October 30, 2019 Atlanta: Atlanta United midfielder Pity Martinez works against Toronto FC during the first half in the Eastern Conference Final on Wednesday, October 30, 2019, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

PRO explains why no red card against Bradley in Atlanta United game

Howard Webb, general manager of the Professional Referee Organization, on Thursday explained why Toronto’s Michael Bradley didn’t receive a red card in Wednesday’s MLS playoff game after fouling Atlanta United’s Pity Martinez in the penalty box in the Eastern Conference playoff game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

Atlanta United’s Frank de Boer wondered why Bradley didn’t receive a red card. Captain Michael Parkhurst said he should have received a red card.

Webb’s explanation:

“The Laws of the Game (Law 12) state that where a player commits an offense against an opponent within their own penalty area which denies an opponent an obvious goal-scoring opportunity and the referee awards a penalty kick, the offender is cautioned if the offense was an attempt to play the ball; in all other circumstances (e.g. holding, pulling, pushing, no possibility to play the ball etc) the offender must be sent off. 

 “It should be made clear that Alan Kelly penalized Bradley for a lower body, leg to leg foul contact on Martinez and not for holding. The left leg of Bradley made contact with the right leg of Martinez, which in turn caused Martinez’s leg to swing out and him to lose balance. The ball at the time was close by, just ahead of Martinez and Bradley’s foot was moving in the direction of the ball. Although most people appeared to assume Bradley had been penalized for holding, having missed the leg on leg contact, this was not the case. The lower body contact is clear when the images are properly scrutinized. After the referee had shown the yellow card (with no input from VAR at that point), the VAR thoroughly checked the footage and confirmed the lower body contact, also forming the opinion that the on-field yellow card decision in this situation was not a clear and obvious error, and therefore reported “check complete” to the referee. 

“This is not a black or white issue, some shades of grey exist and there is some interpretation required within this part of Law 12 as to whether or not the defender was ‘attempting to play the ball’, or even had an opportunity to play the ball. In an attempt to gain consistency, and to stay true to the spirit of the law amendment which was introduced a number of years ago relating to DOGSO penalties, current guidance being given globally to match officials suggests that if the ball is close-by and the defender is moving into a position to challenge for the ball, moving his leg/foot etc towards it, but fails to reach it and fouls the opponent, a yellow card is the appropriate outcome. 

“When this aspect of the law was amended some years ago, it was done so to remove the ‘triple jeopardy’ situation of red card/penalty kick/suspension. This was seen as excessively harsh on those players who were merely clumsy, rather than cynical. The view that was taken by the law makers was that the obvious goal-scoring opportunity is being restored anyway with the award of a penalty kick, which is often an even better opportunity to score than the one which was previously denied. However, the red card provision was retained for those occasions where the action was not a football play but merely intended to stop the attacker. A clear holding, pulling, pushing, deliberate tripping when the ball is some distance away (and therefore there is no opportunity to play the ball) etc is deemed different to a player who is clumsy in their actions as they move to the ball to try to play it. All current guidance that is being delivered to officials at the moment is that the opportunity to show a yellow card should be taken unless the actions of the player are clearly designed to stop the attack. In last night’s situation, the referee felt the evidence presented to him did not demonstrate a cynical act by Bradley, more of a clumsy one as he moved to the ball, and as such he followed current thinking on this. 

“It is clear that had Bradley been penalized for a holding offense, a red card would have been correctly shown.”

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