MLS Secrecy Creates Suspicions

By Paul Gardner

I fear that the hyperactive MLS Disciplinary Committee may be heading for a fall. I would regret that, because its aims are obviously well-intentioned. But its methods and, in particular, its constant pronouncements are beginning to irritate.

The weekly press releases announcing extra punishment for this or that player cannot help but raise thoughts that there must be something wrong with the MLS referees. Why do fouls keep happening that either the referees do not see, or which they fail to punish?

Are the referees that bad, or is the DC being over-officious?

One thing the DC quite definitely IS being, is secretive. We are not allowed to know much about the DC. The names of its members are not released. Nor are the criteria by which they are selected. We do not know how they vote on any given issue.

Which is unsatisfactory. The reason for the secrecy, I have been told, is that if the members’ names were released they would come under the sort of pressure that might affect their objectivity.

I don’t think that’s much of an argument. In fact, it becomes rather unpleasant when you consider the position of the referees. These are the guys whose work the DC constantly tweaks -- the DC will no doubt deny that interpretation, but I think that’s the way it comes over -- and these referees are right in the spotlight, their names known to everyone, their performances fully public, their errors subject to media analysis.

Plenty of pressure there. It’s part of the job. And I think it should be part of the job of being a member of the Disciplinary Committee. We should know who these guys are.

Where secrecy prevails, suspicion will flourish. Why is it that David Beckham gets away with so much -- both in terms of reckless tackling and of referee abuse? And why is that, when the DC does finally get around to calling him to order, the punishment seems nugatory? Why? Is he being let off lightly simply because he’s David Beckham -- and not, to take two quite at-random names, Rafa Marquez or Brek Shea?

Could it be that the dreaded undue influence is being exerted -- sub rosa? Which would make a mockery of the idea that secrecy somehow protects the DC members from “illegal” approaches.

Another aspect of DC secrecy is that we do not know what, if any, criteria, it follows in deciding on its punishments. Let’s take a look at this week’s villain, identified as the New England Revs’ Kelyn Rowe, suspended and fined “for a reckless challenge that endangered the safety of his opponent, New York Red Bulls goalkeeper Ryan Meara.”

Rowe chased a through ball into the Red Bull penalty area -- Meara came out, got there first, dived and gathered the ball as Rowe raced in. Rowe did not check his run, or jump -- with the result that Meara slid head first into Rowe’s right leg.

No foul was called by referee Drew Fischer. But the Red Bulls’ TV commentator Shep Messing decided that Rowe had “put the knee to the head of Meara.” Which is not what happened. We were then told by Messing that Rowe should have jumped, and -- threateningly -- that there would be a “payback” for “that type of play.” Meaning contact with the goalkeeper’s head. Evidently, and fortunately, the contact was minimal -- Meara was back on his feet almost immediately.

As someone who has written frequently about the dangers of concussion in this sport, I am totally in agreement about the necessity of ensuring that goalkeepers do not get kicked in the head. Whether that extends to requiring everyone else to get out of the way when a keeper launches himself head-first at a ball that he could -- as in this instance -- equally well play by kicking it away, is another matter.

Whatever, I’ll accept the argument -- Rowe should have jumped. But goalkeeper matters should not rest there. At the beginning of this game, just 11 minutes in, Meara was involved in another incident when he came racing off his line as the Revs’ Blake Brettschneider chased a pass. This time Meara did not get there first. Brettschneider did. In fact, Meara made a mess of things, diving to his left, as Brettschneider pulled the ball in the other direction. So Meara stuck out his legs, made contact with the ball, but got a big piece of Bretschneider too.

Again, referee Fischer did not call a foul, even though what Meara did was certainly reckless (and would probably have been penalized had it been a field-player who made the tackle). Both Meara and Brettschneider stayed down -- but all of Messing’s sympathy was for Meara. “Ryan Meara is hurt!” was his first cry, then “Good aggressive goalkeeping.” Messing’s concern was unnecessary -- Meara was back on his feet, ready to play, after just over a minute. No mention at all was made of Brettschneider, the innocent participant, also shaken up on the play.

I’m not about to suggest that Messing is running the DC, but its actions in these related cases do reveal that it has the same sort of keeper-friendly concerns.

If that is the case, then it is something the DC should let us know about, should explain to us. As it should explain anything that involves decisions based on a particular philosophy of the game. In this case: apart from the obvious and totally laudable aim of preventing concussions, are goalkeepers to be granted a freedom to commit reckless fouls that would not be granted to field players?

My appeal to the DC, then, is for what is usually called transparency these days. Let us know who you are, what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it. Put another way, stand up and be counted, exactly as the referees have to be in each game.

5 comments about "MLS Secrecy Creates Suspicions".
  1. Gus Keri, July 12, 2012 at 8:43 a.m.

