MLS got Clint Dempsey’s suspension wrong according to US Soccer’s policies


We find ourselves yet again with another botched suspension, and in this case, it proves that the most visible league in the United States can’t read or interpret its own rules and regulations.

It can be argued a three-match suspension, which Seattle Sounders foward and USMNT captain Clint Dempsey ultimately received for tearing up the referee’s notebook in a 3-1 U.S. Open Cup loss to Portland, is the correct punishment via precedent and any other moral standing. In the English Premier League, for example, any straight red card received for “violent conduct” warrants an automatic three-match suspension, although it can be extended for particularly egregious violations.

It could also be argued it’s too short, allowing a player to get off easy due to his name, reputation on the pitch, and standing as national team captain. The debate could be made for both sides.

What cannot be debated, however, are the written rules that U.S. Soccer has implemented for its own benefit, and how MLS failed to acknowledge them.

Dempsey exploded at the end of the Seattle loss following a teammate’s questionable red card, while maybe the referee made a mistake and maybe he didn’t, there is no excuse for attacking a match official. Dempsey didn’t actually “assault” the official in the everyday feel of the word, but he absolutely did according to the U.S. Soccer definition, and yet he wasn’t suspended accordingly.

Here is Policy 202(1)(H)-2, Section 2, Article a of its Policy Manual:

(1) Any player, coach, manager, club official, or league official who commits an intentional act of physical violence at or upon a referee (“Referee Assault”) shall be suspended without pay for a period of at least six consecutive matches (the “Assault Suspension”). The Assault Suspension shall commence with the first match after which the individual has been found to have committed this act.
(2) For purposes of this subparagraph 2(a), “Referee Assault” shall include, but is not limited to: striking, kicking, choking, grabbing or bodily running into a referee; spitting on a referee with ostensible intent to do so; kicking or throwing an object at an official that could inflict injury; or damaging the referee’s uniform or personal property (e.g., car, uniform, or equipment).
(3) The Professional League Member may not provide for a penalty shorter than the Assault Suspension but may provide for a longer suspension and/or a fine.

U.S. Soccer even pointed directly to this subsection of its policies in the press release it sent out Friday morning. So, Clint Dempsey swatted the referee’s notebook out of his hand, picked it up, and tore it to shreds. That seems to pretty blatantly fall under the “damaging the referee’s uniform or personal property” portion. How can one possibly argue otherwise? Apparently, Major League Soccer did. They handed down a three-game suspension, rather than the mandated six-game suspension in the policy. Whether you agree six games is too much, too little, or just right on a moral basis, this seems impossible to argue with.

This is all very key with the Gold Cup coming up. Should he be suspended for a longer amount, his international play would be affected. As the bylaws write, “The Assault Suspension and Abuse Suspension (the ‘Suspension’) shall preclude the suspended individual from participating in any soccer competition until the suspension has expired.” A six-match Seattle suspension would have left Dempsey out of action until July 18, and would rule him ineligible to play in any other competitions – club or country – until that date. The Gold Cup begins July 7.

The PSRA, the referee’s union that represents officials in MLS and USL Pro play, is understandably quite displeased with the punishment, believing that the lack of bite to Dempsey’s punishment will fail to deter future incidents of referee assault:

U.S. Soccer as a governing body was ultimately left powerless in this decision. Despite the U.S. Open Cup being a U.S. Soccer-led tournament, the rules state that in the event of “referee abuse or assault,” the punishment is determined by the player’s league – leaving Dempsey’s fate in the hands Major League Soccer. According to the bylaws, under the referee abuse subsection, “All Professional League Members shall adopt and enforce policies,” meaning since Dempsey is a Major League Soccer player, MLS was in charge of determining the outcome of his punishment.

As a U.S. Soccer spokesperson told me, the reason for this is because while it leaves them powerless in high-profile cases such as this, it also relieves them of duty to punish incidents in much smaller (yet significantly more numerous) amateur leagues and competitions that would be better in the hands of the presiding league or organization.

