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The Third Yellow vs. The MLS Office of Player Safety

The talk after the Revs-Union game midweek was about calls that cost someone points in the standings. The Third Yellow cares more about a lack of decision and discipline that might cost a player their season.

Syndication: The Tennessean George Walker IV / The Tennessean via Imagn Content Services, LLC

So it looks like we’re all still on the wrong page here. In fact I don’t even think the powers that be are on the right book.

Here’s the disclaimer for this post. What happened on the field happened as far as results and goals and we’re not here to talk about the past. The New England Revolution rightly lost in Nashville last weekend and maybe rightly tied the Philadephia Union midweek. We are not here to talk about decisions affecting games, what might have been with an early red card in Nashville or an early PK for the Union. The games are over and the results have been tallied. We’re here to make sure everyone gets to finish their respective seasons healthy and uninjured from borderline reckless and potentially dangerous actions.

No, this is bigger than potentially two points dropped because of a bad or missed call. This is a player safety issue and everyone associated with it at the non-official MLS Office of Player Safety should be taken to task for not doing their jobs. This unofficial office and/or department of the league includes PRO with it’s on field referee crews and especially VAR, as well as the MLS league offices that oversee and enacted the Disciplinary Committee, and all the way up to the Commissioner.

The misssion statement of the aforementioned MLS DisCo:

The mission of the MLS Disciplinary Committee is to ensure player safety and preserve the integrity and reputation of Major League Soccer.

You know what very quickly causes you to lose integrity? Allowing players, especially goalkeepers, to get kicked and knocked around on the field all week without any penalties. If Andre Blake was subjected to these kinds of plays, I’d expect Philadelphia Union fans to be just as disappointed as I am.

Not as disappointed or angry as I would be at the league if one of these plays ended someone’s season because we failed to address it now. Allowing these types of plays to go unpunished sets a poor standard for the league when in the future, a player makes a similar challenge and on appeal says, “Well Dom Badji didn’t get anything when he did it in May.” These actions should be strongly discouraged and disciplined properly and swiftly, if not on the field, than off of it.

In the second minute in Nashville an offside Dom Badji lead with his studs and caught Turner possibly in the nether region with his boot, not his studs. Since the offside flag had been raised and whistled for right before contact, apparently that gets Badji off the hook:

Except it doesn’t. Now I could’ve sworn I wrote about that old Soares play but I can’t find it, so my memory will have to serve me in this instance and since we’re going back to 2013 or 2014 I might have things not exactly correct. But the gist of it was Revs defender AJ Soares went up for header against an opponent in an offside position and caught said opponent in the head with a forearm. Since the flag was up, offside had to be the proper restart to the Revs and it was, after Soares rightly got a yellow.

Essentially this is the same concept then as it was last weekend. No, Badji didn’t technically commit a foul, but his actions were at the very least careless and deserved a yellow. To me, any challenge that leads with the studs and makes contact with a player that high, goalkeeper or not, should result in a red card. That is a standard that soccer as a whole has been working towards consistently over the past few years and to somehow let this one go because the flag had gone up and/or whistle was blown is...odd and inconsistent with how that play should be judged during open play.

We’re going to take another disclaimer pause here and apologize in advance to Kacper Przybylko who I am going to be picking on for the forseeable future. Kacper, you should have had drawn a penalty kick in the first half. It should’ve at least gone to VAR and it didn’t. Not the one where you fell down for no reason next to Jon Bell, that was embellishment and you should’ve been fined for that, no the one where Brandon Bye basically slid under you and prevented a legitimate shot.

(Aside to the aside, that Bye play is more obstruction than foul, I think the best restart should be an indirect free kick inside the box over a penalty but that’s not an option under the laws. The current interpretations say that’s a penalty. Also the idea that advantage maybe was played to allow Kacper to get an poor shot off under duress doesn’t work cause an obvious scoring chance is not going to happen after the foul, advantage never should come into play and it should have gone to the spot immediately.)

Now not getting that PK doesn’t excuse Kacper’s actions for the rest of the game cause for the next hour he did some stuff I wasn’t thrilled with. I’m only going to mention the 71st minute straight legged tackle on the sideline of Carles Gil briefly to remind everyone that head-on slide tackles should be banned and even attempting them should be a red card offense. Somewhere there’s video of that 2013 Matt Miazga on Lee Nguyen play where Lee goes flipping in the air at full speed, everything on MLS dot com is broken now so I can’t find that either but if it does exist and you go looking for it, it should have ended a lot worse for Lee. It’s been 8 years and I’m still waiting for that change from the IFAB. A caution was rightly issued to Kacper for his challenge and we move on to the 88th minute.

Again, remember we do not care about the goal here under the player safety guidelines. Jon Bell could have headed this ball away from goal and the issue would still remain. Kacper Przybylko leads with his elbow/forearm into Matt Turner and makes contact, there’s no whistle. To be fair to Tori Penso in the middle, she would be looking through Kacper to see the contact and is likely screened, probably ditto for Corey Rockwell as the near side assistant who has a lot of players in the box between him and the contact. This is going to fall on VAR to notice and correct on the field.

