I'm disappointed that MLS has tacked on just one match to the automatic suspension meted out to Red Bulls midfielder Jorge Rojas for deliberately slamming his elbow into Brian Mullan's face in a league match last week.
The same week, U.S. forward Charlie Davies received a five-game suspension for bludgeoning an opponent during a Swedish league game while vying for a ball in the air. MLS need not follow the examples of other leagues in making its disciplinary decisions, yet the Rojas decision is far too lenient, mainly because he already had control of the ball at his feet and Mullan was challenging for it legally.
In no other sport is contact between the head and the ball an integral facet of play. A ball bouncing off a player's head can be comical, as in basketball or football, or potentially lethal, as in batter struck by a fastball, or in the case of hockey, players struck by pucks. Heads banging together are akin to a pair of bowling balls bumping together, and damage to the skull, neck, and facial features can be extensive.
Players going for high balls lead with their forearms all the time, and until FIFA adopts a rule similar to that in hockey - by which a stick raised above the shoulders in the vicinity of an opponent is a penalty whether or not contact is made - players will be cut, concussed and otherwise injured while battling for the ball, and referees will have to make very hard decisions about whether the contact warrants a red card, yellow card, a warning, or no further punishment.
In many cases, it is the elbow that makes contact with the opponent. But with the arm extended, the elbow is not nearly as dangerous as when the forearm is bent and the elbow sticks out like the head of hammer or point of a spear. This is how Rojas struck Mullan, by whipping his arm and elbow into Mullan's face while the Dynamo player jostled Rojas from behind trying to win the ball.
Fortunately, Mullan was not seriously injured on the play, and after a few minutes recovered and continued playing. But if MLS took this into consideration while pondering Rojas's punishment, it erred. Rojas lashed out deliberately and viciously, and the fact he failed to break Mullan's orbital socket or nose or cheekbone or cut open the face shouldn't mitigate the aggression or intent of his act.
Players routinely get an extra game tacked onto their suspensions if their fouls are especially dangerous or reckless. Bad tackles are committed usually in clumsy efforts to win the ball; if they are blatant attempts to injure an opponent, they should be punished more severely, and so should an act like that of Rojas, which had nothing to do with playing the game.