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Why Major League Soccer got it right on Rafa Marquez’s three-game suspension

Apr 19, 2012, 1:10 PM EST

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I know the umbrage and outrage is ricocheting around the internet now, wondering why Major League Soccer didn’t wallop Rafa Marquez a little harder over the head with the frying pan of justice.

Me? I’d say justice was served with Thursday’s announcement of a three-game suspension for the reckless and senseless actions that have put San Jose attacker Shea Salinas out for 6-8 weeks.

(I covered some of the context and consequences in a previous post.)

I do get the reflexive reaction here. In a lot of circles, Rafa Marquez is a shadowy figure with a history of menacing behavior who deserves to have the book thrown at him.  Who could possibly forget Marquez’s flying kung fu combo assault on Cobi Jones back in the 2002 World Cup, where the Mexican international defied the laws of physics by simultaneously head butting and kicking his American opponent?

A bunch of people haven’t forgotten, so that’s fueling some of the extra ire in this case. The Mexico-U.S. rivalry surely simmers, sub-plot style, in the backdrop on this one.

But the disciplinary committee’s job isn’t to administer frontier justice nor to right previous wrongs. And it most certainly shouldn’t consider nationality and international rivalries when dealing with the important business of crime and punishment.

At its core, the Marquez suspension and the ongoing, prickly practice of issuing retroactive suspensions based on video evidence is about player awareness, and about Major League Soccer goosing the enterprise to create the product they want.

I completely understand the call for a longer suspension, something more along the lines of what Salinas will miss (probably somewhere around 6-8 games). But this really isn’t eye-for-an-eye stuff – and anybody suggesting MLS move in that direction really hasn’t thought this through.

If you go there, then perhaps Shalrie Joseph (a very important player for New England) would be out for an equal duration as the injured Ricardo Villar (a backup midfielder for FC Dallas, although he was starting due to other injuries). Fair swap? Not really – especially considering that Joseph’s tackle was pretty low on the scale of menace.

Injuries do happen. They are unfortunate, but they can’t be legislated out of the game. Plenty of injuries have nothing to do with the reckless, careless or violent actions that Major League Soccer is trying so hard to reduce. Some do, and injuries are rightly being considered when the disciplinary committee adjudicates these matters – just not in equal measure of recovery time to punishment length.

The messages are being heard by players. The course correction (so far overdue) is under way and players know they bang and bust at their own risk.

I feel bad for the fallen Earthquakes midfielder, but this isn’t about Rafa Marquez and Shea Salinas per se.

The bigger picture is about creating a better game, enforcing tougher standards, ensuring player safety and delivering a more watchable product. We’re all better served when the soccer  is a little easier on the eyes, a game with more finesse and a little less fouling, obstructing, colliding and crunching – the tactics that mitigate and marginalize skill in this sport.

  1. wesbadia - Apr 19, 2012 at 1:44 PM

    You provide a rebuttal of your own argument in your acknowledgement of the Joseph/Villar incident by defending the actions of Joseph as “low-scale menace”. The fact that Joseph’s tackle of Villar was dangerous is NOT equivalent to the fact that Marquez’s bear-hugging take-down and subsequent boot to the jaw was reckless and purposeful. Here’s what separates the two: previous history and intent.

    Every major sports league in this country has a retroactive policy on dangerous behavior on the field. The NHL’s current emphasis on ending blind-side hits into the boards and headshots is applied retroactively and quite liberally. Sometimes Shannahan gets it wrong… but the overwhelming majority of the time it’s spot on. The MLS review committee is actually a better regulated machine than a single person dictating the shots. A factor of Shannahan’s is previous infractions by the violating player. In Joseph’s case, it could’ve been considered that it was sloppy, but that it lacked the intent to injure, and the absence of previous violations might warrant a simple fine opposed to a suspension.

    However, in the case of Marquez, his attitude on and off the field would come into play. Having just served his suspension from the incident with Donovan last season, the committee should be factoring it in. The fact that Marquez also committed the same bear-hugging take-down minutes earlier is reason to suspect that he was intending to hurt his opponent. And the fact that all the replays show clear intent to kick (or purposely lose control of his own foot) is enough for anyone to properly condemn the man.

    Bottom line is that this incident is unlike Joseph’s. And while I agree that matching the suspension to the injury time is unjust, the fact that Clark got the exact consequences for not injuring ANYONE is grounds for complaining about the length of suspension. If Mullan gets 10 games for an aesthetically-induced emotional judgement on a play that was intended but wasn’t necessarily a case of his usual behavior, then Marquez should get no less than 6 or 7 for his clear intent and past violations and behavior. Ultimately, though, the committee finding consistency and solid policy to apply to all of these incidents needs to happen.

  2. kckicker23 - Apr 19, 2012 at 1:52 PM

    I wish more people were talking about the fact that it should have been a penalty, as well, for Marquez’s infraction. Poor refereeing is being obscured by the retro-punishment. What about retro-punishment for the ref who missed this entirely?

    • wesbadia - Apr 19, 2012 at 1:54 PM

      Bingo. Nail on head. PK at that point would’ve resulted in two more points for the Quakes and none for NY. If players are retroactively punished, so too should officials. Hopefully the new PRO group considers this.

    • Steve Davis - Apr 19, 2012 at 2:41 PM

      I understand the irritation over non-PK call … but that’s a different conversation. DEFINITELY should have been a PK, but that goes to referee training and to mistakes that are made in every league, every weekend. Generally, if you create a league where that ISN’T the norm, then you create a situation where refs CAN call the outrageous stuff. (Not defending Ricardo Salazar, by the way … he should have pointed to the spot.)

