U.S. Soccer Stars, Blogosphere Slam World Cup Referee

Koman Coulibaly could shed light on his controversial call -- but he's not talking

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP
    United States' Landon Donovan protests as Mali's referee Koman Coulibaly showed a yellow card to a Slovenian player during the World Cup group C soccer match between Slovenia and the United States at Ellis Park Stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, Friday, June 18, 2010.

    Koman Coulibaly now finds himself on the other end of the whistle.

    Team USA fans and players are calling foul on the 39-year-old first time World Cup referee from Mali for negating a likely game-winning goal in a crucial U.S. match against Slovenia on Friday.

    USA Robbed,” screamed the headline on The Huffington Post, a sentiment echoed across the blogosphere.

    On Twitter, “Koman Coulibaly” stayed as the top trending topic for hours, with the reviled referee finding himself compared to Gulf-polluting BP and Jim Joyce, the umpire whose blown call earlier this month ruined Tigers pitcher Armando Galarraga’s perfect game.

    “How Koman Coulibaly made 300 million enemies in 15 seconds,” summed up one user who linked to a recap of the Americans’ 2-2 draw against Slovenia.  One of those enemies reportedly lashed out on Coulibaly's Wikipedia page.

    The infamous moment followed an incredible U.S. comeback rally in the second-half of the match, when Maurice Edu scored in the final minutes – and Coulibaly called foul.

    But what was the offense exactly? ESPN’s on-air announcers first said it appeared the referee called off-side, a theory contradicted by replay footage. Then, FIFA’s play-by-play claimed it was a foul on Edu, according to FanHouse.com.

    Later, The Associated Press reported Coulibaly likely saw American defender Carlos Bocanegra with his arms locked around Slovenia substitute Jejc Pecnik.

    Only Coulibaly can shed light on what happened -- and he's not talking. 

    "I'm a little gutted to be honest,” reacted star U.S. midfielder Landon Donovan, whose free kick set up the play. “I don't know how they stole that last goal from us."

    Donovan said he asked the referee to explain the decision, first in English. Then in French. 

    "He just ignored us," Donovan said. "Or he didn't understand."

    U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said in a post game press conference that he would take up the matter with FIFA.

    "We'll ask [for an explanation], but they're not required to tell us," Gulati said, according to FanHouse.

    Coulibaly, a 17 year veteran referee of African competitions who officiated in this year’s African Cup final, does have his defenders.

    Simon Haydon, a sports writer for the AP and and referee himself, offered qualified support for the embattled official.

    Nearly every player in the penalty area “was holding, grabbing, pulling or pushing as the U.S. free kick sailed in to the 18-yard zone,” according to Haydon, and Coulibaly caught one of those fouls.

    “Referees are under orders from FIFA to clamp down on the plague of fouls in the penalty area, but it's proving virtually impossible,” Haydon wrote. “Most referees are unwilling to penalize the defending team, preferring to turn down goals rather than give them.”

    Noted New York Times writer George Vecsey:  "The Americans can rage all they want, as some of them did after the match. The fact is, their comatose performance in the first half, made worse by the lumbering legs and sluggish reactions of Oguchi Onyewu, their postoperative central defender, put them in this dreadful hole."

    Had the Americans "not put themselves in a tough position by blowing it in the first half and having to make up two goals, it wouldn’t have come down to a call in the final minutes," Vecsey added.

    If there’s a silver lining from the debacle, it’s that Team USA is still very much a contender in the World Cup.

    England’s dud of a tie against Algeria Friday gifted the 14th ranked Yanks three paths to continue on to the round of 16 -- and sets up Wednesday’s match against 30th ranked Algeria as a make or break showdown.

    The U.S. can advance with a win against Algeria or go home with a loss.

    Should the match end in a draw, the Americans also stay alive if a) England loses against Slovenia or b) Solvenia and England tie and England finishes with fewer total goals than the U.S.

    If any of those scenerios should come to pass, well, no harm, no foul.