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Penalties, beheadings and what's with this "points" talk?

Soccer referees are human, they make mistakes, but here's what they SHOULD be calling.

Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

A few weeks back I'm sitting in BBVA Compass Stadium dumbfounded by another Houston Dynamo loss. Almost as important though, is the sheer fire burning in my throat from yelling at the refs for most of the game.

While I doubt any referees take the time to read through our little page here (if there is one reading this right now...let me know in the comments where I can leave some extra cash for you... kidding...kinda...), I had several people ask me during and after the game why certain obvious penalties weren't called for our boys in Orange. The answer: ummm human error? Just recently I watched a Houston Dash game online and to be frank, their calls were much more balanced and there weren't many missed calls.

So are the men getting a weaker lot of Minions (seriously look at their uniform)

Courtesy of USA Today Sports

or perhaps they guys like to...well...

Regardless of the reasons, sometimes it helps to be reminded of the rules of the game, specifically those that are a bit unique to MLS and NWSL. First, the rule that significantly impacts the game. Offsides. A player must remain in front of the goalie plus one other defender until the ball is passed or shot in the direction of the opponents goal. This is a major difference between MLS/NWSL and other leagues. Typically the BALL must pass all defenders except the goalie before a player may move forward, in this case only the act to move the ball forward (kick, throw in, header, etc.) allows a player to bolt up field. Something the Dynamo MIGHT want to keep in mind when on defense.


A penalty that isn't called on a consistent basis is the lovely handball call. A handball is a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with his hand or arm who is not the goalie. There is a bit of a judgement call as to the intention of the player when the ball hits the hand or arm. Below a handball was called which resulted in a penalty kick. You can decide for yourself whether or not it was an intended move.

Most of the rules thereafter are standard soccer rules. Throw-ins must have both feet touching the ground, the person throwing the ball in or handling a penalty kick is not allowed to pass the ball to themselves, etc. Below are two more lovely plays that aren't quite legal.

One more tidbit for those new to the sport, there's a lot of talk about "points" after a win, loss or tie. To set things straight a bit:

Win=3 points

Tie =1


In order to make the playoffs you have to be one of the top 6 teams in your conference in MLS. Rankings go by total points, then total number of wins. If there is still a tie, then goal differential is the first (of many) tie breaker. In theory a team could have fewer wins than another team, but end a season with a higher seed due to overall "points" from ties. While in the NWSL the top four teams move on to the playoffs.

The MLS and NWSL award two major trophies at the end of each year. The first goes to the team that finishes the regular-season with the most points for which they receive the Supporters' Shield (NWSL Shield for the women). Aside from a trophy -- and some level of pride -- that team also receives home-field advantage in the playoffs.

The MLS Cup and NWSL Championship are awarded to the team which wins the playoffs.