Mass confrontation is a complete embarrassment, and MLS is doing something about it

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Compared to every other league in the world, Major League Soccer proves very proactive. Last year, they formalized an aggressive system of retroactive review. They jumped to the front of the line trying to be guinea pigs for instant replay. And now they’re tackling one of the more annoying issues in world soccer, something they’ve labeled “mass confrontation.”

Just reading those words should immediately conjure an imagine. There’s a disputed call, most likely during a tense moment in the match, and one team starts crowding around a referee. They’re in his face. They’re attacking with numbers. Often, they’re implicitly using their physicality to intimidate.

We saw it yesterday in the Copa del Rey. Andres Iniesta fell in the arc and earned a whistle. Real Madrid disagreed. Next thing you know, Alvaro Arbeloa, Sergio Ramos, Angel Di Maria, and Gonzalo Higuain are all crowding around Alberto Undiano.

And I know this is going to come as a great shock to you, but Undiano declined to change his call. I know, right? Turns out the mass confrontation was pointless. Who knew?

This year in Major League Soccer, mass confrontation will be worse than pointless. It will be detrimental. From the good work of The Washington Post’s Soccer Insider, Steven Goff:

Troubled by swarms of players disrupting a match, the league’s board of governors has approved a rule that would penalize teams and coaches when three or more individuals confront a referee or opponent.

The MLS disciplinary committee would issue a warning for a first offense. Subsequent incidents would result in a fine for both the club and head coach. The league declined to specify amounts, but multiple sources told the Insider the committee would levy penalties of $5,000 for a team and $1,000 for a coach.

I’d love to see the word “suspension” in here, but I don’t get the feeling there’s the will for that. So this is a good step one. If it doesn’t work, we could see tougher punishment next year.

And if MLS is serious about killing mass confrontations, they’re going to give this more teeth. These fines are not going to change behavior, especially when they don’t hit player pocket books.

But as with anything involving management and labor, this is a process. And as far as processes go, this is a decent first step. Anything to address this inanity would be a decent first step.

Mass confrontation is really one of the worst things that happens between the lines. It’s not the worst, but it’s arguably the most inexplicable. It’s one of the moment where every petty complaint about rich athletes looks justifiable. It’s where you get to see the kind of  immaturity, lack of perspective and spoiled behavior that many people consider endemic to professional athlete culture.

That’s why mass confrontations are so aggravating. You know these guys aren’t really like that, but when they throw these collaborative fits, how do you argue the point? “They’re not normally like this.” No, but they’re like this right now!

Address the issue is another example of Major League Soccer being proactive. A lot of their ability to do that is enabled by their league’s structure, but as we see from other leagues, being proactive about the game isn’t a given with these organizations.