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Coping with ejections tests coaches and players
by Ridge Mahoney, April 7th, 2009 7AM



Not often does an MLS team incur an early red card and still go on to win, but by doing so last weekend, the Chicago Fire added another entry to the on-going debate of whether red-card procedures should be changed.

A flurry of red cards - four in all - shaped the third weekend of MLS play. Los Angeles and Columbus each went down a man and ended up losing. D.C. United lost Jaime Moreno with 19 minutes to play but preserved its 1-0 lead to the final whistle. Chicago ignored the ejection of John Thorrington in the 14th minute of a scoreless game to beat New York, 1-0.

"Usually, you see teams that are a man down take an attacking player off but I just felt tonight our guys you could see it in their step and their movement that they wanted this win and I just felt like for that half I was going to leave the group out there for the first half," said Fire head coach Denis Hamlett.

Thorrington received his red card for fouling Macoumba Kandji after the Red Bull attacker had slipped past Fire defender Wilman Conde and set sail for goal. Referee Tim Weyland took a harsh view of Thorrington's tackle about eight yards outside the penalty area by which he barely nicked the ball with his right foot as he cleaned out Kandji.

Had Kandji not been tripped, he could have continued his dribble toward goal or taken a shot straightaway, and that's why the red card was warranted.
Marco Pappa scored for Chicago in the 33rd minute. At halftime, with a 1-0 lead, Hamlett took off midfielder Justin Mapp and brought on defender Brandon Prideaux. He made two more subs in the second half but left Cuauhtemoc Blanco on the bench and his defense held out.

For the past few years, FIFA has pondered suggestions about allowing teams to replace red-carded players, while still enforcing suspensions for subsequent matches. Thus, so goes the rationale, the offending players are punished, yet the game doesn't suffer because of the imbalance between the teams.

A counter argument runs that players often take red cards - to prevent goalscoring opportunities or other tactical situations -- to help their teams, so why shouldn't the team be punished as well? Down a man, mistakes can be more costly.

No such rationale would have applied in the case of Galaxy veteran Dema Kovalenko, who took a red card at just the wrong time, with the game tied, 2-2. His sending-off in the 59th minute enabled the Rapids to intensify their pressure on two young Galaxy defenders, Sean Franklin and Omar Gonzalez, and ultimately win the game. Kovalenko flew into Mehdi Ballouchy near the sideline and studded him on the shin while completely missing the ball. Referee Michael Kennedy brought out the red right away for serious foul play.

Conor Casey scored the winning goal and polished off his hat trick by running onto a feed from Colin Clark, who had stripped Franklin of the ball in midfield. Gonzalez challenged Clark - perhaps to trap Casey offside -- when a wiser course would have been to drop and wait for help. Teammate Tony Sanneh had tracked back and Casey, not offside, dribbled in alone, evaded keeper Josh Saunders, and tucked home the winning goal from a sharp angle.

A savage tackle on Carey Talley earned Andy Iro his red card early in the second half, just a few minutes after Chivas USA had regained the lead, 2-1. The Crew defender stapled Talley's left ankle with a full-length lunge and referee Kevin Stott whipped out his red card as soon as Talley hit the grass. Ruling: serious foul play.

In the D.C. United game, Moreno slid into Brad Davis from behind just a few minutes after entering the game as a substitute. Davis was dribbling the ball on his left side as Moreno tackled him with both legs extended; one foot was high enough to kick Davis in the butt before he fell.

He and his United teammates protested, yet Moreno had tripped an opponent from behind with a two-footed tackle from the wrong side. Such tackles don't always result in red cards but this one did as referee Baldomero Toledo ruled it not a reckless foul (caution), but violent conduct (ejection).

Coach Tom Soehn brought on an extra defender and though Houston gained plenty of possession and Davis hit the crossbar, it couldn't break through United's 4-4-1 formation. United had just enough energy and luck to garner its first victory of the season and keep Houston winless, so though the dynamics of the game were changed by a red card, the result wasn't.

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