Thursday, December 26, 2013

Programming Note


Over the next several days I am going to be out and about and generally unavailable.

We would like to wish all our readers of Kicking Back a happy, safe, and mindful holiday season.

We'll certainly be back at for a recap for 2013 and into 2014 with some major changes.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Remember ... it's not a forcefield in a can

Referees to use vanishing spray for free kicks at World Cup

MARRAKECH, Morocco (AP) - FIFA president Sepp Blatter says the vanishing spray being used to designate distances for free kicks will be used at next year's World Cup in Brazil.

The spray, which was developed in Argentina and Brazil, is currently being used at the Club World Cup in Morocco.

Blatter says ''we started using it in all (our) competitions this year and at the World Cup we will definitely keep on the same path.'' ...

See the whole story here, courtesy of

Kicking Back Comments: Referees will still only get 7 - 8 yards per free in my opinion even with the vanishing spray. It will however help with encroachment when the player is running yup to the ball.

I think I am too old school ... I would look to get 11 yards on a free and that way when the players encroached the yard they always do, we were at 10.

I am waiting for a player to grab the can of spray from a referee in dissent and write something inappropriate on the pitch. I've seen it with a caution ... when not the spray.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Is soccer like sex??

Dutch prostitutes demand same pension perks as soccer players

Dutch prostitutes are demanding the same retirement tax benefits as professional footballers because of the "hard physical work" they do, according to news reports.

The campaign to secure better retirement rights is being run by Freya, a company that wants to run a number of brothels in the central Dutch city of Utrecht.

Wil Post, a lawyer for Freya told Dutch newspaper Volkskrant on Tuesday that "Footballers and prostitutes both do a difficult physical job that they cannot do their whole life. Therefore, they would like to be able to save as much as they can." ...

See the whole story here, courtesy of NBC.

Kicking Back Comments: What was interesting to me about this article was the analogy. I know football is demanding and requires "hard physical work" as detailed in the article, but was curious why that was the first arrow out of the quiver to make the argument.

I don't think the intent was to liken the two, albeit both professions are legal in the Netherlands. I also don't know how else to go at the argument ... construction workers ... dock workers ... ship builders ... I dunno.

It may have genuinely been an attempt at flattery as it is clear that soccer players are a treasured class in the Netherlands, as athletes from the "Big 4 Sports" are here in the US.

Either way, it certainly got me to raise an eyebrow.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Much Better FIFA

FIFA bans Croatian defender Josip Simunic for 10 matches, including Brazil's World Cup, after Nazi chant

Australian-born Croatia defender Josip Simunic will miss the World Cup after being banned for 10 matches by FIFA for his pro-Nazi chants that marred his country's play-off victory over Iceland last month.

Football's world governing body confirmed on Monday that Simunic's ban will start at the World Cup in Brazil, and that he will also be banned from entering the stadium for any of his country's matches. ...

See the whole story here, courtesy of The Age.

Kicking Back Comments: I think FIFA got this one right honestly. What have I been saying about being draconian? From the article:

"Croatia's Football Federation said it was ''shocked'' over FIFA's ''draconian sanction'', warning the move could mean the end of Simunic's career in the national squad."

The CFA is right, it is draconian ... and should be. Yes, it may end this player's career, but will serve as a warning for others to not cross "that" line.

With a player missing the World Cup due to their comments, do we think that others will be so stupid as to try similar? If so, FIFA must now hold the line and deal with each as sternly.

I am sad to say, I think it is the only way.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

I'm a nice guy ... just ask me.


Thin-skinned Sepp Blatter has persuaded a Zurich court to ban a book of jovial cartoons about him.

The power of Blatter to bully Swiss justice officials was revealed when his lawyers wrote to the court insisting that the cartoons, by former footballer and noted graphics artist Olé Andersen, were so damaging that they should issue an immediate ban urgently before actually hearing any arguments from him.

Blatter’s lawyers claimed that he ‘has a good reputation and if the cartoons were published he would never be able to repair the damage.’ ...

See the whole story here (and the court complaint), courtesy of Transparency in Sport.

