Soccer fans in general are quick to blame refs for ruining soccer games, whether it is deserved or not. As RSL fans, we have witnessed some of these games, with the infamous game that had seemingly endless extra time against SKC in the 2013 season coming to mind. On the heels of the 2-1 loss at the hands of the Galaxy and referee Sorin Stoica, I think we need to look into what is deserving of a yellow card when it comes to dissent.
Before every MLS season, PRO releases the different areas that they are focusing on for that season. In 2016 they focused on offsides, bench behavior/dissent, and key match incidents. RSL saw this effect them early in the season, specifically in the match against Portland on March 19th where RSL received two red cards and post-game suspension. While those calls on their own are hard to argue against, the referees were much harsher at the beginning of the season and loosened up by the end. Some fans may remember when Sunny was fouled by Portland's Ben Zemanski later in the season that was eerily close to what Beckerman received a red card for, yet that was only punished by a yellow card and didn't receive a post-game suspension. This shows what we already know, PRO referees and their decisions change throughout the year, regardless of what the points of emphasis are at the beginning of the season.
Now that we are in the 2017 season, PRO has decided to focus on a few new things. One of the new focuses that we have seen taken into effect quite a bit is dissent. In the past two weeks in MLS, three players have received cards for dissent that were one of their two yellow cards on route to a red card. Jelle Van Damme of the LA Galaxy in week 2, received his first yellow card for dissent after the referee called a foul on him that later shows that Diego Chara simulated the contact and received a fine for it afterwards. In week 3, both Kyle Beckerman and Brek Shea received yellow cards for Dissent on route to being handed their marching orders from the game. Here is what PRO said about dissent as a point of emphasis:
MLS officials will be cracking down on what Walton called "acts of visual dissent" in 2017. According to Walton, referees "won’t condone" players or coaches who react to calls with "arms thrown in the air" or by racing "after an official to berate them." Dissent can be punished by a yellow card caution.
If you watch the videos of the the above yellow cards, you can see that none of the players are racing after the official to berate them, or throwing their arms in the air. They are cautioned by the referee for what they are saying, especially Shea and Beckerman. We have no idea what these players have said to earn these yellow cards, but we can assume that they involve colorful language. But referees should be used to players getting in the heat of the moment and using this kind of language. They even acknowledged this back in their points of emphasis of 2016, Peter Walton who is a former premier league referee said:
focus will be less on verbal elements, to a certain extent – Walton acknowledges that players can get caught up in the heat of the moment – and more on the physical elements.
The biggest problem is that we currently have no idea what constitutes a caution worthy offense in regards to dissent. Is it certain words that players can no longer use? We know that major acts of visual dissent are going to be cautioned, but what about verbal? They never stated that verbal acts of dissent are going to be punished more harshly, yet that appears to be exactly what is happening. It is hard to figure out as fans, and we can assume players, where the line is. The league and PRO should come out and announce more clearly where the line is, and what will be cautioned. If this happens, the players will be able to know what is allowed and how to act during a gaime. Of course, refs aren't to be blamed for everything. RSL had their chances to score even down a man against LA, and their defensive markings could have been better, but the hill can be much harder to climb when you have a referee that is inconsistent in his calls. The issues of inconsistency need to be addressed at a higher level withing PRO and they need to be clearer about changes that are going to be made before the season starts so that players know what they need to change. Otherwise, it just makes it a difficult game to watch and play.