League can't go easy with Mondaini foul of Morales

By Ridge Mahoney

The case of Marcos Mondaini sidelining Javier Morales with a vicious tackle has prompted comparisons to the Brian Mullan-Steve Zakuani incident, and though the circumstances are different there are important issues to be weighed.

So now the MLS Disciplinary Committee has yet another tough task: How to assess and punish the egregious foul inflicted on RSL midfielder Morales by Chivas USA attacker Mondaini, whose robust slide tackle had no chance of reaching the ball as it plowed through Morales’ left ankle and fractured it in two places.

Less than two weeks ago, the committee meted out a 10-game suspension – nine additional games tacked onto the mandatory one-game ban – for the brutal challenge by Mullan that shattered Zakuani’s leg. Mondaini’s foul has prompted calls for a similar suspension, but though these incidents are not comparable – other than in the extent of the injuries they inflicted – it gives the league a superb opportunity to truly crack down on serious foul play.

When FIFA issued a directive in 2002 that all slide tackles from behind should be punished by a red card, nobody believed it could be enforced. It is possible to tackle cleanly from behind but the angle of approach, the timing, and the execution must be excellent, otherwise the player with the ball will be tripped at the very least. Many so-called tackles from behind actually come in from the side and can crisply and efficiently win the ball when executed properly.

Yet the directive was intended to discourage players from attempting just the kind of tackle as Mondaini launched: from the wrong side and well behind the ball, and so clumsy and mistimed it virtually guaranteed a nasty wipe-out. His remorse won’t bring back Morales any sooner, and Mondaini is still culpable for what he did, but this isn’t a similar incident to that of Mullan and Zakuani.

Mullan can offer no defense; his clattering into Zakuani was a blatant, cynical reaction to having lost the ball – to another Sounder, not Zakuani – just seconds before. He didn’t miss the ball; the ball, several yards away, was irrelevant. He clearly took out his frustrations on an opponent and though the ball was in play, this wasn’t a case of an incident related to the run of play. Some people actually think Mullan just came in late trying to win the ball. Sorry, not a chance.

The league has imposed some hefty suspensions for incidents that could be classified as removed from actual play: Ricardo Clark’s kicking of a prostrate Carlos Ruiz (nine games) and Dario Sala’s punching of two opponents (six games) during a melee come to mind. And the Mondaini tackle isn’t a case of malicious intent masquerading as an attempt to win the ball, as sometimes occurs.

Yet if the league truly means to crack down on players guilty of poor tackling technique and terrible timing, who by their clumsiness inflict pain and perhaps serious damage, it must take a stand in cases like Mondaini. Tacking on an additional game or two when tacklers ruthlessly and recklessly roll through an opponent doesn’t seem to be a deterrent, so this seems an ideal time to hand out three or four extra games, as harsh as that seems for a seemingly legit attempt to play the ball.

When Jonathan Leathers cleaned out FCD playmaker David Ferreira, who will miss several months with a fractured ankle and ruptured ligaments, no foul was called. The league can’t do much more than it has already, other than to reiterate its instructions to officials and suspend or discipline referees who miss such incidents. But it certainly can slap harsh punishments in clear-cut situations.

The tackle that left U.S. and Bolton midfielder Stuart Holden with torn knee ligaments earned Jonny Evans of Manchester United a three-game suspension in March. That straight-on challenge, in which Evans went over the ball with a late lunge, seemed to me a worse case than Mondaini’s slide tackle, but I still think that until the punishment is severe enough to make the tackler think twice about a flying assault that could end a player’s career, MLS will not have changed the mentality of its players, and thus the sometimes dangerous dynamics of its games.

14 comments about "League can't go easy with Mondaini foul of Morales".
  1. B Flow, May 10, 2011 at 8:24 a.m.

    You seriously think Mondaini was trying to make a play on the ball? Really? He didn't even have a theoretical chance at getting the ball with that tackle. He was strictly trying to take the man out. I don't see how you can interpret the play any other way. And besides, intent really doesn't matter. You make a play that reckless, that dangerous, whether you mean to or not, and you don't belong in this league. Period. At least if the league has any interest in being one where the beautiful game, and not the brutish game, is played. Get ready for a big suspension, or so I hope.

  2. S.D. Gude, May 10, 2011 at 8:44 a.m.

    Think Hristo Stoichkov.

  3. John Carlisle, May 10, 2011 at 9:21 a.m.

    MLS needs to continue the statement it made with Mullan. 8 games.

  4. Dannie Whitehouse, May 10, 2011 at 9:35 a.m.

    How about a life time ban?

  5. Cesar Sastre, May 10, 2011 at 10:08 a.m.

    I can't agree more about this continuing problem. And unless this is handled appropriately, this league will never grow to the level of professional soccer in other parts of the world.
    As a soccer parent, coach and former soccer player, it is admirable and truly appreciated to see owners, clubs and fans support the beautiful game and attract some really good talent. But then it is disgusting and inexcusable to see less skilled thugs brutally injure the players who attract the fans that buy tickets and invest in the club and MLS.
    Not only does this undisciplined and really unnecessary style of play hurt the MLS but obviously star players end up in many cases, losing a bright career. We all lose in the end, except for the thugs who have to sit out a couple games as a "punishment".
    As a parent, "time out" only works with certain types of kids. This method of punishment rarely works with barbarians and certainly does not curb the unacceptable behavior. Inmy view, severe tackles require severe penalties.
    In this case, the childish barbarians (clumsy and/or mean-spirited) in the MLS need a zero tolerance directive, follwed by punishment with real teeth (significant fines and significant suspensions). Enough talk about about punishment and discipline. We need action!
    Either this is "the beautiful game" or this is WWF. Can't have both.

