Canada goalkeeper Erin McLeod was called for holding the ball too long before sending it back into play late in the game. The call was not only rare — few soccer fans had ever seen it before — but it also gave the U.S. an indirect kick in the box as Canada led 3-2.
Megan Rapinoe's shot off that kick didn't go in the goal, but it did hit a Canadian player's arm, setting up a penalty kick that Abby Wambach sent home to tie the game. The U.S. eventually won 4-3 in the last minute of extra time on an Alex Morgan header.
Wambach's contribution to the win apparently wasn't limited to that ice-cold penalty kick score in the 80th minute, though. As Canadian players, coaches and fans continue to say they were robbed of a chance at a gold medal by bad officiating, Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports reports that Wambach played a pivotal part in the call that started it all.
Wambach said in an interview at the team hotel Tuesday that she had noticed McLeod was holding the ball for long amounts of time throughout the game, a common practice when one team is trying to slow down the other's attack. Wambach started doing what she could to let the officials know McLeod was going well over her allotted six seconds to get the ball back in play, counting off the seconds McLeod held the ball.
The counting often reached 10 seconds and into the teens, Wetzel reports, and when Wambach counted to 10 late in the second half, the referee made the call that few people can remember ever being made on a goalkeeper before — a delay of game.
"I wasn't yelling. I was just counting," Wambach said, according to Wetzel. "Probably did it five to seven times. … I got to 10 seconds right next to the referee, and at 10 seconds, she blew the whistle."
While the U.S. has said it sees no problem with such a rare call being made in the situation, the Canadians have been understandably upset. A linesman had reportedly told McLeod to speed it up at halftime, but the head official never warned her. McLeod said the team felt "robbed," and coach John Herdman called it "a bit random." Christine Sinclair, whose brilliant hat trick kept Canada ahead for most of the game, said "the ref decided the result before the game started."
"We feel like we didn't lose," she said. "We feel like it was taken from us. … It's a shame in a game like that, which is so important, that the ref had such an impact on it. We feel cheated."
If the referee's call had stood on its own, that would have been one matter. But now that Wambach appears to have played a role in the result, the question turns to fair play and strategy.
"Yes, it's uncharacteristic," Wambach said. "But the rules are the rules. You can say it's gamesmanship, you can say it's smart, but I'm a competitor. We needed to get a goal. They're trying to waste time. I'm trying to speed it up."
Wambach emphasized that the official still had to make the call.
"I think making the referee aware of the situation, there was nothing wrong with that," she said. "At the end of the day, the ref made the decision on her own."
Which brings Canada back to its original argument — that the official tossed the game. What a difference of perspectives two nations can have (check out some newspaper front pages from different sides of the border), with a shot at gold on the line.
Photo via Instagram/vicky15ramirez