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Does Houston coach Dominic Kinnear have a point about diving in MLS?

Mar 18, 2013, 9:28 AM EDT

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Being a referee really is an impossible assignment in some ways.

To call too many fouls is to incur the wrath of half the players and coaches, the set who believe in a more physical match.

But don’t whistle enough of them and we get what Major League Soccer long ego devolved into, an overly physical league full of muscle and tussle – incurring the wrath of players and coaches who prefer a slightly more technical game. Lots of fans, too, though surely not all of them.

So it really comes down to balance.

And that is the starting point for conversations on Dominic Kinnear’s rant on Sunday, aimed most pointedly at FC Dallas striker Kenny Cooper, but also at those who dive and “cheat” around the league, according to the long-serving Houston Dynamo coach.

It’s a tricky balance, indeed.

A few years ago, MLS officials at the time believed that the scourge of diving and the slightly lesser offense of exaggerating or embellishing contact was the bigger issue. So Joe Machnik, head of MLS officials at the time, moved referees toward calling fewer fouls, reckoning that the game would “flow.” (He even cited a reduction in fouls called as evidence of better officiating.)

Of course, that’s not what happens. The referee whistle may blow fewer times – but the game tends to flow about as much as a clogged toilet. Players take the temperature and keep turning up the physical heat until they are made to do otherwise. The result is a mad circus of body checks, kicks and hacks, creating a game of turnovers that quickly gets hard on the eyes.

So, yes, it’s always about balance. It’s about hitting the sweet spot. It’s a contact sport, after all – but tackling and defending must always be about timing, skill, precision and just enough aggressiveness. It shouldn’t be tackle by collision.

Achieving that balance is not easy, but Kinnear has a point about more aggressive oversight on diving from Major League Soccer’s disciplinary committee.

The committee can and has issued punishments for diving. A little more of that certainly could not hurt, putting those who fall and feign in greater danger of something punitive.

That wouldn’t stop the stuff (which Kinnear calls a recent “epidemic”), but it couldn’t hurt.

  1. tylerbetts - Mar 18, 2013 at 10:26 AM

    I’ve never viewed Diving as a big problem for MLS. I’ve always viewed it as the opposite – that there aren’t enough fouls called, and the league gives players and teams a pass to be overly physical.

  2. geojock - Mar 18, 2013 at 11:34 AM

    I think he does make a good point and I am glad he has said something; however, MLS is already one of the most progressive leagues in the world when it comes to diving so I am not sure what more the league can do without too quickly tipping the scale the other way.
    I think we should give the league time to see its current policies have their fair chance and then look for chances should they be necessary. We should learn from other American sports that knee-jerk reactions are never a good thing.

  3. pensfan603 - Mar 18, 2013 at 5:27 PM

    It hasnt been bad at all in the MLS but Salazar cant be calling that red i mean what is he doing..

  4. philneezy - Mar 18, 2013 at 7:58 PM

    Kinnear has the second dirtiest team in MLS. I view their constant physical play as more of a problem in MLS than diving has ever been.

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