At first glance, a decision made by the MLS Disciplinary Committee to suspend Vancouver midfielder Barry Robson for harassing an assistant referee during a stoppage-time melee seems unfair.
The committee reviewed the incident from the 'Caps match played on Wednesday night and announced the suspension Saturday morning, just a few hours before Vancouver took on Northwest rival Seattle at CenturyLink Field in a 1 p.m. match. Though the league notified the 'Caps late Friday of a possible suspension, that still left Coach Martin Rennie and his staff little time to prepare for Robson's absence in a very important game, which it lost, 2-0.
In expanding the Disciplinary Committee's power to review and perhaps punish incidents in which the referee took no action, for whatever reason, the league has piled on more work with less time to do it. Expansion of the schedule to 34 games has necessitated more teams playing midweek games -- the Crew are in the midst of a three-week stretch in which it plays each Wednesday -- and thus speedier review of incidents, which are not always recorded by broadcast and film crews.
In the case of Robson, the referee's report would have been a powerful piece of evidence, since his altercation was with a match official. But still the committee needed some time to gather information and statements from the relevant individuals. This is a different situation than a caution or dismissal that would require a suspension, which the rules of the game stipulate must be imposed starting with the team's next game.
Perhaps a more reasonable approach would have been to announce the suspension Monday, and let it take effect in the 'Caps next game --- another Cascadia Cup battle at Portland on Saturday -- instead of the Seattle match. Yet this could bring complications if Robson were to be involved in another altercation, with opponents or officials or members of the crowd, leaving the committee with yet another incident to untangle.
As it turns out, the committee is in for some long hours even without a backlog. Last weekend was rife with controversy, with dismissals and penalty kicks at the forefront.
Three players were sent off in the Montreal-San Jose match, with Steven Lenhart's seemingly inadvertent smack to the face of Montreal's Hassoun Camara starting a melee that resulted in both being dismissed as well as a penalty kick.
D.C. United coach Ben Olsen was fuming after a 1-1 tie with Philadelphia that also finished 10-against-nine and featured a penalty kick re-taken and missed by Dwayne DeRosario for encroachment, with Branko Boskovic being sent off after a scuffle prompted by Mark Geiger's decision.
The Revs thought a penalty kick awarded for an A.J. Soares' slide tackle on Chris Rolfe looked more like a dive than a foul.
A belief that the committee is taking on too much has its backers around the league, and not until an extensive review is undertaken at the end of the season can its efficiency, fairness, and consistency be evaluated. Yet in cases like that of Robson, there's going to be consequences, for messing with match officials is one of those transgressions the league will not tolerate.
And as far as it being a rush job, there just isn't enough time to do it any other way.