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Klinsmann’s not alone: Porter concerned with refs, player safety

Apr 2, 2014, 10:03 AM EDT

Real Salt Lake v Portland Timbers - Western Conference Championship - Leg 2 Getty Images

American soccer is a physical game. There’s little doubt about that statement, which makes it incumbent that officials are preparing to have control of a game and player safety.

We read in March the worries from US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann on the beating taken by Clint Dempsey in Major League Soccer, and now Portland manager Caleb Porter has joined the fray.

Discussing an injury to Timbers star Darlington Nagbe, Porter was critical of MLS officials and their protection of players.

“When you’re the most fouled player in the game and you’re getting kicked up and down the field in every single game and the referee doesn’t do anything about it to protect one of the better players in the league eventually you’re going to get a knock and you’re going to get hurt,” Porter said. “And that’s what happened. And it’s a real shame.”

He had some valid points, though in somewhat expected form he proceeded to take it over the line with an outlandish claim that Nagbe would be protected if he was American.

“Why is a quality young player like Darlington Nagbe not being protected?” Porter said. “The good thing is in a couple of years he’ll get his citizenship and now he’ll wear the national team badge and probably then he’ll for sure get protected. But for right now, the refs aren’t doing anything about it. And if they’re not going to do anything about it, people are going to keep obviously adopting that tactic.”

Right, cause USMNT players are being looked after like precious doves. Here’s what Klinsmann had to say last month when asked about Dempsey’s treatment:

“This was one of the main issues already when he came back to MLS last fall,” Klinsmann said. “They really kind of banged him in every game. I mean fouled over the edge. I hope that MLS is having an eye on that.

“What I saw there on the weekend (vs. Toronto FC), there were certain things not within the rules in any more. So I hope our players get protection because they need to be healthy going into this World Cup.”

It may be early to be super critical, especially considering that officials may be out of the swing following the brief labor dispute that kept them from calling the first couple weeks of the season. The early MLS season has been extremely exciting, but there have certainly been an eye-opening number of hard fouls. Many have gone uncalled, and you have to wonder whether MLS will continue to remain extremely attractive to stars if the beatings continue.

  1. midtec2005 - Apr 2, 2014 at 11:16 AM

    I understand where both managers are coming from, but we must remember that some players have had long careers in MLS without major injury. Landon Donovan comes to mind…. So we shouldn’t get too carried away either.

  2. bradzo2014 - Apr 2, 2014 at 11:32 AM

    In fairness to Mansally, he only hacked off Nagbe’s hand after Nagbe first hacked off Mansally’s forearm. Mansally even shrugged off the foul, saying, “It’s just a flesh wound.”

  3. lyleoross - Apr 2, 2014 at 1:38 PM

    There are three areas where a highly physical form of the game is still played, England, North America, and Central America. Lets see, flip, flip, flip, oh yes, right there in the FIFA rankings, all of those areas perform below expectations on the world stage…

    Whether or not players are being hurt, whether or not it’s entertaining, the physical play inhibits our ability to perform at the highest levels. Wonder when we are going to figure this out?

  4. florean - Apr 2, 2014 at 2:36 PM

    I think this is one of the biggest challenges MLS faces if they want to become a real top-tier league. And it isn’t just about player safety; it’s also about attractive soccer. Since the vast majority of fouls, by definition, are committed by players without the ball, they break up attacks and creative play. There’s nothing more frustrating to watch than some creative possession get stopped by a kick to someone’s calf or an exciting opportunity around the box get turned into a set piece. Even compared to the BPL, which is routinely criticized as one of the most physical leagues (i.e. allows the most fouls) in Europe, MLS is much, much worse. I watch a ton of MLS, BPL, and select games from other leagues, and MLS continues to frustrate me with the fouls that go unpunished, both in volume and violence.

    Improved refereeing can help, but MLS can’t rely on that. I think the Disciplinary Committee needs to be even more aggressive, I think refs need to be more consistent in yellow carding persistent infringement, and I think MLS needs to be creative in creating other disincentives to fouling. It would probably require a CBA change (negotiations coming up!), but perhaps yellow cards should come with mandatory fines. Ultimately, the only way to stop this is by penalizing players with fines and teams with unavailable players. Until this is reined in, MLS will never become a top league.

    • midtec2005 - Apr 2, 2014 at 2:54 PM

      great comment, I would also add that retroactive punishment for CLEAR dives should be implemented (isn’t it already to some degree?). Because if referees can be more confident that a foul was actually a foul, then they will be more willing to blow the whistle.

    • chunkala - Apr 2, 2014 at 3:10 PM

      Since you definitely watch more soccer than me, figured I’d ask…
      Do you watch any La Liga, Ligue 1, Bundesliga, Serie A, or any other Euro leagues?
      If so, how do they compare with BPL and MLS?

  5. hildezero - Apr 2, 2014 at 3:30 PM

    We shouldn’t get carried away with this. MLS being physical makes the league unique. Every time a new big star signs to an MLS club, they ALWAYS mention, “it’s a physical and competitive league”. Some say it like that, some others just talk about those subjects. I don’t know why this writer questions big stars not coming here any more, because of that issue. If a player doesn’t wanna come, because it’s too physical, then another player does.

  6. talgrath - Apr 2, 2014 at 5:56 PM

    Porters comments that Nagbe isn’t getting foul calls because he isn’t American is ridiculous, but his larger point about refs not protecting players is spot on. Watch any MLS game and you’ll see egregious fouls and penalties not getting called, hell, some of the teams are known for doing just that (looking at you San Jose and and Sporting KC). This has to change, referee quality has to improve; a lot of the replacement refs were vast improvements (admittedly, because they hold head positions in PRO) over the regular refs and that’s just sad.

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