I’ve never seen anything quite like the Gold Cup game Tuesday between French Guiana and Honduras. French Guiana is part of France, despite being on the Caribbean coast of South America. Because of this, it is not a FIFA member and is ineligible for the World Cup. But it is part of CONCACAF and sends a team to CONCACAF events like the Gold Cup.
After losing its opening game of the Gold Cup, French Guiana decided to throw out the rulebook. Against Honduras, the team named 37-year-old Florent Malouda — a former standout in France’s Ligue 1 and for Chelsea FC in England — as captain. Malouda is a native of French Guiana, but he played 80 games for France’s national team, thus making him ineligible to represent French Guiana in FIFA competition.
The Gold Cup, playing under FIFA rules, informed French Guiana that Malouda was thus ineligible to play in the Gold Cup. French Guiana ignored it. So, as soon as the game kicked off, it was well-known that Honduras would be awarded a 3-0 forfeit win. The teams played a game anyway and finished tied 0-0. Malouda was banned from the rest of the tournament.
This got me thinking about some of the many strange rules in soccer. For example, the rules state that the ball must be properly inflated at all times. If someone kicks it so powerfully that it explodes, the game must be stopped and restarted at the point at which the ball exploded, even if the deflated ball flies into the goal. While it seems impossible in the age of mass-manufactured soccer balls, it happened in a 2004 first-division match in Belgium, and the referee wrongly allowed the goal to stand.
For American fans, though, the soccer rule that’s the best known is “you can’t use your hands.” For some reason, this lack of manual involvement has been a chief anti-soccer point for some commentators; it’s even been described as “un-American.”
This is patently silly, but it’s also wrong, because the truth about soccer is that players use their hands all the time. Each team has a goalkeeper whose specific job is to use his hands. Most of the restarts in any game are throw-ins, in which any player can throw the ball back into play. Some have improved this skill to the point that the throw-in becomes a legitimate attacking weapon.
Saying that you can’t use your hands in soccer is like saying that you can’t kick the ball in football, even though most football teams employ two specialists devoted to kicking. It’s a misapprehension of the rules, and it also doesn’t matter.
Soccer doesn’t have stranger rules than any other sport; all of them have a few rules that seem immensely strange. Like sometimes, when French Guiana’s status as an overseas region of France means that Honduras wins a soccer game by default.
• Australian striker Sam Kerr doesn’t get as much attention in the American women’s soccer world as most big American stars, but her performance last week for Sky Blue FC was too good to ignore. Kerr scored three times in the final 12 minutes — the fastest hat trick in NWSL history — to turn a 2-0 deficit against FC Kansas City into three points for Sky Blue. Kerr has 35 goals in five NWSL seasons, making her the leading scorer in league history.
• U.S. youth international goalkeeper Jonathan Klinsmann, the son of former U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, has signed to play for Hertha Berlin in the Bundesliga. The younger Klinsmann will always be in the spotlight in both America and Germany, thanks to his famous father. But with the once never-ending U.S. goalkeeping pipeline starting to dry up a little, United States fans will watch Klinsmann’s progress with considerable interest.
• The Los Angeles MLS rumor mill is in high gear this week. Not only is striker Andre-Pierre Gignac rumored to be on his way from Mexico to the LA Galaxy — that would be a major coup for the struggling team — but LAFC, which starts play next year, is rumored to be signing superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
WEEKEND WATCH GUIDE
NWSL: North Carolina at Portland, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Lifetime. North Carolina, 4-1 in its past five, is atop the NWSL again after taking home the league championship last season. Playing in Portland, though, is not easy. The Thorns have one loss at home all year. Despite one win in its past five games, Portland is one point out of a playoff spot.
Gold Cup: Nicaragua at United States, 6 p.m. Saturday, FXX and Univision. The U.S. nearly suffered the embarrassment of the century on Wednesday, after it blew a two-goal lead and needed a late goal to defeat tiny Martinique, a country so small that it’s not even a FIFA member. Nicaragua has never won a game at any CONCACAF-wide championship. Could it actually take down the U.S.?
SuperCopa MX: Querétaro vs. Club América, 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Univision. This is the first half of a doubleheader at the StubHub Center in Los Angeles as Mexico kicks off its fall soccer season with a pair of exhibitions. Querétaro won the fall Copa MX tournament. América replaces Chivas, which won the spring tourney but also won the spring league title and thus is playing in the next match.
Liga MX: Tigres vs. Chivas, 9:30 p.m. Sunday, Univision. This is the Campeón de Campeones, the annual exhibition between the winners of last year’s fall and spring seasons in Liga MX. It also happens to be a rematch of the Clausura playoff final, which Chivas won, just seven weeks ago. Tigres has added Ecuadorian striker Enner Valencia to its stable and may well be this season’s favorite.