Kicking Back Comments: Long live the Freedom of Speech and the Press in the US and abroad. I just hope The Platter Cartoons are available in the US soon and I would just love to help 'the cause.'

Monday, December 16, 2013

A Final Tribute


As we have shared, Our friend, Ernie Branco, has left us. I'll be honest to say that for the last week I have been remembering the times that he and I have interacted, and the things I learned in the process. Even just last night Madam X and I spoke about this in depth as she too knew Ernie well for nearly a decade.

First time I can recall actually meeting Ernie was in Easton at a youth tournament. I was about 15 at the time I think, and was a very young, and very cocky, grade 8 referee who had all of one other tournament under his belt.

I was there with my dad who had met Ernie before and we were introduced. As the story goes, my dad was pretty unimpressed with me at the time as I was wearing an earring as many at that age did. He was really on me about it saying that the top referees don't wear one, and if I wanted to get there I should not.

Enter Ernie ... literally.

At Oliver Ames High School, where the tournament was held, Ernie was most certainly the most experienced referee there, and was well on his way to becoming one of the very best in the state. When we met, he knew about my dad not liking the earring. His approach was simple though ... he looked me up and down and said something to the effect of, "I like your earring, but the players may not. You may want to take it out, just for the match."

I did, and never wore it again ... inside the field.

It was a beginning to a very long relationship that saw us move from mentor, referees working together, to co-workers, back to a mentor relationship.

State Cup was always a hoot with him. I remember fondly what has come to be known as "The Cornstarch Affair."

I remember him singing happy birthday to Tom Supple and I, along with the Massachusetts FIFA and National Referee core, after a training session in Norton or him calling me "My Boy" at the top of his lungs when he would see me at a clinic.

We spent hours together in his office at BHS talking about MLS matches, and life.

So many times at matches at Foxboro Stadium we saw each other and I relished every interaction. Those were some of the most stressful times in my life, and to get a word of encouragement, or see him at the 4th Official table on the touch line always put me at ease. He was always the last person I spoke to before I went into the field.

Today is the day we say our last goodbye.

Tomorrow and all our tomorrows are when we remember the man and remember his caring and energetic way that lead to a zeal life should always have.

I for one, will miss him terribly.

As detailed earlier a scholarship fund has already been set up in his honor, and can be accessed on line at the EB Scholarship Fund.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Our friend, Ernie Branco, has left us

Ernie Branco, September 2013 - Marc Vasconcellos/The Enterprise
The Massachusetts Refereeing community, and the soccer community at large is saddened to learn of the sudden passing of Hernani (Ernie) Branco.

Long time Coach and National Referee Emeritus, he has been a beloved icon in the soccer community for over 40 years.

A mainstay, top referee at the Needham Memorial Day Tournament, since its inception in 1977. Ernie was lauded with the Needham Tournament Distinguished Referee award & the prestigious, Spirit of the Game Award, from the Mass. State Referee Committee an award saved for one of the highest honors a referee can be bestowed within the state.

Ernie served most recently as the MLS liaison to the New England Revolution and made sure that all referees that pass thru those doors were always well taken care of.

Words can not adequately express the loss. For me personally it is devastating as he had touched my life in so many ways as referee, coach, co-worker, friend, and just all round spectacular human being.

Universally, so many others have expressed these similar feelings through all walks in life when experienced with Ernie. Just a few of these expressions can be found in the linked stories.





We mourn his passing here and throughout the refereeing community, and send our deepest sympathies to his family.

Services for Ernie will be held Saturday, December 14th and Sunday, December 15th between the hours of 1 - 7PM at the Waitt Funeral Home, 850 North Main Street, Brockton. A funeral mass will be held Monday, December 16th at 9:00AM as St. Edith Stein Church, 71 East Main Street, Brockton.

Ernie's obituary can be found here.

Please note in lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to the Ernie Branco Scholarship Fund, Harbor One Bank.

If mailing a donation be sure to include "Ernie Branco Scholarship Fund" on the memo line of your check and mail to:

Harbor One Bank
Ernie Branco Scholarship Fund
P.O. Box 720
Brockton, MA 02303

Monday, December 9, 2013

MLS Cup is over ... Was it the right referee?

