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Considering hypocrisy, lame apologies in Major League Soccer

Oct 2, 2013, 7:33 PM EDT

Bruce Arena, coach of the Los Angeles Ga

As we look back on a couple of consequential refereeing decisions in Major League Soccer’s 31st Round, this time it’s the managers who need to go sit in the corner and, you know, “think about what they have done,” rather than the officials with the whistles.

That’s right. As I said in an earlier post, the refs didn’t get all the potential game-changing decisions right, but the men in the middle did pretty well, all things considered.

But what we got from a couple of prominent MLS managers and one prominent player deserves an appetizer portion of admonishment. In considering some post-game comments from LA Galaxy manager Bruce Arena, Galaxy striker Robbie Keane and Sporting Kansas City manager Peter Vermes, let’s just say they have all had better moments.

There is a gentlemanly, professional level of comportment we should expect from Arena and Keane, the dean of MLS managers and one of the league’s highest paid men, respectively. So they need a calling out for their histrionics late Sunday in Portland, when they went all kinds of crazy over an offside decision that nullified a potentially huge, late equalizer.

Thing is, they were dead wrong. It was a great spot by hawkeye referee assistant Eric Boria.

I would be inclined to give Arena and Keane – and other Galaxy players who confronted game officials en masse, so we are looking at you, MLS, to make good your preseason bluster on eliminating that mess – for their original actions. It’s a moment full intensity, meaning and playoff impact. Yes, things get understandably heated.

But the lack of subsequent mea culpa, the dismissive and unapologetic stance on their furious rage, was distasteful to say the least. There was a real imbalance in the way Arena and Keane showed up officials on national TV, but then had so little to say about it later when they were shown to be wrong.

Keane was dismissive, offering only that “someone said that I had a shoulder offside. If it was offside then it was offside.”

Gracious, eh?

But it was better than Arena’s response. He took the opportunity to say, essentially, that they might not have been screwed this time, but they’ve sure been screwed plenty of times before!

What he said, exactly: “If the referee is right, more credit to him. We’ve been in a lot of games this year where the plays aren’t even close and they don’t have them right. So, if they had it right, more credit to them.”

Both quotes are from Adam Serrano’s LA Galaxy blog, by the way.

If either of the Galaxy guys want to know how to cop to a faulty blown top, see Jurgen Klopp’s sincere, self-effacing efforts.

In Kansas City, Peter Vermes was right and yet a bit wrong as he complained about time wasting by Philadelphia in the teams’ match Friday, a big 1-0 upset by the visiting Union.

Vermes is the among the league’s chief complainers. On the one hand, he’s a smart guy and he generally “gets it” in life. But the SKC manager’s high passion for the job can cloud his vision of the bigger picture – and this instance is a good example.

Some of what Vermes had to say about his perceptions of Philadelphia delaying restarts and such as they milked the clock, and then about the scourge of selling unattractive soccer in MLS:

Players adapt very quickly and so do teams. The second that the players understand that the referees don’t want you touching the ball, because you’re going to [issue] a yellow card, they will stop. They know. But if they know they get away with it, they keep doing it.

“ … When we’re trying to put an entertainment value to the game, and to our fans and all across the league, they have a major responsibility in how that game is perceived by the fans – meaning the referee crew. And it’s unfortunate that week in, week out – and I bring this up week in and week out – it’s not managed across the board.”

He’s correct about MLS referees’ inability to better manage the pace of matches. I’ve written about it over and over: my biggest complaint with MLS officiating isn’t about weighty choices on penalty kicks and such. Those are adjudged correctly and incorrectly in leagues across the world every week.

It’s the MLS referees’ overall match management that lags far behind the world’s best leagues. Elimination of time wasting is part of it. So, spot-on by Vermes on this one.

But here’s the thing: His team is one of the best in MLS in tactical fouling, eliminating the budding opportunities in the midfield before they become scoring chances. And his team is among the league’s best at walking that fine line between “fair-and-square physical” and “illegally, overly aggressive.”

Guys like right back Chance Myers and center back Aurelien Collin get away with a lot, among the best at exploiting MLS officiating that continues to tilt the balance too far toward “physical” over “skillful.”

That’s unattractive, too.

  1. hildezero - Oct 2, 2013 at 8:32 PM

    Isn’t being offside, stepping offside? Not when you have a shoulder offside?…

    • tariencole - Oct 2, 2013 at 9:32 PM

      No. Any part of your body that can legally play the ball being in an offside position is offside. Also, you are not technically ‘onside’ again until the advantage you gained from being offside is nullified, so you can technically return to level but be offside still if you exploit an advantage in position gained by going offside.