Thus, MLS took over the decision, and they botched it. Now, Jurgen Klinsmann finds himself with an interesting decision. Having named a 35-man provisional roster, he still has not chosen his final 23-man preliminary roster. Not only does Klinsmann have to decide whether or not to include Dempsey or not, he has the interesting dilemma of whether to keep the Texan as his captain or make a change. At 32 years old, there’s no guarantee Dempsey will be a member of the first team when the 2018 World Cup comes around, and this scenario gives Klinsmann an opportunity to make a captaincy change now and work in a new leader in the next three years.

Sounders owner Adrian Hanauer told the Seattle Times following the match, “Tuesday evening, the passion piece maybe went a little bit overboard and was maybe directed in the wrong ways. That goes for players, coaches, staff, fans. Now, we need to regroup. We’ve had lots of internal conversations. We will do whatever we need to collect information on fan misconduct and dole out appropriate punishments if those are necessary. We’ll deal with all of the rest internally. But I thought it was important to acknowledge that it wasn’t our proudest moment as the Sounders organization and we’re going to do better.”

Dempsey by far came out looking the worst, at least until MLS proved they are unable to read U.S. Soccer’s rules.

UPDATE: Apparently, there may be slightly more to come from this. U.S. Soccer told Liviu Bird of Sports Illustrated that although this three-match suspension comes from Major League Soccer by requirement, there’s still a chance that U.S. Soccer will hand down its own punishment. Most likely, since any second suspension will come down from the U.S. Open Cup disciplinary committee, it would cover U.S. Open Cup play, and not affect any outside competitions, including national team play.

Zlatan, Blessing tally braces in cathartic ‘El Trafico’ draw (video)

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The game in 200 words (or less):  “El Trafico” lives up to all of its hype, whether it’d be in Carson or in the heart of Los Angeles. Loaded with goals, subplots, heated fan bases, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Carlos Vela, it’s tough to find another rivalry in MLS as fierce and as provocative as Los Angeles’. Because just when one thought spectators uncovered the climax of the story, a plot twist from nearby Hollywood’s archives is screened. Whether it’d be Ibrahimovic’s fastest goal in derby history, Latif Blessing’s unexpected brace, or Vela’s goal and subsequent benching, it’s evident that there was no shortage of storylines. Both side’s 3-3 draw, as well, had no shortage of goals. It was a spectacle on Sunday.

Three moments that mattered

2′ – 15′ — Zlatan records brace in 13 minutes — Zlatan’s record-setting goal, followed by a routine finish to record his second of the night.

45′ — Blessing’s vital, first-half goal for LAFC    — Along with Zlatan, Latif Blessing was the night’s other bright spot.

89′ — Vela scores his 27th goal — Vela to the rescue…

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Man of the match: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Goalscorers: Ibrahimovic (2′), Blessing (12′) Ibrahimovic (15′), Pavon (16′),  Blessing (45′), Vela (53′)

Serie A: Milan stunned; Roma draw in six-goal thriller (video)

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Italy’s top flight.

Roma 3-3 Genoa

There were plenty of promising talking points in Roma’s season opening six-goal thriller against Genoa, but their draw certainly overwrote almost everything with red ink.

Edin Dzeko was one of the few highlights that remained in the clear. The 33-year-old – five seasons into his Roma spell -scored and assisted for I Giallorossi. Recent arrival, Davide Zappacosta, made his debut in the 78th minute.

Genoa, not necessarily impressive throughout the match, figured out a way to crack Roma’s defense. When they conceded, they’d respond. Stadio Olimpico saw six lead changes, with Christian Kouame’s diving header in the 70th minute splitting the points.

For a Roma that missed out on qualifying for the Champions League last season, the result is a low-blow right off the bat. For Genoa, who remained in Serie A by a miraculous goal, a six-goal thriller in Roma is music to their ears.

Udinese 1-0 AC Milan

Another Italian giant had a slow, first day at the office.

AC Milan, boasting a plethora of firepower, were outclassed by a well-prepared and structured Udinese.

Rodrigo Becão’s debut goal was the only difference between both sides. Milan, who are already three points behind favorites such as Juventus and Napoli, have plenty of questions to answer. The reported possible arrival of Angel Correa may certainly help on the attacking side of things, but Marco Giampaolo still has plenty of work laid out in front of him.

