By Paul Kennedy
The Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers had played each other four times
in the Open Cup before Tuesday night's troubles at the Starfire Sports Complex.
I recall working late one night in 2007 and needing to track down a late U.S. Open Cup score from Tukwila.
Seattle beat Portland, 2-1, in an incident-filled game -- they were playing in the USL First Division in those days -- and I stumbled online to the Timbers' post-game audio broadcast and heard the
noise of police sirens. The announcers reported that police had been summoned to the scene because the visiting Timbers fans were supposedly causing a disturbance. A riot at an Open Cup game?
The fact is, there was no trouble -- they were simply visiting fans, disappointed with the outcome of the game, and they were loud. No wonder the police were confused! Small as that contingent
of Portland fans who had made the trek up I-5 was, it was clear then: There just might be something to this Cascadia thing.
Police showed up again at Starfire on Tuesday. Only this time
there was trouble.
Incensed with the call of referee Daniel Radford
on a red card to Michael Azira
, Clint Dempsey
-- the U.S. men's national team captain -- grabbed Radford's notepad and ripped it up
. He received a red card, leaving the Sounders,
already down to nine players but only trailing 2-1 in overtime before the red cards to Azira and Dempsey, with only seven players on the field. Dempsey and Azira departed to the roar of the Tukwila
faithful, and Radford's crew needed a police escort.
Dempsey's actions -- assault on a referee's property -- lead to the question, how long will he be suspended and from what
There is precedence. In 2008, Mexican star Cuauhtemoc Blanco
was suspended from the Open Cup for two years or the Chicago Fire's next
six games, whichever was longer, for allegedly head-butting a D.C. United operations person as he was escorted from the field after being ejected from an Open Cup quarterfinal between the Fire and
United at Maryland SoccerPlex. The ruling was issued by a five-member U.S. Soccer adjudication and discipline panel three weeks later. The sanctions did not carry over to MLS, but the league fined
Blanco for $7,500 for “behavior detrimental to the public image and reputation of the League.”
An Open Cup suspension for Dempsey will surely be in order as might be a slap on
the wrist for MLS in the form of a fine. Will it impact Dempsey's status on the national team? Very unlikely. But it does raise the question, should the U.S. national team be captained by a guy who
pulls a stunt like Dempsey did on Tuesday night? (Who, indeed, should be the captain at the Gold Cup, in light of the recent run of form since Michael Bradley
took the captain's armband from the absent Dempsey?) Update: U.S. Soccer has a specific rule -- 202(1)(H)-2
-- covering referee assaults by players playing in pro leagues. Dempsey's actions -- grabbing the referee's notebook -- likely meet the definition of assault. The policy calls for a minimum
suspension of six games that cover all competitions. A six-game suspension would keep Dempsey out of the Gold Cup until the semifinals.
Sounders coach Sigi Schmid tried to bite his lip, as best he could, after Tuesday night's game. "I didn’t want to get
thrown out, so I walked away,” he said. “I was maybe going to choke a referee so I walked away before I did something stupid.” But that didn't stop Schmid from ripping Radford.
“I thought our guys played like lions," he said after the 3-1 loss. "I felt they left their heart out on the field, and I think they got robbed.” Open Cup suspension for Schmid?
The Sounders are MLS's Open Cup kings, defending champions and winners of the title in four of their last six seasons. The loss to Portland ended their 20-game unbeaten streak at Starfire -- their
Open Cup home -- dating back to 2005 and their days in the USL. The Sounders have contributed greatly to the growth of the Open Cup -- Tuesday's Sporting KC-Saint Louis FC game drew more than 19,000 fans -- but at the end of the day do Dempsey and Schmid care?
Whether or not Dempsey and Schmid had a case with the refereeing doesn't give them the right to go off on a referee -- whether it's taking his notebook and ripping it apart or ripping him --
figuratively -- in the post-game press conference.
As long as the Open Cup is viewed as less important than MLS or the national team and penalties don't carry over, there will always be a
little bit of a Wild West feel to the Open Cup and the risk that things will get out of hand like they did on Tuesday night.