Despite narrative, 2016 red card numbers not out of place in MLS history

MLS referees have handed out 16 red cards through the first five weeks of the 2016 season, prompting just a little bit of discussion among coaches, players, fans and media.

And while the merit of some of those reds are certainly up for debate, the notion that more ejections are taking place at the start of 2016 compared to other seasons is a bit off.

In fact, the red-card numbers for this year look very similar to the totals from each of the last two seasons. As mentioned above, officials have handed out 16 reds through the first 42 games of the 2016 season. That’s only two more than the 14 reds shown through 42 games in 2015, and three more than the 13 shown in that span in 2014.

On a broader scale, the red-card totals from 2016 are comparable to many of the seasons in the league history. You can check out the full ejection numbers through roughly 42 games from each of the league’s 21 seasons in the below table, which comes to us courtesy of the Elias Sports Bureau:

Year Games Played Red Cards Reds Per Game
2016 42 16 0.38
2015 42 14 0.33
2014 42 11* 0.26
2013 42 3* 0.07
2012 44 5 0.11
2011 44 19 0.43
2010 45 14 0.31
2009 43 16 0.37
2008 42 10 0.24
2007 44 6 0.14
2006 46 8 0.17
2005 43 7 0.16
2004 42 10 0.24
2003 43 9 0.21
2002 44 16 0.36
2001 46 19 0.41
2000 42 13 0.31
1999 43 19 0.44
1998 43 23 0.53
1997 43 5 0.12
1996 43 8 0.19

*The initial table did not take into account rescinded red cards from 2013 and 2014, decreasing the total number of red cards in the opening part of each season from four to three and 13 to 11, respectively. 

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