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Mass confrontation is a complete embarrassment, and MLS is doing something about it

Feb 27, 2013, 1:30 PM EDT

Ricardo Salazar, Marvin Chavez, Tim Ream

Compared to every other league in the world, Major League Soccer proves very proactive. Last year, they formalized an aggressive system of retroactive review. They jumped to the front of the line trying to be guinea pigs for instant replay. And now they’re tackling one of the more annoying issues in world soccer, something they’ve labeled “mass confrontation.”

Just reading those words should immediately conjure an imagine. There’s a disputed call, most likely during a tense moment in the match, and one team starts crowding around a referee. They’re in his face. They’re attacking with numbers. Often, they’re implicitly using their physicality to intimidate.

We saw it yesterday in the Copa del Rey. Andres Iniesta fell in the arc and earned a whistle. Real Madrid disagreed. Next thing you know, Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Angel Di Maria, and Gonzalo Higuain are all crowding around Alberto Undiano.

And I know this is going to come as a great shock to you, but Undiano declined to change his call. I know, right? Turns out the mass confrontation was pointless. Who knew?

This year in Major League Soccer, mass confrontation will be worse than pointless. It will be detrimental. From the good work of The Washington Post’s Soccer Insider, Steven Goff:

Troubled by swarms of players disrupting a match, the league’s board of governors has approved a rule that would penalize teams and coaches when three or more individuals confront a referee or opponent.

The MLS disciplinary committee would issue a warning for a first offense. Subsequent incidents would result in a fine for both the club and head coach. The league declined to specify amounts, but multiple sources told the Insider the committee would levy penalties of $5,000 for a team and $1,000 for a coach.

I’d love to see the word “suspension” in here, but I don’t get the feeling there’s the will for that. So this is a good step one. If it doesn’t work, we could see tougher punishment next year.

And if MLS is serious about killing mass confrontations, they’re going to give this more teeth. These fines are not going to change behavior, especially when they don’t hit player pocket books.

But as with anything involving management and labor, this is a process. And as far as processes go, this is a decent first step. Anything to address this inanity would be a decent first step.

Mass confrontation is really one of the worst things that happens between the lines. It’s not the worst, but it’s arguably the most inexplicable. It’s one of the moment where every petty complaint about rich athletes looks justifiable. It’s where you get to see the kind of  immaturity, lack of perspective and spoiled behavior that many people consider endemic to professional athlete culture.

That’s why mass confrontations are so aggravating. You know these guys aren’t really like that, but when they throw these collaborative fits, how do you argue the point? “They’re not normally like this.” No, but they’re like this right now!

Address the issue is another example of Major League Soccer being proactive. A lot of their ability to do that is enabled by their league’s structure, but as we see from other leagues, being proactive about the game isn’t a given with these organizations.

  1. capsfan19 - Feb 27, 2013 at 1:40 PM

    Really dumb. Its not like the refs are actually getting physically assaulted…

    • tridecagon - Feb 27, 2013 at 2:45 PM

      Of course not, the refs never actually get assaulted… unless they do. A “Mass confrontation” situation can and occasionally does spill into an actual assault on the referee very quickly. It is not okay for players to threaten a referee.

      Youtube search “soccer referee assaulted” and feel some pity for these guys.

      • joeyt360 - Mar 5, 2013 at 7:17 PM

        Also, the intimidation factor is there even if no physical contact occurs, and that’s what mass confrontation is about–intimidation in order to change calls. If it can be wiped out of the game, then please, by all means.

  2. pensfan603 - Feb 27, 2013 at 1:51 PM

    Ya this is stupid it ruins the game, it takes some of the furry and anger out of the game like what is this the nba, where if you react you get in trouble, like god these poeple are human they should want to argue calls, and if you tell them not to you are just making it so they are less intense on the field and it makes it seem like the players dont care about the game, its jsut stupid

    • wfjackson3 - Feb 27, 2013 at 2:54 PM

      You think it ruins the game if the league prevents the entire team from hounding the official as if they there are some street mob? I think it ruins the game when a team starts hounding a ref.

    • florean - Feb 27, 2013 at 2:55 PM

      Unfortunately, you aren’t making an argument that is at all relevant to this discussion. Nobody is saying you can’t complain. Two people can still crowd around and whine to the ref. So the person the call went against and the team captain. What points are 3+ people going to make that 2 can’t? And how often does this or should this change the refs mind? I’d say “never” and “rarely”. I agree that the fines should be against the players, but perhaps the clubs can do that.

