Troubled by swarms of players disrupting a match, the league’s board of governors has approved a rule that would penalize teams and coaches when three or more individuals confront a referee or opponent.
The MLS disciplinary committee would issue a warning for a first offense. Subsequent incidents would result in a fine for both the club and head coach. The league declined to specify amounts, but multiple sources told the Insider the committee would levy penalties of $5,000 for a team and $1,000 for a coach.
“We noticed a significant increase in temperature on the field and often, quite frankly, for innocuous situations,” said Jeff Agoos, MLS technical director. After reviewing matches from the past 12 to 18 months, the league concluded it had a bigger problem with “mass confrontation” than most other soccer leagues.
MLS has grown increasingly concerned about multi-player ruckuses becoming unmanageable for the referee.
There is a lot of gray area and, “obviously, we will use common sense,” Agoos said of the disciplinary committee’s decisions.
During annual preseason meetings between players and league officials about rules and policies, “there was some pushback” by the players about the new guideline, Agoos said.
One such complaint: “So if an opponent hits one of our players, we can’t do anything about it?”
The league’s message with the new rule, Agoos said, is to allow the captain and referee resolve the issue. (Or, given the three-or-more rule, allow two players to handle it.)
Players responded by saying that coming to a teammate’s defense is a natural and necessary instinct.
With the new rule, the league is hoping to change instinctual behavior.
The coach is being held responsible (with the threat of fine) because he “has the most effect on behavior of players and can affect and modify future behavior,” Agoos said. What was the reaction from coaches? “They are not happy with it,” he said.
MLS has instituted three other rules relating to behavior:
1. Players, coaches and team personnel, aside from medical staff, are subject to suspension for leaving the bench area and entering the field. (The NBA has a similar rule.)
2. Any action involving a hand to the face or head of an opponent, even a light slap with the purpose of inciting and not injuring, is subject to fine and suspension.
3. A coach or staff member approaching match officials from the time they arrive at the stadium until they depart is subject to fine and suspension. Here, too, there is a lot of gray area: What is the physical threshold — 10 yards or 30 yards? Is a coach allowed to shout from distance? What if the coach and assistant referee cross paths on the sideline and words are exchanged?
Again, Agoos cited common sense, and also said the referee and match assessor would note inappropriate behavior in the game report.
The driving force behind the behavior rules, Agoos said, is to “make the game more entertaining and less of a spectacle [in terms of] the things around it.”