Thursday, May 17, 2012

Red Cards: The Elephant In the Room

In past interviews, Commissioner Garber stated that he is pressing for referees to make more consistent calls on fouls.

His position seems to be that hard-line refereeing is needed in order for the offense to open up and for more goals to be scored.

"The league and U.S. Soccer are working closely together to try to do everything we can to raise the quality of refereeing in our league," Garber said.  "Nobody wants to see persistent fouls and persistent infringement and attacking players constantly being pulled, clutched and thrown to the ground. That's just not good soccer. We need to be sure we're not just protecting a specific individual player, but we're protecting the concept of supporting entertaining, quality play," he added. 

The biggest point towards what he is trying to say is that the sport lacks offense.  If each individual game is not called by the refs to the letter of the rule, it impinges on the potential for creativity and more scoring.

It is the one issue that has been consistently avoided by the commissioner and others representing pro Soccer in the U.S.  From a public relations standpoint, no one seems to want to directly address that there is not enough scoring in Soccer for American fans.

It appears that the Commish uses his words on the matter of improving refereeing to cover up a bigger issue.

Simply put, referees can not call the game the way it should be called because there is only one caution and then the player is tossed with a Red Card.

In other words, there are really only two fouls as compared to other sports, like pro basketball, where there are 6 fouls before a player is asked to leave.

But, the big difference between an NBA player leaving after 6 fouls is that he gets replaced by another player.  The game does not become 5 versus 4 players.  Or, like in pro hockey, players are given time penalties to sit out of the game, but not expelled.

Referees are not stupid people.

They know that too many red cards will detract from what is expected when fans watch a match, some paying to see it live, and that no one wants to see an unfair advantage.

A red card produces unfair advantages by giving teams 11 against 10 players on the first one issued.  Officials, therefore, try their hardest to give red cards only in the worst circumstances.

Garber is unrealistic in his hopes for more offense and less physical play.  There's a sense of dishonesty to what he says as he talks around the issue.

American fans are always going to plead for more scoring from Soccer.  Without more scoring, there will always be doubt as to how far pro Soccer (MLS) can go versus the other bigtime leagues.  If being #5 after the NHL, MLB, NBA and NFL is satisfactory, then, no improvements are necessary.  If rising to the top of all the leagues is the goal, then, scoring will have to improve.

Soccer's Red Card rule needs to be adjusted to allow for another player to enter the game for the suspended player.  Readers can see much more on this suggested rule change and how to enforce it by reading Americanizing Soccer for the U.S. Sports Fan pt. 3.

Currently, there is not any real plan in action.  It's impossible for there to be a plan because MLS does not control how the game is played.  MLS does not have the ability that the other major sports have in this country to come together as a rules committee at the end of the season and make subtle adjustments for the pleasure of the sports fans and the sound judgment of the game.

MLS always has a back story for why things happen.  There is no common sense answer for how to improve things because this is a league not running on its own merit, rather, its running according to how its told to run.

In order to improve scoring or improve refereeing, MLS will have to be bold enough to break away and learn to lead, like a baby bird growing up, eventually flying from its Mother's nest to go and build its own nest.

Original version of this article was written in 2008.


  1. Association Football (i.e. soccer in this country) doesn't need more scoring in order to be entertaining. Although it is better than it was before, the real key to general popularity is the fact that Television basically ignores the sport hoping it will go away and not upset the balance for their precious basketball and 'football.'
    The same people who complain about 1-0 scores in soccer are the ones who will rave about a 1-0 'pitcher's duel' in baseball.
    As for allowing a sent-off player to be replaced, the whole idea is totally ridiculous. Referees have bent over backwards for the most part to avoid giving red cards so, when one is given, it is usually for good reason.

    1. Anonymous, WRONG! WRONG! WRONG!

      "The same people who complain about 1-0 scores in soccer are the ones who will rave about a 1-0 'pitcher's duel' in baseball."

      Keep holding on to your lame and factlessly based opinions. SOCCER NEEDS to change, NOT JUST IN THE USA!

    2. I think the main problem Americans have with soccer scoring is not that it's low scoring, but that, rather often, it's practically NO scoring. If soccer's average score was 5-4 or 4-3, they wouldn't have a problem. But when most games end 2-1, 1-1, or 1-0, there's a lot less excitement. Some people may rave about a 1-0 pitcher's duel, but MOST Americans are going to be bored to death with a 1-0 Baseball game as well.

      I agree that replacing a sent off player would be pretty stupid. Honestly, it's one of the rules in soccer that I actually like, lol. If you commit a red card foul, your team SHOULD be severely punished. Maybe as a compromise, you should be allowed to replace characters sent off for a double yellow card, since that's technically not very severe of a foul.

    3. The biggest problem with the red card is that 40% of the time the referee is blowing the call-that is why it is punishing the fans.