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While Major League Soccer green lights retroactive suspensions, critics are missing the point

Apr 11, 2012, 10:35 AM EDT

Ricardo Salazar, Marvin Chavez, Tim Ream

Each time Major League Soccer announces a retroactive suspension, cries of injustice rise, claims of inconsistency reverberate through the internet and inchoate fears of bad precedent or undermining match officials clap like ominous thunder.

But people are missing the point.

All of this isn’t about making Shalrie Joseph sit out a match. It’s not about making Danny Cruz feel bad for unbecoming gamesmanship, and not about teaching Jair Benitez a lesson. Not exactly, anyway.

This is about making MLS players more aware and more responsible. It’s about player safety. And in the bigger picture, still, it’s an overdue course correction that will create better curb appeal through more watchable matches.

This is about restoring some balance to the place Major League Soccer falls along the continuum of restrain and self-control. On one end is a very technical league, where contact is minimal and “touch fouls” are whistled like Friday night social soccer; on the other end is a league that looks more like mud wrestling than soccer.

Most reasonable people would agree that MLS should land somewhere in the middle, not especially close to either end. What league owners have asked of the disciplinary committee and of its players and clubs is to adjust it toward the technical end.

There’s no question it had long ago migrated to far the other way, walking too frequently through the rough neighborhoods of the game.

As for the recent, retroactive suspensions: I understand the cry for consistency and public pressure to create it serves everyone well. But do know this: MLS won’t get it right 100 percent of the time. It’s a tough mark to hit, with lots of interpretation and situational context involved.

Still, trying to get there is the proper thing, a righteous stab at a course correction that was desperately needed. It’s worth getting it wrong here and there.

Get it wrong this way and someone sits out a match unfairly. Keep it the other way and more legs get broken, more players lose their careers to concussions.

By the way, does anybody think there wasn’t inconsistency before? Of course there was, outrageous degrees of it. But the previous inconsistency was the sole province of the man in the middle on match days.

Now, with time and license provided to the disciplinary committee to consider the evidence, the chances of creating consistency has risen dramatically.

In the end, the games will be better. The league will be better. The process won’t be perfect – but the status quo was maddeningly far from perfect, too.

  1. archlobster - Apr 11, 2012 at 10:51 AM

    I couldn’t agree more. It’s about time time players start to be afraid even if they get away with awful challenges.

  2. chopxii - Apr 11, 2012 at 11:33 AM

    Totally agree! Anyone arguing against this is probably just upset it is happening to their team.

  3. dreadpirate82 - Apr 11, 2012 at 11:53 AM

    I want a pool on which team will be last to get a retroactive suspension. My vote is NOT Sporting Kansas City. Espinoza and Collin seem likely candidates to be the first for my hometown team.

    • Steve Davis - Apr 11, 2012 at 12:40 PM

      Last year I would have seconded and thirded your R Espinoza nomination. As hard as I was on the guy last year, I have to say (and have said) that he’s polished his act a little this year. He’s no choirboy, but he’s not the bad-tackle menace he was in 2011 … not in my opinion, anyway.

  4. huskydeac - Apr 11, 2012 at 1:59 PM

    MLS hasn’t given a suspension for a dangerous tackle that has not resulted in a player rolling around on the pitch. This is one of my problems with the current process used MLS. By only suspending a player when an injury occurs, you’re encouraging players to act up the incident. If you look at Spanish football, which has a reputation for theatrics, you’ll see yellow and red cards are given out at twice the rate of England or Germany. I’d rather MLS didn’t go that route.

    My second problem is that the MLS disciplinary committee is seemingly working under a different interpretation of the rules than FIFA’s own. From your article on April 4th;

    “Rodriguez noted a baseline rule here: “ ‘Reckless’ is red, ‘careless’ is yellow.”

    which is a different standard than FIFA, which says

    • No further disciplinary sanction is needed if a foul is judged to be careless
    • A player who plays in a reckless manner must be cautioned

    Finally, there is no consistency. There are numerous fouls as bad as Joseph’s that have gone unpunished. Why is that? Who decides which incidents go in front of the disciplinary committee? How many other fouls have they reviewed and decided that further punishment was not necessary?

    • huskydeac - Apr 11, 2012 at 2:06 PM

      I should add, I like the idea of reviewing matches and curtailing future violent conduct. I just don’t think it is being done properly at this point.

    • manutebol - Apr 11, 2012 at 2:21 PM

      bla bla bla it’s not perfect but it’s better than the prior system. prior system = regular occurrence of broken legs and possible ended careers to the best players in the league.

      • Steve Davis - Apr 11, 2012 at 2:35 PM

        But suspensions have not always corresponded to injuries. That’s simply inaccurate.

  5. huskydeac - Apr 11, 2012 at 3:05 PM

    Suspensions this season have all resulted from plays that included injuries.

    Alonso, Perez, Valdes, and Villar all went down “injured” after the fouls. Cruz did as well, though he was faking it.

    Meanwhile there have been plenty of ugly dangerous tackles that didn’t happen to connect or didn’t cause a player to stay down; none of them have resulted in suspensions. Punish the tackle because of the danger, not because the result.

  6. gazza305 - Apr 12, 2012 at 1:41 AM

    This is one of the best initiatives MLS has undertaken. I say Bravo!!

  7. footballer4ever - Apr 12, 2012 at 5:24 PM

    Anything to improve the game flow be better by making sure the skillful players are protected vs the non- skillful players who use rough play over their skills. Let’s see how that is applied and what results come out of it.

  8. wyrm1 - Apr 15, 2012 at 10:53 AM

    I’ll be much more supportive when a Donovan, or a Beckham, or a Henry get a suspension for one of their thuggish tackles (more Beckham and Henry to be sure), but we know that this isn’t going to happen, MLS will continue to protect their “stars” from the consequences of their actions.

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