  6. Jason Wachs, May 10, 2011 at 10:47 a.m.

    This is no longer soccer. These players are well aware of the recent similar incidents, and of the weak consequences, and conciously choose to brutally attack opponents. There are several issues at play that cause this brutality to continue. First, the consequences. Game suspensions simply do not work in cases like these. At the vwery least, the offender should be made to sit out as much time as it takes for the injured player to return in full health ...and if he never heals well enough to return, the thug never returns. In addition, these guys are WELL compensated ...fine them and give the fines to the injured player. If this had happened off of the field, he would be arrested, pay a huge fine including medical expanses and damages and possible incarceration. There are no monetary consequences and after a few games, and a lot of much needed personal notariety, he back on the field and 'famous.' Second, I believe that the league encourages the refs to call such actions loosely (or in this case, not at all!!) in order to boost ratings. It's all about money, now. The popularity of American football, hockey, 'professional wrestling', caged no-hols-barred boxing and even NASCAR are a testiment to the percieved notion that the bigger the chance for brutal physical contact, violence and blood, the bigger the revenues. The league has to decide (perhaps even investigating, suspending and fining refs) whether the once elegant game of soccer/football will succomb to the blood-thirsty masses.

  7. Mark Sutton, May 10, 2011 at 11:22 a.m.

    On plays like this where he is blatantly trying to hurt him (no possible chance at the ball), how about Mondaini's out until Morales can come back. But what to do on career ending injuries? Sounds extreme, but what they are doing doesn't even seem to phase the culprits. Outlaw slide tackles from behind.

  8. Brent Crossland, May 10, 2011 at 12:02 p.m.

    You don't have to say any more than "whose robust slide tackle had no chance of reaching the ball". MLS must stop tolerating this kind of play. This would have been a Sending Off offense even if he missed Morales' ankle. You cannot know intent -- but it doesn't matter. Whether the slide was intentionally aimed at 'sending a message' or a gross miscalculation, the end result was the same. Deliberately executing a tackle that endangered the safety of an opponent. MLS AND the referees have to start sending their own message that this kind of play does not belong in any league, let alone the top professional league in the country.

  9. Sharilyn Cobb, May 10, 2011 at 12:30 p.m.

    As far as punishment goes: the league ought to have the offending player be suspended as long as the player cannot play. Mullin would get to play when Zakuani can play again. The same for Mondaini. When Morales can play again so can he.

  10. David Sirias, May 10, 2011 at 12:31 p.m.

    Exactly! a ref cant be expected to judge intent. All the ref can do is objectively judge conduct. Countless, countless badly timed, stupid dangerous slides happen every week but don't injure. Luck only prevents carnage. The point is that such challenges COULD lead to carnage. MLS must instruct refs to issue yellows each time. Once games start turning into 9 vs 8 affairs, the coaches will make sure things change. This is the next requisite step besides stiff punishments.

  11. George Hoyt, May 10, 2011 at 3:12 p.m.

    I like Mr Sastre's word disgusting. It captures the essence of this kind of offense. How about nausiating?! I believe the idea of equal time away from that game as the injured player is fair, just, but I fear idealistic. I'd love to see that happen along with a financial impediment equal to income lost through injury. Some of these fouls do enter our legal system and I think that is good too. It sends the right message. An foul with or without intent that does or even may potentially inflict serious injury IS a criminal offense. Unfortunately, it has taken 3 such incidents in three consecutive weeks to raise the level of this conversation. I can only hope MLS, US Soccer (the sactioning body here sharing culpability) and our judicial system are capable of upholding our collective ideals.

  12. John Ropp, May 11, 2011 at 2:40 p.m.

    Intent is irrelevant. Players are expected to be professionals, and there is no doubt that the attempted tackle was sloppy and used excessive force. The resulting injury itself proves how dangerous the play was, so there is no need at this point to discuss intent. The officials' job is to keep the players safe and enforce the rules of the game. The referee did (in this case at least) what he should have done, now it is in the hands of the disciplinary committee, and the committee should consider the result of the bad play and punish accordingly, including severe suspension and monetary fines.

  13. Steven Erickson, May 11, 2011 at 7:14 p.m.

    Initially red card the offending player then do as Sharilyn Cobb stated but this will be too much to expect from the "MLS", because it makes sense.

  14. Cesar Sastre, May 12, 2011 at 11:11 a.m.

    I also like Ms. Cobb's suggestion. Would these players also get their pay docked for games missed? Hit them in the wallet and that usually gets the attention of most people. Now, would the player's union fight this? Hopefully, someone at MLS is reading these ideas and get the sentiment from some fans and we'll see some real, meaningful changes.

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