Waiting on a decision

Photo: Michael Long

For many Philadelphia Union supporters still smarting from Saturday’s defeat in Montreal, the pain of the loss has been somewhat lessened by the expectation that Montreal defender Nelson Rivas will be suspended for more than the one game ban he must automatically serve for the red card he received after headbutting Antoine Hoppenot. Still, many are frustrated that a ruling has yet to be announced.

Egregious and reckless

That Rivas will receive additional punishment seems a given. After all, the Disciplinary Committee rules, which were first instituted before the start of the 2012 season, are designed to “preserve the integrity and reputation of the game and Major League Soccer, and to assist in ensuring player safety.” If a headbutt doesn’t put a player’s safety at risk—the latest injury report lists Hoppenot as questionable with a nasal bone fracture—what does?

The Disciplinary Committee is empowered to add additional suspension if it decides a foul “to be of an egregious or reckless nature, or where the Committee believes it must act to protect player safety or the integrity of the game, including in particular but without limitation to contact above the shoulders through the dangerous use of elbows, forearms or fists.”

The Rivas headbutt was unquestionably egregious and reckless and the only issue seems to be how long his suspension will be. I’ve heard people calling for three to five games in total. When Kyle Beckerman headbutted Chicago Fire’s Daniel Paladini toward the end of the 2011 season, he ended up with a three game ban.

How long it will be before the Committee adds the dangerous use of the head to that of “elbows, forearms or fists” is another question.


For those who are understandably impatient for a ruling to be announced, keep in mind that the Committee “reviews all games and all incidents,” so these things can take some time. The announcement that Lionard Pajoy was suspenpended for one game for a challenge on Toronto FC’s Joao Plata came on Friday, June 1, six days after the game on Saturday, May 26. Similarly, when Raymon Gaddis was suspended for one game following a challenge on Kansas City’s Roger Espinoza, the announcement came on the Thursday following the Saturday game on June 23.

Given that history, you can expect a ruling on Thursday or Friday but hopefully we’ll have word today.

What about Jack?

Before the start of the 2012 season, each club posted a $25,000 bond for the right to make up to two unsuccessful red card appeals. According to the league’s guidelines for an appeal of a red card decision, clubs have 24 hours after the end of a match to lodge a written appeal with the league “to rectify a case of serious and obvious error” that includes “any and all evidence (e.g., video, photography, written statements, other) supporting the appeal.”

When asked if the club had filed an appeal, a Union spokesperson informed PSP that the club had not.

So, should the Union have appealed Jack McInerney’s red card?

There was certainly widespread agreement among Union supporters and neutral observers that referee Ismail Elfath’s decision to show McInerney a red card after he confronted Rivas following the headbutt to Hoppenot was harsh. Noting that Rivas “went down rather easily,” MLSsoccer.com’s Simon Borg, for one, said a yellow card would have been more appropriate.

Freddy Adu, who also said a yellow card would have been the better call, related that when he spoke to Elfath about McInerney’s red card after the game, the ref told him “Jack tied his hands by pushing the guy [Rivas] down to the ground.”

And there’s the rub.

For a red card appeal to be successful, the independent review panel must unanimously agree on two questions: Did the referee correctly identify the offense within the Laws of the Game; Is the disciplinary action applied appropriate to the offense. If the independent review panel cannot unanimously agree that the referee erred in meeting the requirements of both questions, its decision automatically becomes “yes” and the appeal is denied. “The panel is not re-refereeing the game; it is rectifying obvious errors in the referee’s disciplinary decisions,” according to the league’s guidelines for a red card appeal. “Therefore if it is not OBVIOUS it does not need to be rectified.” (Emphasis in the original.)

The danger was not that a Union appeal would be found to be without “any objective rational basis” by the panel and, as a frivolous appeal, so cost the club one of the two allotted to them. Rather, if the club considered an appeal at all it probably soon concluded that success was very unlikely for, while the panel is interested in correcting obvious referee errors, it is also interested in upholding the authority of match officials. So, while reasonable people can agree that a yellow would have been more appropriate (unsporting behavior), a red card can also be justified as appropriate according to the Laws of the Game (violent conduct).

Whether or not the call was “harsh” is neither here nor there, even if most of us can agree that Rivas sold the ref a bill of goods when he dropped like a sack of potatoes.



  1. Personally I think Jack Mack deserved a yellow but if it’s red it’s red. That is part of the game. My problem is the long turnaround the league takes in making a decisions.

    If it was up to me the league would make disciplinary decisions in 48-72 hours. The league has a transparency problem and it seems like the longer the league takes to make decisions it gives the impression the league is taking more than just rules infractions into its decision making.

    • Philly Cheese says:

      Fully agree that decision should be made more quickly. Union forced to determine fairness of red for Jack Mac without knowing whether Rivas will get extra suspension time for his violent action. Maybe 3-5 games without Ricas will hurt Montreal playoff run which could benefit Union.

  2. JediLos117 says:

    While I admire Jack’s desire to help out a teammate, Im still bitter he did…and who cares what Freddy Adu has to say.
    I also dont care what penalty Rivas gets. He plays for Montreal and we dont play them again.

  3. I don’t get all the headbutts. Just use your fists guys!

  4. CityHeroesSpursZeros says:

    I wish Jack kept his cool and we got the advantage, but things happen in the heat of battle.

  5. Thanks for the detail, Ed. MLB can get it done in a day, two at the most. The NFL, NBA and other leagues can get it done more quickly as well. I am amazed that a smaller league like the MLS needs so long, but such is life.

  6. At the time, I found the red card to be unjustified. At this point, it’s not like they’re going to replay the end of the game, I say let Jack sit down and cool off for a week. It may benefit him. I think the team ran him out there a bit too often anyway. Guys need to rest.

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