dempsey played the ball forward. His feet and/or arms were not up. He didn’t attack the defender with a possible career ending injury. If he tripped the defender, it SHOULD be irrelevant since he had already come in, done his business, and put in a perfect assist pass. In fact, the defender was completely unimportant because he was about 3 seconds too late to do anything…but FLOP. So just because that ass decided not to jump over Dempsey’s non-high-flying legs, the spectator was robbed of a piece of beauty. Do we really want to reward the beaten flopper over the beautiful creativity of the goal scorer? I don’t. But apparently, soccer DOES.

    That’s the problem with soccer. That defender has every incentive to take his dive when he’s beaten. The fan is deprived of the sweet release of success. And soccer gets to remain low scoring, fast kicking, and with plenty of ties.

    Just like with the lame ass off sides rule, soccer needs to review its rules to ensure that offense is maximized; not squandered. Altidore’s finish is what people pay for. Not that ass’s flop. Don’t forget that, FIFA and CONCACAF, and!!!

  9. Michael

    September 8, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    Kartik, this is why you don’t get a lot of credit among media – even the reporters who were there, and saw numerous replays, disagreed with you.

    Yet you assert these are “conspiracy theories” from “American supporters.” Insulting everyone who’s not you doesn’t give you a lot of credibility – and it makes YOU look like the “conspiracy theorist.” I don’t think it’s that – but it might be time to grow up.

  10. georg

    September 8, 2009 at 11:26 pm

    Kartik, I cannot believe even you believe your own argument, perhaps you made it to get a response? To say that Dempsey “lunged studs out”is nuts and you know it. Dempsey was fouled seconds earlier in the play, thus the long first touch. He had every right to play this ball and he did play the ball (not the defender). Both players had every right to play this ball, and Dempsey was the first to the ball with a clean slide to push the ball forward to his team mate.
    Even the FIFA rule you site is a joke! Dembsey was not even in an act of “charging an opponent”
    I watched this play over and over and never once did I think the call was against Dempsey, I actually thought that the foul may have been called against Altidore for creating space by pushing the last defender as the ball was played by Dempsey to get
    an advantage.
    Sorry but your take on this play is as bad as the official who made the call.

  11. Brad in SoCal

    September 8, 2009 at 10:52 pm

    Not persuaded, Kartik. No conspiracy, just a bad call. The defender collided with Dempsey’s leg after the ball had been played. Dempsey charged the ball, not the man, so “letter of the law” doesn’t cut it.

  12. Lew

    September 8, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    Ah, it was a foul. The ref should have let it stand, but it was a foul. As Kartik says, letter of the law. I am a common sense guy, not letter of the law, but it was a foul.

  13. Brian-Indy

    September 8, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    Kartik –

    You are high off your azz if you think that was a legitimate call, it was embarrassing for me to read your analysis above. I have to admit you are accurate in 90% of your reporting but that was one of the most dumbfounding calls I have ever seen. In no way was that a foul, in no way would that have been called my officials in Europe.

  14. Jammer

    September 8, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    On his show, Wynalda explained that on the follow through Dempsey brought his back leg up into the defender’s legs to further trip him. He said in EPL it would be standard but this ref considered it unnecessary.

  15. Jammer

    September 8, 2009 at 9:24 pm

    His studs were not towards the defender, and by this logic every slide tackle is illegal.

  16. Ryan

    September 8, 2009 at 9:19 pm

    Look at the referee on the ESPN360 replay, he’s not even looking at Dempsey.

  17. Yankeehooligan

    September 8, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    “Dempsey had taken a poor touch on the ball and played the ball into space forward while moving in a pacey manner. The Salvadorian defender attempted to win the ball with a clean challenge to which Dempsey responded by lunging, studs out at the defender, bringing him to the ground…”

    This is the absolute worst description of what actually happened, Kartik. BTW, what’s a pacey manner? Dempsey played the ball; momentum carried him in the direction of the defender who then allowed himself to be tripped, hoping for the foul, which he got, because Honduras hates America. It’s as simple as that.

  18. Matt

    September 8, 2009 at 8:45 pm

    Totally disagree. Dempsey played the ball with the defender a full stride or more from the ball. He wasn’t charging into the defender at all. It was a 50/50 ball that he easily won and the defender ran over his leg following his pass.

    “The Salvadorian defender attempted to win the ball with a clean challenge to which Dempsey responded by lunging, studs out at the defender” I don’t even understand how you can make that statement after watching the video. This might have been the case had the defender actually been near the ball. Dempsey in no way lunged at the defender. He slid at the ball which was 10 feet in front of the defender. In fact his slide was at a 90 degree angle to the path of the defender.

    I completely agree with attempting to keep an unbiased viewpoint regarding the officiating of games where you have an obvious rooting interest, but this is never a foul in any league. The defender carried his run on into Dempseys leg well after the ball was away and very likely he could have jumped Dempsey, but chose to run through him praying for a miracle call which he received.

    “Lunging at the defender”…seriously?

    • Kevin_Amold

      September 8, 2009 at 11:36 pm

      This comment said everything I wanted to. Bad call. Grasping wildly for a conspiracy is a little much though.

  19. CleartheBall

    September 8, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    Completely disagree. I’ve watched it several times (ESPN360 has a great angle). No studs up, completely clean on the ball and the defender trips over Dempsey long after the ball is gone. What were you watching??

  20. Bobby

    September 8, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    sadly it was a correct call, upon review

  21. Ryan

    September 8, 2009 at 7:58 pm

    I would have to watch more replays myself to see what happened, but as you said Kartik, you may have let that go, I think many referees would have, it is possibly a 50/50 call. My issue is with the fact that an officiating crew chock full of Hondurans was in the position to make it. That is inexcusable from CONCACAF. Pile on the excuses that there is a referee shortage, but still steps could have been taken to avoid this situation.

  22. Jesse

    September 8, 2009 at 7:01 pm

    Interesting, but I absolutely disagree.

    I’m not sure how you can commit a foul when you play the ball well before the defender makes contact with you.

    If your momentum carries you into contact with a defender after the ball is played, it is just incidental contact. Dempsey’s “studs” made no contact on the defender. The defender arrived late to the challenge and kicked Dempsey’s shin. It was an awful call live, and the replays only reinforced what a bad call it was.

  23. Peter

    September 8, 2009 at 6:51 pm


    You left this off the definition:

    ‘It is an offence to charge an opponent:
    • in a careless manner
    • in a reckless manner
    • using excessive force’

    Not sure Dempsey was guilty of that.


    • Johnathan Starling

      September 8, 2009 at 7:18 pm

      Sorry, but lunging studs out after a ball which a defender is going after is a letter of the law foul. It it considered reckless.

      Just because you don’t think it’s the incorrect call doesn’t make you right. You are wrong. It is the strictest of letter of the law interpretation, something most fans don’t get.

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