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Tuesday, November 23, 2010
MLS Cup did not have to be so ugly

By Peter Welpton

I think we can all agree that MLS Cup 2010 was a poorly played, ugly match that marred what should have been a fantastic night for the league and the sport.

What ruined the match is something that plagues MLS matches in general. That is the issue of "persistent infringement" and MLS referee's refusal to be brave, take a stand, start blowing the whistle and stop the smaller fouls that muck up the game.

At the Supporter's Summit there was a session that included the main personalities responsible for organizing, assigning and reviewing the performances of the MLS referees.  They put on a very impressive presentation that demonstrated their commitment to cracking down on the most serious of fouls - the injurious types both seen and punished by the referee and those that go noticed and/or unpunished.  That was all good and well, and appreciated.  Towards the end during the Q&A I brought up what turned out to be a sadly prophetic question.

I fully believe that MLS refereeing's biggest fault is its refusal to enforce "persistent infringement".  This is the concept that players that have been called for three, four, five non-cautionable fouls, should eventually receive a yellow simply because their play is infringing on the flow and quality of the match.  I am not alone in thinking that MLS almost encourages Colorado's style of play because the players know that as long as they are not endangering their opponent and generally leaving their fouls in the center of the pitch where goal scoring is not imminent, they will escape with only a restart.  Of course this is a victory for the offender because they have successfully squelched the opponent's attack before its able to get anywhere.  Sunday night's match was this on steroids.  The answer given to my question was that there was a desire to allow play to go on and not "blow the whistle repeatedly, stopping the game over and over".  This obviously is silly reasoning, almost like allowing kids to steal from the candy store because dealing with them is just too much effort for such a little crime.

In the first fifteen minutes of the match Pablo and Jeff had committed at least six fouls. Dax put in his fair share, as had Hernandez. Some called, most not. What Toledo didn't do was establish that he'd had enough. Because of this the tone was set and Dallas' fate was sealed because the Rapids are the better team when the game calls for getting stuck in and mucking up the flow of play.  Dallas tried to do the same, and certainly committed their fair share of disruptive fouls, but the Colorado goals came from FCD's untypical moments of not protecting possession and not some sort of Rapid's attacking flair.

No one is advocating the idea that the referee stop play on every little thing, but there are differences. The ref and the players know it. There is nothing wrong with a referee stopping play and saying, look that is your third foul and that's too many, here's a yellow, now cut it out."