      Linesman around the world routinely tell strikers that if they can see your shirt, you’re offside. Taylor Twellman has mentioned that on-air in the past as well.

  2. rphillish - Oct 2, 2013 at 10:20 PM

    Two things are never going to change about soccer anywhere in the world. First, refs are going to make bad calls. Second, Managers are going to blame refs for bad calls.

    • talgrath - Oct 2, 2013 at 11:09 PM

      I’m quickly tiring of Bruce Arena’s complaining and excuses. He complains about every little thing that everyone in the league has to deal with too. Either get on with it and shut up or quit.

      • lostintransocean - Oct 3, 2013 at 3:52 PM

        That is of course a wild exaggeration, and I’m quickly tiring of the LA haters complaining. Either get on with it and shut up or quit.

    • joeyt360 - Oct 4, 2013 at 9:23 AM

      But there’s a crucial mistake here. Managers are going to complain about CALLS. Even when the replay shows they weren’t bad calls.

  3. mlsconvert88888 - Oct 3, 2013 at 12:16 PM

    “If the referee is right, more credit to him. We’ve been in a lot of games this year where the plays aren’t even close and they don’t have them right.” -Bruce Arena

    Is he’s talking about the game against Columbus where Robbie Keane’s egregious flopping got them the W?

    • Steve Davis - Oct 3, 2013 at 12:51 PM

      I thought about that, too … but sometimes a journalist can muddle or minimize the point by scurrying down too many rabbit trails. But, yes … that’s a relevant moment for pointing out

    • jbztv - Oct 3, 2013 at 2:26 PM

      I’m guessing he’s talking about the game a month ago where Dallas scored 2 offsides goals to get a point, and the ref’s organization said afterwards the calls were wrong. Or perhaps, the Seattle game a week ago when EJ scored after a push and a pick on Omar weren’t called, and a LA goal was wiped off for a foul nobody could find.

      • joeyt360 - Oct 4, 2013 at 9:35 AM

        Some rules maven can clarify, but I don’t think setting a pick on a set piece is a foul. According to FIFA’s copy of Law 12, which can be found at, a foul is:

        * Kicking an opponent
        * Tripping an opponent
        * Jumping at an opponent
        * Charging an opponent
        * Striking an opponent
        * Pushing an opponent

        Setting a pick is none of those. Setting a pick is getting to a spot first and merely holding your ground. There’s such a thing as “obstruction” (which is not technically a foul but an IFK). But the rulebook seems pretty clear on this one, that it’s akin to basketball’s ‘moving pick’ Here’s how the rulebook put it:

        “All players have the right to their position on the field of play, being in the way of an opponent is not the same thing as moving into the way of an opponent.”

        That sounds pretty much exactly like the basketball rule to me.

      • joeyt360 - Oct 4, 2013 at 9:36 AM

        I guess the other thing to point out here is that according to Law 12 a foul can’t be called unless the ball is in play.

  4. mlsconvert88888 - Oct 3, 2013 at 12:16 PM

    “If the referee is right, more credit to him. We’ve been in a lot of games this year where the plays aren’t even close and they don’t have them right.” -Bruce Arena

    Is he talking about the game against Columbus where Robbie Keane’s egregious flopping got them the W?

    • mlsconvert88888 - Oct 3, 2013 at 12:17 PM

      oops, accidental double post.

    • lostintransocean - Oct 3, 2013 at 3:54 PM

      No, he’s talking about in Dallas where TWO offside goals were allowed, and in San Jose when a goal was called back with no foul, and against Seattle when the same thing happened. The referees confused everyone with that last one where nobody even had a clue what the foul was.

    • lostintransocean - Oct 3, 2013 at 3:55 PM

      I guess you were referring to the time when a Columbus player ran into Keane as he was about to shoot the ball, which is a foul, regardless of how often it’s called.

  5. lostintransocean - Oct 3, 2013 at 3:51 PM

    It’s strange to me how teams like Montreal, Houston, New York, Portland, and Seattle have mass confrontation all the time, with 5-6 players surrounding the referee, and in one LA game you have Robbie Keane and Landon Donovan confronting the AR and suddenly it’s “en masse” and everyone is throwing a fit about how “someone has to do something about this!”

    Sure, Michael Stephens ran over to the AR too, but this is after LD had already turned around and started away.

    Mass confrontation, for the record, is 3 or more players. Never is 2 players “en masse.”

    • donjuego - Oct 4, 2013 at 1:19 AM

      OK losintransocean — find two examples of Houston mass confronting this year. Go ahead, find them and post the game and minute. I don’t think you can.

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