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Is MLS's Refereeing Transparency Promoting Diving?

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It's an excellent, novel idea, and one the rest of the world should adopt: Hold referees accountable for their actions on the pitch.

That's the thinking behind US Soccer's "Referee Week in Review" series, posted each week on their Referee pages. Game tapes are reviewed after each game, and both good and bad decisions are noted. An example from Week 6:

Video Clip 1: New York at Kansas City (58:21)
The challenge by the attacker (white jersey) is one whereby the player leads with the forearm to protect the space for him to play the ball (using it as a tool). The forward motion takes him into the defender (blue shirt) and there is contact. This is a reckless challenge and should be recognized as such as the contact is not severe or excessive. Also, consider that the attacker does not swing his arm back into the opponent (this would increase the severity and the force). The inaction of the referee in this clip results in visual dissent from the Kansas player.

Referees, in circumstances such as these, must take appropriate action. Doing nothing or a simple foul call in these circumstances are not options. A yellow card for unsporting behavior is appropriate for this foul.

Fantastic, right? Especially for a team like Seattle that doesn't generally rely on dirty play to get the job done. And this, from Week 3, is equally fantastic, and obviously stems from a desire to protect the players.

Due to the work by officials to eliminate tackles from behind, players have been forced to find other methods to slow opponents and to send messages or intimidate. The use of the arm, forearm or hand to foul opponents has replaced the tackle from behind. In particular, the use of these items as a weapon in aerial challenges has increased. Due to the speed and athleticism that is a characteristic of the modern game, contact with the arm/forearm/elbow/hand (a hard, solid surface) with any part of the opponent’s body above the shoulders (soft tissue areas) makes the incident much more dangerous. The speed at which many of the aerial challenges are committed increases the force and severity of the contact and, therefore, often translates into excessive force which increases the possibility that the opponent’s safety is endangered. Should the referee believe that excessive force is used in a challenge, a red card would be mandated.

I don't think anybody can argue with this.

The problem, though, is that it's very easy for players and staff to read these, see what MLS has asked the referees to focus on, and embellish contact for anything and everything that might remotely be seen as fitting the bill, making sure that contact that might once have drawn a simple whistle will now draw a yellow or even a red.

Montero's red on Saturday is a case in point. (A case which, interestingly, US Soccer doesn't cover in its review.) As has been discussed everywhere, by the letter of the law this is a red card offense. He did make contact to Segares' face with his elbow. But as always, it's up to the referee's discretion and is frequently a yellow card offense, and sometimes not even that. Yesterday in the Champions League semis, Frank Lampard suffered something worse from Seydou Keita (you could still see the marks around his mouth at the end of the game) and there wasn't even a call.

(Oh, wait. Not wanting this to be about the competence of yesterday's CL referees, so let's move on.)

Sigi's take on the Segares incident:

“Did he get his arm up? Was his elbow near Segares’ head? Yes; there’s no disputing that,” Schmid said. “But did he throw an elbow? I think when you watch it, it becomes pretty obvious that didn’t happen.

“For me the bigger concern right now is, I think sometimes situations occur on the field that players embellish and overdramatize what happens.”

Schmid’s dilemma is that such behavior often is rewarded. And therefore, he is conflicted about telling his own players not to dive or embellish, even though he clearly doesn’t like it.

“I think it’s all over the world,” Schmid said. “You watch soccer anywhere in the world: A guy gets hit in the thigh, and he grabs his knee. A guy gets hit in the ankle, and he grabs his knee. A guy gets hit in the shoulder, and he grabs his face. It’s just wrong.”

So the unfortunate next step, human nature being what it is, is that MLS becomes a South American league where everybody is Cuauhtemoc Blanco, on their backs more than an [insert off-color metaphor of your choice here].

Unless, of course, MLS and US Soccer can come up for a way to punish the embellishment as well as the original action.

Hmm... This sounds like a job for US Soccers Referee Week in Review.

(Hockey-style sin bins, anyone?)

P.S. By next year, is this what we'll be seeing?