SANDY, UT - MAY 5: Fernando Cardenas #80 of the New England Revolution and Jamison Olave #4 of Real Salt Lake collide during the second half of an MLS soccer game May 5, 2012 at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. Cardenas was given a red card on the play. Real Salt Lake beat the New England Revolution 2-1. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
When Fernando Cardenas was given a red card against Real Salt Lake, there was a sense of panic. Upon looking at the review, that panic morphed into anger. Eventually, the red card was rescinded and the anger changed into an "I told you so" attitude. But more than anything, the rescission of the Cardenas red card is just another example of the flaws of how MLS is handling discipline this year.
Part of the joy of soccer, as we continuously get told by FIFA, is the "human element." That is typically their number one reason for being so anti goal line technology. But last year, MLS proved they had no problem using certain technology (video replays) to fine and suspend players for diving. This year they are proving that they will now use it to reassess the severity of fouls. So far, New England Revolution has been on both sides of the situation. Shalrie Joseph received a retroactive suspension and Cardenas has now had a red card removed by an independent panel. Yet the list of players who have been affected - negatively for the most part - by decisions made in secret caves is ever growing.
But here's the thing: the MLSDC with post-game suspensions and red cards and this new independent council with their removal of in game red cards are taking the game from the pitch and placing it into the boardroom. As a whole, MLS referees already have bad reputations. We can name more than a handful of them. We know who likes to be the star of the show (Ricardo Salazaar). We know who has a hot finger on producing cards (David Gantar), but we know them. We see them. They are on the pitch at the time of the plays they judge. And, for the most part, we recognize they have a very difficult job.
Yet the argument following last year's rash of severe injuries is that the referees weren't making their calls stiff enough. Supporters agreed. Press releases were issued, and the whole time MLS was seemingly agreeing with the people who were calling their officials incompetent.
MLS believed that calls and retroactive suspensions will make players and officials more aware of what they are doing on the pitch (and maybe doing this in a different way could potentially do that), but when you start to throw in rescissions of cards you open up a can of worms - even if my team is the team winning. Basically this independent council has said that Gantar is an amateur. He needs to have his hand held to properly officiate a game. What happens the next time he throws a yellow or red card? Will he continue to do it? Has that power now been removed from his hand? Will players still respect the authority that he is supposed to have. Truthfully, there is horrible officiating in MLS; but it is not solely there. Not a league in the world exists wheres fans don't spend hours, days, weeks or even months following a game complaining about a referee's decision. However, as far as I know, MLS is the only league that is currently in the practice of belittling their own refs.
Regardless, the game is supposed to be decided on the pitch, not at MLS headquarters in New York. What happens if a referee misses a call on what should have been a game deciding penalty? Does the MLSDC suspend the player then? Imagine the uproar? When the Seattle Sounders and San Jose Earthquakes played and Steven Lenhart took a dive and won a game winning penalty, there was no post-game suspension. If there was, the anger and resentment would have flown. What if a red card was given leading to a game winning free kick or penalty? Would the independent council remove it? Would points switch hands? It is a slippery and messy slope that we are traveling on.
While I am very happy that Cardenas will be back for Saturday's match against Vancouver Whitecaps, I'm not sure I like the precedent that could be set. Even if you have to bet the family farm to get a red card overturned teams will eventually try it. The MLSDC and now this independent council have shown they think the refs are going too easy on players (Shalrie getting a yellow was deemed not harsh enough, despite the fact that Juan Guzman was closer to the play), and now they are showing that they think the refs are too hard (agree or disagree with the Cardenas call, it was Gantar's call to make).
Yes, USSF referees need to improve, but deteriorating their power is not the way to do it.
What should the job of the MLSDC be? Should this independent council have the ability to overturn calls made on the pitch? Are either belittling referees? Am I absolutely nuts? Comment below.