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Cases that confound: Carver and Marrufo
by Ridge Mahoney, May 1st, 2009 11AM

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I loathe announcers, be they soccer or otherwise, whose top-shelf method of conveying excitement or drama or surprise is to loudly wail the latest and lamest buzz-bellow, as in, "ARE YOU KIDDING MEEEEEE!?"

Hey, try this one: give me a break!

But I must confess the majordomos of MLS provoked just that response -- as well as a few expletives -- from me not once, not twice, but several times in the past week. I really want to believe that in all ways MLS is inching closer to being a true major league with nice stadiums, better competition, sounder (now there's a pun) business practices, and increasing acceptance.

Unfortunately, the league's annoying tendency to go Mickey Mouse won't go away. I speak not of the sadly comical efforts to a get a D.C. United stadium project out of stasis, but rather the tragic tales of John Carver and Jair Marrufo.

On April 22, chafing from a $750 fine imposed by MLS for criticizing a refereeing decision that cost his team a goal and at least a point, Carver elected to coach from a private box rather than the field, so as not to risk further confrontation. A DVD of Carver's sideline exhortations and occasional sharp comments to match officials had been circulated by MLS as examples of what should be punished, and he felt singled out unfairly.

During the game, Carver relayed instructions by phone to assistant coach Chris Cummins, and TFC won, 1-0. No problem, except that, according to Carver, the next day he received notice from the league office that starting with the next game he'd be back on the team bench, or else. Incredibly, instead of  "or else," MLS got something else entirely.

Carver resigned two days later. In an interview with the Toronto Star he complained bitterly about the league meddling in how he does his job, as well he should. Apparently, there is nothing in the league regulations that prohibits a coach from doing this, and some foreign coaches - including Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce - routinely watch some of the game from a higher vantage point.

MLS didn't have the courtesy or courage to acknowledge, explain, or clarify the situation (TFC, not the league, ordered Carver down from on top). It simply stayed silent, apparently believing that if something is ignored it will quickly go away and be forgotten. Meanwhile, TFC fans, management, and players are in shock, deprived of a man whose leadership had generated a 10-point improvement in performance in 2008 from the previous season, and was 2-2-2 this season.

Carver probably should have complained again but not abandoned his team and his players and only time will tell if, despite his denials, he joins up with Alan Shearer at Newcastle, one of his former employers. He denied rumors that health issues prompted his decision.

Yet regardless of his aspirations or motivations for leaving, or skills or performance as a coach, or brusque personality, it's inconceivable why MLS should give a rat's butt.

If he bailed in order to avoid giving one of those inane in-game interviews the league insists on infesting its telecasts with, well, good for him. He's old school. In a tense moment, angered by a dumb question, I could see him, growling, chomp a big piece out of the microphone and hand it back to the trembling reporter. Now, that's entertainment!

MLS and U.S. Soccer share jurisdiction in the case of Marrufo, a veteran referee who after chatting amiably with Fire icon Cuauhtemoc Blanco prior to working the Columbus-Chicago game last week, accepted the midfielder's jersey when the player tossed it to him after the final whistle. Blanco threw it to him through the open door of the referee's room, which is supposed to be kept secure from intruders.

The only thing more astounding than Marrufo's stupid complicity is the response: one week off. A game? One game? For violating the most sacred tenet of officiating, that of impartiality and fairness? When perception, and even misperception, can be construed as reality, extreme care must be exercised.

Game officials around the world are sometimes seen talking with coaches and players prior to kickoff, and unfortunately, such chats are excoriated by an aggrieved party if a decision goes the other way. Anything, rightly or wrongly, that taints the officials' impartiality is potentially volatile.

Marrufo sent off Crew defender Gino Padula on a reckless studs-up tackle that the Crew - of course - is appealing because of the officiating controversy. Regardless, his dalliance with Blanco requires harsher sanction, even if, as reports indicate, Blanco initiated the exchanges. Perhaps Marrufo didn't want to offend or insult the Fire star by handing the jersey back and if he immediately called director of game operations Joe Machnik to report the incident I hope that news is disseminated right away, along with how he recorded the incident in his referee's report.

I also hope MLS and U.S. Soccer are stalling until they gather up more information to mete out a proper punishment. Otherwise, those 10-game suspensions handed out by MLS to Jon Conway and Jeff Parke for taking a supplement that included a banned substance they had never heard of looks mighty heavy-handed.



0 comments
  1. Thomas Zengel
    commented on: May 1, 2009 at 10:48 a.m.
    The thing that bothers me about Blanco is he is such a diver. He was not hurt!!! It happened right in front of me. My first reaction was that is a yellow card, but Blanco acts like he got shot and out comes the red. As soon as he "crawled" off the field up goes his hand to come back into the match. He plays like a man possessed with no problems. They talk about professional fouls what about professional fakers.
  1. Laurence Reich
    commented on: May 1, 2009 at 11:22 a.m.
    ONE MIGHT INFER THAT BLANCO'S HALFTIME CONVERSATION WITH MARRUFO INCLUDED A COMPLAINT ABOUT PADULA'S MAKING OF HIM AND WAS INTENDED TO ACHIEVE WHAT HAPPENED IN THE SECOND HALF, I.E., MARRUFO'S SENDING-OFF OF PADULA FOR WHAT APPEARED ON TV TO WARRANT NO MORE THAN A YELLOW CARD, AND THAT BLANCO'S POST-GAME GIFT OF HIS JERSEY WAS INTENDED TO THANK MARRUFO FOR HIS EXPULSION OF PADULA. iF SO VIEWED, THE EVENTS SURELY WARRANT SEVERE PUNISHMENT TO BOTH, ESPECIALLY MARRUFO.
  1. Mj Lee
    commented on: May 2, 2009 at 10:04 a.m.
    A player handing his jersey to a referee after the game is NOT a case of "violating the most sacred tenet of officiating, that of impartiality and fairness". The outrage of Ridge Mahoney and the MLS are American reactions to a custom that is accepted elsewhere. In his autobiography, "The Man in the Middle" (2004), former EPL & FIFA referee David Elleray said that he had received jerseys from several top players after games, including David Beckham and John Terry. Elleray took these as acknowledgements of respect, just as between player opponents after a game. When players exchange jerseys, do we protest and say that those players must have been in cahoots? Of course not, in fact is it sportsmanship. The same is true between player and referee. When you read these and other referee memoirs, you understand that player management is more than just blowing the whistle and being a control freak out there. It is also about being a human who loves the game as much as the player, and the best refs communicate with the players. In the American world of political correctness and transparency, accepting a jersey may look like a bribe. But elsewhere it's a sign of respect and should be allowed here as well.
  1. Robert Iarusci
    commented on: May 4, 2009 at 7:29 a.m.
    So, let me get this straight. Am I to believe from your comments that John Carver is justified to hand in his resignation because after the league fined him $750 for his post game comments vs Dallas( blaming the referree for the loss on a hand ball call...it was the right call!), then denying him the opportunity to coach the Chivas game from a private box...a league rule??

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