After opening his column this morning with a nice account of how U.S.-based coaches Thomas Rongen, Bruce Arena, and Steve Nicol behaved like stand-up guys in the wake of recent losses, veteran Soccer America scribe Paul Gardner moves on to bemoan the “physical” style of MLS.
He writes that commissioner Don Garber’s preseason mandate for referees to protect skill players and encourage attacking soccer is not being adhered to:
“Even though I am in total agreement with what Garber is seeking–a more attack-oriented, goalscoring game–I remarked at the time that it would be difficult to get the referees to comply. And so far–17 games into the season–I’ve seen absolutely no convincing evidence of any change in referees’ attitudes.”
The odd thing about this—apart from it being entirely incorrect, down to the number of games played so far this season—is that Gardner clearly watched some MLS games this weekend.
From that experience, he should have noticed that referees have indeed changed their attitudes: Two weeks after issuing 40 cards in a weekend, they doled out 60 this time around, eight of them red.
They handed a penalty to D.C. striker Charlie Davies after he made a decisive move in the box and got a whisper of contact from L.A. defender Omar Gonzalez. They’re even dutifully using the spray paint to mark ten yards from the ball on free kicks, and making teams’ walls stay there, to the benefit of would-be goal-scorers. (They’re also the only refs—on the planet—currently using the spray paint, so far as we know.)
In short, they’re following Garber’s mandate pretty much to the letter. It’s the players who must now adjust to get the game closer to where the commish, and most fans, want it.