In case you were living under a rock, Obafemi Martins kicked a player last Sunday and it is causing quite a stir. Aside from Doyle doing his thing, there has been a fair amount of debate on twitter. Sounders fans say it's just sour grapes, while Galaxy fans are out for blood. The demand has been for the disciplinary committee to take action and suspend Martins. This action did not come to pass.
There is controversy surrounding the makeup and expertise of MLS Disciplinary Committee; something that I will address in a future article. For now I'd like to focus on whether or not the call was made correctly on the field.
As I am no expert, I went out and sought one. I inquired about the foul with Dr Errol Sweeney (PhD) BBA Dip.PM, a former League of Ireland, and South African Premier League Referee. He is known for his no nonsense approach to refereeing and currently writes regularly for SoccerrefereeUSA.com. As a referee he refereed multiple league finals and was voted South African Referees Referee of the Year in 1992, and ref of the year in 1993.
In 1996 he became the General Manager of Referees at the SA Premier Soccer League. He has mentored countless referees over the years, two of whom eventually managed to referee in the World Cup; one who was an assistant referee in the 1998 final. His resume is as long and deserving as this article devotes to him.
The man had the qualifications I was looking for: expertise and impartiality. Perhaps he could shine some light on the this raging debate.
Before we get into his opinion, let's go over a few key excerpts from the Laws of the Game.
In this instance, the decision whether Obafemi's kick deserves a yellow or a red hinges on a determination of whether the play was "reckless" (yellow), or "violent" (red).
Here are a few excerpts from the FIFA Laws of the Game, to help orient you in this discussion.
As you can see, the distinction between reckless and violent is tantamount to this debate. How then can it be objectively determined if Obafemi's kick at AJ was "reckless" or "violent?" I asked Dr. Sweeney about the distinction.
"Reckless could be jumping in on a tackle and being less than careful. Violent, is actually striking out at a guy, or deliberately kicking, like Martins did. That's violent. He kicked the guy." Dr. Sweeney told me. "Reckless can be like in anything. Just not paying careful attention to what you are doing. But certainly the one with Martins, that is violence."
The fact that the event took place off the ball makes the decision even more clear, according to Dr. Sweeney. He was quite adamant that there was absolutely no wiggle room when it comes to striking a player off the ball. "If [the ref] had seen it clearly," he told me "I can't see any reason why he should not have issued a red card."
Of the referee's I've talked to, Dr. Sweeney's seems to be the prevailing opinion on the matter. Kicking a player off the ball cannot be considered reckless as there is no justifiable soccer reason to do so. There's no way to argue he was recklessly challenging for a ball.
Here is an example of Wayne Rooney receiving a red for the same type of incident.
"Now the conspiracy theorists must be having a field day" he went on to say, "because they are probably going to come up with all these explanations and perceptions that this referee was [pressured] to not to give a red card."
While he acknowledged the impulse of fans to make this assumption, he reiterated it is the job of the ref to be impartial. "I'd be very unhappy if I were to discover that referees are subject to those kinds of pressures because of the importance of the game," he said. " It's not the referee's concern which teams are playing, or which players are involved, nor is it his concern who wins the game. His job is only to go out and referee according to [the FIFA laws of the game]. Nothing more. Nothing less"
To be clear, this is a charge that neither I nor Dr. Sweeney are leveling at MLS or Ismail Elfath; the referee on the night. Bad calls happen and there is no reason to suspect a larger Seattle favoring conspiracy in the matter. It's just some insight on what has been