MLS DisCo makes another dubious diving decision

By Paul Gardner

The MLS Disciplinary Committee -- the DisCo -- continues its far from satisfactory activities.

Its latest bulletin is a mixed bag. It has a positive point to make, showing that it has become aware of what the FIFA rulebook actually says, rather than what the DisCo thinks it says.

The topic is diving, always something that the tough guys at the DisCo are keen to seek out and punish. The DisCo does not call it diving, though. They use the word embellishment. Since the beginning of the season MLS players have felt the righteous wrath of the Disco and have been fined “undisclosed amounts” for embellishing. Real Salt Lake midfielder Sunny Obayan was the first embellisher, back on March 12; Montreal Impact midfielder Lucas Ontivero was the most recent, on June 25.

Just over three months of embellishment, then. Just over three months during which this supposedly fair and just committee has been handing out punishment for a crime that is not mentioned in the FIFA rulebook. Nowhere in that book does the word “embellishment” appear. But it does use, and define, the word “simulation.”

So the latest DisCo report includes this: “Seattle Sounders FC forward Oalex Anderson has been found guilty of simulation . . .”

I find it amazing -- and disturbing -- that the DisCo members have only now become aware that they have been using the wrong word, have actually been convicting players of a crime that does not exist.

The DisCo is a quasi-penal body. You would think it would be ultra careful in getting its terminology right. There is a difference of meaning between “embellishment” and “simulation” -- the words are not synonyms. Were the DisCo a real legal body those convictions for a crime that is not on the books would be thrown out.

Quite possibly, the guys who handed out those wrongful convictions would also be thrown out, too. Or at least laughed out. Of course, that won’t happen with the DisCo members. There are five of them and they are allowed to operate in the shadows. We don’t know who they are, and MLS is not about to tell us.

I have complained before about this secrecy. I believe that we have a right to know who these guys are, who appointed them, why they were chosen, and which way they vote.

I am not about to belittle the activities of the DisCo, nor to make light of the difficulties involved in arriving at fair judgments. Particularly in cases involving simulation. This latest example -- the first to be labeled simulation by the DisCo -- exposes the difficulties. It also exposes what looks to me like a DisCo bias -- and I’d like to know more about that.

According to the Disco, Seattle’s Oalex Anderson dived. But referee Baldomero Toledo did not give him a yellow card, and allowed play to continue. The anonymous DisCo guys are telling Toledo that he got it wrong, that he should have carded Anderson. I’m assuming they’re basing their opinion on what the TV replays show, and I’m also assuming that the replays they studied are the same ones that I have been viewing and re-viewing.

In which case, I fail to understand their opinion. Anderson has dribbled the ball past Galaxy defender Dave Romney. Romney gives chase, and at one point, just as Anderson enters the penalty area, plants his left leg clearly in front of Anderson’s left leg. Was there contact? I don’t see how there could not have been -- it would have been glancing, no doubt, but more than enough to unbalance Anderson.

I do not feel confident enough to say that Romney tripped Anderson, though that would not be an outrageous conclusion. What is totally unacceptable to me is that the DisCo gang, looking at the same sequence, can confidently say there was no contact. A much more honest opinion from them would be that they’re not certain, and they should therefore not intervene.

So what made them give a guilty verdict based on a moment of highly questionable evidence? Evidence that does not point clearly in either direction -- either of there being a dive, or a trip. Why would they be so ready to convict Anderson?

I’d like to know, guys, whether you -- all of you -- have instructions from MLS to bear down harshly on simulation. Because that’s what it looks like. Failing that, I’d like a public assurance from MLS, and from PRO, that those bodies have no influence on DisCo decisions.

I shall, of course, not be getting that assurance. The DisCo will continue its clandestine activities, not because that’s the way things should be done, but because MLS finds it more convenient that way. In this incident, the DisCo, protected by its privacy, by the certainty that its decision will not be reversed, or even reviewed, has acted irresponsibly.

