There’s a “checkers versus chess” angle to the refined rule books in sports, one that sometimes makes seemingly-goofy rules explainable in the wake of insane on-field displays.
It’s difficult to find those after Orlando City’s bonkers playoff win over New York City FC in penalty kicks on Sunday, even if the structure of the rules allowed for an instant classic in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
[ MORE: What we learned from MLS Playoffs so far ]
Our Andy Edwards made an admirable attempt at breaking down the chaos and we encourage you to have a look, but here’s the TL:DR version: Orlando had a goalkeeper sent off for leaving his line early in the shootout and the rules prevented Oscar Pareja from inserting another keeper in his place.
This led to not only confusion and bewilderment on an international level but also a once-in-a-lifetime moment given the playoff stage and the (kinda) match-sealing save from defender Rodrigo Schlegel.
I presume that MLS did not:
a) enact the dispensation not to book a goalkeeper in a penalty shootout and
b) switch to the 2020-21 Laws as a calendar-year comp after coronavirus pause
Otherwise, Orlando keeper Pedro Gallese should not have been sent off in the penalty shootout. pic.twitter.com/HoApcNah8Z
— Dale Johnson (@DaleJohnsonESPN) November 21, 2020
Yet there’s even more to this particular part of the discussion when it comes to Saturday’s madness in that the law was changed this summer but the old law grandfathered into this competition and that there is no good reason for this.
A rule was changed that would not have changed a single aspect of the penalty shootout aside from Pedro Gallese being sent off. That’s it. Instead, not implementing the rule flipped the entire affair on its ear.
Like in most cases of VAR controversy, this is not the fault of the referees with the exception that — hindsight being 20/20 — they probably should’ve lobbied harder (if they lobbied at all) for the implementation of a rule change like this during the coronavirus pause. For example, you have to assume that someone at MLS or PRO asked, “So when we return to the pitch, do we adopt any of these changes?”
Instead, though, because of the incidental and nearly unaccountable nature of sports, we get new heroes and goats.
- Take referee Allen Chapman, who had more than a few tricky moments including blowing the full-time whistle after Schlegel’s save despite Orlando requiring a further penalty to seal the deal. If he were in a meeting talking about the rule and said, “Maybe we should change this now, because what if we’re in a playoff game” before proceeding to create Saturday’s incident out of whole cloth, the others in the room would’ve probably thrown their sandwiches at him.
- Gallese had a fantastic game, making six saves, and while “leaving the line” early is against the rules, the timing of getting it wrong isn’t necessarily anything nefarious and the previous punishment is nowhere near the crime.
- Then there’s Schlegel, who hadn’t played keeper much at all in his life, but will now probably have the third-most replica jerseys in Orlando City history behind Kaka and Nani.
- Finally, Gudmundur Thorarinsson. The 28-year-old Icelandic midfielder whose shot was saved by Schlegel likely feels quite grim about, you know, being saved by a defender with advancement on the line. Or… maaaaybe… being stopped by someone who has no idea what he’s doing will feel just a bit better given the already wild nature of penalties.
There’s a bit of high school senior quote “Don’t cry because it’s over, be happy because it happened” to this MLS Cup Playoff game. But there’s also some, “Don’t smile because it’s over, cry because it happened.”
Major League Soccer, Gallese, Chapman, and Schlegel gave the world something that no one had ever seen. Even with the desire to avoid absolutes, we feel comfortable in saying that the manner in which this went down was unprecedented (delays, a miss, Schlegel looking hilariously out-of-his-depth on his first bid to make a save and even just a little on his successful stop).
And it’s all because referees had to follow rules rather than say, “Yeah, we know.” Imagine if the silly implementation of a changed rule made a team lost. Imagine if it cost players and staff their jobs. It didn’t, thank goodness, but man was it all a silly, avoidable, even stupid… but awesome state of affairs.
No one needs to be fired, castigated, or even called to task. After all, a world-altering pandemic is partly to blame here. But discussions about how to better implement rule changes should happen (Cough, VAR, cough).
At the heart of it, though, sometimes the wonder of it all is worth all the errors in the world, especially when the aggrieved party gets the win (Sorry, NYCFC).