By Paul Gardner
The highly active and annoyingly anonymous MLS Disciplinary Committee has just handed down another chapter in its ongoing pursuit of a cleaner game. Four players have been singled out for extra punishment -- three for violent play and "endangering the safety of an opponent," and one for making an "improper gesture."
Excellent -- I haven’t seen all the incidents, but past experience with the DisCom’s judgments suggests they usually make sensible decisions. Whether they should be making these decisions at all is another matter, but for the moment that’s what we’ve got.
But there is a problem with this latest batch of decisions. Not what they announce, but what they fail to announce. I’ll start with the following notice -- which is posted on the MLS web site under “Injury Report”: Portland Timbers: DF Kosuke Kimura (concussion/nose fracture).
Despite the fact that Kimura’s chances of playing in the next game are listed as “Probable,” those injuries can hardly be considered as minor. How did they happen?
The damage was done during the Timbers’ game at the New York Red Bulls last Sunday. This is what the tape shows: in the 55th minute, the Bulls’ Tim Cahill has the ball in midfield. As he dribbles it, Kimura approaches at his left. Cahill raises his left arm and delivers a hefty blow, with his elbow, to Kimura’s face. Kimura, holding his face, goes down.
Referee Jason Anno, not having the greatest game, makes no call. It seems as though Cahill himself -- who had continued his dribble for some 10 yards -- causes play to be stopped. Kimura is treated, and after a delay of over 4 minutes is taken off, on a stretcher.
Cahill’s actions in evidently stopping play and drawing the referee’s attention to the prone Kimura should not be allowed to mute the blame attached to him for what was a pretty awful, violent foul.
TV commentator Shep Messing continued his ongoing and utterly wearisome demonstration that he has never bothered to read the rules of the game by announcing superfluously (and unbelievably) that he didn’t think there “was anything flagrant or intentional.” Not flagrant? Oh come on, Shep. As for intentional, that is irrelevant, both in terms of the rules and -- more acutely from Kimura’s viewpoint -- in terms of the injury.
This is surely exactly the sort of incident the DisCom should pounce on. The DisCom’s Principles and Parameters include a statement that, in cases where the referee sees an incident but does not act ... the Committee will not in general issue a suspension, unless ... “The play in question is of an egregious or reckless nature, such that the Committee must act to protect player safety or the integrity of the game.”
Wording that could almost have been intended to describe the Cahill incident. How, then, can DisCom refrain from dealing out punishment for a vicious elbow that surely “endangered the safety of an opponent” -- I mean, a broken nose and concussion symptoms?
So we arrive at the secret hearings of the anonymous DisCom. I find it very, very difficult to credit that the committee would not have looked into this incident. And having looked, that it would not take action. Which raises some awkward questions for DisCom.
I suppose incompetence could be the problem -- it is just about possible that the incident was somehow not noticed, that it slipped through the cracks. It’s possible -- though surely not likely. A much more damaging possibility is that DisCom did investigate but decided not to take any action.
There’s no way of telling because DisCom’s operations are hermetically sealed to prevent anyone knowing who they are and what they’re thinking and how they’re acting. I would have thought, given all the highly publicized problems that FIFA has had with its lack of transparency, that any soccer organization would now be sensitive to the dangers of trying to hide its activities. Not DisCom.
Very well. By refusing to disclose its cogitations, DisCom invites suspicions. Looking at the Cahill case: A highly expensive Designated Player, a member of one of the most important clubs in MLS, commits an obviously blameworthy offense ... but the incident is simply ignored. The suspicion is that, if this had been a lesser player from a lesser club committing the same action, he would have been punished. That suspicion, that DisCom is averse to punishing big names, already existed anyway, based on the length of time it took David Beckham to be punished for his petulant behavior, never mind his wild tackling.
What does DisCom, or its MLS bosses, have to say about this? The suspicion is not unwarranted. But it may well be a slur on DisCom’s attempts to dish out justice. To dispel such thoughts, DisCom could quite easily let us know, without precipitating the end of the world, exactly why it did not investigate the Cahill incident, or, if it did, on what grounds it decided that no action was necessary.