The Failure of the MLS Disciplinary Committee

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Thierry Henry should have been one of a few players given additional punishment by the MLS Disciplinary Committee last week. Instead....

Author's Note: The following article contains links to videos/pictures that may be graphic in nature, reader discretion is advised.

"To preserve the integrity and reputation of the game and Major League Soccer, and to assist in ensuring player safety."

That is the mission statement of Major League Soccer's Disciplinary Committee (MLS DC). And right now, they need to change it. Or disband altogether. Don't ask which one at the moment because I'm in a really foul mood.

For anyone who thinks this is about to be an angry Revs fan out for Thierry Henry's blood, just stop reading now. I can't change your mind and you probably don't care about the rest of the league as a whole, so just close the page and do something else.

I'm writing this because the MLS DC is failing miserably at its main duty of protecting the game of soccer and its players and I will not stand for it any longer. I'm usually the level headed one, respectfully breaking down rules and decisions from referees even when it costs my beloved Revolution wins. Not anymore. Last weekend put me over the edge and I'm done with the MLS DC.

This is not about Henry's push in the back of Andrew Farrell and his ensuing injury from colliding into Matt Reis's knee. This is not about former Rev and current Real Salt Lake defender Kenny Mansally's reckless challenge on FC Dallas' Jackson or Steven Lenhart's elbows to the face of Chivas USA defender Steve Purdy and keeper Dan Kennedy. Two of the above players were disciplined with a red card on the field. All three should have seen additional suspensions from the MLS DC. Zero additional action was taken.

(Author's Note: 5:15PM EST - At approx. 3PM EST, the MLS Disciplinary Committee did suspend Real Salt Lake's Kenny Mansally an additional game for serious foul play. Full reaction at the bottom of this article.)

This is about preventing these types of plays and protecting the players that are on the field.

And for the umpteenth time this season, the MLS fan base is left wondering just what in the hell the MLS DC actually does for a living. Because protecting its players surely is not one of them.

Because the MLS DC lives in a world where blatantly pushing someone in the back and nearly causing a severe concussion or another serious head/neck injury is okay. And a midair scissor tackle on an opponent that could break bones but didn't is also okay. And a player - who's already been suspended this season by the MLS DC - repeatedly putting his elbows into the faces of his opponents is okay. And that only serving a one game suspension for a red card (or in Henry's case, nothing) is acceptable in deterring the rest of the league from continuing to make reckless tackles and aerial challenges leading with elbows. Because one person on that committee doesn't think that additional suspensions are necessary for any of the above incidents, which is enough to void any additional punishment.

The MLS DC collectively then, must be out of their damn minds. Because the three players above are Henry, Mansally and Lenhart, and it's not the result of the plays, which were already reckless and dangerous to begin with. It's what could have happened. Four different players could all be missing significant time due to injury, and one actually is.

The first overall pick in the 2013 SuperDraft, Andrew Farrell, could have suffered more than a bloody nose and swollen eye. A really good player in FC Dallas' Jackson could have suffered any number of injuries: a broken leg, torn knee ligaments, etc., that could put him out for significant time. Steve Purdy actually had to undergo surgery TO REPAIR MULTIPLE FACIAL FRACTURES!

But Steven Lenhart will only sit one game for a red card that he received not for elbowing Purdy in the face, but his second yellow for elbowing keeper Dan Kennedy later in the same game. You have got to be kidding me.

But no, the MLS DC doesn't suck at their jobs. That would be rude to people who actually just suck at their jobs. The MLS DC right now is one step above Congress, who just shut down the American government, and several steps below CONCACAF's 11-man disciplinary team that took several days to review Jurgen Klinsmann's sending off in the United States' semifinal victory in the Gold Cup this summer. That's how awful of a job I think the MLS DC is doing right now, and frankly, you should agree.

I crushed CONCACAF's silly little 11-man committee that shouldn't even be reviewing something as ordinary as the sending off of a coach from the technical area. That is nothing compared to how I feel about the MLS DC. Someone is going to get hurt, and the league is going to suffer for it. You set up this committee because of a rash of serious injuries, and your job is to prevent it from happening again, not to wait until it does. Because suspending a player 10 games means nothing if it means ending someone's World Cup hopes next year, or a team missing out on the playoffs without their star player. All because the MLS DC didn't do enough to prevent it as mandated in their homepage:

"In determining when it will act, the Disciplinary Committee will use the following parameters:

1. Where the referee sees an incident and issues a red card, the Committee may review the play for further disciplinary action, over and above the mandatory suspension and fine. The Committee will add suspensions and/or fines over and above the mandatory one game suspension for those offenses the Committee deems to be of an egregious or reckless nature, or where the Committee believes it must act to protect player safety or the integrity of the game, including in particular but without limitation to contact above the shoulders through the dangerous use of elbows, forearms or fists."

"To preserve the integrity and reputation of the game and Major League Soccer, and to assist in ensuring player safety." -MLS Disciplinary Committee Mission Statement

I mean, that's a direct paragraph from the MLS Disciplinary Committee Principals and Parameters page. It says it right there, although it should say it will review all red cards. "To protect player safety and the integrity of the game." Right there, direct quote.

But there's no reason to suspend a player in Steven Lenhart that has committed 83 fouls and received 14 yellow cards and two reds along with I'm sure a few suspensions in the last few years, right?. He's not in violation of the fourth "Principle and Parameter" of the MLS DC, which is for players that routinely and regularly commit dangerous offenses. If we only sit Mr. Lenhart for a single game for two ridiculously dangerous fouls in the middle of a playoff race, he'll surely learn his lesson this time.

