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Monday Morning VAR: Looking at the penalty calls against Columbus Crew SC



Photo by Carl Gulbish

If there’s one thing that soccer fans love debating, it’s handling calls. IFAB rules are not strict when it comes to handballs, leaving many calls open for debate.

The Philadelphia Union vs. Columbus Crew SC game had not just one, but two controversial handling calls. Crew fans are up in arms, while Union fans are noting that even had those calls not been made, Philadelphia likely would have won anyway.

Still, we’re going to look at each call and see if the officials got the calls correct (spoiler alert, they likely did).

Handball No. 1

This is the tougher call to make, though both are close. However, I have to say, this is probably a handball.

For brief context, the play takes place at the end of the first half, the ball is ricocheting around the penalty area, everyone got a foot on the ball here. Eventually, Leon Flach fires toward the goal, and the ball hits the forearm of Crew defender Mohamed Farsi.

Farsi’s hand is very close to his body, that’s easy to see. However, he doesn’t make a clear movement to get his arm out of the ball’s path, and his forearm is extended at an angle away from his body. Is his body “unnaturally bigger” here? Maybe not. But the motion of Farsi’s arm isn’t moving away from the ball or to protect his body, so he runs the risk of having a handball called against him.

This is a call that likely doesn’t get reversed by VAR once the referee calls it. It’s tight, but the tie goes to the on-field whistle.

Handball No. 

At first glance, I was unconvinced by this call. However, upon a later review on Sunday, this looks pretty solid.

For a recap of this play, Kai Wagner drove along the edge of the penalty area in the 67′ before taking a shot from the arc. The ball hits the hand of Milos Degenek, who was turning to avoid the ball.

Degenek’s hands are clearly away from his body, and the ball hits his hands and deflects over the net. There is an argument to make that Degenek wasn’t even in the box, but from a side angle, it looks like the ball hits his hands just on the line. It’s another close call, but a good one.

Joe is a junior at Penn State studying journalism and sports studies, among other things. He's covered the Union since 2017 and has written for Brotherly Game / Philadelphia Soccer Now since 2019. He seeks to answer life's greatest questions, such as, "How did I get here?" and "Where is that large automobile?" You can find Joe on Twitter (iamjoelister) or via email (

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