Sometimes I get called out for “wanting more yellow cards and red cards” shown in soccer, or in Major League Soccer matches specifically. Guys I respect in my business have even clobbered me for it.
But they are missing the mark here. I don’t want more cards, exactly. I just want the right cards, selectively and even strategically handed out. Mostly, I want referees to get on top of situations before they become bookable situations. That’s all.
Saturday’s simmer-to-boil situation in Kansas City became the perfect metaphor for it.
Montreal center back Alessandro Nesta got thrown out for head butting KC striker Claudio Bieler. Bieler will probably get suspended for stepping on Nesta’s hand or kicking out at the Italian defender, or for some combination of both.
Bieler’s Sporting KC teammate Paulo Nagamura has already served a suspension this year for doing something quite similar. (Watch both videos below.)
Here’s the deal: It didn’t need to get here. Referee Armando Villarreal let a bunch of stuff go on between these two in the first half. Bieler, for all the good scoring deeds he has imported into Sporting Park, is getting a reputation for antagonizing, and referees who do their homework will know so. That is to say, Villarreal should have been on the lookout, and needed to understand that he would probably have to deal with it.
The controversial penalty kick in this game (which Montreal eventually overcame in a 2-1 win on the road), was about these two.
(There is also some coaching staff culpability here; the head men from both staffs need to take a down a notch with the sideline griping, which tends to incite the crowd and the players. And were there some post-game sportsmanship issues from the men in charge?)
Villarreal needed to call both players (Bieler and Nesta) over at some point in the first half and tell them in no uncertain terms to “cut it out!” At the next incident, he should have booked them.
That’s the kind of selective action I want to see. A yellow now can sometimes save a red later – and possibly even a suspension in this case. And players around them see it and take note, so there’s a chance of seeing a better game once the referee puts his hand on the match.
Here’s the video of what happened Saturday as Nesta and Bieler came together with a menace.
And here is Nagamura’s naughty foot stamp – something for which he was suspended, and something from which Bieler apparently did not learn.