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MLS officiating crackdown already taking its toll

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Before the kickoff of the season, MLS headquarters instructed its officials to crack down on fouls in the box and to make absolutely certain that a player was in an offside position before raising the flag.

More penalties, more cards, less offside calls — the recipe to boost scoring.

We are clearly seeing the effect of the mandate. Fans will likely have to get used to seeing the flag stay down more often than not.

Five cards were handed out in the first half of the Union’s 1-0 triumph over Vancouver; Whitecaps striker Eric Hassli was sent off — deservedly — for following through the Union’s Carlos Valdes long after the ball was gone.

It wasn’t so much that second yellow that was the talking point, but the yellows that came before in this game.

But, remember that MLS has told refs to protect the ball carrier at all costs. Last season, there were too many infractions than went unpunished, the league felt. Also, there was a serious scoring drop-off around the league.

Carlos Ruiz’s deciding goal in the Union’s win came after the ball fell to the Union’s Sebastien Le Toux after deflecting off Whitecaps defender Greg Janicki. Yes, he tried to play the ball, but didn’t have control. Both Le Toux and Ruiz were running forward, and the hands of pretty well every Whitecaps defender went up before Le Toux squared the ball for Ruiz to knock into an empty goal.

The question… was Janicki’s attempt to play the ball enough to be considered a pass back to his keeper? Was the fact that he tried to play the ball enough to rub out the offside? You could argue this one at the pub all night long. But that’s the thing. In a case that’s open for debate, if there is any grey area, the linesmen has been instructed to err on the side of offence.

It doesn’t matter that the Whitecaps were adamant that the goal was offside, clearly shown in keeper Joe Cannon’s postgame comments. Toronto FC manager Aron Winter would likely argue that the call was just desserts, after he complained that the Whitecaps’ fourth goal in their 4-2 opening win over Toronto was offside.

As for fouls in the box, Sporting Kansas City will lose Designated Player Omar Bravo for this Saturday’s match in Vancouver, because he saw straight red — controversially — for what was adjudged a professional foul on Chicago’s Gaston Puerari. Puerari was clean in on the SKC goal but Bravo, showing the kind of hustle we’re not used to seeing from Designated Players, caught Puerari from behind. There was contact, and you could make the case for the penalty. But, did it warrant the red?

But, remember, refs are being instructed to err on the side of attackers. They are being told to clamp down on fouls in the box.

And, it’s not like too many people in Vancouver will be worried about not seeing Bravo or Hassli next Saturday. They will likely be too busy booing and catcalling Teal Bunbury’s every move.

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