Curious Gaps in the MLS Disciplinary Cull

By Paul Gardner

The newly energized MLS Disciplinary Committee has been working overtime lately, picking up the scraps and remnants from already-played games, and handing out post facto punishments in cases where it believes the culprit (meaning a player, or maybe a coach) deserves some extra chastisement for his offense.

Thus, we’ve had players given additional suspensions and/or added fines for dangerous tackles, or for the wonderfully imaginative crime of embellishment. We’ve had a coach suspended and fined for going on to the field of play. We’ve even had a couple of teams fined for their players’ unruly behavior.

And, we’ve had a player, despite his abject apology, not only fined, but (in what seems to be a sporting first-ever) suspended as well for addressing a homophobic slur ... to a ball boy.

Assuming that the DisCo is getting all of this right, these are praiseworthy decisions that it is rolling out. Who is going to argue with a sincere attempt to reduce violent fouling, to say nothing of banishing the frightful crime of embellishment?

I’ll wager the “charitable partners of MLS W.O.R.K.S and the MLS Players Union” won’t, as they’re the ones who receive the now rapidly increasing amount of money collected as fines.

I applaud the aims of the DisCo. But I’m not at all sure that using the DisCo to basically re-referee games is the right way to set about this important matter of cleaning up MLS games. Not least because it carries the clear implication that the referees are not doing the job, with the surely inevitable consequence of a downgrading of their credibility.

I can find no details of any mechanism to allow an appeal against DisCo decisions. There is also the undeniable fact that the composition of the DisCo is heavily waited with opinions likely to be something less than sympathetic to a referee’s viewpoint -- this because the five-man committee contains only one ex-referee, sitting amid three ex-players and one ex-coach.

Such an imbalance immediately creates voting problems. If the players vote together, which is quite likely, then they have an automatic majority, and the hell with the lone referee’s opinion. But MLS appears to believe that it has neatly avoided this travesty by informing us, with discernible self-satisfaction, that all the DisCo decisions have to be unanimous.

Which makes little sense. So, should the referee hold out for his lone opinion, than no agreement can be reached ... and so no action can be taken. Given the torrent of activity emanating from the DisCo lately, that seems not to be a problem. Which really does send my eyebrows soaring. I mean, when was the last time you heard of five soccer guys -- including players, a coach and a referee -- getting together and agreeing on anything?

I have a more immediate problem with the DisCo. That it is either not too observant, or that it is handing out its punishments on a rather selective basis. I’m pondering two recent incidents. I’ll keep the offenders anonymous, for the moment:

* On April 14, during a telecast of an MLS game, the “F” word came through loud and clear. So clear, that the commentator had little problem identifying the culprit as one of the two coaches. In fact, so blatant, so loud, was the shout, that the commentator felt obliged to immediately apologize to viewers for what was picked up by “our field microphone.” I’m not sure I’ve ever encountered that before.

* On April 21, during an MLS telecast, the award of a penalty kick caused the offending team to mob the referee with as many as eight players. The mob included a highly paid Designated Player who repeatedly jabbed a finger violently toward the referee’s face. The chaotic scenes lasted for some 90 seconds -- then, when the PK was at last ready to be taken, this same DP was seen wandering insolently around in the penalty area, with the clear intention of creating further delay.

Both incidents are obviously almost tailor-made for DisCo intervention, not least because the offenders were not punished at the time. Yet not a word has been heard from the DisCo department. Why would a crystal clear example of offensive language be ignored? And why would a flagrant and appalling lack of sportsmanship also be disregarded?

The lack of action in the first case, the swearing, seems inexplicable, for the incident was virtually served up on a plate by the commentator’s on-air apology.

In the second case, an explanation does suggest itself, and a highly objectionable explanation it is. Because the suspicion arises that the MLS DisCo is letting a powerful player and a powerful club off the hook.

12 comments about "Curious Gaps in the MLS Disciplinary Cull".
  1. Bill Anderson, April 29, 2012 at 7:11 p.m.

    Of course, LA and Becks get off the hook.

  2. Ken Jamieson, April 30, 2012 at 1:58 a.m.

    Shades of the old NASL when the New York Cosmos and, more so, Giorgio Chinaglia seemed to run the league. Is it too early to draw comparisons between the LA Galaxy and the NY Cosmos?
    MLS is a second-rate league being officiated by third-rate officials and run by rank amateurs (in terms of football acumen). Nothing that happens in this league should come as a surprise to anyone.

  3. Soccer Bloke, April 30, 2012 at 6:53 a.m.

    Yes. The sound crew that got a microphone too close to that coach should be suspended for 2 games.

  4. Charles O'Cain, April 30, 2012 at 8:49 a.m.

    In the Champions League semi-finals, at least two of the bookings which resulted in subsequent ineligibility for the Finals for the involved players were issued for DISSENT. I have never seen dissent lead to a change in decision on the field in favor of the dissenter, so why is it such a common practice? If dissent was promptly "rewarded" with a yellow, and continued dissent with a second, this scourge could be quickly eliminated on the field, leaving the protest to the partisan fans where it belongs.

