Dempsey case: Lessons from the tussle in Tukwila

By Paul Kennedy

In a perfect world, Clint Dempsey would not have been playing on Tuesday. Nor would have Obafemi Martins. The Seattle Sounders will play three MLS games in the next week, so it probably would have been wise to not use Dempsey and Martins in an Open Cup game, but the Sounders did and they paid the price.

For a moment of monumental stupidity, Dempsey got himself suspended for the next three MLS games, which combined with national team commitments at the Gold Cup, means he'll be out of MLS action until August. Martins injured his groin late in regulation and will be out 3-6 weeks.

In a perfect world, Daniel Radford would not have been assigned to ref Tuesday's match, a rivalry game between two of MLS's biggest clubs. According to PRO, he's never reffed an MLS game. He did do a San Jose-Chicago Open Cup game in 2011 during which he red carded the Fire's Gonzalo Segares and got chased around the field by the Costa Rican for his trouble.

But Radford was assigned to the game and despite the Sounders' objections about his inexperience, I was told, was confirmed as the match official.

None of that in any way justifies what happened on the field, on the sidelines or in the stands. No, Tuesday night was not Seattle's finest hour. As co-owner Adrian Hanauer said, "the passion piece maybe went a little bit overboard."

In a perfect world, we'd have an explanation from MLS on how it came to its decision to suspend Dempsey three games for referee abuse, not six for referee assault, for which he could have easily been found guilty. Three vs. six games make no difference to the Sounders -- they assumed they'll be without him for the last three games because of the Gold Cup -- but three vs. six games for U.S. Soccer is likely the difference between Dempsey going to the Gold Cup, if Jurgen Klinsmann picks him, and not going to the Gold Cup.

But there's is no perfect world in court, either. The trier of fact doesn't have to explain his or her decision to interpret facts one way or another, and that decision can generally be overturned only on the basis of law, not fact. The institution of the courts is given the benefit of the doubt because of the seriousness with which it considers matters.

My takeaway from all that happened after the Portland-Seattle game is the seriousness with which all parties have taken the institution of the Open Cup.

I again begin with the Sounders. No one in MLS has taken the Open Cup more seriously than the Sounders, defending champions, winners of four of the last six titles and unbeaten at Starfire, their Open Cup home, for 20 games until Tuesday's loss. They also happened to be the only MLS club to have two teams playing this week in the fourth round. Sounders 2 led Real Salt Lake at the half on the road before falling, 2-1.

Not everyone treats the Open Cup like the Sounders do. The same day the tussle in Tukwila took place an article appeared in the New York Times previewing the Cosmos-NYCFC Open Cup match. Former Red Bulls coach Mike Petke talked of the problem he had fielding a team for last year's Open Cup match against the Cosmos. It was a given that Thierry Henry and Jamison Olave wouldn't play -- they basically never played on artificial turf -- but Petke said four other key players begged off. "My entire role over the week leading up to the game," he told the Times, "was to try and talk these guys into playing and taking this game seriously.” Needless to say, the Red Bulls lost and lost badly, 3-0

No, all MLS teams don't take the Open Cup seriously. But we do think, thanks to the Sounders' lead, things are getting better. The Galaxy started Robbie Keane against an PSA Elite, a USASA team, and it needed the Irishman's hat trick to dispose of the amateurs from Orange County after they took an early lead. Many of MLS's big stars -- Kaka at Orlando City and David Villa at NYCFC -- did not play, but a good number of teams used their Designated Players even if unlike the Sounders they were playing lower division teams. Crowds are getting better, too. There were more than 19,000 fans at Sporting Park for the first Sporting KC-Saint Louis FC match, and there was a sellout at Shuart Stadium for the Cosmos-NYCFC thriller.

In face of mounting investment by owners in MLS, the easy way out for clubs would be to slough off the Open Cup. But it isn't going anywhere, so they must make the best of an imperfect world.

If the lesson of the tussle in Tukwila is to take the Open Cup a little more seriously -- how it's organized, how it's played and how it's adjudicated -- then not Seattle's finest hour might in a small way help make the institution of the Open Cup stronger.

15 comments about "Dempsey case: Lessons from the tussle in Tukwila".
  1. Allan Lindh, June 19, 2015 at 8:31 p.m.

    It's a bush league operation until they get better refs, MLS and USSoccer. Which means they have to pay more. Duh!!!

  2. James e Chandler, June 19, 2015 at 11:31 p.m.

    Why do you think more money will fix this?
    To referee a soccer match, one must first be physically fit, and athletic enough to run for 120 minutes.
    Then everyone expects a person to have the understanding, and wisdom to deal with an emotionally charged sporting event. Like Judy Foudy once said as a color announcer, "Who would BE a referee" I joke that one need be a sadomasochist.
    It's a Catch-22. You have to be mentally balanced enough to take the berating from unbalanced players, coaches, and fans, and mentally unbalanced enough to be willing to do it.
    When a game goes bad for an official, no amount of money is worth it.

  3. Kenneth Barr, June 19, 2015 at 11:54 p.m.

    Paul Kennedy makes an excellent point about Daniel Radford being the wrong official for an MLS team in the Cup. However, this problem occurs throughout the game world wide. League officials lists are not heeded in cup competitions. Any match involving top flight competition should be officiated by the top flight referees and assistants. That said, there is absolutely no excuse for Clint Dempsey's behavior and a three match ban is ludicrous. It needs to be much more.

