MLS surprised no one with the news that New York City FC's David Villa will not be suspended for his petulant kick at Toronto FC's Armando Cooper in the first leg of a 2016 Eastern Conference semifinal (that TFC won 2-0). NYCFC fans and the league's TV partners will get to see Villa on the field, trying to dig his team out of a two-goal hole in the second leg.
The Disciplinary Committee's decision was relayed by Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl, who somehow managed to record the statement he was given without choking on his own laughter:
The Disciplinary Committee was unanimous that Villa's kick deserved a red card, but it was not unanimous that it was of an egregious nature with the need to protect player safety.
Wahl notes in his report that the ruling is consistent with the limitations of DisCo's authority to retroactively suspend players:
According to the committee parameters, if a referee sees the play but does not give a red card, a suspension will come only if the five-member Disciplinary Committee is unanimous on two things: One, that the offense is a clear red card, and two, that the play is of an egregious or reckless nature so that they need to protect player safety.
Move along. Nothing to see here. DisCo did its job.
Oh, wait. That definition of DisCo's principles and parameters in this case is incomplete. Here's the full text of the published description on the MLS website:
The integrity of the game. Well, there's a thing. Soccer, as Loretta Lynch can attest, has a bit of an integrity problem in general - and MLS disciplinary procedures have nothing to do with it. So perhaps it is for the best that DisCo has apparently quietly relieved itself of the burden of protecting soccer's integrity. It's a thankless task, and one that its decision regarding David Villa clearly demonstrates DisCo is not remotely qualified to undertake.
If DisCo spared a thought for the integrity for the game, it might have a care for consistency.
After Villa kicked Cooper, it was quickly noted that DisCo had suspended the TFC player for an act of his own petulance in the recent past.
And it was quickly noted that the punishment meted out to Cooper fit Villa's crime perfectly.
Neither of those kicks was likely to injure anyone; neither seemed intended to cause injury. We know what a kick intended to injure (or at least, without any care whatsoever for the safety of an opponent) looks like: we saw one this season and it caused quite a stir.
That incident cost Romeo Parkes his job with Pittsburgh Riverhounds and a significant part of this season (he is playing in El Salvador now, having served a global suspension that ran to late October). Justifiably. Everyone with a book to throw, including FIFA, threw their book at Parkes and he deserved it. He committed one of the most extreme examples of deliberate violence against a fellow professional ever caught on camera.
Very few acts of player-on-player violence reach the standard of Parkes' kick at Karl Ouimette. Villa's doesn't and Cooper's tap at Felipe certainly doesn't. But they are all on the spectrum of acts of retribution the game could do without and that DisCo was once thought to be in the business of preventing. Retroactively suspending those who indulge the urge to exact revenge on an opponent with a sly - or blatant - moment of physical aggression isn't about protecting player safety because very few players seriously intend to injure when they lash out. It is about protecting the integrity of the game by punishing unsportsmanlike conduct.
Another aspect of integrity is consistency. Cooper didn't deserve a worldwide ban for kicking Felipe, he was basically just indicating that he thought it was time the RBNY player quit rolling around and got back on his feet. But suspending Cooper was consistent with the basic principle that any and all acts of on-field violence should be punished in the name of eliminating them from the game in general. So he got a one-game suspension for violent conduct.
If the Committee, by its own statement to Wahl, could agree that Villa deserved a red card for his kick, then it surely could agree that he deserved a suspension. Not for endangering an opponent, but for exactly what the red card would have been for: violent, unsportsmanlike conduct - infractions against the integrity of the game. If a red card had been issued, Villa would have been suspended and that would have been appropriate punishment for his action. Since no red card was issued, DisCo - as it did when Cooper tapped at Felipe - was within its rights to step in with a suspension of its own. For the sake of the integrity of the game.
That is not to say David Villa, Armando Cooper, or even Romeo Parkes lack integrity. Each acted in the heat of the moment. Each, we can assume, regrets their behavior and moves on with their careers suitably chastened.
DisCo on the other hand did not act in the heat of the moment. DisCo sat down, reviewed the play, considered the precedent of its previous rulings, and decided that David Villa can kick out against whomever he pleases in a manner worthy of a red card but not at all worthy of further action from DisCo. Because David Villa didn't kick Cooper hard enough to hurt him - which is not the point, of course.
DisCo forgot about its duty to the integrity of the game. And deleted that duty from its recitation of its responsibilities to Grant Wahl.
It is time to delete that duty from the official publication of its principles and parameters. DisCo has shown it is not up to the task of protecting its own integrity, let alone that of the entire sport of soccer.
But before that happens, DisCo should take one more action under its prior authority: suspend itself. Selective enforcement of the principles of fair play is more damaging to the soccer's integrity than any single incident on the field. And if DisCo is no longer on the lookout for soccer's integrity, there's no need for it all. It certainly isn't protecting player safety by shielding soccer's celebrities from punishment.
Suspend yourself, DisCo. Permanently. You're not up to the job of protecting the integrity of the game and you don't want it anyway.