Bad news about my little semipro team in Manchester. We lost in the playoffs yesterday, which means we will not be promoted to the next league. Everyone is gutted — a popular soccer word for extreme disappointment at the outcome of a game or season.
Despite winning 15 of our last 18 games, plus one draw, for 46 points out of a possible 54 in that span, we fell one point short of winning the league title. Look at the final league table here.
Unfortunately, coming in second gave us nothing but home field advantage in the playoffs. And now we’re out of the playoffs.
I plan to post the highlights of the game, but they won’t be available for another day or two. (The volunteers who do the very professional videotaping are too gutted, frankly, to do it. )
However, here are teachable moments from the game that pertain to issues of timekeeping and overtime periods that we’ve discussed. The match report is here, and it uses some of the terms below.
We were winning the game 1-0 at the end of normal time, which meant that 90 minutes had expired on the game clock. But after 90 minutes, we were in stoppage time, alternately called injury time or added time (or “Fergie time,” if you’ll remember that joke). These are the minutes that are routinely added to the end of the first and second halves, typically to compensate for time lost during goal celebrations, substitutions and injuries. The fourth official makes the determination and at the end of 45 minutes (the first half) and 90 minutes (the second half), he or she holds up a sign announcing how many minutes have been added. Usually, it’s about three minutes, but if there has been a serious injury, there might be 10 minutes or more added on. *
In the case of today’s game, five minutes were added on at the end of normal time in the second half. So, with a 1-0 lead after 90 minutes, we needed to survive five more excruciating minutes. Meanwhile, we’d taken our two top scorers off the field late in the second half.
Then disaster struck. Two minutes into stoppage time, our opponent, Ashton United, scored an equalizer (i.e. tied the score). Now the score was 1-1, and our two most dangerous players were on the bench, unable to return to the game.
At the end of stoppage time, the referee blew the whistle, and the score stood at 1-1. In normal league play, this is the end of the game. But in the case of this playoff game, the game had to produce a winner to go to the final. So, it was off to extra time.
Note that it’s “extra time,” not “overtime.” While they are basically the same thing, American soccer fans tend to use the Britishism of “extra time,” even if they prefer to use American soccer words elsewhere. I think there’s a subtle difference between the terms, with “extra time” carrying connotations that time is something that goes forward, from zero to 90, rather than being something that counts down to a buzzer, but as a practical matter, they’re the same thing.
Frankly, this is one way snobby American fans discern the “real” fans from the casual ones. So you heard it here: If you want to impress your soccer-mad kids and grandkids, or your pretentious neighbor with the Arsenal shirt, say “extra time,” not “overtime.” (As always, this is different with youth and college soccer here in the United States, where it’s “overtime.”)
OK, so now FC United of Manchester is in extra time. As I mentioned in class, typically there are two 15-minute periods, with the teams changing directions in between. The first period was played without a score, and then 15 more minutes were played going the other way. Still no score.
Penalty kicks, right?
There’s stoppage time. Normally, there wouldn’t be much time added at the end of a 15-minute period. But what happened here was that Ashton United was taking a corner kick as the 15-minute period elapsed.
They took the corner kick, and the ball went out of play with FC United being the last to touch it. So Ashton got to take another corner kick. At this point, we were past 15 minutes. But the referee still hadn’t blown the whistle.
I’m not sure how much stoppage time was added, but in any case, a different principle was in effect here that kept the game going. Timekeeping is more an art than a science: In the interest of allowing teams to complete last-ditch attacks, referees tend to blow the whistle when neither team is attacking the goal. This means that Ashton, by having those repeated corner kick opportunities, got to keep taking corners until FC United could repel the attack. Imagine a basketball game where a team shooting at the end of the game gets to keep shooting until they either make the shot or the defensive team makes a stop. This is pretty much what happens in soccer. I like this aspect of the game because soccer is not a sport like basketball or American football where a trailing team can stop the clock in order to set up a last shot or a Hail Mary pass.
Back to the game and the second corner kick: FC United paid the price for failing to clear its lines at this crucial moment in the game, and Ashton United scored. The whistle was blown shortly afterward.
* The discussion of stoppage time does not apply to American youth and college soccer, which employ the countdown clock that we know from basketball, football and hockey. This means there is no stoppage time. This is one of the many maddening differences in the American game.