MIKE WOITALLA: MLS scores with rule change

MLS produced a videotape showing the worst of soccer in hopes of creating a better game. It's called "Sending-Off Offenses" and my legs are sore just from watching it. It comprises 28 brutal tackles from 1997 MLS action. Ref boss Joe Machnik created it to teach referees, coaches and players about the new rule -- the red card for a tackle from behind "that endangers the safety of an opponent." FIFA introduced the rule based on a request from its Technical and Sports Medical Committees, which cited a large number of leg injuries. It goes into effect at the World Cup, and is to be used worldwide starting July 1. But MLS implemented it in March to avoid a midseason rule change. First came the videotape, which Machnik and Co., personally showed to players in the preseason: Here are a series of indefensible bone-crunching fouls. Some players paid attention. John Doyle of the Clash is featured in three examples. He has not been red-carded this season and the Clash has the best record, with only one ejection so far. The Galaxy's Danny Pena has been ejected twice in 1998, despite being used twice as an example in the tape. While Colorado has seen four of the 29 red cards of 1998, no other team has received more than three. We have, this season, a red card every 2.24 games -- compared to one every 4.32 games in 1997. But those who didn't learn from the videotape are catching on -- the red-card rate is decreasing. (One every 3.6 games in the last three weeks.) MLS's advice to referees to err on the side of red gave them the courage to enforce the rule. Thus the rule's intent, to discourage players from even attempting these tackles, is being realized. Goalscoring, meanwhile, has rocketed to 3.85 per game. And goals make better videotapes.
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