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FC Dallas slapped with fine, but match not forfeited

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MLS passes the buck to the referee for allow rule break

MLS: FC Dallas at Minnesota United FC Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Major League Soccer.

Those three words are all you need to know about how FC Dallas fielding an ineligible player was handled by said league.

Instead of forfeiting a match in which they fielded the player (more on the details of that below), FC Dallas was fined $25,000 in real money and $75,000 in MLS’s General Allocation Money, which has a tenuous connection to actual money — it’s instead part of salary budget impacts.

And who’s to blame, you ask?

MLS says it’s the referee’s fault.

This, despite the referees not being employees of Major League Soccer, and there to enforce the laws of the game, not the competition guidelines.

The referee crew incorrectly allowed the change to occur and notified Orlando City SC of the change to the official match day roster prior to the match.

Interestingly, MLS is very clear at the end of their release that they hold that FIFA doesn’t mandate “match day roster” changes. For that argument to hold water, they’re basically claiming that this isn’t an issue of eligibility, because FIFA does mandate that in the FIFA Disciplinary Code.

If a player takes part in an official match despite being ineligible, his team will be sanctioned by forfeiting the match (cf. art. 31) and paying a minimum fine of CHF 6,000.

Perhaps MLS is arguing that the disciplinary code doesn’t apply to the league. It’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

And, of course, you must combine that with the detail reported by a Dallas-area publication:

4.2.4.1.a. Starting Player.

- An injured or ill starting player's vacant Official Match Roster position may only be filled by a named substitute listed on the Official Match Roster, thus leaving a vacant substitute position on the Official Match Roster.

- The resulting vacant substitute Official Match Roster position may only be filled by a player from the Club's eligible active roster.

- The injured or ill player will be ineligible for the match and cannot sit on the Club's bench.

See, that spells out that the player is strictly ineligible.

Clearly there’s a disconnect here, and it’s truly unfortunate that MLS has chosen to blame the referee for enforcement that may not be their responsibility at all. If we’re going to depend on referees for competition rule enforcement, well, we have another issue altogether. And maybe the league should get their act in gear and actually publish their full rules rather than a subset they deem eligible for human consumption.

Here’s the full release:

Major League Soccer has fined FC Dallas $75,000 of General Allocation Money and $25,000 for a roster violation during the September 30 match against Orlando City SC.

Prior to the match, FC Dallas listed Michael Barrios in the club’s starting lineup as part of the official match day roster. The official match day roster is submitted 60 minutes before kickoff. A player who is removed from the official match roster’s starting lineup within 60 minutes prior to kickoff may not participate in the match, with the exception of the goalkeeper.

Fifteen minutes prior to kickoff, FC Dallas requested Barrios be moved to the list of substitutes and Tesho Akindele moved from the list of substitutes to the starting lineup. The referee crew incorrectly allowed the change to occur and notified Orlando City SC of the change to the official match day roster prior to the match.

Based on the change to the match day roster, Dallas wrongly believed that Barrios could participate in the match as a substitute. Barrios entered the game in the 84th minute, replacing Maxi Urruti.

“The referee crew’s administrative error and decision to place Michael Barrios on the official match roster was carefully considered while making the decision to sanction FC Dallas for this rule violation,” said MLS Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott. “However, all of our clubs are aware of game day roster rules and FC Dallas should have removed Barrios from the official match roster.”

FIFA delegates management of roster rules and sanctions for violations to the respective leagues throughout the world. There is no international rule for changes to a match day roster.