  5. Gus Keri, April 30, 2012 at 9:59 a.m.

    Paul, what do you want exactly? One day you are against the DisCo and in the next day you want them to do more. In the same article, you mock both the majority vote and the unanimous vote. So, will you take a stance? I like the DisCo. It's a good thing and its benefit will be recognized with time. Just give them a chance. Don't expect them to do a perfect job. There will always be doubters, just like any thing in soccer.

  6. Florencio Amaya, April 30, 2012 at 10:28 a.m.

    The clever ways the players are trying to fool the Refs all over the world is shameful Refs, got a fraction of a second to make a call we get to see an replay 3 times an still not sure whatever DisCo. is doing will help world soccer and will help the Refs. do their job and you will see other countries copying DisCo. work and when that happens just remember, started in the good USA.

  7. Jack Niner, April 30, 2012 at 12:13 p.m.

    Although I don't know if the 'DisCo' is an MLS version of a Star Chamber, something has to be done to manage these games according to the rules. There is no substitute for competent referes who feel fully supported by the league. And that goes for DP's.

  8. David Huff, April 30, 2012 at 3:57 p.m.

    Ideally the refs would be able to make better calls, perhaps having some limited instant replay capability to assist them, if not then at least DisCo has the capability to mete out punishment for the more egregious examples of dangerous behavior or unsportsmanlike conduct. As to why the LA Galaxy and Beckham are allowed to skate let's just call it for what it is - the "AEG Exception".

  9. Carlos Thys, April 30, 2012 at 4:09 p.m.

    I am convinced that I could go with a $35,000 check to every MLS squad and administer a 100 question exam on the Laws of the Game to the players. The check for the money would go to any player achieving a 90% or better score. I'd make it through the whole league and not yet have to give up the $35,000 check. Sad thing is, I could do the same with the coaches and assistants. All of us sit and try to use the little free time we have sometimes to view a good game and enjoy those who are supposed to play it at the highest level. Mostly what we are offered is riddled with the cynical, sly, sneaky. The cheating in the heated scenes of a penalty box for a dead ball pumped in. Right now John Terry is saying "Hey? Why me?" for what he did to Alexi Sanchez, as what he did is part of the A,B,C's of every central defender in all the highest leagues for the last 25-30 years. How about the incessant stealing a few seconds off the clock here or there when the ball is out of bounds, at throw ins, walking like one is lame to the sideline when being substitute to run down the clock. Arguing with the referee or seeking to engage him in "sincere conversation" on the field to also run down the clock. And I haven't even started with opposing players who stand in front of the ball when a free kick is awarded. Or handle it for just those few seconds so as to allow their defending mates behind that needed 2.5 seconds to cover down and lock down the defense. The ubiquitous stance of the "wall" just 6 yards from the ball and needing to be marched back. So much of this is in unsportsmanlike conduct and is all bookable. So why not? A game is not a failure because a referee had to hand out 14 cards and three resulted in yellow-reds. I applaud a Disciplinary Committee that takes on incidents that no superhuman match referee team can see. I am a consumer. If I take my hard won free time and limited money to spend, I want to see a fair and FULL 90 minute contest. I want to see those who don't need "gamesmanship" to squeak out an undeserved win. The consumer, a.k.a. the fan, is ripped off more often than not. One of the reasons that the game will never really take off in South America and Latin America (and be on par with the levels of professionalism in Germany or England) is that there is little real confidence in rigorous, unbiased, resolute application of The Laws of the Game. The MLS could indeed lead the world with the best refereeing and application of the Laws (during and after the games) -- so that the fans are offered the best possible quality matches EVERY TIME.

  10. Carlos Thys, April 30, 2012 at 4:22 p.m.

    So...I am asking (I don't know). Is Bruce Arena the one using the F-word and David Beckham is the one behaving very poorly and engaging in petulant dissent? Hm, if it was Beckham, was this the match where David Pearce of England traveled out to see Beckham to adjudge his suitability for Britain match duty at the Summer Olympics? (Again, I don't know. I am asking.) If were are going to have this discussion, then we need to talk 100% FACTS. It does no good for Mr. Gardner to try to make his case but leave out the proper names of those involved. There is nothing wrong with naming names.

  11. beautiful game, May 3, 2012 at 9:52 p.m.

    There is too much EFFING without impunity, especially in MLS games. The pregame talk by the ref should be sufficient to curtail abuse, delay of game tactics and free kick encroachments. Obviuosly, to date, the refs have not handled this aspect of pre-game very well, if at all.

  12. Mj Lee, May 6, 2012 at 9:35 p.m.

    The MLS should be allowed to test this process and see if the result is better behavior by players. Who better to know when players are cheating, than ex-players? Assuming that all the members have good character, unanimous decisions should mean that they are all clear-cut. The lone ref should be able to explain any nuances in the laws to the other panel members. What have we got to lose? The committee decisions will not change the way referees are trained, it just gives a way to correct severe errors of omission.

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