  3. footballer4ever - Apr 19, 2012 at 2:30 PM

    3 game suspension + significant DP monetary penalty should apply to. To some players missing games are welcome as a vacation, but unless you hit them in their pockets they won’t understand their actions. Regardless if they understand, at least milk their paycheck and donate it to a charity, but don’t let players go out that easy.

    • wesbadia - Apr 19, 2012 at 3:17 PM

      Rafa was fined along with the suspension. The amount was undisclosed, as are all monetary figures within the League.

  4. asantabarbara - Apr 19, 2012 at 5:07 PM

    He deserved a suspension, but even 3 games is harsh. Watch it in real time and the tackle is no doubt a penalty, but there are worse penalties in every game including the one on Roy Miller by Marvin Chavez in the same game. The real issue is that it should have been a penalty with a card by the referee, but the referee’s that night stunk and made many bad calls and many no calls. In Europe these kind of arm wraps and falls happen all the time and usually result in a free kick. Heck, Barcelona gota free kick against Milan for an arm wrap/shirt pull prior to a corner kick against AC Milan 2 weeks a go.

  5. wyrm1 - Apr 19, 2012 at 5:35 PM

    3 games is hardly harsh, Rafa drove Salinas into the turf deliberately, doing the same thing he had done 2 or 3 times prior, probably breaking his collarbone, then as he was falling deliberately kicked at Salinas’ head and neck (breaking his collarbone if it was not already broken). He has a long history of this type of behavior, and it was not a heat of the moment thing. He deserved more, but the committee isn’t going to suspend a DP for more then 3 games for anything short of homicide.

    • asantabarbara - Apr 19, 2012 at 6:12 PM

      The collarbone broke with the weight of him falling on to Salinas. The kick may have been deliberate and it sure seems so in slow mo, but in real time it happens literally an instant and is hard to see. Was he behaving angrily? Yes. Was he playing hard? Yes. Did he want to get caught on camera to get suspended? Probably not. He’s played like this his whole career. The difference is that he used to be able to get away with it. Pulling shirts, pulling arms, pushing, etc is all part of corner kick defense. This ends up being a full arm wrap and tackle that should have been called and penalized, but I don’t think you would ever see this be a 3 game suspension in Europe unless your name is Mario Balotelli.

  6. wyrm1 - Apr 19, 2012 at 7:51 PM

    I think it really boils down to whether you think the kick is deliberate. I actually tend to agree with you to a degree. Pullling arms, shirts and stuff is part of corner kick D, but wrapping someone up and tackling them shouldn’t be. Honestly, if that was all that happened I’m not even sure that a suspension would be deserved. (except perhaps for the officiating team that somehow missed it).

    However, combine a fairly aggressive football tackle with what looks to me to be a very intentional kick to the head/neck area, and I think the combination deserves a lot more punishment, especially the kick to the head part. If you think that Marquez didn’t intentionally kick Salinas, then I agree that three games seems harsh. I just don’t see anything in the video or in Marquez’s past history to support that. It certainly looks to me that he was trying to kick another player in the head (after throwing him to the ground), and that behavior has to be punished severely.

  7. term3186 - Apr 20, 2012 at 2:00 AM

    Three games isn’t nearly enough. Its a joke. Its simply laughable. Think about it. Colin Clark gets three games for calling someone a name. This guy tackles someone, break his collar bone, and kicks him in the face for good measure. I don’t doubt that Clark deserved a harsh suspension, but come on. That is ridiculous. Mullan gets 10 games for his tackle on Zakuani. At least Mullan was going for the ball. Mondaini gets 5 games for his tackle on Morales, again, at least the ball is in view. Hell, Marquez JUST GOT BACK from a three-game suspension for chucking a ball at Landon Donovan. A repeat offender, just off of suspension DOES SOMETHING WORSE than what he did when he got his original suspension, and then GETS THE SAME SUSPENSION. Come on. Three games is a joke, it should be at least double.

    • Steve Davis - Apr 20, 2012 at 1:30 PM

      Hmmm … “Colin Clark gets three games for calling someone a name… ” you say. Your arguments on Marquez are fair on their own merits (I disagree, but that’s fine). But let’s be clear about your comparison. Clark used a homophobic slur. Worse, he directed it toward a kid. Roughing up a grown man on the athletic field is one thing (and Marquez should get something, even if we disagree on severity) but lashing out at a child is a different discussion.

  8. asantabarbara - Apr 20, 2012 at 10:23 AM

    If you think the tackle is in the same category as Mullan’s tackle on Zakuani, you are dillusional. Marquez is holding him, wrapped his arm around Salinas, Salinas makes his move which in turn pulls Marquez off balance and they fall. Unfortunately the way Salinas lands and the weight of Marquez on top of him break his collar bone. Definite penalty. Not a 3 game suspension one. However, the slow mow shows the kick at the end which should garner further punishment. I watched this at full speed off my DVR multiple times and it’s hard to catch. In slow mow, it definitely looks like a kick from an angry Marquez caught up in the moment and probably mad that his hold and Salinas movement pulled him down. Hence I think the 3 game suspension is fair as I doubt it would have been that much for most any other MLS player. I also don’t agree with the Colin Clark suspension (should have been a fine and nothing more as unfortunately you hear the same thing and worse in every sport during competition), but that’s just MLS trying to take a stance in public on political correctness on a sensitive issue.

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