Patrick Ianni is as tough a soccer player as you'll ever find.
The 6-foot-1 wrecking ball has clashed heads with Conor Casey and come away unscathed, while Casey had to leave the game with a huge gash on his head. Ianni regularly matches up with the biggest, baddest players on the opposing team and never seems to come out worse for the wear.
So, it was a little surprising to see him falling to the ground in apparent agony after being slapped across the neck by New England's Shalrie Joseph, who himself fell to the ground after striking Ianni. Whether or not Joseph made strong contact, it's hard to believe Ianni was in as much pain as he seemed to indicate during the ensuing several-minute stoppage of play.
The whole incident -- which did not draw so much as a yellow card from referee Silviu Petrescu -- has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many who witnessed it. On one hand, you have two players who were obviously trying to sell their cases by embellishing the extent of their pain. On the other, you have a referee who appeared powerless to control the match.
Facing the media for the first time since Saturday, Ianni was willing to talk about the altercation, but also seemed intent on putting it behind him.
"Every game there are mutliple altercations in the box and referees can more or less call a penalty on every corner kick if they wanted," Ianni said. "So it's a tough call for (Petrescu) to make and it's a part of the game."
Another part of the game, Ianni admitted, is the penchant for players to overreact to fouls. For his part, Ianni said his reaction was more borne out of surprise that no card was being issued than out of physical pain.
"It's almost an embarrassing culture as far as soccer," Ianni said about the tendency to embellish. "But people have to understand that it's part of protecting yourself. My reaction was that I couldn't believe after getting hit in the face twice (Ianni said he had been punched in the face moments before the exchange with Joseph) that the referee was not going toward Joseph and was kind of standing there. I just couldn't believe it."
Ianni acknowledged his role in escalating the situation, coyly saying "I did touch his foot", but is now taking the view -- at least in public -- that Petrescu ultimately tried to do the right thing by keeping his cards in his pocket.
"You can say whatever you want about the referee, but I think he handled it well," Ianni said. "There are a million different things he could have done in that scenario and I think he was in a tough position. They always are. I don't think he made a terrible solution.
"I think he's got to base it off of what he saw and that's a tough thing. ... It was just a matter of him calling what he sees and not going off the embellishment."
Unfortunately, this kind of thing is an all-too-visible part of soccer. One of the biggest complaints about the game is the way players feign injury in order to draw a penalty or roll around in apparent agony only to be in full working order moments later.
Like everyone, I was disappointed to see two physical players acting as if they'd been assaulted. Still, I think it's important to realize that this kind of thing is hardly unique to soccer. Players in all refereed sports accentuate fouls in order to draw the attention of referees. In soccer, it is more visible because of the importance fouls can play.
But I was even more disappointed that the solution was to do nothing. Ianni indicated that he thought no card was issued because neither Petrescu nor the sideline referee had a clear view of what happend. I have a hard time believing that since Petrescu appeared to be looking right at them as the whole series of events transpired.
I'd like to think the league is still looking at the incident. At the very least, I'm hoping MLS will acknowledge that one or both of the players should have been carded and that Petrescu erred in doing nothing.
Sounders coach Sigi Schmid does not seem so optimistic.
"Apparently the only people that saw that were in Seattle," Schmid said of the Joseph's slap. "Our broadcast on KONG showed it very clearly. When you look at the broadcast that the league used, which was the broadcast they had in New England, it was very unclear. You really couldn't see anything and it was off to the edge of the picture. We're trying to get the league to look at our broadcast and then they can draw their own conclusions."