A review should have been initiated for serious foul play here and it wasn’t. Now VAR automatically checks the goal, so the full play should have been under scrutiny and to not identify a potential serious foul play here or not recommend a review for it is incomprehensible. This is a failure of VAR under the player safety guidelines in my opinion, and later the DisCo as well.

Apologies for the picture cropping there, but can’t miss plays like this in 2021. Not with VAR, not with social media, not with the way we expect games to be officiated when it comes to player safety. It is not the 2010 World Cup Final, you can not but your boot and/or spikes into an opponents chest and not get a red card. You can not lead with your forearm into an aerial challenge and not get a booking, let alone making contact with an opponents head/neck.

You can not under any circumstances, as a league, have players making challenges that endanger player safety, especially towards goalkeepers, like that and not have an punishment on or off field. Right now the message the league is sending via PRO, VAR, and the DisCo is that they are in agreement with the on field decisions made over the past week. They agree with PRO that a talking too is okay for a boot to the stomach and no action is needed for a forearm/elbow to the head of an opponent.

If the DisCo could not unanimously agree that these plays are bad for the game/sport/league, they then agree it’s not only okay but legal to kick players in the midsection and elbow/forearm them in the head. This is why the DisCo has to protect players after the fact as per their mission statement. This is a common sense issue and no one seems to have any across the board here.

I expected to see a card for Dom Badji in the second minute. A yellow card would have sufficed though I think the standard for that play should be a red card. Kacper Przybylko should have seen a yellow card in the 88th minute for merely leading with his forearm/elbow and possibly a red card if the referee/VAR believes said action was reckless or endangered the safety of his opponent. Either of these resolutions might have been sufficient, Przybylko would have been sent off for a second yellow potentially, and I wouldn’t have to wait around most of Friday afternoon for a barebones DisCo report that doesn’t address these player safety issues.

Since the discipline on the field is not sufficient, that means the MLS Disciplinary Committee should have stepped in under Parameter #3B, third bullet point, of their own guidelines:

Parameter 3: Where the Officials See an Incident, and Do Not issue a red card or act on a case of clear and obvious simulation/embellishment that meets the conditions for suspension

such that the Committee must act to protect player safety or the integrity of the game.

If the DisCo doesn’t unanimously believe that both of those plays endanger the safety of an opponent they should not be on the Disciplinary Committee. I understand there are different standards for on-field, VAR, and post match when it comes to discipline. There are times when these standards are going to clash, heck, there were handbags in Philadelphia-Chicago that went to review for a blow to the head where the center referee upheld the double yellow card:

I completely understand and agree with this assessment on the field. Yes, there was a shove to the head, yes. we’ve seen that as a red card on review before. Assuming this was reviewed by the DisCo, I would have issued both players one game suspensions. The DisCo does not have to apply the same logic that referees do on the field, although I’m sure a lot of times it is a very similar thought process. Both players failed to uphold the integrity of the game and while the center referee was managing his game, the DisCo has to manage the entire season. That dustup is unacceptable as were the actions that befell against Matt Turner the past week.

Dom Badji and Kacper Przybylko should both have been issued one game suspensions for actions that endangered player safety. Notification or memos or whatever should go out to all teams reminding players they are still responsible for their actions even after the whistle and not to lead with forearms/elbows on aerial challenges. Everyone should already know not to do these things, they’ve been points of emphasis for me at the grassroots level before.

These actions would be unacceptable if they happened against Portland Timbers third string keeper Hunter Sulte or even fill in outfield player/keeper Alex Roldan (more on that in a bit). Goalkeepers are too often left in exposed positions and not only need to be protected perhaps especially and/or more so than other positions, but failure to recognize this at all levels - from on-field, to VAR, to the DisCo - is a failure of the VAR process and the league to protect its players.

MLS’ implimentation of VAR is arguably superior to that of its English counterpart where the EPL uses millimeters to determine offside. For all the compliments I have with VAR I am routinely disappointed with the process and decisions it makes this year.

Dom Badji should have gotten more than a talking to on the field, VAR should have stepped in during Union-Revs twice, for the early PK and the late forearm. Referees on the field have to justify their decisions based on the laws of the game (and common sense), the DisCo just has to use common sense. Everyone failed in their respective judgments in my opinion.

A couple of side notes:

Outfield Players Should Not Be In Goal In 2021

I know we all love the heroics of Mike Magee playing an hour in net and pitching a shutout for the Galaxy over the Quakes all those years back. An injury and then a (dubious) red card left LA without a keeper. Alex Roldan had to go into net for the closing minutes of Seattle’s most recent game and did some epic stuff:

It’s 2021 now, we have extra subs, concussion subs, and three to four keepers on a roster. It’s time to finally allow free subs for injured goalkeepers. Let teams dress a third keeper as an emergency option not listed on the subs bench as well if needed. While we love these heroics, more often than not having an outfield player in goal at a professional level does not have a happy ending. It is better for the sport as a whole to have goalkeepers in net at all times and have the rules and options to allow this to be the case.

The Most Disappointing Decision of the Week

As unsatisfied as I am with the outcome of what transpired against Matt Turner in the last week, this was the most disappointing decision of the week, maybe even the year:

This is never a yellow card. I hope this play helps heal the Abila family from the tragedy of a loss of a family member.