The U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) is once again being put under the microscope following the actions of one of its stars. Just as the hoopla surrounding Hope Solo was starting to subside, U.S. men’s national team captain and Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey was found guilty of referee abuse for slapping away Daniel Radford’s notebook and then tearing it up during Seattle’s 3-1 loss in the U.S. Open Cup against the Portland Timbers.
Per MLS rules, “referee abuse” results in a suspension of three games, which is exactly what Dempsey received from the league, as opposed to “referee assault,” which results in a more serious six-game suspension. However, that was just the MLS ruling.
On Thursday, the disciplinary committee of the U.S. Open Cup suspended the 32-year-old from the competition for a whopping six games, or two years—whichever is longer—, depending on how the Sounders perform.
As The Wall Street Journal points out, the U.S. Open Cup committee works under the USSF, which organizes that competition in addition to the national team’s programs—just as the English FA organizes the FA Cup as well as England’s national team programs.
According to the Journal report, “this is where things get awkward for U.S. Soccer,” because on the one hand, U.S. Soccer isn’t letting Dempsey play in the Open Cup for two years, while on the other hand, it is allowing him to play for the USA in next month’s Gold Cup.
The report then goes on to suggest that Dempsey was lucky the offense was only deemed “abuse” rather than “assault,” particularly in light of the fact that there is clear video evidence of everything (which you can see here). It then reminds us that in soccer, the safety of the referee is “sacrosanct,” and that any kind of physical contact “is serious business requiring serious penalties—like perhaps missing a chunk of a continental championship.”
Off The Post has a couple of problems with this.
Clint Dempsey’s behavior was bad, everybody knows this. And his apology for the incident, which he finally sent via Twitter some ten days later, was -- at best -- lame. But anyone who follows soccer closely understands that different competitions have different rules, as well as different committees that oversee things like disciplinary proceedings. It follows, then, that a UEFA Champions League ban has no bearing on a Premier League game, which has no bearing on an FA Cup game. Why? Because the organizers of those competitions are all different.
In this case, the U.S. Open Cup might have the same organizer as the U.S. men’s national team, but international and club soccer are totally different worlds that generally have nothing to do with each other -- unless we’re talking about something like assault. In the event of assault, which is exactly what happened when Luis Suarez bit Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup last summer, FIFA, soccer’s overseer of everything, handed out that massive club and country ban to the Uruguayan because -- well -- it can, and it probably wanted to make an example out of him.
Regardless of whether or not Dempsey’s actions were worthy of being labeled “assault,” they were not -- either by MLS nor by U.S. Soccer, which looks to have delegated responsibility for passing judgment on the incident to the U.S. Open Cup committee.
While the three-game MLS ban certainly sounded light, this was not the league’s competition and the three-game ban is its standard. In banning Dempsey for two years or the next six Open Cup games, the committee's punishment sounds more on-target. Because the ruling was not "assault," the punishment should not crossover to Dempsey's national team standing.
Now that may sound bizarre to non-soccer people, but to those of us who are familiar with how this funny world operates, the punishment fits the crime.
And that, folks, is just the way things are.