Idiots. How do you reinforce your goal of protecting players? By sitting them for games. Preferably against rivals, like Cascadia or I-95 Cup games, or in the heat of a playoff race like we have right now. Because a player missing out on an important game is more crushing than anything MLS can do financially in their salary cap system. Players and teams and coaches will only start to get the message when they're missing players for a month instead of a week.

Apparently it's going to take another Steve Zakuani-type injury for the MLS DC to act. I mean, that's path the league is going down right now. Unless there's a serious injury, we don't care, we don't mind being called a physical league. We like promoting the San Jose Earthquakes' Bash Brothers. Note to the MLS, there's a reason the NFL is embroiled in a gigantic lawsuit related to concussions right now. It might have something to do with over-glorifying huge hits and violence, denying for decades risk of long term effects from head injuries.

The MLS DC was created, in part, because of a rash of severe injuries towards the tail end of the 2011 season. Zakuani, FC Dallas' David Ferreira and Real Salt Lake's Javier Morales all suffered significant injuries due to reckless challenges. So in 2012, big brother was out to get you, and even last year it was a frustrating new process, but at least it appeared something was getting done. This year, weeks go by with only as much as fines for mass confrontation (a point of emphasis for 2013) and coaches leaving the technical area (except in Montreal, where this seems to be a regular occurrence).

No one cares if Bruce Arena doesn't make three substitutions for the LA Galaxy. What fans should care is that the MLS DC isn't turning a blind eye to the very thing it was set up to do. If that means that every team has to dip a little further into their depth chart at certain times during the year because of suspensions, so be it, it's an even playing field when it comes to player safety. Or at least it should be.

I showed the Zakuani injury to a friend of mine, who knows pretty much zero about this soccer stuff, and he freaked out when he saw Zakuani's leg clearly broken from the wide angle. I told him the player, Colorado Rapids' Brian Mullan, got a ten game suspension for that. Then I showed him the Henry push on Farrell and Mansally's flying tackle. He asked me how many games each got suspended for. I said one, Mansally for the red card. Henry didn't even get called for a foul on the play.

My friend looked at me like I had six heads, and that's probably the definition of a casual soccer fan at best folks. The average person who knows nothing about soccer thinks the MLS DC sucks at their job too. It's not a difficult argument to make quite frankly.

Part of the problem is the MLS DC process takes place entirely behind closed doors. That needs to end. Fans, players, coaches, referees, broadcasters, everyone needs to know what's going on in that room. Which calls get reviewed each week, which players are on this probation period that may or may not be used by the MLS DC (#4 on the http://www.mlssoccer.com/mls-disciplinary-committee-principles-parameters), and for crying out loud actually suspend someone for doing something egregious.

No more unanimous decisions either. Majority rules for anything that isn't three games or more. If the vote is 3-2 to suspend Henry for the final two games of the regular season, which is what should have happened, that's the decision. If it's 4-1 to suspend Mansally an additional two games only two people vote for three or higher, than Mansally sits only two games, also the remainder of RSL's regular season. As long as the voting is made public so that everyone can see the process and perhaps see some consistency in the votes/plays. Because right now there's nothing except mass confusion and anger at inaction.

Chris Tierney got suspended for this challenge earlier in the year, only a foul was called on the field, and it's a red card foul, studs up above the ball. Under number three of the Principals and Parameters page, I'd assume the MLS DC unanimously decided that was a red card. Kekuta Manneh of the Vancouver Whitecaps was suspended for this foul on Revs keeper Bobby Shuttleworth, which under number three probably fell under the protecting player safety clause.

If the MLS DC had told me that this Andy Dorman challenge against Sporting Kansas City's Kei Kamara was worthy of an additional game, I'd have been okay with it. It's a bad challenge that endangered the safety of his opponent. Maybe I'm too rational for my own good, but using the phrase's "protecting players" and "preserving the integrity of the game" seem like logical reasons to suspend someone beyond one game if necessary.

These types of suspensions should be happening weekly. And I for one, do not care about people/coaches who complain that the MLS DC is "re-refereeing" games. Referees are enforcing rules and protecting players at the same time, the MLS DC is just there to protect players. If that means more fines, public probationary periods and, hopefully, more suspensions, I don't care.  Just as long as I can't say that the MLS DC isn't doing enough to protect players. I'd rather be forced to say they're doing too much, which would drive the message home about respecting your opponent and take a lot of this nonsense out of the game, which can't be a bad thing.

Ball is in your court MLS DC, you can do your job or you can keep waiting for this to happen again. Your choice.

UPDATE (5:15PM) - While I was pleasantly surprised to learn a few hours ago to learn that the MLS DC did suspend RSL's Kenny Mansally, and I am glad that the process did eventually play out, I fell that this only reinforces two of the issues that I have with the Committee's process.

The first is still the inaction taken against Steven Lenhart and Thierry Henry, but the second still focuses on the actual process that the MLS DC uses. There is no reason why Mansally's suspension can't be made public earlier in the week, with the press release including his or the MLS Players Union's notice to appeal. It works in the other major sports in the US and in Mansally's case doesn't affect his status for that weekend's game because he is already sitting out with a red card.

But what about in the MLS DC had decided to suspend Henry? Since he wasn't originally even called for a foul on the play, would they wait until Friday to announce a potential suspension? I find that unfair to the New York Red Bulls (and their opponents for the weekend) if they were in limbo waiting for a decision on a player's status and training all week for both scenarios to potentially play out. It's a process that is still new and still in need of improvements in my opinion.

Finally, while the decision to suspend Mansally was, in my mind, the correct and obvious decision, this is not baseball. Hitting one out of three might get you into Cooperstown, but a 33% pass completion rate will get you benched in any level of soccer.

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