It's been a busy time for The 3rd Yellow. Still recovering from Allen Chapman's dismal performance in the middle, equally bad as the New England Revolution were at Sporting Kansas City, the 9-man Revs held onto a point against D.C. United.
And this after I said that Mark Geiger would never give me something to write about, and I was accurately called out about this on Facebook. I should have been more specific - Geiger would never give me something negative to write about his performance.
Contrary to popular belief, I do not believe there is any such thing as "The #GeigerShow" though we do have DCU head coach Ben Olsen to thank for that monkier.. Referees are trying to do their jobs, which admittedly is a thankless one. There's always going to be someone who will be upset that a foul that wasn't called five minutes ago affected the game winner than went against his team and I can't help that. I am only here to report on what I see.
In fact, going into today's game against the Los Angeles Galaxy, the Revs are probably lucky that Jermaine Jones is eligible after bumping Gieger late in the second half while picking up a yellow card for dissent. I'm not even going to discuss Lee Nguyen's second yellow card because that's a lack of composure while already on a yellow and I have no sympathy for Lee on that play. And now the Revs, winless in four games, are facing the reigning champs in a MLS Cup rematch without two of their best players.
And rightly so, you can't do this anymore in soccer:
Did Chris Tierney do anything malicious to Chris Pontius here? No. Did Tierney intend to go studs up into Pontius' knee? No. He's clearly trying to trap a 50/50 ball in front of an opponent and he missed.
But does his intent excuse him from the resulting red card, no, absolutely not. Anyone who doesn't think Tierney shouldn't be off the field should have themselves checked out at the nearest stadium first aid center at a minimum. Let me rephrase: In 2015 you can not plant your studs into or anywhere near an opponents knee. You're going to get sent off. And for the most part, I think Revs fans once the saw the replay accepted it, even Feldman and Mariner in the booth know Tierney is resigned to his fate on the replay.
But if you'd like to have another discussion, say on the consistency of that call among other things, that's another story.
Dude rakes his studs across an opponent's knee. The problem in @MLS is that that's usually NOT a red card.— Matthew Doyle (@MLSAnalyst) May 24, 2015
The question isn't whether or not Geiger gets it wrong, he doesn't, but how often in MLS and referees around the world referees don't get it right in this case. The focus on player safety is ever an increasing focus in how the game is officiated, and studs up challenges, especially high tackles, are going to under strict scrutiny.
It's unfortunate for Tierney that he'll miss today's game, he's been solid all season, somehow hasn't made it onto the Revs MLS All-Star ballot and was one of the key contributors for the Revs playoff run last year and scored New England's only goal in the MLS Cup final. But Mark Geiger didn't hesitate to send him off for that play, nor should he have, because in all honestly, that's a fairly easy call to make now.
Or at least it should be. In years past, showing a yellow card for that play would have been acceptable. The challenge didn't have excessive force, the intent to play the ball was there and accidents do happen. But accidents lead to injuries, regardless of the intent, so in order to reform the way the game is officiated, seemingly trivial plays like Tierney's will be punished harshly. It's a necessary evil in order to change the way players make decisions when going for tackles and loose balls.
We also have to change our perception as fans as well. It's not a harsh red card on Tierney, it's more than justified. When you say there's no intent as a referee I don't care one bit, I'm only going off what actually happened. Doing something with clear malicious intent will get you a phone call from the Disciplinary Committee during the week, but not doing something on purpose won't save you from a red card. Tierney's history as a player also has nothing to do with this, it's about the play directly in front of Mark Geiger which was and should always be a red card.
No, it's not fair, but that's how this is going to work. A seemingly natural motion, trying to trap the ball at knee level with the bottom of your cleats, can cause serious injury if there's another player around. I'll admit I've trapped a ball with the bottom of my cleat before, but would I try and do it with a defender two feet away? I'd like to think I wouldn't but in the moment anything is possible. Yes, the result of Tierney's action is what got him sent off but in reality it was the decision to try and play that ball in the first place that got him in trouble.
Players have to adjust the way the play the game. Every decision, no matter how small, no matter how long they have to react, can be scrutinized by a referee. Exposing your studs anywhere near knee or waist height can get you sent off if you make contact with an opponent. We've already seen multiple situations where a player trying to play a ball at chest height has been sent off for essentially kicking an opponent in the chest. Yes, the ball is at chest height, and you're entitled to use your foot to play it, so long as there's no one else around for you to plant your foot in their chest.
So what should Tierney have done differently? The easiest answer would be conceding possession to Pontius and closing him down, which he had already mostly done. This play is compounded because Pontius gets to the ball first, and has already played the ball off his thigh, so when Tierney does try and play the ball at knee height and misses, there's really only one decision for Geiger to make.
That's all Tierney is guilty of, it's not a dirty play, he's not trying to injure anyone, but it was a play that endangered the safety of an opponent. An unfortunate casualty in the battle to make the game of soccer safer for players. He's not the first player who will be sent off in what many will feel is under harsh circumstances and he certainly will not be the last. In order to change the game of soccer and make it safer, referees have to punish what used to be seemingly innocuous plays with straight red cards. Players in response have to change the way they play the game knowing this, and do everything in their power to keep their studs away from other players no matter the situation. Is that fair? No. But that's the way it's going to work.
Do referees want players to avoid contact or shy away from challenges? Not entirely, it's not about eliminating contact from soccer, it's about making smarter decisions when there is contact to avoid serious injuries. Because Tierney appeared to be trying to trap the ball, rather than going in for a harder tackle or clearance, Pontius escaped with probably just a scrape on his knee. But could a similar play like Tierney's tear up a knee or cause a severe cut or laceration on the kneecap? Absolutely.
With all that being said, Geiger got the two red cards correct. And if he'd shown Jones a straight red or a second yellow for the bump I'd still have nothing to complain about. Tierney made a bad decision, not a malicious one. Nguyen and Jones lost their composure in a game I thought Geiger was consistent in. Perhaps a little loose on some of the contact he didn't call or allowed play to continue on, but consistent.
And today against the LA Galaxy, I expect much of the same from Alan Kelly, who was supposed to be PRO's assistant training manager before the referee holdout in 2014 pressed him into active duty. He's actually a former top referee from Ireland, having both UEFA and FIFA qualifications and brandished three yellow cards for diving to Orlando City in their inaugural match against New York City FC earlier this year.
Like Geiger, Alan Kelly might give me something to write about today. Silviu Petrescu already did with this handball off the line call on former Revs defender Michael Parkhurst.
But I'll be stunned if I'll have to say that Alan Kelly himself got something horribly wrong.
Just like I don't think there's anything called "The Geiger Show" in MLS.