What if referee Hugh Dallas had called the goal-line handball on Torsten Frings in the World Cup 2002 quarterfinal between the U.S. and Germany?

By Grant Wahl
April 12, 2017

It’s the biggest “What If” moment in U.S. Soccer history: What if referee Hugh Dallas had called the goal-line handball on Torsten Frings in the World Cup 2002 quarterfinal between the USA and Germany? In this week’s “What If” issue of Sports Illustrated, former referee Howard Webb, who called the 2010 World Cup and Champions League finals, reviewed the video and gave his interpretation of what should have been called.

“The correct outcome should have been a penalty kick awarded for the use of the hand, and a red card for the denial of a goal—not the denial of an obvious goal-scoring opportunity, but the denial of a goal, because clearly the ball would have gone in had Frings not blocked it,” Webb said.

“A handball has to be deliberate, but when a team gains such a huge advantage through a handball and there is that element of a slight movement toward the ball—or even not a retraction of the arm away from the flight of the ball—then the referee, generally speaking, will penalize the offender.”

If the handball and red card had been called, the U.S. could have tied the score at 1-1 and had a man-advantage with the winner going on to face South Korea in the World Cup semifinals. Webb is now in charge of the Professional Referee Organization’s Video Assistant Referee program, and he added if VAR was in effect in ’02, the right decision almost surely would have been made.

For more details on this story, including comments from Landon Donovan, Bruce Arena and Gregg Berhalter, check out the new issue of Sports Illustrated magazine.

Elsewhere in U.S. Soccer news:

Everybody assumed that 18-year-old Christian Pulisic wouldn’t be part of the U.S. team at the Under-20 World Cup, which starts May 20 in South Korea, and it remains unlikely that it’ll happen. But it’s not impossible.

When U-20 coach Tab Ramos was asked if Pulisic would be on his 35-man preliminary roster, he said Pulisic is on there just in case a number of factors come together regarding Pulisic's schedule logistics. Borussia Dortmund’s last scheduled game is May 20, though the club remains alive in two cup competitions. The Champions League final is slated for June 3, while the DFB Pokal final (Dortmund faces Bayern Munich in the semifinals later this month), will be played May 27.

The USA's group games in the U-20 competition are May 22, 25 and 28. The U.S. senior team World Cup qualifier against Trinidad & Tobago, for which Pulisic would presumably be called upon, isn’t until June 8.

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In with the old and the new: Dempsey, Pulisic display prolific combination for USA

After winning the CONCACAF U-20 championship for the first time ever to qualify for the World Cup, the Americans drew Senegal, Saudi Arabia and Ecuador for Group F play. Pulisic was not involved in the qualifying effort and has actually yet to play for the USA U-20s, going from the U-17s (he played in the 2015 U-17 World Cup) to the senior team.

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