The MLS Disciplinary Committee has a simple mandate:
Mission Statement: To preserve the integrity and reputation of the game and Major League Soccer, and to assist in ensuring player safety.
And fairly wide-ranging powers. It can review any red card issued in MLS and pile on additional penalties. That just happened this week, for example: DisCo bumped up the suspension of Philadelphia Union's Zach Pfeffer for clocking FCD's Mauro Diaz with an elbow.
It can also review incidents the referee did see but only called as a foul or merely regarded as worthy of a yellow card. And it can review incidents the referee did see but didn't think were worth even a whistle. And it can review incidents the referee did not see. It can, basically, review anything it likes - and it says it likes to review everything:
The MLS Disciplinary Committee reviews all games and all incidents that occur during regular season and MLS Cup Playoff games. Clubs, therefore, do not need to request review by the Disciplinary Committee.
Excellent. So we can be assured DisCo saw the incident mentioned at the end of Simon "Studs Up" Borg's Instant Replay on mlssoccer.com (fast forward to the 6:44 mark):
Oof. D.C. United midfielder Perry Kitchen tussles with Chris Duvall in an effort - one assumes - to hold the RBNY defender back as both teams lined up on the edge of the Red Bulls' 18-yard box to watch Chris Pontius take a penalty kick. Duvall was preparing to run into the box, perhaps to clear a rebound if Luis Robles made the save. He wasn't to know, but it was an unnecessary effort since Pontius skied the ball.
Still, teams practice following up on PKs, and Duvall was just doing what he has trained to do for probably as long as he has been involved in organized soccer. Another things teams practice: getting in each other's way at set pieces. If you watch the tape, you see Matt Miazga reach out a hand to stall Kitchen, while Kitchen reaches out a hand toward Miazga; simultaneously, since he is sandwiched between two RBNY defenders, Kitchen is tangling with Duvall.
But Kitchen takes exception to Duvall for some reason: he throws his leg out in front of the young defender and gives him a shove in the back for good measure. Duvall goes tumbling - largely because Kitchen has stamped on his foot, so he's unable to steady himself when the shove arrives.
Intentional? Absolutely - but intent shouldn't really play a part in DisCo's deliberations. It's often difficult to determine what is or is not intentional: players running around at the limit of their physical ability will occasionally bump into each other, sometimes it will be an ugly collision. Most of the time, a bad challenge is simply the result of a poor decision made quickly and executed badly.
What DisCo is most concerned about is the perception of the act. The following phrase effectively shows up twice in DisCo's statement of its principles and parameters:
The play in question is of an egregious or reckless nature, such that the Committee must act to protect player safety or the integrity of the game
And that's a standard for an incident the referee did see. In incidents a referee did not see, the Committee doesn't commit to any particular threshold:
the Committee will review any and all evidence and may act to discipline a player.
We can assume the referee didn't see Kitchen's foul. In some parts of the world, "re-reffing" is a no-no, as it can be seen to undermine the authority of referees to be second-guessed not just by fans and players but also by the leagues they are officiating. But DisCo has no such official concern about re-reffing. An off-the-ball incident the referee did not see would seem to be held to a less specific standard than those that the referee has issued an opinion about in the course of the game.
So no holding back here, DisCo.
As it happens, the Kitchen incident meets the more specific standard required of incidents already ruled upon on the field of play. It is a deliberate stamp on an opponent's foot: surely reckless (Kitchen doesn't appear to be concerned at all about whether his foot is going to land on Duvall's), egregious (it is one thing to do a little shirt tugging, or to stamp on a foot, or to shove someone to the ground - all three is surely excessive), and a threat to player safety and the integrity of the game (it would be hard for Duvall to play with a foot injury; stamping and shoving is against the rules, aka cheating).
Dumb move, Perry. DisCo is going to throw the book at you. A fine at least: that's what Kyle Bekker got for petulantly throwing Kevin Ellis to the ground in Week 2. Maybe a suspension (and a fine): that's what Tony Tchani got for running his foot into Leonel Miranda in Week 1.
Indeed, as pointed out by The Bent Musket's Jake Catanese, Lee Nguyen was suspended for one game last year for "endangering the safety of an opponent and bringing the game into disrepute". Thanks for the tip, Jake!
If you look at the tape of that incident, it would appear Nguyen's principal transgression was mis-timing a jump to avoid a sliding tackle. Nguyen landed on John Stertzer's back - which is dangerous, no question - but did not seem to be intent on even making contact with Stertzer. He made a mistake, but one that could have injured his opponent. And, as previously stated, intent shouldn't really be a factor.
So DisCo suspended Nguyen on that occasion for the threat to Stertzer's safety and "bringing the game into disrepute" for (effectively) stamping on an opponent.
Duvall wasn't lying down and a kick to the back is more dangerous than a stamp on the foot, but any action which might result in injury is endangering player safety. Further, the issues DisCo says it is most concerned about are recklessness or egregiousness. Kitchen's stamp was an unconcerned for its effect on Duvall as Nguyen's casual hop was for Stertzer's well being: i.e. reckless. Kitchen combined his effort with a deliberate shove, trying at the very least to throw Duvall to the ground: egregious, surely, since either a stamp or a shove would be ample to send whatever message he wanted to communicate.
Finally, there is bringing the game into disrepute: there is Perry Kitchen, on national TV, stamping and shoving and cheating.
And getting away with it.
Because, per the latest disciplinary report from MLS, Kitchen is not among those disciplined this week by DisCo. The Committee is totally fine with his stamp on Duvall.
Captain Dax is not at all fine with DisCo.
Dax McCarty (@DaxMcCarty11) March 25, 2015
And he is willing to be fined as a consequence.
Send my fine on over to Red Bull Arena @MLS.— Dax McCarty (@DaxMcCarty11) March 25, 2015
That's the action of a good captain, standing up for his teammates in public and risking the league's censure. And it is the action of a bad Disciplinary Committee: inconsistent, opaque, aiding and abetting bad behavior on the field - which is how to encourage some sort of retaliatory action from RBNY when next it sees DC.
That is bringing the game into disrepute: weak or incoherent disciplinary measures can encourage players to take matters into their own hands, and make the sport or the league look tolerant of cheating.
Worse than the occasional bad tackle or petulant shove is DisCo's inability to settle on a consistent interpretation of the standards it wants to uphold and abide by them. Fining Dax McCarty for saying what every player, coach or fan has thought about DisCo at one point or another would be...egregious. Because DisCo's haphazard enforcement of the rule book is apparently heedless of the consequences of its actions: a dictionary definition of reckless.
Reckless, egregious and bringing the game into disrepute: it is time to suspend DisCo.