The 3rd Yellow - Why Isn't Mark Geiger Refereeing MLS Cup 2013?

Before I get too far into this, I want to make one thing very clear. This is not an article meant to disrespect the officiating crew that was selected for Sporting Kansas City-Real Salt Lake in the 2013 MLS Cup Final this Saturday from Sporting Park.

Hilario Grajeda is also a solid referee, was in the center for the MLS All Star game vs. Roma, and was recently named the MLS Official of the Year, something that he deserved throughout the 2013 MLS season. Ismail Elfath was the runner up for that award (Baldomero Toledo was third), and I like Elfath as well, despite my opinion of his performance in the second leg of the Revs playoff series vs. SKC. Elfath is 31 years old, and has a pretty impressive resume for a referee who made his pro debut in 2009 in the NASL. ...

See the whole story here, courtesy of SB Nation.

Kicking Back Comments: First let me say that the crew on Saturday did a great job. So as Jake had stated, the question is not a reflection on them.

There are a couple of points I think he misses on why not Geiger?

I think he touches on the over-exposure point slightly, but not well enough. Over exposure is killer, and can lead to just too much familiarity between teams and a referee. This can reach a fever pitch by the time something as critical as a MLS Cup rolls around.

Second, as was stated, Mark and crew are at the Club World Cup. Lets face it folks this one cuts both ways in the same direction. As a referee on the World Cup "short list" there are matches you have to do, and matches you have to avoid.

There is little doubt in my head that other World Cup prospects were invited by Brian Hall for this tournament, and their absence would mean a death knell to any thought of actually going to a World Cup. Also, lets say that the games did not meet on the calendar and Mark was available ... would it have been a good idea for him to referee the MLS Cup final? I would hope that some folks put some thought into that as a mistake on that match ... which, I'm sorry folks ... does not hold a candle to international play, or even many higher level leagues IMHO ... could kill an opportunity to go to a World Cup as well.

Listen, I'm a fan of Mark just like the author, but, I also recognize that missing a well placed match is not such a bad thing, and in fact may be totally intentional, calendar aside. 

Saturday, December 7, 2013

US MNT In Some Trouble in 2014

Full draw results from last night can be found here.

One thing is clear, Group G is the hardest group in the whole draw. Portugal, Germany, Ghana, and the US. My thinking is that Portugal and Germany advance, in that order.

Klinsmann put on a brave face when ask saying "... this is what the World Cup is about."

He's right of course, but even for a talented side is is turning the US into, it's a tall order.

But enough about that ... bring on the referee selection!

Friday, December 6, 2013

See you next year? ... Lame.

World Cup 2022: Fifa to decide on date switch next year

Fifa says a decision over whether to switch the dates for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar will be made in December 2014.

Sepp Blatter, the president of football's world governing body, announced in October that a taskforce would look at alternative dates.

That stemmed from concerns over the extreme heat in the Gulf state during the summer months, when temperatures can reach 50C.

Fifa president Sepp Blatter: ''There should be a consultation"

Qatari organisers says they can host the tournament at any time of year.

But the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee added that it would listen to the will of the international football community if a decision to move to a new date is made.

After meeting in Brazil, Fifa's powerful executive committee have announced a "road map" for the consultation process, which is being led by Sheikh Salman - the president of the Asian Football Confederation and a Fifa vice-president ...

See the whole story here, courtesy of BBC.

Kicking Back Comments: This farcical delay is not a surprise as FIFA needs to "study" the process. Here is is ... June is too hot, Winter Olympics in February ... so no go for those ... Looks like November.

I really hope US TV drops them like a bad habit.

Saddest part of the article was here:

"The governing body wants Qatar to provide an update on their progress over the issue (of migrant worker abuse) by March 2014."

Four months away for an update ... when people are dying to build their stadiums ... and they are accepting waiting four months for an update. How very predictable of FIFA.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

It's all about the pot

World Cup: FIFA reveals pots plan for Friday's tournament draw

FIFA has announced the allocation of pots for Friday's World Cup draw, with England, as expected, unseeded for the tournament in Brazil.

The host nation will join the top seven teams in world football, according to FIFA's official rankings as of October, in Pot 1.

