RSL 0-1 Houston: Fine Pat Onstad

To the Powers that Be:

Fine that cheating geezer, Pat Onstad.  Do it for the integrity of the game and for the dignity of regional theater – and introduce your referees to those giant digital video boards most stadiums seem to have these days before they find themselves both embarrassed and obsolete.

What had been a half-decent contest between quality (Houston Dynamo) and pride (Real Salt Lake) unraveled during the second half into a cynical sham.  First came the decision to eject Eddie Robinson: hopefully, referee Tim Weyland knew beyond doubting that Robinson ran across Kyle Beckerman’s trailing leg, because absent perfect knowledge, a red card to Robinson shouldn’t happen.  On the other hand, Robinson might have thought he could get away with it given Weyland’s indulgence of a series of early, rough challenges from Craig Waibel and a string of cynical fouls by Ryan Cochrane that also went unpunished.  Maybe Robinson ran off the field as a scapegoat for Houston.

It’s a little bizarre to be writing this because one talking point that occurred to me as I watched last night amounted to dubbing Houston’s backline one of the best  in Major League Soccer (MLS).  There’s no question in my mind it’s effective, but every time I see them, I’m struck by the low-blow thuggishness with which Cochrane and Robinson, in particular, play the game.  This doesn’t quite reach the realm of, “kids, don’t try this at home,” but it’s hardly something to be encouraged either for reasons of player development or sportsmanship.

Then again, if Robinson and Cochrane aren’t to be emulated then entire clinics should be devoted to showing video of the disgusting ruse Onstad used to con the ref using methods borrowed from Clockwork Orange.  Knowing that won’t happen, the league should slap the Big Canuck with a sizeable fine, a suspension, or both.  The worst of it didn’t come with Onstad’s simple, cynical decision to obstruct Yura Movsisyan and then flop to the ground, which is hard enough to swallow given Onstad’s 6’ 4”, 215# bulk; no, the worst of it came with Onstad putting the crappy theatrics until he saw the ref was looking.  The pause was not only more than a little telling, it put a great, frilly bow on the whole display – one that, no doubt, played over and over on the gigantic video board at Rice-Eccles Stadium (they do have one, right?)  If the Powers That Be can only bring themselves to fine Onstad, they should nail him once for cheating and bump it 50% again for acting so sub-par it would induce nausea in the most deluded and generous of “players” from our nation’s fine regional theaters.

An answer to this would say that “gamesmanship” is part of the game and it can’t be eradicated.  This is the same logic applied to a trickier problem, fighting in the National Hockey League (NHL); the argument goes that players getting hit, poked, checked for the length of a game can’t help but lose it.  I don’t buy it, partially because outright fights don’t break out on a similar scale in rugby or Australian Rules Football, both of which are easily as rough and provide less padding to their players.  Sanctions against are the crucial thing and sanctions won’t come because the fighting draws the neutral, hockey-ignorant fan with bloodthirsty impulses, so the league keeps it around.  But if the NHL reviewed fights after the game, fined the players at most at fault and fined them hard the fights will dry up.

The same applies to the kind of cynical horseshit Onstad used to “level” the playing field; if he’s taught to expect he’ll be washing down the post-victory beers with a healthy fine, I’m betting he doesn’t try it, or he thinks twice at the very least.  A practical reason also recommends post-game video review against this kind of gamesmanship.  The more often refs miss fouls or get suckered into making pivotal and grossly wrong calls, the likelier it becomes that we’ll all have sit through in-game video reviews.  A deterrent effect should follow if players know that something as grossly obvious as what Onstad did will get reviewed and will get punished.  If the league sits on the status quo, however, they’re forcing comparisons between the clearly limited vision of the referee and the house-sized video replays on in-stadium monitors, which benefit from slow-motion and multiple angles in showing god and everybody what actually took place.  We could reach a point where refs are reduced to pausing the action for video review.

To be clear, this isn’t about every blown call.  Refs make mistakes and, by and large, such little injustices inject frustrating drama into the game.  But outright cheating by the players, especially in those instances where intent is beyond doubt, as it was here, can be vetted and punished where appropriate.  And, to announce my preferences, punishments should apply only where intent is crystal clear.

OK then, tucking my little soapbox aside…

It wasn’t such an awful game and Houston left deserved winners in terms of competence of play, even if I’d gladly dish ‘em a loss on ethical grounds.  The lone goal, scored by the Dynamo’s Stuart Holden, benefited from a ‘keeper’s gaffe by Nick Rimando.  And that was a shame because Rimando saved beautifully on Holden only a couple minutes before and, generally, had a good night.  The same goes for RSL as a whole; they’re not the patsies who embarked on the 2007 campaign, but a smarter, stronger team…and that’s true even if Alecko Eskandarian couldn’t hit the broadside of the Titanic.  As noted above, though, Houston simply plays a better game: crisp passing combined with great movement opens up a constant array of options going forward; they can cross long or play to the man making the short run just inside.

All in all, it’s fun to watch Houston play – which only makes the asshole-esque cheating more frustrating.

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9 Responses

  1. […] After posting an angry rant against all things Pat Onstad this morning, I’m beginning to wonder whether I’m the […]

  2. Eh???? Onstad is a chancer but Beckerman’s phantom fall and subsequent enactment of “Death by Robinson” gets no comment? Which hurts the game the most?

    These guys are professionals! Onstad’s gamemanship should cause him to skip recess or be put in time out for a few minutes. Can you imagine a league reprimand for this sort of thing in Italy or the EPL? The league office would have as much impact as poor refereeing had on this game. Not a situation I’d want,

    Since Clarke’s moment of homicidal psychosis, you’d think the league was full of Pacman Jones. Ditto the silly beginnings of hooliganism in MLS article on FoxSports.