Banned from Europa League for overspending by Financial Play Fair Rules, Milan are expected to fully focus on the Serie A campaign, which they have yet to win since the 2010/11 campaign.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Sampdoria 0-3 Lazio 

Cagliari 0-1 Brescia

Verona 1-1 Bologna 

SPAL 2-3 Atalanta 

Torino 2-1 Sassuolo 

WATCH: Zlatan scores fastest-ever ‘El Trafico’ goal

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If someone was going to set a record in “El Trafico,” it was going to be Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Ibrahimovic has become the scorer of the fastest goal in the rivalry’s history, after scoring the opener against LAFC two minutes into Sunday’s bout at Banc of California Stadium.

The 37-year-old’s strike inside the box came two minutes faster than Carlos Vela’s goal from the penalty spot earlier this season. The Swede has scored eight goals against LAFC in six matches, making him the leading goalscorer of the young rivalry.

Mexicans abroad: Weekend roundup

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Scoring goals left and right, Raul Jimenez continues to bring smiles to Wolverhampton Wanderers supporters. Against Burnley,  the forward played hero with his last-second goal, earning Wolves a third straight draw.

In Spain, Diego Lainez registered his first minutes of the season, while Hector Herrera has yet to make his debut.

Diego Reyes is no longer a Fenerbahçe, as a move to Tigres nears. Lozano, now with Italian giants Napoli, awaits for his highly-anticipated Serie A debut.

Here is a list of several other Mexico national team affiliates making a name for themselves (or not) outside of Mexico this weekend.

Premier League

Raul Jimenez, Wolverhampton Wanderers — Late into stoppage time, Jimenez converted from the penalty spot, and earned Wolves a valuable point at home against Burnley. It’s the 28-year-old’s first Premier League goal this season.

Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, West Ham — Chicharito was inactive this weekend due to a reported knee injury. On Saturday, West Ham edged Watford 3-1.

La Liga

Hector Herrera, Atletico Madrid — For a second consecutive week, Herrera was an unused substitute for Diego Simeone’s side, who won 1-0 against Leganes.

Andres Guardado, Real Betis — Los Verdiblancos’ captain started and played 61 minutes in Betis’ 5-2 loss against Barcelona.

Diego Lainez, Real Betis — The 19-year-old recorded his first minutes of the season, playing the final 15 minutes in Betis’ loss to Barcelona.

Nestor Araujo, Celta Vigo — Araujo started and played all 90 minutes in Celta’s 1-0 victory over Valencia.

Serie A

Hirving “Chucky” Lozano, Napoli — Recently integrated, Lozano didn’t suit up for Napoli’s entertaining 4-3 win against Fiorentina on Saturday.


Erick Gutierrez, PSV Eindhoven — PSV are inactive this week.

Edson Alvarez, Ajax — Ajax are inactive this weekend.

Primeira Liga

Jesus “Tecatito” Corona, FC Porto — Despite overlapping when attacking, Porto’s manager, Sergio Conceicao, continues to deploy Tecatito as a right back. The 26-year-old showed no problems throughout 90 minutes in Porto’s 2-0 statement victory over Benfica, though.

Jupiler Pro League

Omar Govea, Zulte Waregem — Logging in minutes won’t be a problem for Govea at the Belgium club, at least that’s been the case thus far. On Saturday, the midfielder started – for a fourth consecutive game – and registered 66 minutes.

Elsewhere around the globe:

Hector Moreno, Al Gharafa   The Qatari league is underway, and Moreno has made his debut. The center back started and played all 90 minutes in Al Gharafa’s 3-0 win over Shahania on Thursday.

Diego Reyes, Free Agent  Fenerbahçe released Reyes on Sunday. He is set to make a Liga MX return with Tigres after leaving for Europe back in 2013.

Juan Gerardo Ramirez Alosno, Roda JC — On Friday, the 21-year-old fullback started and played 66 minutes in Roda’s 2-1 loss against NEC Nijmegen.

Carlos Fierro, San Jose Earthquakes – The 25-year-old is slowly but surely finding himself in San Jose. On Saturday, Fierro logged nine minutes in the Quakes’ impressive 3-1 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Carlos Vela, LAFC – LAFC take on rivals LA Galaxy on Sunday.

Jonathan Dos Santos, LA Galaxy – LA Galaxy take on rivals LAFC on Sunday.