Cahill's 'rough up' comment calls for response from MLS

By Paul Gardner

An interesting game -- I'm talking about this past weekend’s Red Bulls-L.A. Galaxy game. A 1-0 win for the Bulls, a win they probably didn't deserve, but a win they snatched at the very last moment of the game, pouncing on a bad mistake by the Galaxy's 39-year-old, and very experienced, Italian goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini.

Of course Cudicini should have come off his line to catch or punch Juninho’s free kick. The ball was descending into the six-yard area, and that is surely goalkeeper’s territory. Cudicini stayed put, even though he was not challenged or put under any sort of pressure by the Red Bulls, Tim Cahill leapt high -- something he’s pretty good at -- and the Bulls got their goal.

Later, Galaxy coach Bruce Arena agreed -- Cudicini should have made a play on that ball. Coaches rarely criticize their goalkeepers, but even more surprising was to find the TV commentators -- ESPN’s Adrian Healey and Taylor Twellman -- actually pointing out, on air, Cudicini’s mistake.

All of which made Cahill the hero of the game -- but not for long, the way I saw it. The Bulls had played an OK sort of game but had not greatly threatened the Galaxy goal. In fact, particularly in the first half, the Galaxy had looked livelier and quicker; even in the second half, when the Bulls did improve, the Galaxy had the better chances -- which included a great opportunity which Robbie Keane -- inexcusably -- headed wide.

Cahill wrecked his hero status after the game when he let it be known that he didn’t think much of the way that the Bulls had played: “They [the Galaxy] got too much time on the ball ...” he claimed, “I was like ‘let’s get into these guys. Let’s see if they want a little bit of a battle’ ... I wanted the intensity to be higher.”

There are no prizes on offer for working out what Cahill really means with all that pussyfooting wordage. He wanted the Bulls to be more physical, to play a rougher, tougher game on the assumption that this would upset the Galaxy.

He was, apparently, already certain that the Galaxy weren’t tough enough to take the heat, having already declared that the Galaxy “doesn’t like to get roughed up.” Just what Cahill’s proof for that allegation is, I wouldn’t know. But Cahill’s statement should not go unnoticed -- particularly in the office of Peter Walton, the man who runs PRO, that body that oversees the referees.

Here is a player openly declaring that he wants his team to “get into” opponents and who talks of opponents being roughed up. This is not just wild talk -- Cahill has always been a rumble-tumble type player (his playing days with Everton in the English Premier League provide plenty of examples). I’ve no doubt he means what he says -- he wants more fouling, more physical play, from the Bulls. He enjoys his soccer most when it’s physical, when it’s a “bit of a battle.”

He made no comment on what happened in the fifth minute of the game. That was when the Bulls’ Juninho went in hard, high-footed and with his studs flashing, on the Galaxy’s Juninho. Ugly. Galaxy-Juninho played on for a few more minutes, than had to leave the game. After just 10 minutes, the Galaxy had lost a key player, victim of exactly the sort of “get into them” play that Cahill finds so desirable.

I strongly believe that Cahill should be warned -- by MLS -- that his play will be watched for signs of thuggery. His play -- not his words. Watched by the referees, which is where Walton and his PRO setup come into the picture.

Cahill’s call for opponents to be roughed up only makes sense if he believes the Bulls can get away with systematically rough play -- i.e. he must feel confident that MLS referees will allow it.

Well, you PRO People -- is he right? In the Bulls-Galaxy game that I’m talking about, the referee was Silviu Petrescu, whom Walton adjudged to have performed well enough last season to get the plum job of officiating the MLS Cup final.

But Petrescu saw nothing wrong with the challenge that knocked Galaxy-Juninho out of the game, did not even call a foul, never mind issue a card. My own observations on Petrescu tell me he is too permissive, and that he does not like issuing cards early in a game. A modus operandi that reduces the chances of Petrescu having to issue game-damaging reds or second-yellows.

Look at it another way: no foul called for a dangerously physical foul in the fifth minute, but a foul called for a much less dangerous infringement by the Galaxy’s Gyasi Zardes in the 92nd minute, leading to the free kick from which Cahill headed the winning goal.

Players -- and, more often, coaches -- are regularly fined for criticizing referees. Cahill, it seems to me, is certainly doing that with his implication that MLS referees will allow a “roughing up” level of physical play. But I suspect that PRO will find nothing wrong with a player calling for a more violent game.

15 comments about "Cahill's 'rough up' comment calls for response from MLS".
  1. Doug Wiggins, May 21, 2013 at 3:20 a.m.

