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Refs red-carding as required
by Ridge Mahoney, April 24th, 2009 7PM

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If the caliber of officiating in MLS hasn't kept pace with a quicker yet physical style of play, at least referees have toughened up their evaluations of fouls or offenses committed by players already cautioned, and applying stricter standards when deciding whether to hand out a straight red.

Despite this perhaps raising the number of players sent off, it's the only way for officials to call a game properly.

There will always be vigorous debate of players sent off with a straight red card, for the borderline between what is serious foul play (red card) and a reckless tackle (yellow) is a murky one at best. Take the red card issued to Dema Kovalenko a few weeks ago for his two-leg, studs-up tackle on Rapids midfielder Medhi Ballouchy April 11 . If such a dangerous tackle makes some contact with the ball, sometimes referees will let the offender off with a caution, though the danger to the opposing player usually isn't mitigated.

Kovalenko, his teammates, and Coach Bruce Arena protested the call, yet Kovalenko came straight into Ballouchy from the front, went over the ball with his right foot, and for good measure with his left foot hacked the Rapids midfielder on the ankle.

Coaches and, usually defenders almost always howl loudly when a red card comes out for denying a goalscoring opportunity. The myth of the "last man" persists, though this is not stipulated in the rules. Red Bulls right back Carlos Johnson was certainly not the last man when he tripped Herculez Gomez Thursday night in the Kansas City-New York match, but he did deny an "obvious goalscoring opportunity," and off he went.

Kennedy had also let play continue despite a Red Bulls' handball at midfield, so he earns double points. Johnson committed his foul inside the penalty area, and Claudio Lopez converted the penalty kick, so the Red Bulls were a goal down and a man down in the third minute. Rough justice, perhaps, but justice nonetheless.

Handball calls in the penalty area, despite clarifications issued by FIFA over the past decade regarding what constitutes a deliberate offense, are always controversial, especially when a a seemingly innocuous arm-to-ball incident involving Marvell Wynne last weekend resulted in FC Dallas netting the winning goal.

TFC coach John Carver issued a testy criticism of the call and MLS fined him $750. Carver has occasionally uttered some outrageous comments but in this case I have to say he's absolutely right, as there's no way Wynne's arm - extended to his left side, away from the goal - could be at fault when David Ferreira flicked the ball up unexpectedly. In fact, if either player might be deemed guilty of causing the handball deliberately, Ferreira could be more culpable than Wynne.

Returning to the issue of second cautions, for much of league's history, referees seldom showed a yellow to a cautioned player, which resulted in heinous and/or obvious fouls clearly deserving of a card passing without sanction. Of many examples I will only cite the case a few years ago of Landon Donovan, already carrying a yellow card, deliberately pulling the jersey of an opponent so as to kill a counterattack. Despite heated protests, he stayed on the field.

Maybe Donovan escaped sanction on that occasion because of who he is, yet the unwritten rule for players and coaches used to be anything less than a blatant mugging would probably be forgiven, especially if the first caution might be regarded as a softie.

No longer is this the case, as shown when the already-cautioned Paulo Nagumura took down Donovan, ironically, with a sliding tackle in the Galaxy-Chivas USA match April 18, and when Galaxy forward Alan Gordon got hit with a second yellow within three minutes in the same game.

Of course criticism rained down on referee Tim Weyland for "losing control," yet in both cases he simply played it by the book, and did so again in the final minutes when Galaxy defender Gregg Berhalter, making his MLS debut, hauled down Alecko Eskandarian to thwart a breakaway. Out came the red card, as it should have.

The game ended with 19 players but is that the fault of Weyland? Hardly. Perhaps he started out by calling the game more tightly than the players, coaches and fans would have liked but that message should have gotten through. Obviously, it didn't.

Players carrying a yellow card, regardless of origin, should regard it for what it is -- official notification from the referee to toe the line -- or pay the consequences.

 



0 comments
  1. Ric Fonseca
    commented on: April 24, 2009 at 8:27 p.m.
    Game referees in the MLS seem to lack consistency, though they seem to be consistent fair to midling in calling the game accross the board. As a former referee, and ref assessor, I agree with Ridge in that the MLS game calling crew need to have even more training than they currently get. I know Joe Machnik, head of MLS refs, and he does what he can, however, it is time for a change in this area given the rapidity of the game. I am firmly convinced that Garber and Machnik must ensure that the game officials keep up with the game, and must do everything to recruit new game officials, lord only knows that as the game continues to grow in this country that we're producing more and more game-savvy players, and yes even coaches, who could and should transition very easily into the officiating aspect of our game, but not enough officlas. How many times have I seen the same game official faces that in turn gives me the willies? In closing, I hereby throw out a challenge, throw down the gaunlet to players, coaches, broadcasters, and anyone else, to try and officiate any game at any level. The various coaching schools, US Soccer and NSCAA, tend to pay lip service to the Laws of the Game. This challenge will indeed be a very interesting one 'cause I'd bet that not many will take up the challenge to actually grab a whistle or a flag, and apply the Laws of the Game for 90 minutes, and if they do, return to do the same. And, when was the last time Joe Machnik called a game?

  1. Austin Gomez
    commented on: April 24, 2009 at 10:49 p.m.
    Referees are now so sapient and adept and knowledgeable that they are appyling not only the "letter" of the Law, but also (even more importantly) the "spirit" of the Law. The Referees' MAIN Objective is the SAFETY of the 22 Players --- always! If depending upon their Personality, Presence, Communication Skills and Game/Player Management CONTROL Techniques can add "Entertainment" value to the Game's essence, (allowing the Game to "Flow" with its "Risk- Taking" options), that would be greatly. wonderfully desired! And, of course, the Referees are always looking at the "Big Picture" with regard to its Game Control strategies/tactics with regard if the Player and/or Game requires a Misconduct Card! Presently, in MLS's first 5 weeks, the highly-skilled/trained Referees & Assistant Referees & Fourth Officials: all are doing superb officiating in keeping this Game of ours "Most Beautiful"! !Vivan los arbitros y arbitros asistentes y cuartos officiales de MLS! AmG

  1. Kent James
    commented on: April 27, 2009 at 8:04 a.m.
    Ridge is right. The refs are doing a better job with straight reds and second yellows. And this is not easy. But there are few things worse than having rules that are not enforced. It is especially egregious when people who already have yellow cards feel that they have carte blanche to foul because the referee doesn't want to have deal with the hassle of a red card. Now if only referees doing amateur games would have the guts to do what the MLS refs are doing....


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