Gig Harbor (Wash.) High is in the middle of another impressive boys soccer season. That's no surprise; the Tides traditionally compete for the Narrows League title in Washington's 4A classification, and the Tacoma-area school is currently tied for the league lead. Gig Harbor is an annual fixture in the state playoffs, a tournament it seems headed toward again.
Yet, the Tides are also walking a true tightrope that could keep them out of the playoffs, even if they win the league. For the 2011 season, Washington instituted a new rule that bans from the postseason any teams which pick up three red cards for violent conduct or abusive language, regardless of record. According to the Tacoma News Tribune, Gig Harbor already has two such infractions with four games remaining in the regular season.
"It's pretty severe," Tides coach Todd Northstrom told the News Tribune. "No other sport does this. We're kind of living in fear now. It's incredibly stressful."
For Gig Harbor, that tension has yet to hold the team back. Since receiving the second red card of the year, the Tides embarked on a seven-game winning streak, which remains current. To his credit, Northstrom hasn't argued the motivation behind the new three-red-card rule, instead insisting to the News Tribune and Patch.com that he is simply upset with the machinations that keep it running.
According to Patch.com, the coach filed an appeal for his team's second red card -- which was issued to goalie Korey Durkee -- with the Narrows League and Washington Interscholastic Athletic Association but was denied on the basis that "judgment decisions" by officials could not be reviewed.
In Gig Harbor's case, there may be legitimate reason to question the decision that led to the team's second red card. Durkee received the card for "violent conduct" when he was sent into the box on a late corner kick with Gig Harbor trying to rally in its 2-1 loss to Bellarmine Prep. The Tides goalie elevated for a header, then landed on a Bellarmine player … and was ejected for doing so.
Making matters worse, Patch.com reported that when Northstrom tried to protest the call to the ref after the game ended, he wasn't even acknowledged.
"As a coach you're supposed to formally protest either at halftime or at the end of the game," Northstrom told Patch.com. "This is why I was upset Thursday, the ref wouldn't acknowledge me. I kept calling him and calling him so I could protest, and he ran to the Bellarmine sideline, shook hands with the Bellarmine coaches and ran away."
That tenuous decision has the Tides entering their final four games with disciplinary trepidation, with the prospect of becoming the first team to miss a postseason berth on the basis of picking up too many ignominious red cards firmly in their minds, even as the players try to put past incidents behind them.
"We're not a ragged bunch of ruffians," Northstrom told the News Tribune. "The guys have put it behind them. They're focusing on the future."