My pal Phil B. Wilson writes for the Indianapolis Star. We were sitting in the press box watching the game between the new local side, the Indy Eleven, and the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Phil admits he doesn't know the ins and outs of soccer, but he knew enough to point out that one of the Rowdies players looked "dead" when he was tackled roughly.
The tackler got a finger wag, but the player who was down laid there for about 15 seconds without moving. When he decided to get up, he took 10 or 12 limping steps then immediately accelerated past the defender on an angled run. Call it adrenaline, but to a new soccer fan (or journalist in this case), it looked suspicious. And it was.
Later, Indy lost a goal because of a similar situation. Erick Norales went up for a header and came down in a heap. He grabbed at his thigh but didn't move for nearly 30 seconds. During that time, the Eleven lost position, and the Rowdies attacked directly at the downed player. The keeper was thrown off by the downed man and hesitated, and it cost the team the goal.
Norales stayed down and needed assistance to leave the field but did not exit the game. In fact, he was back on the field inside of two minutes and later scored the tying goal. Watching the game on TV, I couldn't see any contact with the area Norales grabbed while he was down. At the time of the injury, I was 20 yards away just behind the touchline and heard absolutely nothing from Norales. He didn't cry out in pain or communicate with the goalie.
These situations aren't uncommon. Watch any soccer up to the highest levels (many I asked on Twitter pointed to Luis Suarez without hesitation), and you'll see diving far too often. You'll see players lying on the ground in agony, looking as if their days or even their careers are over, only to pop up and run off with barely a limp.
This is simply bad for the game. While many of these situations are in fact painful, they're unnecessary and can be legislated out of the game quickly. The lower leg is an easy one to understand for most people. We've all stubbed a toe, rolled an ankle or been kicked in the shin. For the most part, it's an intensely painful but, thankfully, transient event.
In soccer, we can acknowledge the pain and allow a player to go down as necessary, but at some point, there should be consequences, especially for those who don't need to stay down. The answer to this is a simple 10-count. When a player is down, the fourth official can do a simple count. If the player is still down after this 10-count but can get up, he'll need to be seen on the sidelines and can re-enter the game at the next round minute.
An example would be a player gets kicked in the shin and goes down. He is given a count and is required to come to the sideline once he's up. He gets to the sideline at, say, 48:30 on the clock. He could return at 49:00. It's simple and requires very little change to the game's flow or to the referee's responsibilities.
A player who can't get up remains in a situation that calls for the physios, perhaps a stretcher as well as a stoppage time adjustment as needed. There's no need to push players into not getting treatment or to rush off the field. This simple solution to an increasing problem will do just enough to keep players thinking about whether or not a flop to the field is worth a few seconds off the pitch.
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