Blame It On Patron

When you're dealing with MLS, it's always a good idea to be careful how much weight you put on any particular decision or event since, as we all know, the good people at league HQ have shown a marked tendency to change policies as quickly as a hotel maid can change a set of sheets.

And certainly any day when your league signs up an OFFICIAL TEQUILA can't possibly be anything but cause for celebration, particularly when a sponsor is undoubtedly sending over a couple cases of their product to mark the occasion.

(Note to MLS interns, secretaries and assorted lower level functionaries: trust me; the bigshots aren't suddenly sending you out for limes today because they're making fruit salad)

Unfortunately for the festive mood that half a dozen or so shots of Mexicos' finest can spark up, Cohiba Don and Co. have some serious stuff to decide today that could very well have ramifications that we'll all be dealing with years.

We all know that hardly a weekend goes by without a complement of officiating decisions to review and game sanctions to decide upon. It's part of the deal in every sport all over the world.

In this case however, it's a little more complicated than sending a nastygram to Brian Hall asking what the hell that idiot in Toronto was thinking when he sent off Tony Tchani for hugging a couple of fans. Sure, you can make the case that a strict interpretation of the rules calls for a caution, and yes indeed Tchani was pretty stupid for forgetting that he was already carrying a yellow and that he really needed to be a lot more careful how he expressed his glee.

That aside, it was a terrible decision. The rule is one that the officials are clearly told is discretionary and to be applied with a little common sense. The only redeeming feature of the whole thing is that the referee is a Canadian and thus if TFC has issues they can bloody well take them up with the CSA.

But that incident, and a few others - like Eric Hassli managing to get five yellows and a suspension before May 1, a historic and very curious situation; we always hear how foreign players show up here and are appalled at how rough and tough MLS is and here's a guy from France or wherever the hell who can't go 20 minutes without getting into it with somebody; boy needs to chill - are easily disposed of. We'll get to see the referee review later in the week, that will be the end of them and next week there'll be a few more calls to talk about.

(Although I also can't wait to see how they deal with a referee sending offwhat was clearly, obviously, indisputably the wrong guy in the SKC match. Will they really make Aurelion Collin sit out someone else's suspension? And that leaves out the fact that it was more Feilhaber's dive than a serious foul)

No, if Donny the G feels like jumping into a bottle of El Jimador today it's more than likely because his leagues' stars are dropping like flies. Or in Steve Zakuanis' case like an old growth California redwood that just met up with Timber Joey and his Tree Slaughtering Chainsaw of Death.

Now as the King told the wedding reception, I'm not here to "bicker and quarrel about who killed who". If you want a really good review of the facts re: Zakuani you can't do better than the always-thoughtful KYLE MCCARTHY and I'm not going to try and replow that particular field.

The real problem is that the Commish has made it clear he is concerned about the leagues' skill players - read: "stars" - spending the season in traction and/or physical therapy, and between Zakuani, one of the leagues' brighter young stars, and David Ferrieira, the reigning league MVP, that's a bunch of talent of the sort whom people pay to see - who won't be gracing an MLS pitch anytime soon.

If you think I'm posting that ghoulish, Joe Thiesman-meets-Lawrence-Taylor caliber trashing Zakuani took at the hands (well, OK, the feet) of Brian Mullan you're crazy. I'm not even going to comment on it except to observe that you can take the whole "intent" argument and shove it; the guy saw red IN THE THIRD MINUTE OF A GAME - and went all apeshit, which, regardless of what he did or didn't intend to do, is dangerous and unprofessional and has no place in the game here or anyplace else.

The Ferreira case isn't as clear cut but the result is the same, and however you parse it in the end we're solidly into "the good of the game" territory here and, MLS disciplinary committee aside that's Garbers' ground right there.

We all saw what happened last Fall when the NFL decided they'd had enough of guys recklessly going after other players' heads: a series of increasingly Draconian fines for stuff which had been going on forever but which the league decided that they'd finally seen enough of.

Despite their denials, it was a not-at-all subtle change in policy. The players all bitched and moaned and cried and threatened to quit and all the other infantile crapola we've come to know so well when pampered, entitled, overpaid athletes find themselves inconvenienced.

After that, they got serious and stopped headhunting.

There's a lot of talk today about an "appropriate" sanction for Mullan, comparing it to other fines and suspensions for similar and/or entirely dissimilar actions. The target is to be fair and evenhanded and proportional.

For his part, Seattle owner Adrian Hanauer sounds exactly like a BigSoccer poster today: he says Mullan should sit out as long as Zakuani does, an entirely non-original (and non-starting) idea that hangs around because like it or not it's far as all hell.

But in this case maybe it's time for a non-fair, non-proportional, non-appropriate, the-roof-just-fell-on-your-head kind of punishment.

A ridiculous amount of money, say $25,000. A ten game suspension. More. Something that says "Yeah, we know this makes no sense and is grossly unfair but on the other hand we're tired of so-called professionals who throw temper tantrums and end up sending players to the hospital and from now on you can either control yourself or you can explain to your wife why you're eating hamburger Helper and Ramen noodles all summer long."

Injuries are a part of the game and rough tackles are a fact of life and nothing will change that.

But the league has an opportunity here to make it clear that when those things happen because of retaliation or spite or losing control of yourself and lashing out like a child that you're going to get hurt, big time.