Watch the video below:
Is your first reaction to be upset at the player wearing navy blue for falling to the ground and clutching his face? It's not? You're mad at the player wearing all yellow for seemingly punching him? Good, then perhaps you can explain to the rest of the world why Jermaine Jones, that New England Revolution player in navy blue, was fined for simulation on this play.
Because as far as I'm concerned, Major League Soccer, the MLS Disciplinary Committee (DisCo/DC) and their referees have firmly established a "let the players decide the games" policy for the 2014 playoffs. And we can debate whether or not that is a bad thing, but in my experience, trying to be patient and let the players settle down rarely works. In fact, the games will usually get increasingly more chippy until something boils over and then we're not talking about the game, we're talking about red cards and lengthy suspensions and possible, lengthy injures. It doesn't matter if we're talking about a single game, a playoff series or the entire postseason, but a dangerous precedent has just been set by the MLS DC.
Jones' act of simulation (it's embellishment more than likely but it's a semantic thing that annoys me) isn't even the most egregious one of the night in Columbus, that was the Crew's Jairo Arrieta going down in the box (5:40 of the above video) looking for a PK. But who cares about a couple of embellishment calls, look at all those nasty challenges from Simon Borg's Instant Replay clip above. The message from the MLS referees and the MLS DC is very clear - the players are going to decide who lifts MLS Cup and we're not going to do much about it.
And I'm not against letting the players play, but there is a line that needs to be drawn even in the playoffs. There shouldn't be some drastic change in the way the game is played or the game is officiated just because the playoffs started. Are we supposed to ignore blatant bookings just because it's the playoffs and the referees are afraid to affect the game with cards or accumulation suspensions? No. Had this been a regular week in the regular season I would've expected at a minimum to see a handful of fines and at least one suspension.
Players are here to play soccer, and the referees are the ones that need to enforce the rules and protect them from harm, something that did not happen in the first week. At the very least, the MLS DC had a chance to levy some fines against players for rough play and instead made a mockery of their job by only issuing a fine to Jones. The line that the MLS DC just drew is that tackles like Tyson Wahl's on Kelyn Rowe are not worth of anything but a foul, Tony Tchani is free to lift his elbow to clear out opponents and Landon Donovon, Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas are free to commit numerous fouls without punishment (persistent infringement does exist) while opponents make reckless challenges without any chance of getting carded.
I will freely admit, I had a much nicer post intended for today on the calls from the Revolution-Crew game, since I really only cared about the Wahl challenge on Rowe which was downright awful, as well as thoughts on the other plays from the game, including Jose Goncalves' penalty. Then again, I also expected the MLS DC to do their job, something that until today I thought they had been doing very well of late. And because I expected the MLS DC to actually do something, and that could be my fault they're notorious for their inconsistency, I have no one else to blame but myself for expecting them to hold up their own mission statement. Silly me for expecting that there would be some action related to last weekend against players who actually did something of consequence, the fact that we're in the playoffs should only be highlighted, not ignored. So because the spotlight is on the league and it's players we're going to ignore player safety and let the players decide the games?
I would have been absolutely satisfied with handing out a whole bunch of fines to Wahl, Tchani and others just to remind the players that the league is watching and staying in that middle ground of letting the players decide the games on the field and reinforcing the message that your play on the field has consequences. But sticking your hands in your pockets and issuing a fine to a player who was arguably on the receiving end of violent conduct? Lunacy.
And make no mistake, whether or not Waylon Francis actually made contact with Jones in the 70th minute means nothing as far as the rule goes. Intentionally striking or attempting to strike an opponent is violent conduct and red card and to blatantly ignore that while issuing a fine to Jones is beyond laughable. Just as laughable as not disciplining Red Bulls defender Oyongo for a studs up challenge against DC or Donovan or Beckerman or anyone from the RSL-LA game and only issuing a fine to Jones.
And I wouldn't have changed my opinion on the Francis incident with Jones. Francis was booked on the play for a foul away from the ball and I would've moved on and kept that "striking an opponent/violent conduct" issue in my backpocket. Because I'm not against the whole "let the players decide the game" thing, there is a place for it as long as things don't get out of hand. And things got out of hand in Columbus last week and it went largely unchecked by the referee and the MLS DC, I can't speak for the other three games. Because if the MLS DC actually watches this play and decides the most egregious thing is Jones grabbing his face? I'm sorry, that's blatantly disrespecting your mission statement and your job of protecting the players.
You'll never be able to convince me that Wahl didn't deserve at least a yellow card (or at least a fine from the MLS DC) on the field for his challenge on Rowe and in general practice, that scissor-esque tackle is probably a red card. But I'm not looking for a red card or a retroactive suspension, only some indication that the league and/or the MLS DC is aware that the challenged occurred. I can forgive a few clumsy challenges from the LA-RSL game as long as the message that the MLS DC is still watching the game and aware of their responsibilities. I can forgive a few wayward elbows and forearms as long as everyone knows that it's not okay.
I'm not looking for a half dozen suspensions from the MLS DC, I'm looking to them to send the right message. Yes, we want players to decide the game on the field and we want them to do it in a clean and respectable manner to their opponents and the referees on the field. Right now, the message is anything goes. Right now the message is the MLS DC watched his video and their biggest problem with it is Jermaine Jones grabbed his face when he should be clutching his chest.
That's a message I hope doesn't come back to ruin the the second legs this weekend or the playoffs moving forward. Because four teams are going to move on and hopefully those four teams don't have to deal with suspensions or injuries because of rough play the week before. This is not a New England issue, this is a league issue. It's very clear that rough play is going to be allowed in the postseason and I don't know about the rest of you, but I'd rather see my team in full health going into either the next round or next season depending on your rooting interests than to see this practice continued by the league and have it result in several major injuries.
Because that's where we're heading. If you allow this style of play to go unchecked it's going to escalate, that's just how it works. You try and let certain things go and then you end up overreacting and then punishing smaller infractions. I've seen this script before in games, or in this case, a playoff series.
And it usually ends badly. Let's hope that's not the case moving forward.