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A Closer Look at the Uncalled Handball from Sporting KC v. Houston

All the angles, videos, gifs and more of the controversial non-call in the Sporting KC versus Houston Dynamo playoff game.



Credit: Thad Bell

On Sunday night, Sporting Kansas City’s 2023 playoff run came to an end. It did so with controversy laid firmly over the results against the Houston Dynamo.

Before we go any further, it seems every time we talk about a controversial call, we have to add a disclaimer. It’s not the sole reason Sporting KC lost. Vermes said as much. Russell said as much. And we laid that out in our instant reactions podcast.

Two things can be true at once. SKC didn’t play well enough, but a potentially missed handball, penalty kick and subsequent red card would have undoubtedly changed the game. We’ll never know how it would have turned out if a different call is made.

Let’s get to it.

The Play in Question

Let’s take a look at it. Here are two angles. On top, the one showed after the check was complete from the VAR and below is the initial angle they showed repeatedly.

It’s probably worth a look at what the rules for handballs are, which Andrew Weibe has ready to go at all times.

It could be argued Sviatchenko’s arm is heading behind his back, but it doesn’t make it. And the act of moving his arm down is what ultimately blocks the shot as it’s heading in otherwise. His arm is nearly at his side, but it’s not quite there. It’s slightly away from his body and therefore making his body bigger.

Many Houston fans are arguing it’s not clear if the ball hit his chest or not (and you’ll see below that’s what the ref told Russell). But you can see from the images and gif below, that the first frame of impact from all four angles, pieced together, show it hits his arm. There isn’t time for it to hit his chest, then his arm and create the subsequent arm wobble, all in a single frame.

There is also an incorrect argument being made by some that it hits his “sleeve” therefore it’s not a handball. But his shirt sleeve extends way past the bottom of the armpit, which then becomes a handball. It’s obvious it hits near his elbow, maybe slightly up on his bicep. That’s clearly the arm and not the shoulder.

If it’s a handball, it’s a penalty kick and a red card. There is no doubt in my mind the wrong call was made by the referee and the VAR. I’m frankly not sure if the VAR took enough time. The ball rolls out of play at 40:30 and play is whistled to restart at 41:57. If you are going to spend nearly a minute and a half, and the ref thinks it hit his chest, but it didn’t, why not have him come look at it?

Update 6:05 PM CST: 

MLS has Instant Replay up for more views and analysis.

Coaches and Player Thoughts

Peter Vermes gets a lot of grief for “complaining” in his post-match press conferences. Some of it is justified, but a lot of the times we just don’t type out all the quotes. Here again, for brevity, are the comments just around the handball.

“And obviously the no call on the stop the player makes (Erik Sviatchenko) inside the box on Daniel (Salloi’s) ball, I mean, it’s a handball,” said Vermes. “I don’t know how hard that was, but obviously it was…”

“It’s not a hard decision to make when you have replay,” Vermes continued after another question. “When a player kind of picks his arms up to make himself a little bit bigger, even if his hands are out to the side, it doesn’t matter. He saves the ball with his hand. Normally speaking, a player will put his hands behind his back. His hands are to the side and up a little bit on the left. I’ve seen the replay already. There’s no doubt in my mind. It’s a handball. Actually, it’s a handball and then a red card because it’s stopping a goal-scoring situation. But unfortunately, they didn’t call it.”

But seriously, what do you really think Peter?

As for Ben Olsen, he says he doesn’t know what a handball is. “I haven’t seen it,” Olsen said. “I don’t care. We don’t even know what a handball is anymore.”

As for Johnny Russell, of course he agrees it should be a handball.

“It’s a handball for me,” started Russell. “I’m not going to sit and say that’s why we lost the game, it’s not. In games as tight as this and occasions like this, I don’t understand why referees aren’t 100 percent sure. He’s saying it hits his chest, it clearly doesn’t. I don’t know why you are leaving it to VAR, the same as last night (in the Cincy/Philly game)… I don’t know. It’s not the first time we’ve had a decision like that go against us. But I’m not going to sit here and be a sore loser and say it’s why we lost the game, it’s not… for me? Penalty. We’ll probably get some form of apology as usual, during the week.”

I find a couple things that Russell said intriguing. He indicates the ref said the ball hit the Houston player’s chest. Russell is right there as Salloi shoots and is closer than the referee. Russell also seems to imply the ref didn’t want to make the call and he left it to the VAR, who also didn’t make the call.

For his part, Tim Melia thought it was a handball too.

Expert Opinions

With only four MLS playoff games this weekend, and no overlapping games, the who’s who from American soccer coverage weighed in. First, shout out to my Twitter followers who located a bunch of these for me. I went straight into the press conference, but apparently the Apple TV folks all said handball.

Christina Unkel, a former referee herself, went on Morning Footie and said it was the wrong call.

Next up is Andrew Weibe who does a video series about referring calls. He actually has a thread of comments, so click the tweet to read the whole thing. He thinks it’s a blown call too. I’ll update this story with his much sharper video when his show, Instant Replay, is released.

It’s not unanimous though, as Herculez Gomez and DaMarcus Beasley thought their TVs were just blurry. Admittedly, it’s wild the video can’t keep up. Is it because the camera is moving? Beasley obviously played for Houston and Herc and PV seem to have some sort of strife though, so take these for what you will.

To balance out Beasley, former Sporting KC goalkeeper Jon Kempin thinks it’s a handball.

And just for fun, let’s look at Kevin Lopez’s take. Hilarious stuff from him. If only I could channel that kind of energy.

What do you think? Is it a handball? We have a long time to discuss it before preseason camps open up. Head to the comments and chime in.

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