It didn't take long for the MLS Disciplinary Committee to assess the problems created by Thierry Henry's actions on Wednesday night.
Every game is reviewed by the Committee as a matter of course. Every incident is noted, whether it is acted upon or not. And this conflict – a sequence in which Henry apparently headbutted Kei Kamara and sparked a fracas in the waning stages of Sporting Kansas City's 2-0 victory at Red Bull Arena last Wednesday – merited further scrutiny in short order.
MLS executive vice president of competition, technical and game operations Nelson Rodríguez doesn't have a spot on the anonymous, five-person Committee, but he oversees it and speaks on its behalf. Every member of the Committee, as mandated by principles and parameters set forth by the league, felt Henry's actions warranted supplemental discipline after evaluating the incident, according to Rodríguez.
“It becomes clear that Mr. Henry initiates unnecessary contact with Mr. Kamara and does so in a way that endangers Mr. Kamara's safety,” Rodríguez said in a phone interview on Monday. “One of the two major charges of the MLS Disciplinary Committee is to assist in ensuring player safety. We felt, in the best interests of upholding [that directive], that such an action merited a one-game suspension.”
As the Breakdown noted on Monday, this incident and the subsequent one-match suspension and undisclosed fine handed down on Friday introduced several other factors above and beyond the usual issues placed before the Committee.
Perhaps the most pressing of those concerns arose from New York coach Hans Backe's subsequent announcement that Henry would not have played in the 1-1 draw at New England on Saturday anyways due to the artificial surface at Gillette Stadium.
Selection choices fall outside of the Committee's purview. The incident itself – not extraneous factors such as the player's reputation (a particularly sensitive topic when stars like Henry or David Beckham deviate from acceptable standards of behavior) or track record on disciplinary matters (except when a player is placed on warning for previous behavior in certain defined and limited circumstances, a factor that did not apply here) – dictates the remedial measures meted out by the Committee, according to Rodríguez.
“In this instance or in the instance of an injury, there's no way of knowing that there is a plan to make them unavailable,” Rodríguez said. “It's not factored into the Committee's decision making.”
While that uniform process should lend to consistent decisions according to the facts at hand (and a dearth of consistency in those verdicts remains among the most persistent critiques of the Committee's actions), it also prevented the Committee from enacting a meaningful rebuke in this unique case. Rodríguez did not characterize the punishment in that manner, but he did say MLS and the MLS Players Union have acted in the past to address concerns about players and teams manipulating the system in order to dodge suspensions if they persist.
“First of all, the announcement that Mr. Henry was not going to play in the game anyway came after he was suspended,” Rodríguez said. “Again, it would have been impossible to know otherwise [before the decision] or why that pronouncement was even made [after the decision]. I think, just as we did with the national team rule [ed. note – players may not serve suspensions while away on international duty], we have to look at it if we felt it opened the door for frequent or blatant manipulation of the system, in which case we need to talk to the Players' Union about closing such a loophole.”
Unless a group of turf-shy players suddenly decides to act recklessly and incur suspensions before playing in matches on artificial surfaces, this peculiarly ineffective admonishment isn't likely prompt a change in the current operating procedures used to evaluate players on a weekly basis.
“One incident – which, quite frankly, comes after the fact of the decision being taken – I'm not sure puts us to the point where we need to change our parameters,” Rodríguez said.
In Henry's case, the typical operating procedures basically handed him a pass for his petulant behavior. The episode isn't an ideal example for the Committee to take forward as it attempts to enforce its edicts in a meaningful way and rebut the persistent and vociferous criticisms of its actions. Those lingering inquisitions and this ineffective rebuke, however, won't divert or halt the Committee's efforts to uphold its directives to ensure player safety and preserve the integrity and reputation of the game and the league when play resumes this weekend.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
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- Thierry Henry