MLS Needs to Protect Its Playmakers Too

It’s time MLS adopt some of the unique player rules their American counterparts do
by Chris Enger   |   Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Real Salt Lake (RSL) playmarker Javier Morales down with an injuryFor the first time since April of 2010, Seattle’s Steve Zakuani, Dallas’s David Ferreira and Salt Lake’s Javier Morales all played for their respective teams on the same weekend. The three players who became the calling card for MLS’s “physical style of play” had finally recovered from heinous injuries that kept each off the field for extended periods of time.

Morales was the first of three to comeback. As his recovery has progressed, he has seen more field time. The more he has played the clearer it is: Morales isn’t the same player that went down in 2010. He is either still recovering from his initial injury, which was also the likely cause of his subsequent hamstring, knee and other leg injuries or it is mental. Regardless, he has already retained the irrefutable and adverse status as one of the most fouled players in MLS.

This year, RSL’s players have taken it upon themselves to enforce the rules of the game where they feel MLS officials are dropping the ball. It’s refreshing to see the players fight for their teammate but inevitably it will lead to a player being suspended and hurting the overall team.

Still, Morales isn’t alone in being hacked. As Michael Black reported for MLSsoccer.com, Morales is fouled every 28.7 minutes, New England’s Benny Feilhaber is fouled every 26.2 minutes. Take a moment to think about those two names: Benny Feilhaber and Javier Morales.

Now add in Steven Zakuani and David Ferreira. What is it that all these four players have in common?

Yes, it is understandable that fouling is part of the game, but something has to be done to help preserve the playing time and careers of the leagues creative stars. These, after all, are the talented stars who bring fans to watch the matches, the entertainers.

In other domestic leagues in the United States there are official rules to protect league stars as well as the unofficial rules. The NFL for instance has changed and tinkered with their rules so much that it is now difficult to get a good hit on a quarterback without being penalized. The positioning of kick-offs have been moved not only to encourage player safety but also keep the stars on the field.

The NBA has unofficial rules protecting their playmakers as well. Although the NBA is less of a contact league than MLS, their officials call more fouls in favor of league superstars that fans pay gobs of money to see. Chris Paul, Kevin Durant and LeBron James are more likely to end up shooting free throws than average run-of-the-mill players in the NBA because the league understands the value of these commodities.

It is time MLS set up a new set of rules to protect our playmakers. First we had the Beckham Rule to bring designated players into the league; now it’s time for Beckham guidelines, the unofficial guide of officiating to preserve the stars and the sanctity of the game.

Why the Beckham Rules? Whether you like it or not, David Beckham is the golden boy of MLS. Fans pay to see him play even if it is just to see him take one free kick. The fans love him and so do the refs … unofficially.

There is a clear double standard between what David Beckham can get away with and other players in the league. He can yell at the ref, without the captain’s armband, and have no fear of receiving a yellow. He can kick a ball at a grounded player and receive a much more lenient suspension and don’t even think about breathing hard around him because the call will go against you. The same could be said for Thierry Henry. Henry may typically have the Red Bulls armband, but the rules of the game are applied a bit differently to him as well. Just ask Kevin Hartman.

At first, I was against this type of preferential treatment for Mr. Beckham. But after seeing Morales in a crumpled ball on the field again Saturday night, I knew right then that the Beckham treatment needs to be applied to all the superstar playmakers in the league, even if they don’t match the superstar status of a Beckham or an Henry, players like Morales, Ferreira or Zakuani can mean just as much on the field to their clubs and the league.

Will it cause players to begin embellishing fouls? Yes, but that’s one of the reasons we now have the MLS Disciplinary Committee. I would much rather the expensive playmaker on my team receive a fine later than receive a devastating foul on the field.

This is a very physical league. Just ask one of its newest foreign imports, Italian Marco Di Vaio of the Montreal Impact: “In MLS the players are real animals, and they run like crazy,”

The good news is MLS has begun the arduous task of trying to cut down on the physicality of its league. They are determined to find a way to allow their more technically gifted and tactically astute stars – their Javier Moraleses, their David Ferreras, their Benny Feilhabers – to become the face of the league. In order to do that they need to protect these players, because without that they will continue to be singled out by opposing defenses, head hunted and ultimately injured.

MLS needs to realize they need to guard their superstars AND their most technical playmakers and entertainers as well, in order to save and grow their league.

Chris ENGER

Nationality:
USA
College:
Univ. of Utah
Club Domestic:
RSL
Club Foreign:
Arsenal
KoS & SN Podcast co-host & self-proclaimed funniest man in Utah. Mormon by faith, Ute by geography, Gooner by accident & proud RSLer. Father of 4, husband of 1, brother of many. Bilingual by day, quasi superhero en la noche. There's only one "Fuegote".
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