The U.S. Open Cup Adjudication and Discipline Panel has issued its ruling on the punishment for Clint Dempsey's tantrum during the Seattle Sounders' USOC fourth round match against Portland Timbers: he is suspended from the competition for six games or two years - whichever is greater - and a fine. It could be, effectively, a life ban from USOC for the 32-year-old. Dempsey has waived his right to appeal.
Dempsey, you may recall, took exception to one more call going against his team and - late in the game, as the referee completed the act of sending off Micheal Azira - the captain of the US Men's National Team snatched something from the match official (Notebook? Perhaps.) and ripped it up.
It was clearly a gesture of frustration. Azira was the second Sounder to be sent off and the team had also lost Obafemi Martins to injury after making its last substitution. A unique conspiracy of circumstances had reduced Seattle to eight players on the field. Dempsey, more than 10 years a pro, made a very deliberate decision to make his frustration with the referee known. And he subsequently left the Sounders to play out the remaining minutes of the game with seven men.
He also crossed a line: refs take a lot of verbal abuse in games, most of which is shrugged off - as it should be. But laying hands on a referee is a step far beyond the lenient standards of conduct soccer indulges (in other sports - rugby union, for example - any uncouth word to the ref can be instantly punished by awarding, effectively, a free kick to the other team).
So Dempsey's actions got some attention. His employer - MLS - was the first to act: a three-match ban for "referee abuse", which was the lesser charge against him. His actions might have been characterized as "referee assault", which would have carried a six-match ban. There was talk of scope within the rule book for the player to be banned from the game for months. The rules are there to be interpreted and those within MLS responsible for that interpretation decided three games was adequate. Should any player be silly enough to shred a referee's notebook on the field again, at least we now know what is coming from the Disciplinary Committee.
But Dempsey's MLS ban was collateral damage. He's a high profile player setting a terrible example of how to conduct oneself on the field. The league felt moved to do something, so it did something. The question of his punishment from the competition in which he committed the infraction - US Open Cup - was still open. Now it is settled: six USOC games or the next two years of the competition, whichever is the greater.
Seattle is out of this year's USOC - it's hard to win when you only have seven players on the field - so the clock starts ticking on Dempsey's ban in 2016. He's out for at least two years: he is not eligible to play in US Open Cup until 2018, at least. And if Seattle doesn't get through six matches in the competition in those two years (so consecutive quarterfinal appearances if the current format holds through 2016 and 2017), then he'll be out for even longer.
Clint Dempsey is 32 years old. He will be 35 by the time USOC 2018 requires MLS teams to participate (his birthday is in early March). He might not be even be an active player by 2018. And if he is still playing and still in the US, he will be of the sort of age where clubs often limit a player's minutes.
USOC is, for better or worse, treated as a secondary competition by MLS teams. The best players aren't often risked until the latter rounds: Seattle's experience against Portland, losing both Dempsey (suspension) and Martins (injury) is a worst-case scenario that explains why few MLS clubs dare to put their first team on the field in the early stages. The Sounders have lost both league matches they have played since Dempsey and Martins were rendered unavailable.
Banning Dempsey from USOC until 2018 is tantamount to a life ban. It's a long shot that he'll be ever be back in the competition.
Shed no tears for Dempsey or the Sounders: he won USOC in 2014 and if he had great love or respect for the competition he would have exercised a little more self control; Seattle wins USOC plenty (four times since 2009) and doubtless wasn't planning its 2018 Cup campaign around a 35-year-old.
On behalf of USOC and its audience: farewell, Clint Dempsey. It was fun to have you around for a while. Shame about the way it had to end. All the best with MLS.