Why did MLS ignore Cahill's elbow?

By Paul Gardner

The highly active and annoyingly anonymous MLS Disciplinary Committee has just handed down another chapter in its ongoing pursuit of a cleaner game. Four players have been singled out for extra punishment -- three for violent play and "endangering the safety of an opponent," and one for making an "improper gesture."

Excellent -- I haven’t seen all the incidents, but past experience with the DisCom’s judgments suggests they usually make sensible decisions. Whether they should be making these decisions at all is another matter, but for the moment that’s what we’ve got.

But there is a problem with this latest batch of decisions. Not what they announce, but what they fail to announce. I’ll start with the following notice -- which is posted on the MLS web site under “Injury Report”: Portland Timbers: DF Kosuke Kimura (concussion/nose fracture).

Despite the fact that Kimura’s chances of playing in the next game are listed as “Probable,” those injuries can hardly be considered as minor. How did they happen?

The damage was done during the Timbers’ game at the New York Red Bulls last Sunday. This is what the tape shows: in the 55th minute, the Bulls’ Tim Cahill has the ball in midfield. As he dribbles it, Kimura approaches at his left. Cahill raises his left arm and delivers a hefty blow, with his elbow, to Kimura’s face. Kimura, holding his face, goes down.

Referee Jason Anno, not having the greatest game, makes no call. It seems as though Cahill himself -- who had continued his dribble for some 10 yards -- causes play to be stopped. Kimura is treated, and after a delay of over 4 minutes is taken off, on a stretcher.

Cahill’s actions in evidently stopping play and drawing the referee’s attention to the prone Kimura should not be allowed to mute the blame attached to him for what was a pretty awful, violent foul.

TV commentator Shep Messing continued his ongoing and utterly wearisome demonstration that he has never bothered to read the rules of the game by announcing superfluously (and unbelievably) that he didn’t think there “was anything flagrant or intentional.” Not flagrant? Oh come on, Shep. As for intentional, that is irrelevant, both in terms of the rules and -- more acutely from Kimura’s viewpoint -- in terms of the injury.

This is surely exactly the sort of incident the DisCom should pounce on. The DisCom’s Principles and Parameters include a statement that, in cases where the referee sees an incident but does not act ... the Committee will not in general issue a suspension, unless ... “The play in question is of an egregious or reckless nature, such that the Committee must act to protect player safety or the integrity of the game.”

Wording that could almost have been intended to describe the Cahill incident. How, then, can DisCom refrain from dealing out punishment for a vicious elbow that surely “endangered the safety of an opponent” -- I mean, a broken nose and concussion symptoms?

So we arrive at the secret hearings of the anonymous DisCom. I find it very, very difficult to credit that the committee would not have looked into this incident. And having looked, that it would not take action. Which raises some awkward questions for DisCom.

I suppose incompetence could be the problem -- it is just about possible that the incident was somehow not noticed, that it slipped through the cracks. It’s possible -- though surely not likely. A much more damaging possibility is that DisCom did investigate but decided not to take any action.

There’s no way of telling because DisCom’s operations are hermetically sealed to prevent anyone knowing who they are and what they’re thinking and how they’re acting. I would have thought, given all the highly publicized problems that FIFA has had with its lack of transparency, that any soccer organization would now be sensitive to the dangers of trying to hide its activities. Not DisCom.

Very well. By refusing to disclose its cogitations, DisCom invites suspicions. Looking at the Cahill case: A highly expensive Designated Player, a member of one of the most important clubs in MLS, commits an obviously blameworthy offense ... but the incident is simply ignored. The suspicion is that, if this had been a lesser player from a lesser club committing the same action, he would have been punished. That suspicion, that DisCom is averse to punishing big names, already existed anyway, based on the length of time it took David Beckham to be punished for his petulant behavior, never mind his wild tackling.

What does DisCom, or its MLS bosses, have to say about this? The suspicion is not unwarranted. But it may well be a slur on DisCom’s attempts to dish out justice. To dispel such thoughts, DisCom could quite easily let us know, without precipitating the end of the world, exactly why it did not investigate the Cahill incident, or, if it did, on what grounds it decided that no action was necessary.

12 comments about "Why did MLS ignore Cahill's elbow?".
  1. Bob Escobar, August 23, 2012 at 8:17 p.m.

    Shep Messing is a DB, he is probably the worst color commentator in the US, besides Lalas....what Cahill did, deserved an automatic red card, unfortunately the referee was as bad as they come, this guy is probably better referring football, rugby or lacrosse, but soccer? no way....the reason soccer in America (includes youth, high school, college and professional)will never be a sport with skills and tremendous individual talent, why? because of clueless referees, English coaches and terrible commentators like Lalas and Shep Messing!!!!!!! By the way, Paul Gardner is the best soccer (football) writer ever in the United States Of America, I respect this man very much, thank you Mr Gardner, for telling it like it is!

  2. Michael C, August 23, 2012 at 9:02 p.m.

    MLS needs one NAMED person in direct charge of discipline. He can consult with whoever he wants, but it should be one man who is willing to stand or fall with his decisions.

    The anonymity of "The Committee" leaves us unsure whether they make decisions based on reading chat boards, or get phone calls from Garber asking them to take it easy on DPs, or any kind of nefarious antics.

