For Pete's Sake

The undisciplined Disciplinary Committee

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Last night, just over 24 hours before the Union’s scheduled home clash with FC Cincinnati, the MLS Disciplinary Committee announced that left back Kai Wagner would serve an additional one-game suspension stemming from a violent challenge late in the April 20 match against Montreal.

Wagner had, of course, already served the standard one-game red card suspension on Saturday against Vancouver. As of noon yesterday, Union manager Jim Curtin had no idea that Wagner would potentially miss out on another match.

And yet, a full nine days after the incident, the MLS Disciplinary Committee came down from on high and made its pronouncement in a two-sentence press release — leaving the Union, who are in the midst of a stretch of three games in eight days, forced to recalibrate their lineup plans on very short notice.

This is not the first time this season that the Disciplinary Committee has taken eons to issue additional punishment. Marco Fabian got sent off in the Union’s second match of the season for a foul against Sporting KC’s Johnny Russell. He served his suspension against Atlanta — only to find out in the middle of the subsequent week that the DisCo saw fit to suspend him for the Columbus match as well.

Two red cards. Two extremely belated suspensions.

The Union have reason to be upset.

A broken process

Here are a few questions I have about the MLS Disciplinary Committee.

How does the Disciplinary Committee make its decisions? Are there written standards that the Committee uses in determining whether to hand out additional suspensions? Does the DisCo use precedent — comparing new incidents to past incidents — or is each new incident looked at in a vacuum? Are there any guidelines as to how long the DisCo should take to resolve additional discipline?

Who sits on the Disciplinary Committee? Are there representatives of teams? The Commissioner’s office? Referees? How often are the members changed out? Is there any sort of review process for members of the DisCo?

Are teams allowed to appeal the decisions of the Disciplinary Committee? (We know teams can appeal red cards, but know precious little about the extra discipline process.) Are players? How many appeals per season are allowed? How often does an appeal result in a decision being changed or overturned entirely? Who decides appeals? What standard does that person or committee use to decide appeals — deferential to the Committee’s original decision, or a de novo review of the incident? Do teams know how long an appeal will take to decide?

(Update: as commenter Union42 points out, many of the answers to these questions can be found on the MLS Rules and Regulations page, about halfway down. I regret not finding this prior to publication, and thank Union42 for bringing it up. I also note that, while some of the questions are answered by the rules and regulations, some other questions are answered only in part or not at all — particularly relating to appeals of the DisCo’s decisions.)

I honestly have no idea what the answers to those questions are. It doesn’t seem like even the most plugged-in members of the media know. In fact, it doesn’t seem like the clubs themselves can be sure, given that the Union have twice this season been caught somewhat off-guard by an additional suspension dished out by the DisCo.

There are, as always, some rumblings out there that MLS is trying to screw over the Union with the Wagner and Fabian suspensions, perhaps due to the perception that the Union aren’t a particularly attractive option to be near the top of the Eastern Conference from the league’s perspective.

That’s almost certainly not the case. But the process that the Disciplinary Committee uses to calculate discipline is broken — mostly because we have no idea what that process is! And as a result I can’t sit here with a straight face and tell you, with absolute certainty, that MLS isn’t trying to screw over the Union.

Philadelphia is a town that talks about “trusting the process.” Why do we trust the process? Because, at least in the case of the 76ers, the process was (1) known to everyone and (2) seemed sound based on all the available evidence. From that, Sixers fans could determine that, in the long run, having faith in the process would pay off. (And it has.)

Why should anyone trust MLS’s process when we have absolutely no idea what that process is?

Process matters. It matters that the teams and their fans can know that, no matter what the ultimate decision is, the decision was made fairly, quickly, and according to definable standards.

That’s a test that MLS has failed many, many times in its history.

And it’s a test that the Disciplinary Committee has unquestionably failed so far this season.


  1. I agree with many of the points in the article, but many of the questions about the mandate, composition, and authority of the DisCo are available on the league website, about 1/2 way down the page.

