The MLS Disciplinary Committee (DISCO) announced that Columbus Crew SC player Tony Tchani is suspended for one game for his 77th minute foul against Houston’s Leonel Miranda in the season opener this past Saturday. This makes Tchani unavailable for this Saturday’s home opener against TFC.
As a USSF Grade 8 referee since the mid-80s, Massive Report asked me to review the disciplinary committee’s decision.
I have refereed state cup games, Buckeye Invitational games, played Division 3 college soccer and coached high school soccer for 3 years. I have, however, never refereed high level games. So take my comments with a grain of salt and this background in mind.
The Disciplinary Committee’s Jurisdiction
Understand that when we are talking about MLS DISCO, we are not talking strictly about the laws of the game. DISCO is an extra-judicial process outside of the laws of the game. DISCO only has jurisdiction in certain instances. For Tchani’s suspension, per the press release from the DISCO, what we are dealing with is set forth in DISCO rules/bylaws:
Where the referee sees an incident and either does not act, or rules only a foul or only a yellow card (i.e., anything other than a red card), the Committee will not in general issue a suspension, unless:
-The play in question is, in the unanimous opinion of the Committee from all available video evidence, a clear and unequivocal red card; AND
-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.
So, at least on paper, per the DISCO press release and their own stated rules, Tchani’s suspension was 1.) strictly related to the 77th minute foul/yellow, 2.) DISCO unanimously agreed it should have been a red rather than a yellow, AND 3.) Tchani acted in an egregious or reckless nature such that player safety was endangered.
DISCO Jurisdiction is Limited to Whether Tchani Should Have Gotten Red
Looking at the game report, Tchani’s 77th minute yellow card was for a "foul." Not violent conduct, just a foul. In order for DISCO to pass step 2 of their test above, they must have unanimously agreed that Tchani committed a red card offense. In order to do so, they would have had to have found violent conduct (Law 12). FIFA’s explanation of violent conduct under Law 12:
A player is guilty of violent conduct if he uses excessive force or brutality against an opponent when not challenging for the ball.
In looking at the video that DISCO annotated to their decision, Tchani did not objectively meet the standard of violent conduct per the laws of the game.
Tchani was challenging for the ball. His challenge was not excessive of brutal, despite what the Houston announcers said, he didn’t step over the ball etc. He was not "studs up" despite his foot being about 6 inches off the ground. The opposing player got up on his feet within seconds after Tchani kicking him in the shinguard. Law 12 explanation "when not challenging for the ball" is not met here; Tchani was challenging for the ball.
Even if DISCO Finds a Red Card, it Still Wasn’t Egregious or Reckless
There is no way that Tchani’s challenge was egregious or reckless, he was within steps of the ball, went in to try and kick the ball. He missed. This was not a studs up challenge. It was not an out-of-control-I’m-beat challenge. Tchani tried to kick the ball, the opponent was faster and moved the ball. No way this was reckless or egregious.
So What Really Happened in DISCO?
MLS referees typically work a 3 day shift, day before the game, day of the game, day after the game.
The day before the game they have a meeting, discuss what is expected from each member of the referee crew, how they are going to work etc. Part of this meeting is also to review game history, player trends, team trends etc. The referees do specifically discuss players that are known problems, players that flop etc. This isn’t sinister, it plans out how the center and the ARs will be working the field, where they will be looking at any given time etc.
Tchani has a regrettable but well-known tendency to give away stupid fouls and to not be in control of his temper. I ASSURE YOU this was discussed in the pre-game meeting with the referees.
Further, in the first half, Tchani gave away a stupid foul outside the penalty box, which led to the Clark fantastic save. Tchani was beat on the cut-back, reached his right hand up completely unnaturally, grabbed the left cheek of the attacker and pulled him down. The Center and AR might not have seen it real time and simply called a foul and not a card. I guarantee the DISCO saw it on replay.
My guess is that DISCO lumped the first half foul in with the second half foul to reach their decision. The second half foul did not meet the letter of the DISCO rules or FIFA’s law of the game for a suspension or red card. However, had DISCO tried to impose a suspension on the first half foul, it would have been very shaky on appeal, given it wasn’t even carded in the game.
My guess and opinion was that DISCO was trying to balance the equities of Tchani’s play over both halves and yet make sure they had their best case to resist an appeal of the suspension.