The two unseeded South American sides will join the five African qualifiers in Pot 2, with teams from the Asia, Oceania and CONCACAF regions making up Pot 3. ...

See the whole article here, courtesy of Sky Sports.

Kicking Back Comments: Let the games begin ...

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

You touch a ref, you get ejected?

So I think this comes down to referees having to get some thicker skin and less "rabbit ears."

This post was inspired by the incident involving Chris Cook of the Minnesota Vikings against their match against da Bears on Sunday December 1st.

An excellent video of the "contact" is here from Bleacher Report.

I think this is a crap call personally ... for a few reasons:
  • Consistent punishment.
Take a look at this article from SB Nation. It has a number of recent events where a player intentionally contacted a referee. When you roll over each .gif take note that only Cook was ejected.

So you mean to tell me Tramon Williams contacted the referee by accident (as he offered). That one was the worst of all when the back judge(?) was pushed out of anger and frustration. Yeah it got a flag, but no ejection there?

We can just get absurd too when Cordarrelle Patterson as part of a touchdown celebration, high fived a referee (again a back judge?). Clearly intentional, and not even a flag. Why was this contact OK, but other were not?
  • "Zero Tolerance" approach
Like I have said many times, I don't like zero tolerance anything because it gives zero latitude for a governing body and eventually requires odd twists in logic to rationalize the actions of punishing one, but not another in a "zero tolerance environment."
  • Referees need to buck up and recognize it is a contact sport
This may be more controversial that most want to hear, but a good bump can be a great wake up call for a referee. Now don't get me wrong a referee is not a pincushion for abuse and should not take any contact that is threatening or puts anyone is real danger. But honestly, a nudge, pull, tug, bump ... give me a break. Yes it is a form of dissent, and as I have said before based on the sport it can be interpreted differently ... but there is some latitude in there.

By way of a personal story:

My very first game as a MLS referee was in San Jose, the Earthquake was playing Colorado. So on either side of the ball I had guys like Eric Wynalda along with Marcel Balboa. Welcome to MLS Pete.

So about 30m in, it was a bit ... tense ... and the teams new I was green, green, green, and took advantage. In one particular spot near midfield, when going for a ball, I got in a passing lane, and Marcel flattened me ... ran right through.

He could have avoided me ... he didn't ... and he knew it. He was sending a message, and I got it.

PK Before his first MLS Match
It would have been insane for me to send him off. Not just because of the fact he was the reason why folks were there, paying to see, but because he wan't trying to do anything more than communicate.

It was a fabulous entrance into MLS honestly. He was saying "If you want to stay, you have to toughen up."

He was right.

I went on to make a few more mistakes in that match and by all rights should have failed the assessment for failing to send a player off for a nasty tackle in front of the benches. 

I did not, but can assure you it was a very long flight home from San Jose.

Now, I have had the displeasure of being assaulted many times, and knocked around a fair amount, and frankly understood it was part of the deal. These touches are not that type of communication. They are a visceral way of saying "come on ref" and not much more.

Now, there is an argument to be made that this small stuff leads to bigger stuff later, and there is truth to that. But the league, any league has to understand that they can legislate all actions of emotional beings and expect an entertaining result. I think allow players, and yes, referees to emote in this way is a good thing.

It can of course get out of hand as it did below:

Then again, you don't even need physical contact for something to get out of control.
Viewer warning of explicit language. Note, not a hand was placed on this umpire by the manager.

You want to referee in the bigs boys and girls ... you have to be able to take a little grab now and then.
Deal with it without resorting to throwing a piece of brightly cloth, or showing a piece of plastic.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Send in the lawyers

Sports Law Practice Launched To Take Advantage Of 2022 FIFA World Cup And Other Middle Eastern Opportunities

The FIFA World Cup scheduled to take place in Qatar is still 9 years away. However, based on the recent flurry of attention paid to the future event and its hosting country, one may think the eventual event is fast approaching. There are concerns about the living and working conditions for migrant workers commissioned to develop the country’s infrastructure in advance of the 2022 World Cup and less-serious discussions concerning the contemplated design of the future stadium that will host the games. Lawyers are typically called upon in periods of controversy, and it is largely based on the increased scrutiny attached to Qatar along with an anticipated massive investment in the country’s infrastructure (one estimate obtained by FORBES states that the total cost is expected to reach $220 billion by the time the 2012 FIFA World Cup takes place). ...

