Questionable calls have U.S. players on alert

The poor penalty call in the World Cup's opening match angered soccer fans around the world, but it also gave the U.S. national team something to think about.
SAO PAULO — When Croatian defender Dejan Lovren was whistled for a highly questionable penalty call on Brazilian striker Fred, a country clad in yellow cheered while a large part of rest of the soccer-viewing world protested in disgust at what was seen as another match ruined by a bad referee’s decision.

And Matt Besler? He was busy taking notes.

The U.S. national team defender will find himself in situations similar to the one Lovren found himself in, and Besler was taking a chance to see just what might be called when he takes the field at the 2014 World Cup.

“As a defender, that was a tough one to see, but I think it’s a good one to see because it’s a lesson that some of us learned just by watching,” Besler said of the penalty called against Croatia. “It’s going to be called tight in the penalty box, so we’ve got to be careful.”

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Jermaine Jones knows all too well about referee’s decisions, as one of the most carded players in Europe’s top leagues, and the physical midfielder revealed that players were warned about the very kind of play Lovren was punished for being involved in.

“Before the tournament starts, we had two or three days before where one referee was inside the hotel giving us the rules,” Jones said Wednesday. “They already said that we have to watch out with the hands in the box or on corner kicks. Especially, with me, with yellow cards, he said stuff.

“We know the rules and we have to be careful, yeah, we know that, but we have to play our game,” Jones said. “We don’t have to change something. If we’ve got somebody and he has to take the fall for the team, maybe he has to do it. If he has a red card and he’s out, we have a good group and we have some guys on the bench that will be of the same importance as the guys who start. It doesn’t matter.”

The bigger concern coming off the questionable call in the opening match was the fact that diving is an issue that could play a factor in the World Cup, and it’s something the U.S. team will have to deal with. Not known as a team that dives very much, the Americans have to be ready for opponents going to ground easily. And complaining about players going down easily isn’t really going to change anything.

"Any team I’ve ever been on, if we feel contact in the box, go down," U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "That’s not our responsibility. It’s the referee’s job. It’s a hard job, but it’s the referee’s job to get it right. If it’s a dive, you book the guy or you play on. If it’s a penalty, you call a penalty. But that decision lies with the referee.”

Does that mean we should expect to see American players beginning to dive heavily to draw calls from referees?

“That’s something that I’ve never really incorporated into my game and I don’t plan on it,” U.S. midfielder Graham Zusi said. “It certainly exists in our game, but I think the players, the fans and the referees would like to do away with it at all costs.”