Ahem, we need to talk about that awful call in U.S-Canada Olympic classic

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All credit to the United States for finding a way, for three determined rallies from a goal down, for reaching deep into the reserves at the 122nd extraordinary minute to locate that sensational game-winner – and for willing their way into Thursday’s Olympic gold medal match.

But I think we need to address one particular Canadian killer: the strange referee decision to whistle an indirect free kick at a critical juncture, not long after Canada had taken a 3-2 lead.

Jenna Pel will be back later with more thoughts and deeper analysis of Monday’s incredible evening in Manchester; she’s got the serious knowledge on all things U.S. women’s national team.

(MORE:  the brilliant Alex Morgan saves yet another day)

Meanwhile, I’ll address the less popular issue, this unpleasant little matter that I’m sure most U.S. soccer supporters would prefer not to mention:

What a horrible moment for Norwegian referee Christina Pedersen to make such a highly significant decision, to award an indirect free kick to the United States in the 78th minute, adjudging Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod of time-washing.

And make no mistake, an indirect free kick from 17 yards may not be a gift from the heavens (as a penalty kick might be), but it’s a wonderfully fortuitous turn of events for the attacking team – especially one that is a goal down with 12 minutes remaining.

I’ve watched more professional soccer matches than I can possible count.  (Best, ridiculously wild-ass guess: somewhere north of 2,000.) I have never – no exaggeration here, never – seen that called.

(MORE: A fresh look on Tuesday morning, regarding a fresh round of media excuse making here)

I went back and counted. McLeod (pictured above) had the ball in her hands for 11 or 12 seconds; some of that was on the ground, which referees typically wouldn’t count toward the six permitted seconds for distribution. Or that’s what I’d guess. Again, I’ve never seen this be a big issue.

Yes, her 11- or 12-second hold represents a clear, technical violation of the “six second rule,”  a law that is violated at least a dozen times in every professional match.

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The penalty kick that resulted from the U.S. free kick? I have no problem with that; it was the correct decision. The problem is that it never should have gotten there.

I’m not the only one who feels this way. Here’s what my NBC colleague Kyle Martino said of the Canadian ‘keeper kerfuffle:

“My heart goes out to Canadian players, because it was such a tough moment,” Martino said. “To be playing so well, to bring your best game, against the best team in the world. And then to have the game flipped on its end because of a call like that? If I was playing in that game, it would have drove me nuts.”

It really was a heartbreaking moment; no matter your rooting interest, you hate to see something like that weight so heavily into a result.

(UPDATE: Some reports say McLeod may have been “warned.” We’ll keep alert for what she says, but know this: it’s irrelevant here. A violation would need to be egregious to make this kind of critical decision, and McLeod’s breach certainly was not.)