      • pensfan603 - Feb 27, 2013 at 3:32 PM

        alot of the time it makes adiffrence if the playres can come around with great ideas, and you have the whole teams bashing in a single point it affects the ref, if you watch games you know.

      • florean - Feb 27, 2013 at 5:45 PM

        @pensfans603 I watch plenty of games, although that isn’t relevant. The fact is the ref can only call what he sees, so even on the rare occasion when a player has a great point (like “he started it”), it can’t change the ref’s call. And players are hardly the unbiased observers the ref is. Again, it doesn’t work, it slows the game down, it isn’t professional, and there’s no reason one or two players can’t accomplish the same thing.

  3. arjanroghanchi - Feb 27, 2013 at 2:29 PM

    this is long overdue, and the punishments should be more severe. It is insane the way these guys trip out when there is a call they don’t like. It used to be that the captain and only the captain was the only person who would communicate with the ref in anyway.

    Now it is a total free for all on the field and pitch side.

  4. CaliforniaRedskins - Feb 27, 2013 at 2:48 PM

    I love this new rule and agree that it may need to go further in terms of punishment if there is little reaction. I do think that coaches will notice this and not appreciate the 1k hit every time there’s a controversial call. Looking at the above comments it’s interesting to see that people actually enjoy watching players argue with the referees lie that. I actually am a little embarrassed for them and the way they’re behaving.

  5. term3186 - Feb 27, 2013 at 3:43 PM

    I’m against mass confrontation as much as anyone, but this rule seems….. silly. I highly doubt a $1,000 fine to the coach will change the behavior of the players. Besides, the tools to prevent/discourage mass confrontation are already in the referee’s kit, and it’s completely inexplicable to me why they’re never used. Its very simple. At the pregrame meeting inform both teams that the only players permitted to address the referee after a foul call/no call are #1 the team captains, and #2 the players involved. Maximum of 4 players talking to the referee. If anyone else feels the need to chime in, they can either wait OR RECEIVE A YELLOW CARD FOR DISSENT. It kills me this isnt done more often. When the yellows and reds start piling up, the players will learn.

    • pensfan603 - Feb 27, 2013 at 5:12 PM

      exactly the ref could get them the yellow if they wanted but they dont, so now your going to fine the coach, its basicly telling the coachs to control their players, but if your a player and someone take out one of your players, you want ot be able to stand up for your player, you know you are risking a yellow but you have to stand up for the player.

    • florean - Feb 27, 2013 at 5:36 PM

      I agree yellows would be the most effective, but I’m worried that handing out all those yellows would have a really negative effect on games. I’d rather try this approach, then fine the players (which I think would end it quick; players don’t make enough to pay a bunch of fines), then escalate the fines, and then hand out yellows as a last resort. I don’t have a problem with them starting mild, as long as they’re prepared to ramp it up aggressively if this doesn’t completely end it. And starting small puts the players on notice and gives them an opportunity to reform before dropping the hammer.

      • dws110 - Feb 27, 2013 at 8:11 PM

        Another reason to prefer your approach is that the disciplinary committee can track season-long violators and retroactively apply punishment, rather than ask the refs to keep track of who the naughty boys are. Refs have enough to do during a match, they don’t need to also try to remember how many times Lenny (oh come on, you know I’m right) got up in someone’s grill.

  6. dreadpirate82 - Feb 27, 2013 at 3:49 PM

    My biggest pet peeve with my team (SKC) is the constant harping on the officials. I understand that it’s part of every sport to complain to the refs, but it drives me nuts. When I play basketball or soccer, I’ve always been a fan of the friendly talk with the ref after he misses a call. They’re more likely to believe you when you calmly tell them they missed something every once in a while, rather than scream at them all game. You’re not gonna get calls by antagonizing the refs. I love the rule change/adjustment.

  7. geojock - Feb 27, 2013 at 4:09 PM

    Hope SKC got the memo. They are the leagues worst. Not sure if it will be the same without Kamara though. This is long overdue. I think its crazy that these guys act like 12 year old kids out there. I have always said if i was a ref in MLS I would make it clear that unless you are the captain, dont speak to me unless spoken to.

  8. dws110 - Feb 27, 2013 at 7:55 PM

    This is a great rule. I understand that players want to let the ref know during a game if there’s extracurriculars going on that the ref may not see, but the crowding and swarming that goes on is over the top. I agree with geojock, unless you’re the captain, you have no business being in the ref’s face.

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