  3. Matthew c. Stewart, August 23, 2012 at 9:58 p.m.

    Anno is a tool. The rock bottom of the worst refs in a league where there is plenty of competition for that honor. New England Revolution have had two PKs awarded against them in the last several three games, neither of which was even close to being a penalty. The foul called in Philadelphia was a good three yards outside the box. In the same series of games they were not given one clear-cut handball PK of their own. These are three open, easily visible plays. All three were within the sightline of both the head referee and the relevant AR. Three potentially game-changing calls in three games. While the players are partly to blame in the recent DC-Union end-of-game blow-up, Geiger got so much wrong that it was bound to happen. I'm not referring to the encroachment, which was correct, but to other fouls not called, hard fouls not properly dealt with, phantom fouls whistled. He's been at it now for several years, get international competitions, but is still apt to be a very weak referee. The league is full of them.

  4. Charles O'Cain, August 23, 2012 at 10:41 p.m.

    Faulty logic here: serious injury, so there must have been malicious intent. All the better that the player is a transplant from the EPL, so again the Brit conspiracy to degrade American soccer. Never mind that the nose had been broken four times before (and perhaps not properly fixed or healed). It's so clear from the replay (really?).

  5. beautiful game, August 24, 2012 at 8:40 a.m.

    Looks like the too many MLS refs are reading the wrong rules of the game. Or is it the MLS kahunas who have decided that severe punishment of players is detrimental to league appeal and its future growth?

  6. Albert Harris, August 24, 2012 at 9:18 a.m.

    Dear Charles: As Paul points out, intent is not a factor in the rules so your post hares off on a non-issue; as indeed is the fact that the player's nose has been broken earlier. The play should be judged on its own merits. Opinions may differ on whether of not it was obvious, cardable, what color card, any further action needed, etc., but intent isn't supposed to be a factor. I find Paul's main point, lack of transparency well taken, and Michael has at least suggested a step in the right direction: a single individual who can at least be talked to by the press to explain the DisCom's decisions, or lack thereof. Again, just one man's opinion.

  7. Charles O'Cain, August 24, 2012 at 10 a.m.

    Dear Albert: I am fully aware that intent is not a factor in the law, but it often assumed when there is an injury, with the injured player usually portrayed as the victim, regardless of who initiated the contact. In this case, Cahill is trying to maintain control of the ball, and the other player is trying to gain controi. Elbow contacts nose, and nose is broken. Must Cahill dribble with his arms at his side, or may they be raised in an attempt to maintain balance during a turn or to ward off the player challenging for the ball? Who has initiated contact? It is not so clear-cut as Mr Gardner proposes from his retrospective vantage point, and he clearly IS invoking intent in his description of the incident ("vicious" in his words, not accidental). His other point regarding the lack of transparency in refereeing decisions (on the field or retrospective) may be valid, but then few if any sports offer up their officials for cross-examination by the public media.

  8. Gus Keri, August 24, 2012 at 11:22 a.m.

    Paul, you said, "A highly expensive Designated Player, a member of one of the most important clubs in MLS, commits an obviously blameworthy offense ... but the incident is simply ignored." You are absolutely wrong. MLS has retroactively punished DPs before. Do you remember Marquez? About Cahill's play, I thought it was accidental and I was sitting at the stands next to where it happened and when I came home I confirmed my suspecion when I reviewed it on DVR. I agree with the committee not taking any action. And let me tell you one thing you failed to praise. How often do you see a player stopping the play so soon to attend to a player whithout the referee's blowing the whistle. If it was intended, he wouldn't attract everyone's attention to it so soon. What does it say about the quality of Cahill as a person? Or you rather spend more time bashing the DisCom, your newest target for criticism, instead of accentuating the positives.

  9. Gak Foodsource, August 25, 2012 at 8:57 a.m.

    gus. - i was also at the game. Cahill went over to Kimura to tell him to get up, not to help him. only when he saw his nose pointing the other way did he realize he probably shouldnt have dribbled back over to Kimura. Kimura was also knocked out cold, not just a broken nose. I dont know but id be willing to bet Cahill knew damn well what he was doing. Professional players at that level dont made incedental mistakes. i dont really care about whether cahill gets a 2 game suspension or not. im more interested in talking about how Henry is giving us about 10 percent of his true effort and doesnt make runs except when he is convinced he might be able to score. Or how MLS had a stadium official with a middle school fog machine pumping smoke into the supporters section after the game winning RBNY goal. or how all of the supporters cheered when Portland player was shown only a yellow for taking down Cooper on that final breakaway - they should have been furious. it should have been an immediate red for tackle from behind when player had clear path to goal. Garber's hands are all over MLS, much more than i thought.

  10. Kent James, August 25, 2012 at 2:45 p.m.

    Didn't see the incident, but I agree with Charles point about both intent and the insignificance of the injury. I was knocked out by an elbow in a HS game, but it was an accidental elbow of a teammate (who was thrown off balance just as I was running around him); surely my teammate should not be thrown out for that elbow. An incidental elbow is not "vicious", a purposeful one is (likewise, accidents don't bring the game into disrepute). If Cahill's elbow was part a a natural movement that Kimura unluckily happened to meet, no foul. If Cahill knew (or had reason to suspect) Kimura was there and sent his elbow to meet him, red card with increased suspension. While it is impossible to truly know a player's intentions, referees must see the purpose of a player's actions and differentiate level of transgression based on that reading; players certainly do, and will react accordingly.

  11. Gus Keri, August 25, 2012 at 4:51 p.m.

    Gak, I think you are wrong. If the referee didn't blow the whistle and Cahill is moving foward with the ball, why would Cahill pick up the ball and walk back to tell Kimura to get up. It doesn't make any sense.

  12. vladimir strizhevsky, August 26, 2012 at 5:33 p.m.

    Why is at always with Paul that he can't avoid writing sheer nonsense even when he starts on a very reasonable note?

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