By Paul Gardner
The newly energized MLS Disciplinary Committee has been working overtime lately, picking up the scraps and remnants from already-played games, and handing out post factopunishments in cases where it believes the culprit (meaning a player, or maybe a coach) deserves some extra chastisement for his offense.
Thus, we’ve had players given additional suspensions and/or added fines for dangerous tackles, or for the wonderfully imaginative crime of embellishment. We’ve had a coach suspended and fined for going on to the field of play. We’ve even had a couple of teams fined for their players’ unruly behavior.
And, we’ve had a player, despite his abject apology, not only fined, but (in what seems to be a sporting first-ever) suspended as well for addressing a homophobic slur ... to a ball boy.
Assuming that the DisCo is getting all of this right, these are praiseworthy decisions that it is rolling out. Who is going to argue with a sincere attempt to reduce violent fouling, to say nothing of banishing the frightful crime of embellishment?
I’ll wager the “charitable partners of MLS W.O.R.K.S and the MLS Players Union” won’t, as they’re the ones who receive the now rapidly increasing amount of money collected as fines.
I applaud the aims of the DisCo. But I’m not at all sure that using the DisCo to basically re-referee games is the right way to set about this important matter of cleaning up MLS games. Not least because it carries the clear implication that the referees are not doing the job, with the surely inevitable consequence of a downgrading of their credibility.
I can find no details of any mechanism to allow an appeal against DisCo decisions. There is also the undeniable fact that the composition of the DisCo is heavily waited with opinions likely to be something less than sympathetic to a referee’s viewpoint -- this because the five-man committee contains only one ex-referee, sitting amid three ex-players and one ex-coach.
Such an imbalance immediately creates voting problems. If the players vote together, which is quite likely, then they have an automatic majority, and the hell with the lone referee’s opinion. But MLS appears to believe that it has neatly avoided this travesty by informing us, with discernible self-satisfaction, that all the DisCo decisions have to be unanimous.
Which makes little sense. So, should the referee hold out for his lone opinion, than no agreement can be reached ... and so no action can be taken. Given the torrent of activity emanating from the DisCo lately, that seems not to be a problem. Which really does send my eyebrows soaring. I mean, when was the last time you heard of five soccer guys -- including players, a coach and a referee -- getting together and agreeing on anything?
I have a more immediate problem with the DisCo. That it is either not too observant, or that it is handing out its punishments on a rather selective basis. I’m pondering two recent incidents. I’ll keep the offenders anonymous, for the moment:
* On April 14, during a telecast of an MLS game, the “F” word came through loud and clear. So clear, that the commentator had little problem identifying the culprit as one of the two coaches. In fact, so blatant, so loud, was the shout, that the commentator felt obliged to immediately apologize to viewers for what was picked up by “our field microphone.” I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered that before.
* On April 21, during an MLS telecast, the award of a penalty kick caused the offending team to mob the referee with as many as eight players. The mob included a highly paid Designated Player who repeatedly jabbed a finger violently toward the referee’s face. The chaotic scenes lasted for some 90 seconds -- then, when the PK was at last ready to be taken, this same DP was seen wandering insolently around in the penalty area, with the clear intention of creating further delay.
Both incidents are obviously almost tailor-made for DisCo intervention, not least because the offenders were not punished at the time. Yet not a word has been heard from the DisCo department. Why would a crystal clear example of offensive language be ignored? And why would a flagrant and appalling lack of sportsmanship also be disregarded?
The lack of action in the first case, the swearing, seems inexplicable, for the incident was virtually served up on a plate by the commentator’s on-air apology.
In the second case, an explanation does suggest itself, and a highly objectionable explanation it is. Because the suspicion arises that the MLS DisCo is letting a powerful player and a powerful club off the hook.