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Rapid Recall: Handball rule a handful in Rapids’ recent loss to SKC

If this new handball rule continues, more frustration from players and fans alike will ensue.

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Sporting Kansas City Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

The Colorado Rapids lost to Sporting Kansas City 3-2 in their second match in Group D, virtually eliminating the Rapids from advancing to the knockout round. For Colorado supporters, this game was filled with frustration after a solid first half. Clearly, the Burgundy Boys had better form, a better tactical game plan, and were more organized in the back. Supporters were curious to see Danny Wilson starting on the backline (nothing personal to Wilson, mind you) rather than former Philadelphia Union defender Auston Trusty, but things seemed to start off well enough.

The referees had a maddeningly inconsistent evening, and while we could spend an article on that alone, the rule that needs addressing is the “handball” laws newly minted on the rulebooks. This came to light again in the 71st minute of the match when the Rapids’ Diego Rubio was charged with handling in the box, leading to an SKC penalty conversion by Alan Pulido to put SKC up 2-1 at that juncture.

SBI distilled the rule as follows:

Goals will still not be allowed when the ball touches off of a players’ arm or hand even if accidental and players will still be penalized for a “handball” if they gain a major advantage or a goal-scoring opportunity.

So, as Bryan Waggoner tweeted in response to me losing my mind over the call:

Here’s why I am “so mad about it.”

  1. Was this really “handball”? How slowly did the referees have to move that clip in VAR to determine that the trajectory of the ball changed and rule that “handball”? I know for those of us from the comfort of our own home noticed how they moved it down from frame to frame suuuper slowly as if to determine whether the ball grazed the hair on the defender’s arm to determine a penalty.
  2. Isn’t VAR to be conclusive? VAR is supposed to help determine conclusively what the infraction entails. Yet, even the announcers of Friday’s match noted on a couple of occasions the subjective nature of this tool. VAR contains far too much subjectivity, especially in games like this where elimination is on the line.
  3. It’s the rule itself that’s so maddening. It was reported on Twitter somewhere that Diego Rubio asked the question to the referee, “How am I supposed to jump?” The rule is troublesome because now, even if the ball hits a defender’s arm and it’s accidental on the part of the defender or is, as was called before “ball to hand,” it’s now considered a foul. What is the defender supposed to do? Even if he does all he can to avoid the ball, he is still penalized as if he reached out and caught it. As one supporter noted, the offensive player would do better to shoot for the arm of the defender rather than toward goal.

Check out the call for yourself (starts at 1:05):

The pregame “festivities” were problematic

According to the Denver Post:

“The club’s evening-long feud with MLS officials started before the match even began, when Rapids officials say they were forced to stay on their bus for 30 minutes amid lightning strikes in the area while Sporting stretched and prepared for play in its locker room.” While there may be a legitimate reason for this logistical decision, this would not sit well with any team. Because MLS wanted to start the game on time, the Rapids were allowed only a truncated warmup, with kickoff pushed back just five minutes from the original start time. Players even had to dress on the bench with no time to get to their locker room, according to the team.”

No wonder the Rapids entered into the game frustrated, but since Kellyn Acosta scored in the 6th minute to put the Rapids up early, one wonders is this served as a galvanizing event with the team. Time will tell in their final match against Minnesota United FC (Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. MT).


For many supporters (and I believe players and officials), the rules should not unnecessarily impede play. I hope that league officials will continue to evaluate the rules and find the right balance. Yet, these new handball rules will become a handful as play resumes. Yet, like all new rules, players will learn how to adjust—as will fans. In the meantime, the frustration of a ball coming into a defender’s hand, no matter the effort in avoiding the ball, will mount. Rules should be fair.

What are your thoughts? Am I way off? If not, let me know! If so, set me straight. We’re all trying to figure this out.