    What’s funny is that the DisCo section opens with, “The mission of the Disciplinary Committee is to…preserve the integrity and reputation of Major League Soccer.” It’s kind of having the opposite effect.

    Also interesting that the DisCo can’t give out suspensions of less than 2 games for an incident the VAR reviewed during the match and decided didn’t warrant a red card…don’t really see the point of this.

    • EDIT: On my last point, the DisCo CAN issue a red card if the VAR reviewed and dismissed the incident during the game, but only by a unanimous vote.

    • Union42 – thanks for directing me to the rules. The problem with getting righteously angry for the purpose of a column is that you sometimes miss things you should have picked up on! I’m going to revise the column slightly. Thank you again.

      All of your other points are spot on.

  2. Exactly. A transparent process would go a long way in stemming the tide of MLS-is-out-to-get-us conspiracy theories. To me it smacks of real disorganization. It’s a ver minor league way to go about the pretty important business of discipline.

  3. The fact that the Montreal player who intentionally kicked up and cleated Fafa didn’t even get a foul call, and the fact that on Fabian’s red he only jumped because he was avoiding a dangerous (equal to Kai’s to me) challenge gives reasons to the conspiracy theorist. I don’t think MLS is out to get the Union, but I do think there are clubs the league favors and the Union are not in that group. I also think there is injustice (even if unintentional) with how the league/refs have viewed Fabian so far.

  4. Not to take away from this thread, but just read some breaking news:

    Conor Casey is now an MLS coach!!! And Keegan is now his RB. Together again…

  5. Alicat215 says:

    That would have probably just been yellow in the Prem, Bundesliga, La Liga…….reds like that make the MLS a joke still…..and two for it is insane. I recall Ilsinho getting his red after moving from Shaktar and exclaiming to the ref that that might not even be a foul in the Ukraine……….

    • Chris Gibbons says:

      I used to buy this argument but really don’t anymore. It’s a studs-up challenge where he came flying after a player who had beaten him, and he connected solidly with the middle of the player’s lower leg. It’s a red in every top flight these days, even if it requires a review.

    • Peanut Gallery says:

      I remember that game with Ilsinho!
      With Kai’s red, I recall not thinking it was even a foul when it happened. But when I saw the replay, I immediately agreed that it was rightly called a red.
      My friends on either side of me, both referees, looked at each other and agreed — the dude’s leg even buckled in at the knee due to the impact of Kai’s spikes squarely into the side of his shin. Could have been a serious injury.
      I’m guessing this is why they added a game.

      • Alicat215 says:

        Man, you sat in between two refs at the match…..and you can still say they are your friends? Wow……God Bless you, sir. Lolz…….I still disagree, but the only way I can side with you guys is the location of the studs…..I honestly thought sitting in between two refs at a match was one of Dante’s seven circles…….

  6. John Ling says:

    I don’t follow soccer much at all outside of the Union, and MLS by extension. How do other leagues around the globe handle this sort of thing? For example, how long does it take the Premiere league or Bundesliga to announce supplementary discipline such as this?

    • In the premier league I believe that supplementary discipline would be announced on the Tuesday after a Saturday game for example. No idea about other leagues but I assume it’s the same.

      • John Ling says:

        Thanks. That seems to me to be a good standard for MLS to use, then. With that sort of standard in place, even if a player gets a red in the first of a 3-in-8-days stretch, the team will know if there’s any additional suspension before the 2nd game.

  7. Andy Muenz says:

    I don’t have a problem with the suspension being 2 games. Like Curtin has said in the past, when you leave your feet you leave the decision in someone else’s hands.
    That being said, I do have an issue with how long it is taking to make these decisions. I know the team has an option of appealing a red card suspension but I’m pretty sure there is a time limit for the appeal. To me, any additional discipline should only be allowed to be handed down within one business day of when the right to appeal the original red card expires (unless there is an appeal in which case the additional discipline should be part of the appeal decision). Any longer than that isn’t fair to either team when making there preparations for the game.

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