    I am not a big fan of Mr. Gardner, most times as I think he nit-picks a little too much and doesn't see the game as whole pie, but rather little pieces. But, I must agree, when I saw the high boot on Juninho from his 'brother' I gasped and said to my wife..this is not good! Well sure enough, the younger, more talented, less-brutish player got knocked out of the game, with no repercussions issued by the referee! I think somebody in MLS is forgetting (since the departure of Beckham) that the Referee's primary responsibility is that of 'Safety Officer'. C'mon guys, as much as all the local blokes want to play rough-n-tumble-football, we are talking serious money being lost here when a talented player gets taken out by another reckless thug! Please watch some of the other games this past weekend, in particular Vancouver-Portland, Seattle-Dallas, Houston-NE, and SanJose- Colorado. Some of the play is so fast and reckless, it really feels borderline out-of-control. As I spectator, this weekend, I sometimes felt like I was watching some sort of wild police chase on the 405, instead of the "Beautiful Game". Thanks Paul for spot-on observations this week! Cheers!

  2. feliks fuksman, May 21, 2013 at 9:06 a.m.

    I didn't see the whole game between the Bulls & Galaxy, but it's nothing new to me that rough play is not discouraged in MLS (and I believe that comes from the top, people that are in charge).

  3. Matthew Conroy, May 21, 2013 at 9:08 a.m.

    Oh my God you cannot be serious Paul Gardner. Always have to find something to criticize with the Red Bulls. Time to hang up the press credentials and shuffle off to Florida you miserable old man.

  4. beautiful game, May 21, 2013 at 9:48 a.m.

    Mr. Conroy, what are u watching that begs no criticism of the mediocre NYRB....I'm with Paul. Petrescu does not follow the laws of the game...persistent fouling goes unpunished, blatant fouls are overlooked, encroachment is not whistled, and a 9 yard step-count on a free kick indicates that he can't count to 10. And what about Petrescu's quick whistling down a Galaxy attack which should have been let go at the top of the RB box. Cahill is right, as most MLS refs are blind to rough-stuff, than teams should take the individual refs to the limit. MLS thuggery is getting worse while the quality suffers, thanks to the league's encouragement.

  5. R2 Dad, May 21, 2013 at 10:37 a.m.

    I rarely hear of referees carding for Persistent Infringement in the MLS, but that is one way to keep the tenor of the match lower and reduce the probability of dangerous play. But it's got to be league-wide and come from Walton.

  6. Dan Brown, May 21, 2013 at 11:12 a.m.

    Couldn't disagree more.
    I decided to read it after aeeing your comment and it is the usual garbage.

    I know Big Brother in in vogue in government these days and I know the press is under their thumb but I didn't know that scaled down to an ignoramus like Gardner engaging in doublespeak in a sports column to make his case calling for punitive action on the basis of guilty until proven innocent - even where no crime has been committed.

    This article attempts to sever the spinal chord of not only all that is good in professional sport but also in life. That is integrity, hard work, honesty and a will to win - all attributes that could be considered called for in Cahill's statement rather than the contrived and twisted interpretation Gardner alone decides Cahill should be condemned for.

    According to Gardner a professional athlete should never utter words or phrases that he alone may interpret and arbitrarily judge to be inciting "rough play" - again he being the sole judge of what constitutes rough play and if that involves incriminating, without evidence, a referee along the way so much the better.

    Of course when he starts with such a ridiculous premise it is no surprise that his conclusions are completely off the chart summed up by his suggestion that Cahill was responsible for another players challenge which Gardner thinks is evidenced by his post match interview.
    “They [the Galaxy] got too much time on the ball -I was like let’s get into these guys. Let’s see if they want a little bit of a battle - I wanted the intensity to be higher.”

    Nowhere does he call for foul play or roughing up. What he does call for, in soccer parlance, is for players to get tight and get challenges in and show that they want this game.
    That is a very big part of soccer and it is not something to be applauded not vilified.
    As the great SAF stated, "You have to earn the right to play your football".

    I suppose Gardener would be happy if Cahill was just in the US to pick up a pay check and jogging around avoiding any physical contact and not displaying any of the combative (Gosh another dirty word!) play that made him the successful player he was in the EPL?
    Not a chance, he would still be full of it, stating how these overpaid ageing stars from the EPL aren't interested in putting in the effort they did when in those leagues or elevating MLS's standards.

    To put this in perspective, imagine Gardner writing the same piece in the UK after a Liverpool Everton derby in which Cahill got the winner and gave the same post match interview.
    Gardner would of been rightly laughed out of the country for the pathetic clown that he is - there is a reason he is writing on MLS and not the biggest leagues in the world and I don't mean to disparage MLS which is a great league and so much the better for players that want regular season games to mean something rather than be glorified friendlies.

