Last week Major League Soccer announced that the MLS Disciplinary Committee has decided to rescind Fernando Cardenas’ red-card suspension. Unlike many other leagues, MLS has empowered the MLS Disciplinary Committee to review all games and all incidents that occur during regular season and MLS Cup Playoff games. Thus, under the rules governing the MLS Disciplinary Committee, clubs do not even need to request a review. We believe that the review process set up by the league is of great benefit to the league, teams and players. In fact, the Committee’s decision to rescind Cardenas’ red-card suspension serves as a perfect example for why the review process set up by the league should be emulated elsewhere.
However, before we dive deeper into the Cardenas’ situation let’s review the rules governing the MLS Disciplinary Committee pertaining to appeals of red-card decisions. According to the rules, an MLS club has 24 hours after the completion of a game to lodge an appeal and request that the MLS Disciplinary Committee review the referee’s red-card decision. The appeal can only be made to “rectify a case of serious and obvious error in the disciplinary decision of the referee.” In addition, each MLS club was required to post a $25,000 bond before the start of the season and was allowed to make only two unsuccessful appeals. The league required the clubs to post the bond in order to guard against frivolous appeals. Thus, a club that makes a frivolous appeal will forfeit the bond. To further guard against excessive number of frivolous appeals, the rules state that if an appeal is deemed frivolous, then the club will lose all of its rights of appeal and the red-card punishment of the player will be doubled. Given these rules, we should not witness an excessive number of frivolous appeals.
Once the appeal is lodged, the panel is tasked with applying and answering the following two questions:
Did the referee correctly identify the offence in accordance with the Laws of the Game?
Is the disciplinary sanction applied appropriate for the offence?
Only if the answers to both questions is NO the appeal will be deemed successful and the red-card decision will be rescinded. However, the decision by the panel must be unanimous. If it is not, then the appeal is deemed unsuccessful and the red-card decision is upheld. Moreover, if the panel determines that the answers to the two questions above is YES, then the panel must automatically decide whether the appeal was frivolous. Under the rules, the appeal will be considered frivolous if it “does not contain any objective rational basis. In other words, an appeal is not frivolous if a reasonable observer with knowledge of the Laws of the Game would find that there is a rational basis for arguing that the red card should not have been issued.”
Now, having the rules explained, let’s review the Cardenas’ red card decision (see video above). First, we want to point out that when you watch the incident “live” and at game-speed, it is difficult to determine that the referee’s decision to award a free kick to RSL was made in error. Indeed, one of the game broadcasters is heard to say Cardenas must “be booked for this.” The only question in his mind was whether the referee was going to reach for his back or front pocket. It is only when you watch the replay of the incident in slow motion that you can see that Cardenas never touched Olave. Therefore, according to a statement issued by the league, “an independent review panel unanimously determined Cardenas was incorrectly shown the red card. After examining the play, the panel determined that the referee made an obvious error in the disciplinary sanction, and MLS has rescinded the one-game suspension and fine for Cardenas.”
Revolution’s General Manager, Michael Burns, stated that the club was “very pleased Fernando Cardenas’ red card has been overturned and [that] he will be available this weekend.” He further stated that “when the red-card appeal process was introduced this off-season, teams knew that there was a high standard for the type of call that would be considered and that there were serious penalties for frivolous challenges. However, in this case, Fernando did not even make contact with the opposing player … and was still sent off for a ‘serious foul on a tackle.’ We disagreed with the call so vehemently that we felt we had no choice but to appeal. As the video confirmed and the review panel recognized, Fernando never made contact with the opposing player and his red card was correctly lifted.”
The referee, of course, had no benefit of a slow motion replay. He had to make a split second decision and, in his opinion, Cardenas made contact with Olave. It did not help that Olave acted as if his leg was chopped off (perhaps the Disciplinary Committee should take a closer look at his actions as well). Still, the referee was clearly wrong and therefore the answer to the two questions referenced above had to be NO. Let us know if you agree.