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MLS suspends Jermaine Jones for 6 matches, which may also impact World Cup qualifiers

MLS on Friday suspended midfielder Jermaine Jones for six matches, a ban that, if he remains in the league, would also prevent him from playing in two U.S. World Cup qualifiers next spring.

The suspension — which covers both club and national team games because it involved assaulting a referee — goes into effect when Jones returns to action, whenever and wherever that may be. He is out of contract with the New England Revolution and weighing options abroad.

If he returns to MLS, the suspension would start when the regular season kicks off in early March and overlap with the World Cup qualifiers against Guatemala late that month. By signing elsewhere, and resuming play earlier in 2016, he would serve out the ban before the U.S. matches.

The commotion occurred in the late stages of New England’s first-round playoff game against D.C. United on Oct. 28 at RFK Stadium. Incensed that referee Mark Geiger declined to award a potential game-tying penalty kick to the Revolution, Jones raced toward the official and made contact several times before and after receiving a red card.

The red card carries a one-game suspension, which, because the Revolution’s season ended with the defeat in Washington, does not go into effect until 2016. Jones faced further sanctions from the MLS disciplinary committee, which reviews all such incidents. In this case, the committee also had to determine whether Jones violated the U.S. Soccer Federation’s Professional Leagues Policy Against Referee Assault.

An “intentional act of physical violence at or upon a referee” requires a ban of at least six matches without pay.

A lesser charge for “verbal and nonverbal communication which contains foul or abusive language and which implies or directly threatens physical harm” carries a three-game penalty.

In both cases, once the suspension begins, the player is prohibited from appearing in any official matches for club and country.

The MLS Players Union appealed the decision on behalf of Jones, but Commissioner Don Garber upheld the six-game suspension.

Last year, United’s Fabian Espindola, an Argentine forward, received a six-game ban for shoving an assistant referee at the end of a playoff match at RFK. This past summer, Seattle’s Clint Dempsey was docked three games for tearing up the referee’s notebook during a U.S. Open Cup game. The suspension did not overlap with the national team’s schedule.

Even if Jones were to leave MLS, the suspension would follow him to his next club. FIFA requires all federations to honor such suspensions.

The Americans, who have earned four points through two matches in the semifinal round of 2018 World Cup qualifying, will face Guatemala on March 25 in Guatemala City and March 29 in Columbus, Ohio.

Jones, who turned 34 last month, has made 56 appearances for the national team since the fall of 2010. He scored against Portugal during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. In the first two qualifiers of the 2018 cycle last month, Jones started against St. Vincent and the Grenadines in St. Louis and Trinidad and Tobago in Port of Spain.