MLS Says N.Y. Goal Was Illegal

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 5, 2006

When D.C. United fell behind the New York Red Bulls in its season opener Sunday at RFK Stadium, there was no disputing the quality of Youri Djorkaeff's goal -- a lengthy free kick that buzzed over the defensive wall and settled into the upper left corner of the net.

What was disputed -- by United Coach Peter Nowak and club officials -- were the circumstances surrounding it.

And after reviewing the play, MLS and the U.S. Soccer Federation concluded yesterday that the goal should not have counted.

"The referees will all be alerted and everyone will have a better understanding if this situation arises again," said Joe Machnik, who supervises and evaluates officiating in MLS.

The goal, as well as the 2-2 final score, will stand.

As Djorkaeff prepared to take the 32-yard kick in the 15th minute, teammates Chris Henderson and Seth Stammler lined up about three yards apart at the edge of the six-yard box in front of goalkeeper Troy Perkins.

No other United players were within 12 yards of the Red Bulls duo, creating what appeared to be a clear offside violation as soon as Djorkaeff made contact.

But under the rules revised in the last year by FIFA, soccer's international governing body, players are allowed to remain offside if they are not directly involved in the play or do not gain an unfair advantage.

Henderson and Stammler stood virtually motionless as the ball streaked past them and just out of Perkins's reach. Although no United players protested to referee Brian Hall at the time, Nowak erupted on the sideline.

On Monday, he complained to MLS committee members.

"To me, it was a clear offside," he said yesterday. "Nobody saw it exactly right. These guys stand there for a reason: to distract the keeper. Troy came late because of that and didn't see the ball exactly right."

Machnik said he discussed the issue at length yesterday with the USSF, which trains and assigns the officiating crews for MLS matches.

The USSF won't release its final report until today, but spokesman Jim Moorhouse confirmed that federation officials had reached the same conclusion as Machnik.

"The goal should've been disallowed," Machnik said. "The players were too close to the goalkeeper."

Although Perkins said the interpretation of the rule needed to be clarified, he admitted that New York's maneuver didn't distract him.

"I could take the easy way out, but I don't think they affected me, to be honest with you," he said. "I saw the ball early enough to get it and just didn't do my job. I'm not going to make excuses."

Nowak said he feared that, without an interpretation of the rule by MLS and the USSF, teams, including his own, would exploit what he called a "loophole."

"We have a great [free kick] specialist in Christian [Gomez] and if this is going to continue, we're going to have six guys standing in front of the goalie," he said. "It's gotten to a ridiculous situation."

United Notes: Defender Bobby Boswell missed practice yesterday because of a throat infection, which also forced him to miss the season opener. It's unclear whether he will be available for Saturday's match against visiting Chivas USA. . . .

Midfielder Ben Olsen was among 18 MLS players named to the U.S. national team roster for Tuesday's friendly against Jamaica in Cary, N.C. Olsen has an outside chance of making the World Cup roster, which will be named early next month. . . .

The club has tentative plans to play an exhibition July 19 at RFK Stadium against an international opponent to be determined. World power FC Barcelona had expressed interest in playing United in August at FedEx Field, but a deal couldn't be reached.

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