Tampa Bay Sports Day

DC United gets early test courtesy of MLS

For two weeks in a row, DC United’s Dejan Jakovic has been the victim of questionable referee decisions. In the season opener he was penalized for allegedly “handling” a ball that clearly was struck into his hand which was close to his body in the only logical position. Since DC United won that game handily 3-1, little was made of the call.

In the second instance he was ejected for a phantom act of misconduct. Unable to identify the nature of his offense, the MLS Disciplinary Committee was gracious enough to lift his fine on that basis. They claimed that they could not rescind his one game suspension due to overriding FIFA rules.

That’s interesting. Let’s look at what the English Premier League just did. Sky Sports News reported on a 22 March game incident, “Sunderland defender John Mensah has had the red card he received in the 2-0 defeat by Liverpool rescinded on appeal.” He will be allowed to play this weekend.

I applaud the EPL solution and wonder why MLS has not shown the same sense of justice. Either MLS is a second class league or EPL has special privileges. A running theme throughout FIFA has been “Fair play, please”. Actions that undermine that are frowned upon.

As technology has advanced, the soccer community has very slowly integrated it into its decision making process. We see that in how MLS referees receive feedback and training. They are given immediate feedback in person by a game advisor and are later reviewed and assessed via game tape. We see it the rescission of Jakovic’s fine.

That is a half measure at best. Among the terms of art used in referee reports is “game disrepute”. In the absence of a better explanation of this feeble decision, I’m calling this one on MLS.

The decision has a devastating effect on DC United who have already lost the services of their other starting central defender, Perry Kitchen, who is off captaining the US National Under-20 team in CONCACAF qualifying.

Coach Ben Olsen will have to cobble together a competent defense from among the least deep pool of talent on his team to confront the reigning MLS Champion Colorado Rapids in Colorado on Sunday. To add to his woes, Jed Zayner remains questionable with a hamstring strain.

The only remaining defenders include rookies Chris Korb and Ethan White, international Rodrigo Brasesco, veteran Marc Burch, and Daniel Woolard. They will be hard pressed to keep up with a Colorado squad accustomed to playing at high altitude.

T o help ease pressure on them, Olsen has a world of talented depth in both midfield and attack. His young and inexperienced defense will need extra support from the midfield, arguing in favor of a defensively oriented Dax McCarty and Clyde Simms (questionable with a calf strain) or Kurt Morsink in the center.

Goals will have to come from the wings and from intelligent runs by the forwards. Expect to see Josh Wolff (questionable with a hamstring strain) play primarily a withdrawn forward looking to counter or make a quick switch to a central attack.

A large part of the “man of the match” play by Wolff in the season opener was attributable to his ability to find or create space with intelligent movement. In his absence, Joseph Ngwenya is likely to assume that role in tandem with Charlie Davies, whose speed will be better employed in pure countering thrusts.

Alternatively, Blake Brettschneider has shown a nose for goal and good energy in reserve matches. He may start with the role of tiring the Rapids defense to free up Davies in the second half.

DC United does not generally do well on its trips to Denver, but Olsen has developed a scrappy team with youngsters who are eager to prove their ability. Every so often this sort of adversity brings out a surprise victory. Don’t underestimate Olsen’s army.