17 comments about "MLS DisCo makes another dubious diving decision".
  1. Thomas Sullivan, July 14, 2016 at 8:37 a.m.

    Paul, please keep shining the light. Your voice is so important for protecting the "beautiful game" Ronaldo's injury is a case in point for the increasingly physical nature of the game winning over "clean play" - hey where did that slogan/platitude go?

  2. Glenn Auve, July 14, 2016 at 9:48 a.m.

    It's not only the lack of transparency, but also the complete lack of consistency that bothers me about the DisCo. The fact that MLS continues to see no reason to be more honest about this group is very interesting. Garber never gets asked about it in interviews.

  3. Kent James, July 14, 2016 at 10:23 a.m.

    Sorry Paul, but I looked at the replay 4x (though never in slow motion) and cannot see where the contact with the leg is; in the photo I don't think Romney's foot is on the ground yet and even if it were, it would barely touch the outside of Anderson's foot. More importantly, he takes at least 2 more normal steps and then goes down; never does it look like anything Romney did affected Anderson's run (I thought perhaps he felt a tug on his shirt and decided to go down, but not even that). If you're using this to prove the disciplinary committee doesn't know what it's doing, it's an unconvincing argument. I can understand why the ref did not card (erring on the side of not being sure about it, so no card) but that is why the committee should. Otherwise offensive players have a lot to gain (a PK) and nothing to lose by pretending to be fouled in the box.

  4. Lance Cummins, July 14, 2016 at 10:38 a.m.

    I would rather they stop worrying about the few simulation calls and start paying attention to the shirt tugging and bear hugs that happen over and over again.

  5. Kent James replied, July 15, 2016 at 10 p.m.

    They should not be mutually exclusive.

  6. Kent James, July 14, 2016 at 10:54 a.m.

    Paul, while I understand why a player being carded for simulation when he really was fouled upsets you (and for this reason, if a ref is unsure, he should not give a card for it), I don't understand how you don't see that simulation is a serious problem, for many reasons. Primarily, when players simulate being fouled referees are forced to consider that possibility (or look incompetent), which means refs are more likely to not call real fouls. When players get away with simulation, that pisses off the other team, which encourages violence and fouling ("if I'm getting called for nothing, next time I'll make sure the foul I get called for is real"). This leads to games getting out of control, which is never good. Faking a foul is cheating, as much as scoring a goal with the hand is, so it is a blow to the integrity of the game. Finally, when players are rewarded for faking, that encourages more histrionics and hurts soccer's image, branding all soccer players as a bunch of weak whiners. If the DisCo can come back later an penalize people who simulate, then refs don't have to do it all themselves, and can not card people if they have doubts (avoiding carding people who really were fouled). If you like skillful soccer, eliminating diving will help create an environment in which it can grow.

  7. Kent James, July 14, 2016 at 10:57 a.m.

    One final thought; being against diving does not mean you favor fouling. I am completely in favor of refs cracking down on people who foul, which is a lot easier to do if you don't have so many people trying to look like they've been fouled when they haven't.

  8. R2 Dad, July 14, 2016 at 11:13 a.m.

    When you run like a Pokemon in the box, there is bound to be contact. The referee thought it was trivial/incidental, the Disco thought it was simulation. Players today go down as soon as there is any contact, and that's what MLS seems to want to discourage. I believe the Disco determination is designed to discourage this "decision" by attacking players. Not ideal, but something should be done. Otherwise, this turns into Serie A : JK!

  9. Kent James replied, July 15, 2016 at 4:53 p.m.

    I agree. I think players should play the game, and try to maintain their balance when there is incidental contact. The only time I think a player has no obligation to stay up is if their opponent intentionally fouls them (grabbing them or their shirt). In those cases, the opponent's best excuse is "I was only fouling them as much as I thought I could get away with, so you shouldn't call it". Players should not throw themselves to the ground, but if they are pulled back, I have no problem with them refusing to fight through it. In that case, the player is choosing to allow the ref to call the foul (instead of playing an advantage). In all other cases, players should let the refs call it and just keep playing.

