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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.

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