New season, new rules.
As the 2013 campaign gets set to kick off, Major League Soccer has spent the preseason meeting with players and clubs to advise them of three disciplinary issues the league will be cracking down on: (1) mass confrontation; (2) entering the field of play; and (3) hands to the face.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber mentioned it in his March To Soccer address on Wednesday: The league will not tolerate mass confrontation by three or more individuals from the same club toward a referee or an opponent.
"There is certain behavior that we don't believe is truly reflective of the league we are and want to continue to be," MLS EVP for competition, technical and game operations, Nelson Rodriguez told MLSsoccer.com. "We were concerned that there has seemingly been an increase in the number of instances [of mass confrontation] … Our view is that none of that behavior does anything to enhance the image or reputation of our league and therefore we want to mete it out."
Rodriguez says that the issue of mass confrontation was supported by the MLS Board of Governors, made up of the owners and their representatives.
The current guidelines call for warnings for first offenses with subsequent infractions "punishable by fines to the club and its head coach."
"We understand that there will be moments of emotional outburst," Rodriguez said. "If they don’t cross the line of profanity or vulgarity or physical contact, those are understandable and even acceptable. The game is passionate and incidents in the game evoke a passionate response, but they cannot be prolonged, they cannot be abusive and they cannot be part of a gang mentality."
Entering the Field of Play
Beginning in 2013, bench personnel — players or members of the technical staff — are now prohibited from entering the field of play at any time with violators "subject to suspension and fine by the Disciplinary Committee."
Rodriguez cited an incident that occurred during the 2012 season between the Philadelphia Union and Chivas USA, which gave rise to this year's new rule.
"That incident taught us that it's very difficult to determine in such instances who's entering the field as a peacemaker and who is entering the field and aggravating a situation," Rodriguez said. "And so we just drew the bright line that said you cannot enter the field of play, and if you do you run the risk."
Hands to the Face / Head
MLS players are advised to keep their hands to themselves in 2013.
If a player puts his hand to the face or head of an opponent, he will be hit with a minimum of a fine. If the contact is deemed egregious by the Disciplinary Committee, there could be a suspension involved.
But, according to Rodriguez, the spirit of this new rule is not intended for instances when this occurs during the run of play.
"The 'hands to the face and head' is more suggestive of instances away from the ball or in dead-ball situations," Rodriguez explained, noting that intent will not factor into the Disciplinary Committee's decisions in these cases.
"This notion was originally presented by a few of the teams in the league who felt that the use of hands to the face or head of an opponent was being done to provoke or incite a retaliatory action," Rodriguez said.
While the league's new initiatives for 2013 are sure increase the workload of the Disciplinary Committee in 2013, will they succeed in eliminating the actions and behavior that the league is trying to eliminate?
Rodriguez says it's still early to tell and the sample size may still be small, but last season may already provide an indicator.
"Toward the latter part of last seaon we did believe that there was a reduction in the number of rash challenges being made by players," Rodriguez said. "We also believe that there has been a small reduction in the amount of times that players were seeking to gain an advantage through simulation and embellishment."
"The initiatives are still so relatively new that it's too soon to say for sure."