  4. Adam Tondowsky, June 20, 2015 at 12:46 a.m.

    2 questions:
    1.Can FIFA issue a an additional suspension that will keep Dempsey out of the Gold Cup?

    2.Will the referees do anything to protest this ridiculously light punishment, and if so, what would they likely do?

  5. David Mont, June 20, 2015 at 7:42 a.m.

    Not to excuse what Dempsey did, but I can't help but think that if Dempsey had come in with a horrendous late tackle breaking an opponent's leg and possibly ending his career, he would've been given a lesser punishment, if at all.

  6. Nicholas Concilio, June 20, 2015 at 12:08 p.m.

    As a counterpoint to your argument, Brian Mullen was given a 10 match ban by MLS for breaking Steve Zakuani's leg a couple of years ago.

  7. Allan Lindh, June 20, 2015 at 12:34 p.m.

    Yes but the point is that this ref apparently did not card vicious tackles throughout the match, which turns a soccer match into a brawl. And more money does change quality of the people you get, look at any other tough profession -- you get what you pay for.

  8. Miguel Dedo, June 20, 2015 at 1:11 p.m.

    Hope Solo, Clint Dempsey, Neymar -- the punishment not to fit the crime but to keep the revenues flowing. International soccer as a thumb-in-the-eye for rule-of-law. The World Cup bidding process no more nor no less dishonest than the disciplining of players and referees.

  9. Santiago 1314, June 21, 2015 at 11:46 p.m.

    Congrats to Serbia !!!!... Thanks to Brazil...THANKS TO FUTBOL.!!!!..It's because of games like this, why we put up with the Antics of Dempsey, Neymar, and Solo...Because Every ONCE IN A WHILE(not enough unfortunately)... We get THE BEAUTIFUL GAME...

  10. Santiago 1314, June 22, 2015 at 11:07 a.m.

    That's in Regards to the u20 Case you were wondering???

  11. Soccer Brain, June 22, 2015 at 12:56 p.m.

    There are couple issues with the argument made. First about Daniel Radfords ability to referee the game. I've watched Mr. Radford referee games since about 2006 from MLS reserve games to college games to professional games. He is actually one of the better referees out there.

    He has been a 4th official for several years now. At some point he needs to continue to game experience an Open Cup is usually that avenue. Having an experience referee does not guarantee that the losing team won't blame it's loss on the referee. See two years ago Soundets USOC finals loss to SKC. One of MLS most experienced referees Ricardo Salazar was in the middle still they used him as an excuse.

    Seattle fans complain about the 2nd goal but precedent was already set by MLS PRO when RSL gave up a goal in a similar situation. Same with the 2nd red card for the forearm.

    People would complain if he gave early yellow cards then he is too harsh or if he doesn't then he is too lenient. Often in rivalry games there is no solution regardless who is in the middle. Heck look at the WC final in 2010, Holland has 10 YCs and should've had a red card. Should we have held Webb responsible for the behavior of the Dutch?

    The bigger issue maybe the leadership of the team. It is well know that Sigi is one of the bigger complainers in MLS. His teams take that persona so it's not necessarily the ref's fault for the behavior of the team. Ironically if you watch Sounders games especially those at Starfire they typically get the benefit of the calls especially in open cup games.

    Stop blaming the referee, Sounders need to take a look in the mirror.

  12. Rick Estupinan, June 22, 2015 at 4:31 p.m.

    Terrible sport ? , you are an IDIOT .Do not criticized something that you don't understand . First go to a good real Football game once in your life time , and you will come out with a different point of view I have a lot of born in the United States friends that love the sport . When I first came to the US , a friend (American) gave me a ticket for a Rams / Cow Boys game , he had to work and could not go to the LA Coliseum . Thank God I was by myself , because after 15 minutes I couldn't take it any more . All those interruptions , guys coming into the field with measuring tapes , the brute force in a lot of the plays , with no beauty in the whole thing , it was just too much for me . I did not enjoyed any of it and was a terrible experience . But all because I did not understand any of part of the game and although after 55 yrs of that day , I have not been to an stadium to watch another American Football game , I have a different opinion about these sport . It is entertaining and has a lot good things to watch . But it can never be compared to World Football .

  13. Rick Estupinan, June 22, 2015 at 4:32 p.m.

    Okay Santiago,to be honest I hadn't watch the Serbian team play and after watching them in the final against Brazil(2 _ 1),I retract my comment.If the US U-20 could not pass by Serbia,I understand why.A very talented team that the Brazilians could beat and that the US came out with an equal 0-0,that says a lot.Any way,they were two deserving finalists,a great game and Serbia,that Serbia that once was the great YUGOSLAVIA in Football.

  14. Santiago 1314, June 22, 2015 at 6:28 p.m.

    Ok.. Got ya now Rick.. :)

  15. William Anderson, June 23, 2015 at 10:33 a.m.

    Dempsey was out of control, but that was not a referee assault. Should he have gotten 6 games? Perhaps. Will USOC suspend him in addition to the 3 game ban by US Soccer? Yes, I'd expect an extended ban from the Open Cup. Will CONCACAF or FIFA add additional suspensions? That is pure fantasy. I think that Dempsey's role with the US Team should be changing with or without the current controversy. This team needs a new captain, and that would need to be Michael Bradley. Dempsey should also not be an automatic starter. He is still a valuable commodity for Klinsmann, but I see him more as a situational player going forward.

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