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.