Yes, it’s an arcane rule. And, yes, it may have tripped up a lot of teams. In fact, let’s go with “probably would have” tripped up a bunch of them.
But the bottom line on this odd situation that developed in San Jose last night – and that probably cost the Earthquakes two points – is that San Jose should have known better. It was a costly error.
The situation: Playing at home, the Quakes held a 1-0 lead in the 62nd minute thanks to Chris Wondolowski’s goal. A second-half lead over a Whitecaps team that has not ever done well on the road is getting into “We got this thing done” territory.
Earthquakes defender Victor Bernardez and forward Alan Gordon both elected to leave the field for a shoe change. Who thought that was a good idea? Nine on 11 for any length of time is a fiasco waiting to happen. Sure enough …
As both players waved frantically to get back onto the field, referee Fotis Bazakos allowed play to go on. Whitecaps forward Corey Hertzog capitalized on a scramble inside the San Jose penalty area (right where Bernardez, among the league’s top center backs, would have been). The equalizer in pocket, the visitors, thanks to some dandy work by goalkeeper Joe Cannon, hung on to split the points.
Thing is, Bazakos was 100 percent correct.
Bazakos told a pool reporter after Saturday’s 1-1 draw that players may legally return from an equipment change only during a stoppage of play. It’s in Law 4 of FIFA’s Laws of the Game (the rules dealing with player equipment).
Someone on the home team’s bench should know that, even if all the players do not. Even if we cut the Earthquakes a little slack in not knowing all their clauses, who in the world thought it was good idea to have two players changing out their shoes at the same time?
There were some circumstances that might qualify for an asterisk here. Bernardez had been waiting several minutes to change out his shoes, apparently. That’s according to this MLSSoccer.com story. Plus, the players apparently tried to sneak in an equipment change without actually leaving the field; Bazakos was having none of that.
Once they left the field, one of the clauses in ol’ Law 4 kicked in.
Earthquakes manager Frank Yallop, who has proven himself again and again to be a stand-up sort, took the blame. He acknowledged that he did not know the rule.
It was really poor on our behalf of not realizing that the rule is you can’t go back on the field [during the run of play]. There has to be a stoppage in play… It’s just one of those nights that frustrates the team and frustrates me as a head coach.”
Here was the goal; you’ll hear the match announcers talking about the players’ shouts and efforts to get back on the field as Hertzog makes the home team pay. (Even the sideline reporter says, “As soon as there is a stoppage of play, hopefully they’ll be able to get back in.”)