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Ref Watch
October 11th, 2006 5:37PM

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Two critical refereeing decisions went against Colorado in its 3-1 loss to New England Sept. 30, yet in both cases, the right call was made.

Rapids coach Fernando Clavijo complained when a penalty kick was called after defender Aitor Karanka, attempting to clear a ball, kicked Jay Heaps in the face as Heaps headed a shot at goal.

Usually, when a player lifts his foot that high with an opponent nearby, the call is dangerous play and an indirect free kick. And usually in those situations the opposing player backs off and no contact is made, hence, dangerous play.

But Karanka, regardless of what his intent was, did kick Heaps in the face as he played the ball, and under such circumstances - when a player simultaneously commits two fouls of different severity - the rules clearly specify the referee is directed to punish the more serious foul. In this case, the direct-kick infraction of kicking an opponent.

And this was not a case in which a player stooped low to head a ball, in which case the player heading the ball would be guilty of dangerous play; Karanka's foot was shoulder-height when it made contact with Heaps.

Referee Kevin Stott, who yellow-carded Karanka, sent off Clint Mathis in the second half for elbowing Avery John and in this case, the decision really can't be argued. Mathis had just lost the ball to John, chased after him, and in challenging for the ball cranked his elbow into John's jaw.

In addition to the automatic one-game suspension and $250 fine for the red card, the MLS disciplinary committee tacked on an additional one-game suspension and $750 in fines for the incident and Mathis' arguing as he left the field. This means Mathis will miss the final game of the season at Houston after sitting out Saturday's 1-1 tie with Red Bull New York.

Not every such incident has been handled properly, but at least the league is taking significant action to punish players who use their elbows and forearms as weapons. New England midfielder Clint Dempsey was suspended for two games and fined $1,000 for an elbowing incident that injured Kansas City defender Jimmy Conrad in August. While Dempsey's elbow seemed more reckless than malicious, it cost Conrad a fractured jaw and seven matches on the sidelines nonetheless.


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