By J Hutcherson - WASHINGTON, DC (Oct 5, 2012) US Soccer Players – Major League Soccer gave us an interesting contrast this week. On Tuesday, they announced that Portland Timbers owner Merritt Paulson will pay a $25k fine for tweeting his opinions on the officiating. The very next day, FC Dallas coach Schellas Hyndman received his punishment for "public criticism of the officials." As is usual with MLS, the Hyndman fine was for an "undisclosed amount."
Now, before getting into another example of a mixed message from MLS, there's an obvious answer for naming the dollar amount in one instance and not the other. Paulson's sanction came directly from MLS commissioner Don Garber, while the League's Disciplinary Committee levied Hyndman’s fine. Is that good enough? Of course not.
The League acted in two separate instances, one involving an investor-operator and the other involving a coach, and took that extra step to avoid any direct comparisons. MLS sent a message with the Paulson fine that investor-operators will need to think before typing or speaking. It's a common tactic in North American pro sports leagues, with hockey giving us a pricier example earlier this week. Owners are supposed to fall in line unless they're interested in paying a fine. It's the same for coaches and players, but in MLS that normally means only disclosing suspensions while lumping the fines under that same 'according to league policy' category used to hide information preceded by a dollar sign.
So why make the exception for Paulson's fine? What Paulson actually tweeted wasn't significantly different from what we've been hearing from coaches. The officiating this season has raised a lot of questions. If you were running a club already out of the playoffs that can't seem to get a call to go its why, you'd probably be asking a few of them. You might even choose to do it publicly.
There's another old idea that owners and coaches will almost happily pay a fine if it means telling the world what their fan base thinks. It's an 'us against them' move that can increase a club's solidarity. Though the line between administrator and fan needs to be respected or those same fans might question whether a club can make tough decisions that fans probably wouldn't, showing that a club is in this together has value.
With that in mind, all MLS really accomplished at League level was to make that value clear. Right now, according to league policy, criticizing the officials should cost an owner around $25 grand. Hey, now we know.
I'm not one of those people that feel the overwhelming need to chase any mention of the FIFA World Ranking with a version of 'no one takes them seriously.' I know quite a few people that do, including FIFA itself if you're interested in little things like World Cup seeds. FIFA's formula is sound, the rankings are predictable, and there's not as much to complain about. Still, what about Brazil?
Currently down two to 14th in the latest rankings, there's a good argument that nobody in the world of soccer seriously believes they belong outside of the top five, much less the top ten. The culprit is qualifiers. Without them, the best team in CONMEBOL is 4th in the zone trailing Argentina, Uruguay, and Colombia.
Making things even more entertaining if you don't happen to be Brazil, they're playing a full schedule. Without the need to qualify, they've filled their calendar with friendlies. That has included playing teams in their region, namely Argentina. It's done little good, with Brazil of all teams the new poster child for rankings disparity.
Granted, we all saw this coming. FIFA's ranking system doesn't play nice with World Cup hosts, but Brazil is the first major team the change to the formula has affected. In a EURO championship summer and all of those qualifiers the rest of the top twenty are playing, Brazil’s rank is no surprise. Taking as a whole, things don't look good for a competitive World Cup host that expects to be at or near the top of the table.
The easiest and obvious change would be to suspend the World Cup host from the rankings entirely. That way, there's no need to tweak any part of the formula, make friendlies count more than they should, or do anything else that starts a slide back to the 'make them up yourself' era of the rankings. For this cycle, that should've happened already. Instead, Brazil plays through at a decided competitive disadvantage that will likely have them a rankings underdog when the World Cup kicks off.
J Hutcherson has been writing about soccer since 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him at email@example.com.
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