    Paul, I have very rarely disagreed with you over the years and I agree with you again about the DC, but the examples you brought were totally wrong. You are criticising Messing for being "keeper-friendly" but did you notice that you are becoming or have been for a long time the opposite of him. I will call you the "anti-keeper" and your past articles, especially favoring the "triple punishment," proved it. In both incidences that involeved Meara, I agree with Messing's interpretation. For God's sake, did you notice what you wrote? "with the result that Meara slid head first into Rowe’s right leg" Did you want Meara to leave his head back in the net and attack the ball headless? Then you said, "when a keeper launches himself head-first at a ball that he could -- as in this instance -- equally well play by kicking it away, is another matter." Did you suddenly become a fan of the physical style? Onthe second occasion, didn't the keeper et the ball with his leg? or are we forbidding keepers in a game that called football in other part of the world to use legs any more? Why when there is 50/50 ball with the keeper, we ask the keeper to pull back and allow the striker to be a thug?

  2. John Soares, July 12, 2012 at 1:51 p.m.

    "In a perfect world". Transparency would reign. DC members should/would be known. We are not there... far from it. At this point revealing the names would only change the focus, of the critics (see MR. Gardner's article) from the event on the field, to the DC members supposed qualifications and or presumed bias. At this point this "young" league needs a DC. Overall they get way better than a passing mark.
    Players and coaches must wake up and play a quality game... at least to the best of their ability not their "physical" strength. A couple of players on my favorite team have been disciplined; Good! I also don't believe it takes away from the referee's ability or effort to do his best. I very much doubt the referee, before making a call will stop to consider: How will the DC view my call!?.... To Ric's point on MLS refs. (and since when do you listen to/believe radio announcers :) ? There has been considerable improvement. Perhaps what is most needed is consistency. MLS referees make mistakes, that is also true in England, Italy, Spain and every other country. IF, you were to judge by the press one would think they (the refs)are a complete joke in Mexico and much of Latin America.... I don't believe that to be the case. We need make every effort to make MLS soccer more of the "JOGO BONITO". until then I'm willing to put up with a little secrecy to move in that direction.

  3. Ramon Creager, July 13, 2012 at 2:21 p.m.

    Agree with the gist of this, but disagree about the "keeper friendly" digression. For digression it was. This is orthogonal to whether the DC members should be public or not, or whether there should be transparency. Yes, let transparency rule! Regardless of whether the DC is "keeper friendly." (For the record, I agree with Gus.) As for Shep Messing, now there is a digression that can get me cranked up. It's not that he's "keeper friendly", it's that he broadcasts with his NYRB glasses on, which filter out all the good stuff the other team does and emphasize all the bad stuff they do, and vice-versa for the NYRB. It's often as if we're not watching the same game. Is it not at all possible to broadcast a game without such blatant home team bias? Others manage it, why can't NYRB? (NYRB aren't alone in this, but they are the worst.) These broadcasts, after all, go to *all* MLS fans via MLS LIVE, and it would be nice if I could watch a NYRB vs. DCU game without having to turn the sound off.

  4. Peter Skouras, July 15, 2012 at 11:08 a.m.

    Paul: Your comments on Spain and the rest of the world regarding taking notice leads to this:

    Stop everything! What are we talking about? Most of everything published soccer wise has no substance in the US on a professional level!!! Talking, writing, talking, writing!!!!!!

    Want something to write and talk about in a constructive, competitive and professional manner?

    1st, 2nd, 3rd Divisions. Promotion-Relegation. There's your structure. And if the MLS, NASL and USL have issues getting together, the US Soccer Federation with FIFA should remove them all!!!

    And I refuse to hear about MLS owners pouring in all sorts of money will in no way agree to the "World Structure!" Then what's your purpose MLS clubs? THE PRODUCT IS BORING! PERIOD and our National Team is currently 36th in the World! And who knows if our U'20s will qualify to Turkey!

    Rangers just got relegated to the 3rd, AEK Athens is about to be relegated to the 4th...and who knows who else will be given sanctions around other Professional leagues.

    Want a serious Professional Domestic League to "write, talk, and produce" players which will aid out National Teams? Do it properly!

    That's it...of to watch Greece v Spain UEFA U'19s Final. All 22+ of these young pros are worth in the MILLIONS of EUROS!!!!

  5. Peter Skouras, July 15, 2012 at 1:02 p.m.

    I am sure everyone is questioning what relevance this has to Paul's subject matter! You are correct...NOTHING!ZILCH! ZERO! Until a PROPER STRUCTURE is created in the United States, not too much will improve. So, if the Soccer Community really wants to "go to work" PLEASE attempt to put your commentary efforts into finding a "long needed" solution to IMPROVE Soccer in the United States...A PROPER DOMESTIC LEAGUE!

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