An MLS match well-handled by the man in the middle

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A post last week about Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez, San Jose Earthquakes striker Steven Lenhart and general MLS “style” generated lots of great discussion.

Plenty of people disagreed with my thoughts – which is always OK.  Others were on the “A-men!” train.

But I wanted to follow up quickly this morning, because more than a few people missed one important point of the post: that it’s not so difficult to create a situation on the field where most of that conversation is moot.

It’s not so very difficult to manage matches so that players perform less recklessly, more within the rule and with less wanton aggressiveness.

(MORE: the Gonzalez, Lenhart, MLS style PST post in question)

Last night in Portland, referee Mark Geiger showed everyone how to handle Lenhart and, in the bigger picture, how to properly manage a match.

Lenhart was whistled for two fouls within the first eight minutes. He and Portland defender David Horst were going at it pretty good, just like Lenhart and Gonzalez last week.

But Geiger’s prudent choice to deal with things early, rather than dealing with an escalating situation later, served the game well. Lenhart is no dummy – even if he throws himself around like a crash-test dummy at times. Recognizing the situation,  that another foul so early would likely draw a yellow card for persistent infringement, he tamed his game.

(MORE: Chris Wondolowski deserves his place in MLS record book)

With that, the rest of the evening went off more or less without incident. (Yes, the penalty kick decision looked iffy, but that’s more about the referee’s angle and his thought process on the decision, less about overall game management, which is the point here.)

It’s really simple: call the fouls early. Set the tone. Show the players their boundaries. They pick up on it.

Things can still escalate, of course, but a referee who does so reduces the chances of further bad temper, reduces the incidence of all the silly stuff that all too often drags down quality of MLS contests.

Well done last night by Geiger.