  7. Carl Walther, May 21, 2013 at 11:29 a.m.

    Dan Brown, have you considered moving to England where thug football if the standard? You might be happier.

  8. Ramon Creager, May 21, 2013 at 11:40 a.m.

    "My own observations on Petrescu tell me he is too permissive, and that he does not like issuing cards early in a game." This is always a problem, and it usually leads to the inconsistency that Mr. Gardner noted: a key player lost to needless injury not punished, because it occurs early in the game, vs. a less obvious foul being called later. Both have a negative influence on the game. Referees should strive to hold the same standard throughout the game. Situational awareness is fine, so long as it doesn't lead the referee to go beyond his mandate, which is to ensure that the game is played fairly and safely. By rule there is nothing magical about the first 10 minutes or so, or the final few; and the score should have no impact on whether a call is made or not. Mr. Gardner is right that this is on the referees, not on Cahill. If referees call the game consistently and correctly, comments such as Cahill's become self-defeating.

  9. Ramon Creager, May 21, 2013 at 11:45 a.m.

    One other thing is worth mentioning. When referees allow the rough stuff to go unpunished (perhaps because of the importance of the game--"let the lads decide it", which is what I meant by my "mandate" comment above), the referee is not being neutral. He is actively choosing to allow one style (physical, rough), over another (skill, ball-movement). This is why refs need to consistently stick to the Laws regardless of time, score, or importance of the game.

  10. Millwall America, May 21, 2013 at 12:42 p.m.

    The problem of course is that the Laws are open to interpretation and no one interpretation is "right". On the Continent, the Laws are usually interpreted to allow less scope for physical play, which gives more room for technique and skill and less room for sheer athleticism (it also leads to a lot of diving). In the EPL, the Laws are interpreted to allow for more physicality. Neither is the "right" way to play under the Laws -- both are right depending on interpretation. The key as Ramon Creager says is that the interpretation needs to stay consistent. MLS referees have a habit of calling fouls as if it was EPL in the first half of the game and then calling fouls like it was La Liga in the second. MLS need to pick an interpretation and stick to it. If they want to appeal to an American audience, my guess is they'd do better picking the EPL's approach rather than La Liga's.

  11. Mark Hodson, May 21, 2013 at 12:52 p.m.

    Gardner......that's exactly what you should become!

    Every week I role my eyes at the drivel that comes from your articles....I can only assume it's a volunteer role and that no money changes hands?

    Cahill should be warned and have his future conduct watched for thuggery?.....You're going to single him out for special attention from referee's something that you would no doubt take great issue with if it was directed at an American based player.

    You're the worst kind of casual racist Gardner. Soccer America does nothing but weaken it's product every time it allows you to your pulpit.

    Last week was a good week for retirement...but there's always room for one more.

  12. Ramon Creager, May 21, 2013 at 2:11 p.m.

    MA, "no one interpretation is "right"" is very true. That said, the Laws and the guidelines for the referee are fairly explicit in the case of violent play. Also, I disagree that an interpretation that favors skill would remove scope for sheer athleticism. As an example I'll point to Calum McManaman's recent performance for Wigan in the FA Cup final. He gave the Man City left back nightmares with his sheer athleticism, all without fouling him or actually being rough with him in the Tim Cahill sense. Instead he exploited his greater speed, and his skill on the ball at that greater speed. What physical players like Cahill are really talking about is physical intimidation, something the Laws are carefully written to mitigate (that's what the dangerous play rule is all about, for example). There is a good discussion of this subject in Robert Evans and Edward Bellion's "For the Good of the Game" (, my Bible while I was refereeing.

  13. Gak Foodsource, May 22, 2013 at 12:31 a.m.

    Who knows if anyone at Soccer America reads these comments, but often, there are some great insights and conversations rendered un-readable by the inability to enter spaces into the comment section. Any chance the web developer at SA can allow us to divide our rants into paragraphs??

  14. Ramon Creager, May 22, 2013 at 5:28 p.m.

    Gak, hear hear!

  15. ricardo zapata, May 23, 2013 at 1:14 p.m.

    Must be a joke… made it by somebody that doesn’t know about this sport.
    What Cahill did it, is called pressure, is the way to balance the game, when the rival have too much control of the ball, for any reason, skills, tactical, formation, etc… You must to watch more football, maybe champions league or Copa libertadores games to understand the concept , or maybe you doesn’t, because you must think Chelsea won the last UEFA CL, and Bayer M. is in the final , because threat the opponent with rough play ..jajajaja what a clown

Next story loading loading..

Discover Our Publications