The MLS Disciplinary Committee has suspended LA Galaxy midfielder Jermaine Jones for one game for a tackle on FC Dallas' Cristian Colman during the first week of MLS 2017. The incident saw Jones yellow-carded at the time; DisCo has effectively upgraded the decision to a red.
"It is the Committee's unanimous decision that Jermaine Jones’ action was serious foul play that endangered the safety of an opponent," thunders the official MLS announcement via the league's website.
Have some sympathy for Jones, though: he probably thought he was allowed to do that sort of thing. After all, he did much the same thing in the first leg of the 2014 Eastern Conference finals when he played for the New England Revolution.
Jones got a yellow for his takedown tackle on Dax McCarty. MLS DisCo saw no reason to offer further punishment.
Analysis is hindsight. A lot of hindsight has been applied to both that 2014 playoff series between New England and the New York Red Bulls, and RBNY's lack of playoff success in general.
To the latter issue, the only real truth is RBNY has consistently never been much good in the playoffs: the team has had more names than MLS Cup final appearances since it started MLSing in 1996. The reasons for RBNY (and the MetroStars) not being much good in the playoffs are as varied as the teams and coaches that have contested those series.
But one reason that affected the 2014 edition of RBNY's near-annual not-good-enough bid for MLS Cup is the inconsistency in refereeing standards between the playoffs and regular season.
By any reasonable standard, Jones shouldn't have been on the pitch when he scored what turned out to be the deciding goal in the first leg and the series: the Revs won the opening game, 2-1, on the back of Jones' late match-winner, and went on to win the series 4-3 on aggregate. Why? Because clearly the match referee, aided and abetted by the Disciplinary Committee, decided there were reasons why Jones should neither be sent off for his foul play in the first leg, nor suspended for the second leg.
Those reasons weren't soccer reasons: the laws of the game haven't changed that much since 2014. That sort of tackle was as dangerous to the safety of an opponent two years ago as it was last week. The reasons were manifestly that MLS likes to keep stars on the pitch as best possible to facilitate high-profile playoff match-ups and it will let
a little a lot of rough and tumble slide if it can get away with it. Jones was the star who had turned the Revs' season around and clearly the league wanted him to play his part in the playoffs, despite his own best efforts to see himself off the field.
In that same first-leg match, as it happens, a lesser name but no-less important a player to RBNY as Jones was to the Revs - Bradley Wright-Phillips - drew a yellow card for a minor infraction, and was suspended for the second leg of the series. Deprived of their top scorer for the deciding game of the Eastern Conference Finals, RBNY battled gamely but vainly to a 2-2 draw and bowed out of the post-season.
BWP tried a little too hard to be clever about getting in the way of 'keeper Bobby Shuttleworth's throw, and drew a yellow, a suspension, and many thousands of words about the recklessness of his actions and the negligence of his head coach, Mike Petke, who hadn't informed the forward he would be missing the second leg if booked in the first.
Would a word from his coach have stopped BWP acting in the heat of the moment to do something he probably calculated wasn't that big a risk in the first place? Can't say - but it can be said that trying to steal the ball off the 'keeper's fingertips isn't invariably even called a foul. Last season, a similar incident saw Yura Movsisyan succeed where BWP had failed, in both winning the ball and evading censure by the referee.
The Professional Referee Organization's resident apologist, Paul Rejer, declared Movsisyan's move legal.
A similarly indulgent view of BWP's actions in 2014 would have seen the player present in the second leg of the Eastern Conference final. Any view at all of Jones (we must assume DisCo watched those tackles with its collective eyes closed) sliding through Red Bulls in the first leg would have seen him suspended for the second.
Would the result have been any different if BWP had played in New England in that decisive playoff game in 2014 and Jones had not? We will never know.
But the next time someone reaches for a General Theory of RBNY Playoff Failure, remind them that every year the team is different, the circumstances are different, and in the MLS post-season, the rules of soccer are often secondary to the edicts of marketing. And in a knockout match, the adage that bad calls even out over the course of a year doesn't apply: if a bad call influences the outcome of a playoff game, that's the difference between the next round and the off-season.
RBNY has had blown calls go its way in the playoffs, and subsequently found other ways to not win MLS Cup. Every year the team is different. And, unfortunately, in MLS the rules of the game being played are also different from regular season to post-season. Jermaine Jones will miss Week 2 of MLS 2017, but will DisCo care so much about player safety when there are MLS Cup TV ratings on the line at the end of the year?