I broke down last night and watched the MLS Cup final between the LA Galaxy and Real Salt Lake. I was pleasantly surprised at the level of football on display, as one should be when you are ostensibly watching the two best teams in the MLS play each other. Still, as well as Real Salt Lake moved the ball, and as fun it was to watch David Beckham show off his one trick pony my main three criticisms of MLS stand; they play on field turf (if they’re lucky), the level of play is pretty poor all around, and there’s a ton of cheating. It’s almost as if the MLS took all the worst things about world football — diving, overly physical play, moving walls, professional fouls, shirt pulling, yelling at the referee, etc — combined them and put them out on fake grass.
I’m not saying that there’s nothing good to watch in the MLS: the penalty kicks that decided last night’s game was pretty damn dramatic, the Seattle Sounders fans are pretty amazing, and Real Salt Lake despite being underdogs were the better team last night and deserved the win — they played some really nice football at times.
Rather, the game was so foul laden and had so many players rolling around on the ground feigning injury that it highlighted the issue of who gets called a cheat and who doesn’t.
I also had the displeasure of watching the Stoke City game yesterday and the outright cheating on display there was downright disgusting. At one point Rory Delap kicked Pompey’s Dindane in the face which resulted in a penalty. Did Delap admit that he caught Dindane? No, he protested, throwing a little fit as the referee pointed to the spot. Where’s the sanctimonious response from the “fair play” adherents that Delap should be retroactively punished for trying to fool the referee into changing his decision?
Both of yesterday’s games also had players who, on pretty much every play where the ball goes out of play, try to fool the referees into believing that they won the throw in or the corner. It’s cheating, and when Rory Delap gets a free throw in that he knows he didn’t earn in a dangerous area near the goal where’s the outrage?
And of course there’s the wall, which seems to have gone from having rules to having sort of “guidelines” these days. The referee will often march off 10 yards, point to a spot and then as soon as he’s not looking, the wall will promptly march up two yards. Then it will creep up until the kick is finally taken. Blatant cheating, and outright disrespect for the refs and the rules.
I could go on, pulling shirts, holding arms, pulling on a player’s shoulder, these are all fouls. Fouls that the referee misses, just like the ref missed Henry’s handball, but fouls that no one calls to have stamped out of the game.
I suspect that the reason that diving and handling the ball are considered worse than all of the other fouls is that those two are considered to be a “sissy” form of cheating. When a 6’3″ 14 stone defender goes into a tackle late, studs up, and takes the man out, doesn’t get the ball, and then turns to the ref to proclaim his innocence — when he gets away with that most of us just cluck and say, “well, it was a bit late.” I’ve never once heard that guy called a cheat.
Just look at the reaction up and down the English countryside after Martin Taylor went in, studs up, knee high and broke Eduardo’s leg. There were people who said they didn’t even think it was a foul! Truly incredible stuff, but it makes sense; there are people who believe that it’s manly, and thus right, to go out and break legs and that it’s sissy, and thus wrong, for the striker to try to avoid a leg breaking.
I like that football is a contact sport and I’m not suggesting that we get rid of the contact. Rather, what I’d like to see is the referees call the contact correctly, just like I’d like them to call the handballs correctly. Maybe it’s “sissy” of me, but I see no difference between Didier Drogba throwing down a Man U defender so that John Terry can get a clear header and Thierry Henry tapping the ball to himself so he can pass to Gallas to nod the ball home.
They are both forms of cheating.