Alfred Kleinaitis is cloned and other soccer storylines for 2015

The next time someone stops the car to admire my holiday lights, I am going to ask for a small donation.  There is so much I hope to see accomplished over the next year… lots of influence to be had, yet my budget remains miniscule, and I’ve yet to receive my electric bill from the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power.

OK, I will put down the eggnog long enough to complete my wish list for the next twelve months.  Here goes nothing, except perhaps my reputation… please stop laughing and read on as I share emerging stories I am anxiously following and headlines I would like to read in 2015.

Americans steal the show in Canada:  Assuming they are not actually devoured by their Group of Death, the U.S. Women’s National Team should advance and could again reach the Final of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup CanadaTM… and I certainly hope that they do.  But should they falter in their quest to raise the Cup, then my Plan B calls for American referee Margaret Domka and her crew to be assigned to officiate the Final, earning Ms. Domka a place in American soccer history alongside Sandra Hunt and Kari Seitz.  Maybe my hope is one quadrennial cycle premature… then again, Mark Geiger seized his opportunity in Brazil before coming up one “Serious Foul Play” short of running the table.

Alfred Kleinaitis has been cloned: OK, that might not happen (at least in 2015).  But U.S. Soccer needs to put forth a new name and a fresh face – or at least an e-mail address – for a full-time shepherd to guide the 140,000 registered referees who won’t be contacted by the Professional Soccer Organization (PRO) and won’t be welcomed into the elite ranks of the professional track.  For the past several years (post Tamberino, Hall & Triche), we’ve heard less and less from U.S. Soccer’s longstanding referee  voice, and less and less discussion of a qualified successor to fill the growing void in Chicago.  We’ve had some great officials (with experience in administration, instruction and assessment) retire over the past several years… I’m sure one (or more) can be persuaded to relocate to Soccer House.

Kevin Stott has been freed! Opinions vary on what Mr. Stott said – or didn’t say – on-field to members of the LA Galaxy during the first leg of the 2014 MLS Western Conference Finals.  Omar Gonzalez was quoted as saying that “it’s tough when Stott says to one of your players that he’s not going to give another yellow because he wants the best players to play in the next game… for him to say that to one of our players is pretty ridiculous.” Well, Mr. Gonzalez, I happen to agree with you – but only if Mr. Stott actually said what you have accused him of saying. Without proof, I maintain my own opinion, and it’s based on having gone to battle with Kevin Stott many times over six MLS seasons and in dozens of “international friendlies” (one of the worst misnomers of all time).  Always professional and ever the diplomat who chooses his words and timing very carefully, I just don’t see it happening.  Kevin Stott is a consummate professional who happens to be the most successful referee in the history of Major League Soccer. #1. Top of the heap. Numero Uno. I rank him above Esse Baharmast, Brian Hall, even Paul Tamberino.  Unless someone steps forward with a modern day Zapruder film, I assert it’s time to wipe the slate clean, move on, and celebrate Kevin Stott’s 20th MLS season.  And to best celebrate this milestone, I request that Kevin Stott whistle the 2015 First Kick in Los Angeles on Friday, March 6.

Give (Labor) Peace a Chance:  Speaking of MLS’ 20th season, I would like to see it kick off with one great big boot – on time and as scheduled – right here in Los Angeles on March 6.  There’s a lot of work to be done between now and then… and ratification of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and players’ union is the one massive to-do that needs to get to-done.  Like to-morrow.  Seriously, there is simply far too much at stake at the moment – the whole world is taking notice and starting to watch MLS continue to develop.  The league cannot possibly allow for a work stoppage to take place before the 2015 season.  Let’s hope that both sides remember last year’s little last-minute referee clinic and all the fun we had over the first few weeks… we can’t repeat that debacle by replacing locked-out MLS veteran athletes with subpar minor-league level players.

Ricardo Salazar is not subpar!  Far from it, my friends.  Ricardo Salazar has been a mainstay in the MLS referee corps for years, and until 2014, he was the “go to” guy for numerous key MLS playoff assignments.  His unjustified omission from the 2014 MLS Cup Playoffs continues to baffle.  Shortly after the crews for the Conference Finals were announced (the last anticipated announcement… as we all knew that Mark Geiger had long earned the MLS Cup Final assignment), I sent an E-mail off to PRO general manager Peter Walton… and got a phone call the next day from PRO lieutenant Michael Kennedy.  I asked Mr. Kennedy to repeat the party line explanation for this omission – for accuracy and because I nearly dropped both my phone and my pen at what I heard.  “He’s always been a solid performer for us, but other guys had better form at the end of the season.”  Wow.  Just wow.  There were 15 MLS playoff assignments to be had… and Mr. Salazar wasn’t worthy of any of them?  In his last MLS regular season game, he was applauded for having the courage to correctly allow play to continue (as he signaled for his AR to lower the flag) during an offside decision involving a ball last played by an opponent that resulted in a goal being scored.  Needless to say, he didn’t bomb the assessment in New England.  Something just doesn’t add up here.  One can only hope for equity – and better transparency – when assignments for the 2015 playoffs roll around.

Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Richard Eddy:   I’d like to publicly request that Dr. Herb Silva not ride into the sunset just yet.  There’s just too much knowledge and referee development history (and a whole lot of military jargon) stored in his head… let’s hope that newly appointed U.S. Soccer Director of Referee Development Richard Eddy and his team have full access to Dr. Silva’s four decades of referee development expertise.  I commend U.S. Soccer for appointing Mr. Eddy for this new career challenge… they found the right man for the job.  I’ve known him for more than a decade and can speak of his qualifications, talents and experience.  And, while I wish Mr. Eddy lasting success in his new role, I hope U.S. Soccer names a peer (on equal footing) to focus on guiding the other 140,000 registered soccer officials… you know, the ones that have little or no interest in being developed into MLS material.

20,000 – as in twenty thousand:  With expansion clubs taking the field in Orlando and at Yankee Stadium, and with the ‘Quakes moving into their new digs with a capacity in excess of 18,000, MLS is poised to permanently shatter the attendance ceiling of 20,000 spectators per game.  Oh, and we should thank Don Garber and the Board of Directors for sacrificing CD Chivas USA to ensure that it happens in 2015.  This will be big news for American soccer (the 20,000 per game average, not the Chivas euthanasia) and should take MLS to the next level in terms of global acceptance.  Two years from now, we might be playing pro soccer in Dodger Stadium as well.  Stay tuned on that one…

Platini waives white flag on quest for white cards:  First it was his plan to eliminate “triple jeopardy,” wherein (1) a player is sent-off and shown the red card for committing DOGSO inside the penalty area, (2) the opposing team is awarded a penalty kick, and (3) the offending player is suspended from playing in his team’s next game.  From the moment Michel Platini first voiced his objection to the International Board (and was asked to leave the room), there has been a whirlwind of ideas floated to modify the Laws of the Game… the latest being “white cards” issued for hockey or rugby-style time penalties (I mean the length of the penalty, not giving them out for hooking, boarding or goalkeeper interference).  There’s also been talk of having teams play shorthanded only for the duration of the first/second half of the game after a player is sent off.  My take: Leave the Laws as written.  If you don’t like TJ, modify the third component if you must.  Give FIFA, national pro leagues and others jurisdiction to eliminate the suspension for certain situations (and good luck with uniform enforcement!).  But no “sin bin” time penalties or other tinkering with the Laws, please!

Golden shovels are passed… from DC to Boston to NY & LA: With MLS poised to grab greater attention on a global level, I hope we see resolution (not progress, not promise, and not another major announcement in the next 60-90 days) to build soccer-specific stadiums for DC United, the New England Revolution, New York City FC and LAFC.  Yes, it would take a historic and perhaps unprecedented alignment of the stars to see all four projects result in shovels in the dirt in 2015, but one can dream, right?  Oh, and since I am clearly pushing my luck here, can we get a stadium deal done for David Beckham to actually launch the Miami Spice?

Peace on the Pitch:  Whether it’s contested at the highest level with the entire planet tuned in, it’s played in a soccer complex surrounded by mini-vans and parents in folding chairs, or it’s muddled through on a dusty pitch where the only gathering is the 22 participants, the world’s game brings us moments of exhilaration, joy, disappointment and disgust.  On one day, we savor the thrill of victory… and on the next, we suffer the agony of defeat.  Regardless of the emotional state of players, coaches and spectators, it’s time for our game to recognize the need for a lasting peace throughout its stadiums and parks… and it starts by ending violent acts against game officials.  The tragic passing of Michigan referee John Bieniewicz back in June was the tipping point.  Starting in 2015, I call for legislators in every state and administrators of all levels of organized soccer across the country to take a much more aggressive stance to punish offenders until we see an elimination of referee assaults.

May 2015 bring you all good health, profound happiness, and an occasional fortunate bounce of the ball.  And, now that you’ve reviewed my hot button topics for the New Year, feel free to share yours. What would you like to see from the World’s Game in 2015?

Categories: General

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