May 13th, 2005
If you want an entertaining few hours after a weekend, go the MLS site—MLSnet.com—and burrow into the incident-by-incident account of each match. Every foul, every corner-kick, caution, shot and send-off is recorded, and these summaries make fascinating reading. Every referee in the league should be doing that as part of his preparation for his next game, of course, although it is clear that not all of them do. . . . Why, I don’t know, because not only do the records tell you WHAT happened, but they tell you WHO committed the fouls, and to WHOM they did them. Sir Thomas Browne noted in 1643: “I have often admired the mystical way of Pythagoras, and the secret magic of numbers.” And what a tale the secret magic of numbers tells about our football. Consider New England visiting Spartan Stadium in San Jose on the first weekend of play in the MLS . . .
Just by way of background (or “context” as we say in the trade) you should know that for the last couple of years, one of “the” topics around the country has been “persistent infringement”. Esse Baharmast made a very nice CD presentation describing this great sin, and illustrated it in the modern fashion with clips from games here and there. Esse’s presentation said what must be said—that referees should keep track of who is committing fouls, AND who is being victimized by them. By the time a player has committed three fouls he should probably be in the book, and if one player is repeatedly clattered by several different opponents, the referee should pick one of the miscreants and caution him. That’s how you protect players and keep control of the number of fouls in a game. Except in San Jose . . .
Ed and I were aware many years ago (at least twenty) that persistent infringement was the most neglected of all the misconducts, and Ed put together a tape showing Geoff Bourne of Dallas being fouled eleven times in one match! Understand that at that stage of the season he was the NASL’s leading scorer, ahead of even the great Giorgio Chinaglia of the Cosmos, and so he was bound to get a lot of attention. We used that tape to teach referees the importance of keeping track, but the referee at San Jose didn’t get our message (he was in diapers at the time), and evidently he didn’t pay heed to Esse’s more recent instruction.
In the game against New England, the referee called 51 fouls, 30 against San Jose. Poor #2 Clint Dempsey of New England was fouled 7 times before 35 minutes had gone, and #9 Brian Mullan had been fouled 3 times in the first 22 minutes. It didn’t take long for Mullan to take matters into his own hands (or feet) and started fouling back, which he did at 17, 26, 30, 36, 40 and 44 minutes. Someone must have whispered a word to the referee at this point because out came a card for persistent infringement. “Six fouls in 27 minutes is enough!” said the referee, although he didn’t think that Dempsey being fouled 7 times in 35 minutes was worthy of notice. And the game was only half over . .
By the time the game was into its 88th minute, Dempsey had been fouled 9 times, and Mullan, with six fouls by half-time, saved his lucky seventh for the final moments of the game. And guess who he nailed: Dempsey! And what did the referee do? Nothing. Nothing to punish Mullan for fouling after a caution for persistent infringement; nothing to punish San Jose for repeatedly fouling Dempsey. Now could it be that Mullan waited until the waning moments of the match, because he guessed that the referee wouldn’t send a player off with only a minute or so left? Surely not . . .
I'll consider the several unintended consequences of this poor piece of refereeing in another blog.