AL RAYYAN, Qatar — As U.S. players trudged through a postgame interview zone in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, after a 1-1 draw with Wales in their World Cup opener, they wore varying degrees of disappointment on their face. They used that word, too, “disappointment,” with various adjectives in front of it and for different reasons. They were disappointed with the result, and with their second-half performance — and with the referees.
Not many players mentioned them. But Antonee Robinson said “the officiating was terrible,” and he had one specific gripe that, he felt, “cost us the game.”
He told the assistant referee that, too. As nine U.S. players walked sullenly back to the center circle after Gareth Bale’s penalty, Robinson stalked toward the corner, incensed. He felt that, moments before the Wales throw-in that led to the penalty, the ball had actually gone out of bounds to the U.S.
“Unless the replay shows differently, it was blatantly out of play,” Robinson said.
The camera angle from the broadcast was inconclusive. Wales forward Brennan Johnson had just barely saved the ball from crossing the end line. He then stretched to keep it in on the sideline, and Robinson’s hand immediately shot up in the air, the universal that’s out, our ball signal.
A couple hundred feet away, U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter saw the same thing.
“I mean, I’m on the sideline, looking down the sideline, and I’m sure the ball went out of bounds. I’m positive,” he said at his postgame news conference. “By a good margin, also. I was really surprised it wasn’t called. But it is what it is.”
Had it flowed directly into the goal, it could have been reviewed by VAR. But VAR rules distinguish between the “phase of play” that leads to a goal or a penalty and previous phases of play. Seven seconds after the out-of-bounds call in question, the ball definitely did go out off a U.S. player, thus concluding that phase of play, and ending hopes of any review.
Most players looked inward to find the reasons that the U.S. let two points slip away on Monday, and Berhalther and Robinson both did that as well.
“We were soaking up the pressure, and some could say [the goal] was coming,” Robinson admitted.
“But still,” he concluded, “for it to go down to something that’s out of our hands, it’s very disappointing.”