    BTW- I just love the use of “cynical” when paired with “foul”. It’s so across the pond cheeky yet sexy at the same time.

  3. Fair point on Beckerman’s fall/dive, playtherapy. That I’m something short of totally clear as to whether or not contact was made, I’m less willing to bay for blood on that one; a player running across another’s leg, something that happens a lot, is one of the harder fouls to see…well, for me anyway. But I addressed that in the body above: I don’t think Robinson should have seen red; unless I was certain of contact, I don’t know that I would have given yellow. And, to confess the point, I think it’s kind of sad that clearly mistaken red cards can’t be reversed.

    But Onstad’s stunt, all the way from intent to action, was caught on camera. When cheating is so flagrant it can’t be missed, that’s the only time the FO should get involved; they can have the aggrieved team can request the review, I figure. But, as noted above, reviews should only apply when it’s really apparent.

    In any case, I’m not so sure about the EPL or Italy as a barometer – hell, they fined Robbie Fowler for mock-sniffing the end-line.

  4. One thing playtherapy alluded to which bears commenting is how to handle diving. There’s the on-field yellow, which doesn’t come out nearly enough…or, when it does, it comes out at the wrong time. But, yeah, playtherapy has a point there: diving hurts the game badly as what Onstad did. There’s a reason I made a distinction between the two in the original post, though; in this specific circumstance, Beckerman’s wasn’t clear to me; maybe it would be on something larger than a four-inch window on my computer. But, unless it was, I wouldn’t go after Beckerman unless I KNEW he dove.

    But playtherapy is entirely correct on the larger point: what do you do about diving? Is it not blatant cheating when done in the spirit commonly understood by use of the phrase? Off the top of my head, I wouldn’t apply a fine/suspension system across the board for dives; in some parts of the field, it’s simply not game-changing. More to the point, it doesn’t risk starting a brawl like what Onstad did. But, yeah, diving is something to think about in the context of this post.

    Good comment, playtherapy…

  5. Thanks for the response. Yep, the Robbo ruling was as absurd as Fowler’s action (remember the Le Saux comments and subsequent cultural competence classes?) and Arsenal’s League Cup replay after not returning the ball on an injury throw-in all show that the EPL was a poor choice on my part.

    I understand the dismay at Onstad just like Ruiz’s ploys. Yet the reactions to these were quite over the top and very much reward these antics. I think the subsequent yellow was a bit harsh given the provocation and Onstad did make a meal of it. Bad officiating all around- more than anywhere else- that’s where my disappointment lies.

    The diving is also getting to me- a whisper or dirty look seems to knock over Blanco. Will the referrees, much like the World Cup, hold a new standard during the playoffs? It always pisses me off when this happens- allowing substandard enforcement of the rules for the lengthy qualifications then get ting anal when the world’s tv cameras start rolling.

  6. Right. And it’s the TV thing that freaks me out. The NFL instituted instant replay right around the time I stopped watching (hmmm…causal?) and it’s just neutered the refs to where they don’t look comfortable doing anything. The reverse case of that is, of course, Brian Hall’s complete break with self-control last Thursday. So, yeah, it’s two way. But I the idea of in-game review scares me enough to try a couple things to stop it. But I also think the sport may be headed that way regardless, thanks in no small part to the Jumbotrons in every stadium; those things undermine the ref on the spot (often deservedly so). You almost wonder why they don’t blow the whistle then wait around for the replays to see if they got it right (no, I’m not serious…still…)

  7. I’ve attended or watched quite a few MLS games this year and have been amazed at the lack of skill MLS referees have at managing a game. Either they are lax and don’t set the tone early for what is not allowable and then get harsh later in the game or are overly reactive from the onset. Most often it’s the former, and when in the stadium you can feel the tension mounting and know something will erupt in the 70th minute on… All hell breaks loose. Many times I’ve turned to my friends and said, “Not setting the tone will erupt later on…” And then it happens.

    I was too busy checking my kids homework, getting them to bed to watch the whole game, but from what I saw, I wasn’t very impressed- I wanted to red card the ref.

  8. Overall, I thought Weyland called an OK game last night, which for an MLS ref is really saying something. Kyle Beckerman STILL hasn’t been fouled, though ERob will sit for a crucial match this weekend, so Weyland really screwed the pooch there. As for Onstad’s fall, come on now. It’s not like it was a Dida-esque sort of thing. I have to admit my bias for all things Naranja, but I think what Onstad did in getting Movsisyan to lose his cool amounted to little more than a catcher grabbing a pitch right on the edge and thenpullin git quickly intot he strike zone for a called strike. Cheating? Sure. Reprehensible cheating? No. Remember, no matter what Onstad did or didn’t say, it was Movsisyan who blew his top (though I think it was more at Brian Mullan after the red card at whom he was yelling than Onstad, who was acting all peacemaker-y). It was a veteran getting in the head of a young guy, not cheating in any egregious sense.

    And oh by the way, in the 10 minutesit took me to write that, Beckerman may have shaken out his dreadlocks, made plans for the Colorado game , wondered why he wasn’t going to be in Switzerland tomorrow, but he STILL has not been fouled by Eddie Robinson.

  9. Eh, it files under “reprehensible” to me, but I’m a believer that intent matters as much as outcome. And the fall was pretty silly; Onstad’s a big guy. I can see your side, though…and, perhaps, that kind of thing would be controlling when this kind of evidence is reviewed.

    The funny thing is, I generally like Pat Onstad. Maybe the shock at the play accounts for the reaction.

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