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Not even a week ago, I crushed the MLS Disciplinary Committee for a lack of inaction a several plays that I thought were blatant violations of the league's player safety codes.
Thierry Henry's push in the back of Andrew Farrell, Steven Lenhart's two elbows against Chivas USA and that brutal challenge Kenny Mansally had against FC Dallas' Jackson that actually got him an additional game suspension.
This week, I'm left to analyze Montreal Impact defender Davy Arnaud's challenge on Saer Sene that left the New England Revolution winger with a dislocated ankle and broken left leg. And before I want to wish Sene the speediest recovery possible. I can't imaging working so hard from last years injury only to have to go through it all over again.
Which is exactly what happened about 20 minutes in at Stade Saputo in Montreal last weekend.
But the problem is, did Arnaud actually do anything wrong? He comes in from close range and wins the ball cleanly away from Sene. But the sometime during the follow through, Arnaud's tackle leg pins Sene's left leg to the ground as Sene is trying to move forward. Arnaud also seems to bring his legs to together in a "scissor" type way that might not didn't have anything to do with the injury, but it's hard to tell. Here's what I do know:
1. Referee Chris Penso got it right on the field.
In today's game, there is no way that Penso (or any ref) can call a foul, and in this case a penalty, for that challenge. On the field, the play happened so quickly, and the first think Penso sees along with everyone else is that the ball is won cleanly away from Sene. Now, years ago getting a piece of the ball was good enough to be called a "fair" challenge. Not anymore. If you don't win the ball cleanly it's going to be a foul and in this case, that's exactly what happens.
It very possible that going forward, FIFA and leagues around the world will start to severely punish players for any type of follow through on a sliding tackle/challenge. We're already starting to see the first evolution of this in the game today, with referees calling fouls despite making contact with the ball. An example would be a challenge that the defender gets the ball, but the ball is still within play of the attacker and the follow through wipes out the player. Whistle, free kick.
But right now, I have no issue with the center referee despite the result of the play. The referee has to balance the laws of the game with player safety on the field. The MLS DC has more time to review plays and decide if additional discipline is needed. My only major gripe from this game for Penso is the lack of a yellow card for Hernan Bernardello after a late challenge on Lee Nguyen. Other than that I thought he did a solid job.
2. It's difficult to say if Arnaud committed a "true" scissor tackle.
Okay, my definition of a scissor tackle: sliding through with your legs split and your body slides through onto an opponent's legs. This type of challenge is usually very blatant and extremely dangerous. I can't tell exactly what happens with Arnaud because the replay angle isn't great and there's another Montreal player screening the point of contact (which is probably for the best for anyone who's a bit squeamish).
It appears that Arnaud comes through with only one leg for the challenge, and somehow gets tangled up with Sene and causes the injury, but it's probable that Sene's leg gets caught underneath the sliding Arnaud. It's the follow through that really bothers be because Arnaud's trailing leg does come forward to form that scissor and eventually he does make contact with Sene's leg while it's pinned to the ground.
Arnaud said this after the game:
"It's unfortunate," Arnaud told MLSsoccer.com's Olivier Tremblay after the match. "I feel really bad about what happened to him. It looks like it was a pretty bad injury. I was just trying to tackle the ball, and I think it's a good tackle.
"I won the ball clean, but his foot might have just got caught underneath me. You never want to see that happen. I felt really bad at the time, and I still feel bad about it now. I hope he's okay. Unfortunately, it's part of the game, but you don't ever want to see it happen."
Regardless of the challenge, I think it was more unfortunate for Sene and there was no intent from Arnaud on the play. He was clearly going for the ball and won it cleanly. I respect him and his teammates, the medical staffs and the Montreal fans for the way the injury was handled on the field and their immediate reaction to what was clearly a very serious injury.
3. This isn't the type of play I was talking about last week.
Those plays mentioned above by Henry, Lenhart and Mansally were not what I would call "soccer incidents" when I look for the MLS DC to make a decision. What I mean by that is those three players committed fouls that aren't what I consider to be in the run of play or normal infractions.
Henry pushing Farrell in the back in that situation with the ball well above him in the air isn't a normal soccer foul, it's unnecessary. Had the two players been stationary on a set piece, then it would be considered normal. Steven Lenhart, or anyone, leading with an elbow on an aerial challenge ever, especially on a goalkeeper, and that shouldn't be a normal play anymore because it's dangerous, period. And the fact that Kenny Mansally didn't injure Jackson on that tackle still amazes me and yes, the MLS DC rightfully suspended Mansally the extra game.
Those plays, at this point in the history and rules of soccer, should and can be avoided. And I think FIFA and leagues around the globe are starting to combat this just like they did with diving and simulation. A sliding challenge for a ball is well within the game of soccer and should always be a part of the game of soccer. I don't want to see tackling removed from soccer, but I do want it taught as properly as possible so that these incidents happen as little as possible. And if and when they happen, if said tackle/challenge is deemed dangerous or improper, then it should be dealt with by the proper disciplinary action.
What Davy Arnaud did was attempt a sliding challenge to dispossess an opponent that succeeded on the field. The fact that it caused aninjury doesn't mean that it was illegal, but that's why MLS set up the Disciplinary Committee, to review these types of plays. Besides the fact that Arnaud might have committed a scissor tackle, it's very possible that he did nothing wrong and this is just a result of the game of soccer.
If the MLS DC decides that Arnaud did indeed commit a "scissor tackle" it will have no choice in my opinion but to levy a suspension, and probably a lengthy one. But for me, I'm torn on this one. Obviously I don't want to overreact to seeing someone on my team go down with another serious injury but the possibility of a scissor tackle here bothers me. But I can't see anything from the video that makes me think that Davy Arnaud did anything overly dangerous when making his challenge in the box.
If the MLS DC decides otherwise, that's fine and they might have better angles of the play, but I can't determine it one way or the other, so I'll give Arnaud the benefit of the doubt in this case. He made a soccer play, reacted to it in the best way possible motioning to the sideline, and the result of that ended in a severe injury which can happen in not only soccer, but sports in general. Despite what a lot of people think, soccer is a contact sport and injures regularly occur. It's up the league, coaches and players to do their best to avoid dangerous types of plays that result in injuries like this.
New England fans, including myself, are gutted for Sene, as we found out earlier that he'll miss 4-6 months recovering from this injury. For the second straight year Sene will miss out of the very end of the regular season and begin working to get himself healthy for the start of 2014.
Get well soon Saer.
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