Saturday, November 28, 2015

Chp 24) Red-Card Revolt

I was able to sum up my feelings on how ridiculous 'red cards' are to spectating fans in a couple of articles.  It's unbelievable to me that a player's actions on the field can cause fans to have to watch an unbalanced match of 11 players versus 10 players, or worse if another player from the same team is red-carded to make it 11 against nine. The expulsion of a player without the chance of replacing him/her is a rule that only serves that particular match, if nobody is paying to spectate on Tv or live at the event.  If there are spectators paying to watch, things must be accommodated for the purposes of play on the field and the ones watching the play on the field.  They're not playing for themselves; there's an audience for whom they are performing. 

The first of my two articles was written in 2008, as the third entry in a series, 'Americanizing Soccer for the Sports Fan, part 3'. 


The recent match between the U.S. and Cuba battling for a spot to the 2010 World Cup was a prime example of why soccer must revise its rule involving red-cards.  Expulsion from the game for a heinous foul is not the problem.  If the foul warrants expulsion, the referee should make the call.  What happens after the player is dismissed from the game is not what U.S. sports fans want to see from professional soccer.

U.S. sports fans expect the player to be fined and suspended for more games.  But, for the game being played at that moment, sports fans want to see another player take the suspended player’s place on the field.  There is too much invested in the game for it to become a laughing affair, as the match last night did.

Soccer purists, of course, will disagree, and they will try to cite the occasions when the team down a player was able to come back and either win or tie the game.  But, this occurs infrequently.

The problem is that the rule is set up to punish not just the player and his/her team, but, also the fans.

It was big, bad U.S. vs. small, socialist Cuba.  The match-up was an attractive one.  The drama was both surreal and potent.  The outcome was unpredictable.  The score was 2-1 late in the first half when the referee made the debatable and controversial call.  The remainder of the game was played with 11 players vs. 10 players.  The final score was 6-1.

As professional soccer develops in the U.S., it must revise the red-card rule to reflect the best interests of sports fans.  U.S. sports fans will not tolerate watching deliberate mismatches.  It is not fair to penalize the fan.  The ultimate competition is an even match among players, eleven on eleven.


U.S. professional soccer must consider all peripheral factors that influence how sports fans see the beautiful game.  After having planned a day at the stadium, and having paid for gas, parking, tickets and refreshments, fans would rather see a fair outcome, even when the advantage of the expulsion is in favor of the home team and goes against the opposition.  The same can be said for fans watching on television.

No one wants to see an expulsion because it changes the complexion of the game.  Whether it is 10 minutes after the start, or with 10 minutes remaining to be played, a red-card ruins the synergy that is created from the beauty of the game.  An expulsion sucks the energy from the fan and diminishes the result.


In many instances when the red-card comes out, it is a questionable call.  By revising the rule, professional soccer in the U.S. alleviates the possibility of the red-card being a major issue (There can always be controversy surrounding the expulsion of a particular player who may never re-enter the game).  But, from a fan’s perspective, minimally speaking, at least it can always remain eleven players vs. eleven players.  If the player that committed the foul is, upon further review, after completion of the game, deemed to have not made such a severe penalty, then his/her suspension and fine should be reversed.

I followed this one up with an analysis of refereeing red cards in 2012, 'Red Cards: The Elephant in the Room.' The truth to refereeing soccer with red cards is that there is none.  Referees seldom give red cards when they are warranted for fear of being the headlining story of the event instead of a sidebar behind the event.  Red cards put all the officials, coaches, players and fans on edge because of its permanency.  But, it doesn't need to be this way.

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.

Soccer's Red Card rule needs to be adjusted to allow for another player to enter the game for the suspended player.  

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 (FIFA) to go and build its own nest.

Replacing an expelled player is an Americanizing issue for sure.  Just like all the other Americanizing aspects in the sport, some consideration for change is bandied about, but no one wants to ever say the word or upset the masses.  There is speculation in soccer circles that change with the 'card' system needs to happen. I wrote about Michael Platini's role with the 'card' system in 2014, ''White Cards' are Sign of Soccer's Global Pursuit of Perfection.'

Michael Platini is a heavyweight in Soccer.  A significant former French player, he has been president of UEFA (Union of European Football Associations), since 2007.  Arguably, this is the second most important and powerful position in global Soccer-after FIFA president, Sepp Blatter.

Platini is talking about making changes to the card system and adding a 'white card' prior to the yellow. The fact that Platini is willing to go outside the box and talk about perfecting the refereeing of the game is an intriguing development.

Obviously and for so many years now-with so much money involved on a daily basis, refereeing the game appropriately is critical for fans, players and owners. Still, it is surprising that Platini is willing to offer a solution.  This was a bold statement from Platini and he can upset a lot of purists. Blatter is on the record saying he is not for it.

I would not call the pursuit of 'white cards' a proclamation for 'americanizing' the game.  But, I think it's close.  I think it is different than the goal-line technology because goal-line technology is an obvious steal from American football being the first to institute instant replay in order to ensure a referee's call as correct or to be corrected.  Goal-line technology was the first outright type of americanization of soccer, in my opinion.

American ideals showed the courage (the balls) and now all the major U.S. sports are using replay in some regard to get referee calls right. This pursuit by Platini with the use of white cards should be applauded by American sports fans. MLS commissioner Don Garber would be especially interested to see how it could work.  He seems to be in an endless battle for respect with teams, players and fans when it comes to MLS and its referees.

Platini's 'white card' idea may never be achieved or a different version of its purpose may be employed in the future. Regardless, Platini is making astute observations and trying to improve the accuracy of the sport.

Since the corruption scandal of soccer's governing body and many organizations involved with it, Platini is no longer a respected executive in the soccer ranks. He has fallen from the perches due to soccer kickbacks, just like so many of his colleagues from the 'old boys club' in FIFA, other football regional union associations and allied marketing companies.  He did have one interesting idea he opined on late in 2014, a few months before the revelations of soccer's failings.

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