  10. John Soares, July 14, 2016 at 11:56 a.m.

    Mistakes will happen and when there is disagreement (see above) one side will always be wrong... "mistaken". While I am not in favor of or necessarily understand "why" the secrecy. I am glad the group exists and often adds/increases "punishments" for violations. It is absolutely imperative that violence be reduced in the MLS. To achieve such goal I can live with the occasional mistake..... and yes I think the ref made the right (non)call.

  11. John Hofmann, July 14, 2016 at 5:03 p.m.

    It would seem that there are some truisms in soccer (as perhaps in all sports). If you don't call fouls, fouling tends to escalate, and is likely to become more severe over time.
    If you don't call a reasonable percent of simulations, the act of simulation is likely to escalate. I have over time concluded that the best way to avoid growing problems is to call both pretty tightly. This puts the ref under significant pressure, and a committee reviewing video 'evidence' after the fact is IMO a crucial tool for improvement. Not revealing who serves on this committee is to me a no-brainer. The discussion on this column shows wide-ranging differences of opinion, even with visual evidence right in front of everyone. To reveal committee names would simply open mbrs up to unrelenting abuse in today's world, something they don't need. If they make a mistake and "everyone knows it" they'll be aware of that. I have also concluded that, if they on occasion come down hard on a player for simulation (and he was not faking it), this is an example of erring the right way -- it may (hopefully) get players to actually make a stronger effort to stay upright, rather than going down with the slightest touch and risking increased, actual consequences.

  12. Wooden Ships replied, July 15, 2016 at 11:37 a.m.

    That all sounds good to me John. As I've stated before, officiating is the most difficult and necessary role in soccer/sport and I tip my hat to all that accept the challenge. Like many professions you don't do it for the money. The more we can devote in time and funding to support an officials knowledge, discernment and confidence should be a national goal.

  13. Ric Fonseca, July 14, 2016 at 5:07 p.m.

    Kent James,thank you for your in sightful comments. I do wish that our dear amigo of amigos, PG, would at least put on an official's uniform and work a game or two, whether in the middle as an AR or even fourth official and, then and ONLY then provide us with his high-falutin's writs, instead of being the Monday "quarterback...!!!" ooops wrong sport, a Monday official evaluator, who can call any game with a click of his remote control, TiVo a play over and over and then make his mightier than thous pronouncements!!! PLAY ON, I SAY!!!

  14. Bob Ashpole replied, July 15, 2016 at 1:34 a.m.

    Having a little experience on an amateur league disciplinary committee, I feel it is a very difficult job and no matter what the decision, someone if not everyone is usually unhappy with it. Out of fairness to PG, he was not using video replay to criticize the referee. He was criticizing the DisCo which should have considered video in making their decision. Withholding the DisCo members' identities is a good idea. It avoids making them a target for persons hoping to influence their decisions, by fair means and foul, or gain inside information for gambling purposes.

  15. Fire Paul Gardner Now, July 18, 2016 at 1:20 p.m.

    Got to hand it to this guy - he finds some pretty obscure things to complain about.

  16. R2 Dad replied, July 19, 2016 at 6:13 p.m.

    Here is something more trivial: Is it unsporting behavior if you line up in front of your teammate's free kick, in order to block the view of the ball from the keeper? Verklempt? Discuss amongst yourselves...

  17. Scot Sutherland, July 20, 2016 at 3:26 p.m.

    I'm less sure about the meaning of "simulation" than I am about the word "embellishment." Embellishment can occur whether the player was touched or not. "Simulation" to be purely simulation would require no influence by any outside factor other than the actions of the simulator. This is more difficult for me because you then have to decide how far back in the sequence to go. In this case the touch by Romney occurred several steps before the fall. Did Romney's foot cause the fall or did the player decide to fall. Embellishment makes that distinction unimportant and puts the onus on whether the player intentionally tried to influence the call.

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