A review board of the North American Soccer League lifted the suspension of Team America defender Jeff Durgan yesterday, clearing the way for him to start tonight against the Cosmos at RFK Stadium at 8 (WWDC-1260).
Durgan was ejected by referee Dilvo DePlacido in the 35th minute of Sunday's 2-1 win over Fort Lauderdale after he appeared to punch Strikers forward Branko Segota during a scuffle in front of the goal. Team America appealed the ejection, and, after reviewing a videotape of the incident, the NASL supported the appeal.
"Jeff only grabbed Segota; he didn't hit him," said NASL Commissioner Phil Woosnam, a member of the review board along with Executive Director Ted Howard and Director of Officials Harry Baldwin. "The case had to be supported with solid evidence and, in this case, it was. The videotape showed Jeff just grabbing Segota's shirt."
The NASL reduced Durgan's red card to a yellow (caution), his fifth of the year. The automatic fine that accompanies all cards was also reduced to yellow status.
If the ejection had been upheld, Durgan, one of the league's top defenders, would have been forced to sit out tonight's game. Team America officals were obviously pleased by the NASL's decision.
"The NASL made the right decision," said Beau Rogers, Team America's general manager, who presented the appeal in New York Tuesday. "I saw the tape and I felt the penalty wasn't representative of what actually happened. Jeff was simply helping a fallen comrade. He was protecting a teammate who was on the ground and being pushed by other people."
Durgan rushed Segota after Team America defender Dan Canter was pushed to the ground and appeared to be kicked in the ankle by Segota. Durgan was ejected immediately by DePlacido, and Team America Coach Alkis Panagoulias received a yellow card after protesting the call.
"I am not surprised by the league's decision," said Panagoulias. "It was very unfair for him to be expelled. I've seen much more serious infractions not be penalized."
Several coaches have complained about Durgan's physical play this season, and Tampa Bay forward Tatu called him "an animal" after being held scoreless June 9. But Rogers feels Durgan may be getting a reputation that is unjustified.
"Jeff has a strong protective instinct and we think this is a good thing," said Rogers. "But Jeff's size alone makes him very intimidating. People get scared just looking at him."
Durgan, 22, is the central fullback in Team America's defense, and will likely mark Giorgio Chinaglia, the NASL's all-time leading scorer, in tonight's game. Cosmos Coach Julio Mazzei, Durgan's coach last season, is pleased that Durgan will play, but warned that the NASL's decision may set off a rash of appeals.
"This is a great opportunity for Jeff to play against his former teammates," said Mazzei. "But you should never reverse a referee's call. His word is final, and he is the authority on the field. This sets a dangerous precedent."
The Cosmos are in second place in the NASL's Eastern Division with a 7-3 record, four points behind Toronto. The Cosmos have scored a league-leading 24 goals and defeated European champion Hamburg SV, 7-2, in an exhibition game Wednesday night.
Chinaglia, who became president and owner of the Italian team, Lazio, on Monday, leads the NASL in scoring with 13 goals and 26 points. Midfielder Roberto Cabanas has six goals and 18 points and Vladislav Bogicevic leads the league with 12 assists. Goalkeeper Hubert Birkenmeier has a 1.71 goals-against average, with two shutouts in seven games.
Midfielder Julio Cesar Romero, one of the league's top playmakers, was injured in Wednesday's game and will not play. Darryl Gee, a graduate of Oakland Mills High School in Columbia, Md., will start in his place.