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MLS needs to step in and stop preseason ugliness

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Kei Kamara
Once again, MLS teams have lost their composure in a preseason game.

On Tuesday night, a preseason game between Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake was abandoned in the second half because of what’s being described as an ugly brawl.

Like most MLS preseason games, there wasn’t video available of the game, so we have to go on eyewitness reports and, ahem, the Tweets of the players involved. The score was tied 2-2 at the time; there are reports that Real Salt Lake star Javier Morales was kicked in the head. At one point, things were so out of control that players were slugging their own teammates by accident.

“Bench clearing brawl to end the game!!!” RSL defender Robbie Russell posted on Twitter. “Got clocked in the scrum! By my own player:). DAMN U (Jamison) OLAVE!!”

“Good ol’ fashion(ed) brawl,” posted RSL defender Rauwshan McKenzie. “It was crazy.”

Only SKC striker Kei Kamara seemed oblivious to the affair. “Was a physical game, score ended 2-2, had another goal, just getting myself ready for the season. I am very EXCITE(D)!!!”

Reports from the game suggest that things got out of hand after SKC defender Roger Espinoza unleashed a rash challenge on Morales, the second time the two had clashed in the game. Will Johnson, the Canadian RSL midfielder, rushed to the aid of his teammate and all hell broke loose.

Unfortunately, poor conduct in preseason play is commonplace with MLS teams. Because teams organize their own matches — and the games aren’t sanctioned by the league in any way — they have become a no man’s land of foul play without fear of long-term retribution.

In 2010, MLS headquarters in New York was concerned about the number of straight red cards being issued in preseason games. One violent match between FC Dallas and the Philadelphia Union saw three Philly players sent off.

Toronto FC was averaging about a sending-off a game in the preseason, including a vicious tackle from behind on then-New York Red Bull Juan Pablo Angel by Julian de Guzman.

“Certainly we do not want MLS to be characterized by frequent violent conduct or serious foul play,” said Nelson Rodriguez, the league’s executive vice-president of competition, technical and game operations, last year when asked about the rash of red cards. “We are examining whether the cards being issued this pre-season are an anomaly or a pattern that we need to address.”

The RSL-SKC brawl should have the league’s discipline domo reopening his files.

Because the teams play so many of the preseason games in closed-door sessions, away from cameras, it’s hard for fans or the league to judge who did what to whom. Because the games aren’t sanctioned by MLS, there’s no worry that a vicious incident in the preseason will earn a player a suspension that begins on day one of the regular season.

In fact, in the initial game reports on both the RSL and SKC websites, there was no mention of the brawl, but RSL did refer to it as a “chippy” affair in the headline. To RSL’s credit, the brawl was discussed on the team’s official Twitter feed as more details became available — and unavoidable as so many RSL players were posting about it. RSL’s public-relations staff weren’t on site, so they were working off the same drips and drabs of information the rest of us were.

Again, we are shown the need to have better policing of the games being played behind closed doors, or far away in Arizona. Sooner or later, a team is going to lose a star player thanks to reckless preseason play. And, in a league with a stringent salary cap, losing anyone in preseason is cruel, indeed.

If a player willfully tries to injure an opponent in preseason, there has to be a price to pay. MLS needs to show leadership, here. A game cannot be abandoned because of a brawl, and have no consequences.

Why did the referee lose control of the game? Why did players rush onto the field? So many questions. But MLS cannot stand pat.

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