Apr 232013

We finally got a break (or two).
Actually, three. In the game we got one break when Robert’s handball which led to the game-winning goal was either not seen or not ruled to be a foul (more on that later). The other breaks occurred when two of the three teams ahead of us in the standings lost, moving us up a place to third and only 3 points behind 2nd place and 4 points behind 1st. So a good win, but still some things to be concerned about.

My Concerns

Although we scored three goals, our attack still seemed somewhat anemic. We started the game absolutely on fire. In my mind, and in relating the game to others, I’d said that we scored the first two goals in the first four minutes. Actually, that pace was glacial compared to what we actually did: two goals in the first two minutes! Absolutely fantastic, but then… we went another 51 minutes before scoring again (and a goal that, frankly, could easily have been disallowed). Why did this happen? Why the sudden switch from hot to cold? Part of the problem, I believe, lies in the fact that our defense was not as stout as it should have been, particularly that our clearances and passes were often weak and, in the case of our passes, often not on target. This meant our attacking players did not have as much time with the ball as we would have liked.

But another factor appears in the stats: our main forward, Luis Aguilar, was not as productive as usual. Luis, for the first game this season, did not take a single shot on goal. Is this because he did not get service? Perhaps. But another reason may be that Luis does not take lots of shots per game. This is fine—he is a very efficient goal scorer, and one of the paradoxes of soccer is that while you must shoot to score, most shots end up as turnovers to the other team. So Luis being an efficient goal-scorer who doesn’t shoot often isn’t a problem. But Luis didn’t play as many minutes this game as usual, as a consequence of arriving so late to the game. He didn’t appear until late in the first half, and was subbed out before the end of the second half. So by being late, perhaps Luis denied himself enough playing time to score a goal.

The Good Stuff

I don’t want to act like we did nothing right. We attacked well, especially early, and combined well (as in Abraham’s goal). We penetrated well on the outside and sent balls in to the middle. Our defenders did well individually in matching up to Albion players, though as mentioned earlier they needed to make better and stronger passes and clearances.

The Hand of God, and Referees

I’ve been asked by some parents about our game-winning goal so I will give you my thoughts about what happened, why it happened, and how I think we should feel about it. I’ll start with the simple statement that the goal, by the laws of the game, should not have counted. Daniel sent a corner in that crossed in front of Robert Navratil at about chest height. Robert reacted by slapping the ball with his hands, causing it to drop in front of him, hit the ground, and bounce back up, at which point he stepped forward and basically walked the ball into the goal. The handball was deliberate by the laws of the game, in that his hands rose to the ball rather than being hit by the ball while in a natural position.

So why wasn’t it called? I’m not sure—but I’d guess that either it wasn’t seen by the referees, or they somehow judged that it wasn’t deliberate. And there’s a point to this: we got a break when the referees didn’t call it, and we won the game for that reason. Earlier this season Daniel handled a ball, then dribbled his way into the box and scored. On the other side we’ve had onside goals called back, opponents who’ve scored when they were miles offside, and last week our opponent controlled Sean’s poor backpass to Alex with his hand before scoring. The point is one I’ve made many times: the referees aren’t perfect, but they aren’t usually biased, either. We need to remember when we feel a referee’s decision (or lack of one) has hurt us that we’ve benefitted from these calls/non-calls as well.

So, how should we feel about that goal? How should Robert feel? That’s a trickier question. After the game, I heard Robert brag to some Navy players that he’d scored on a “hand of God”, a reference to Diego Maradonna’s famous handball goal to eliminate England in the 1986 World Cup. View it here if you haven’t seen it before:

Personally, I feel that to brag about this is in poor taste (actually, it’s why I’m not a fan of Maradonna—not that he scored that way, but that he is so proud of scoring that way). But the act itself is not “bad”, in my opinion, because it is not dirty play. When Robert stood there waiting for that corner I don’t believe he ever decided to hit that ball with his hand—it was instead a natural reaction to the ball. Still a foul, yes, but not a dirty one. Once he slapped the ball down everyone froze, even Robert, for a split second. But Robert snapped back into action before anyone else could and put the ball in the net, and for this he should feel proud—that he had the good sense to not act guilty and keep playing. As I put it to Alex many times, I don’t mind [our boys] taking advantage of fouls they commit, or selling fouls that have been committed on them, but that is different from dirty play, from feigning injury to gain advantage, from premeditated fouling. An example of what I consider “dirty play” is what happened at the end of our previous game against the other Albion team, when as Robert jumped to head the ball the opposing forward gave him a two-handed push and then grabbed his own face and fell to the ground, pretending that instead of fouling Robert that Robert had hit him in the face. That is dirty play, and should have been punished with a yellow card. What Robert did was a foul, yes, but not dirty play, and if we have to play to the whistle when the other team fouls, we have to play to the whistle when we foul, too. So I am proud of Robert. I’m not proud that he handled the ball, but I am proud that he reacted as though nothing had happened and scored the goal.

Soccer in Houston’s Three Stars of the Game

So I do have three stars this week!

  1. Robert Navratil. Robert started the game on fire, blasting down the sideline like Gareth Bale before slotting home a stunning goal in the first minute from a seemingly unlikely angle. He became a jack-of-all trades, playing in 5 positions during the game (forward, right and left midfield, and left and center back). To top it all off, he got the winning goal by playing to the whistle. Great game from Robert.
  2. Abraham Yemane. Abraham scored his second goal of the season and our second of the game through a neat interchange and good movement, ending up being exactly where he needed to be and finishing clinically. He was more effective in one-on-one defending than he has been in a while, too. Excellent work from Abraham.
  3. Daniel Dibos. I haven’t talked about this yet, but Daniel assisted all three goals this game. I know Daniel loves to score goals himself (and he has scored quite a few) but what a coach most wants to see from his central midfielder is the ability to read the game and see the openings to set up teammates or oneself, and being involved in all three goals show how well Daniel did that this game. Awesome from Daniel.

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