See the whole story here, courtesy of Forbes.

Kicking Back Comments: This is really fascinating to me actually. Now on the surface this would seem a bit transitory, or at least a significant hedge of a "post World Cup" effect ... which is very real. Take a look at US history for an example. In 1994 the World Cup was played here, a deal made with FIFA in 1988 that the US would have a viable professional league. In 1996 MLS launched, and by many accounts is still going strong. Hard to believe it will be 20 years soon.

Now for Al Tamimi & Company to set up a firm dedicated to such matters is interesting, but would seem speculative on only a World Cup ... there is this however:

"However, there are additional promising signs including but not limited to a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report that pits the Middle East as a prime emerging sports market worth in excess of $40 billion based on annual revenues and with an estimated growth rate of 4.6% (sponsorship being identified as one of the fastest growing segments). The time may be ripe for a specialized Sports Law practice."

Yeah, that's Billion with a "B" ...

It's a fascinating prospect honestly. It also makes me wonder if FIFA will use their services to act as their "strong arm" in the "FIFA Courts" that will be set up in the region as well.

Either way, it's good business.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Another Example of FIFA Condoning Racism?

FIFA Wants Tougher Actions Against Racism In Soccer, But Reportedly Rejects Black Couple In Brazil

This week, FIFA president Sepp Blatter said he was “sickened” to hear supporters of Spanish soccer club Real Betis racially abuse their own player. TV footage recently released shows Betis fans appearing to make racist gestures and noises at defender Paulo, a Brazilian player who is black, as he left the field after a loss to city rival Sevilla.

On his official Twitter account, Blatter publicly condemned the incident and stated that it was “nonsense to fight racism with fines,” a practice that has long been used by FIFA. “This has to be tackled by ALL competition organizers,” he added. ...

See the whole article here, courtesy of Forbes.

Kicking Back Comments: What's funny of course is in the update at the bottom of the article, FIFA is quick, very quick, to blame the organizer of the event, and shed FIFA of any responsibility whatsoever.

This of course is laughable that FIFA ceded any control, but is a far cry from racism either.

There is an interesting question lurking around here though ... Should FIFA have intentionally chosen the couple of African descent to show "FIFA is not racist?"

Isn't that racism defined, to prejudice a decision based on race? (Some call this reverse racism, to me it is just racism)

FIFA is honestly in a no win situation here, where if they go out of their way to accommodate the couple of African descent, they are pandering. If they accommodate the couple of European descent, they are racist.

So where do you go with that?

Maybe you do give up complete control to an independent selection committee, state same publicly before hand, and go from there. Or possibly be public about the selection criteria, such as independent polls or popularity scores ... whatever you use ... just be objective and public ...

FIFA by opting for any type of "quota" system, as the article describes Brazil doing, may do more harm than good.

This one is a lot harder than the article gives it credit for. What is NOT hard however is how FIFA should respond to actual racism, a video if which is linked to the article. As I have said in the past ... be draconian. Don't just fine people who have the money ... or if you do, make it really hurt.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Official FIFA Apps Announcement ... But Stay for the Comments

FIFA launches official apps for iOS and Android

With the 2014 World Cup Final Draw only days away, FIFA has launched official apps for both iOS and Android. Available now, the app provides live score updates for "85 of the world’s top leagues" (including MLS in the United States) according to FIFA. Thankfully it offers news, standings, statistics, and photos / video for even more teams: in total, 197 leagues across the globe are included. Users can expect news on "hundreds of competitions, thousands of goals and over a million minutes of football every single week," FIFA says. ...

See the whole announcement here, courtesy of The Verge.

Kicking Back Comments: Yawn. No surprise on this. This app is mediocre at best right now.

What is spectacular however, are the comments in response to the article. My favorite is below. I have never seen a coach go Super Saiyan before ... plenty of players and even a referee or two. Never a coach.

Some priceless stuff in there worth looking at.