MLS Cup 2015 concluded Sunday evening with a famous victory for Caleb Porter’s Portland Timbers. The Timber’s Army packed the away end and rocked the foundation of Mapfre Stadium, en route to a Sunday night many of the supporters will never forget. If only Timber Joey, arguably the most famous chainsaw operator in the soccer world, had been allowed to bring his chainsaw and log into the grounds, then maybe fate would have worked in the Crew’s favor. A game littered with goalkeeping blunders, as well as some very good individual performances from some bright young Americans. Jorge Villafaña, Will Trapp and Darlington Nagbe all stood out as foreseeable national team options in the near future for Klinsmann.
One aspect of the final that stood out to me as a neutral viewer with no real vested interest in the outcome, was that the match seemed more like a rugby match then a cup final. On numerous occasions, players blatantly threw themselves into the opposition as if they were a middle linebacker in an NFL game. There were several instances I couldn’t believe there was no foul given during scrums where I thought a referee’s whistle was long overdue. The constant grabbing, tussling, tackling from behind resembled more of a Sunday league bar fight then a demonstration of what the best two teams in the league had to offer.
Not to be someone who ever criticizes physical play, anyone who has ever witnessed me charge around the midfield would attest to that. And I am not saying any of the players in the game could be labeled as thugs; they are purely products of an environment that allows such play to exist. Players at the highest levels will always test the limits of referees for what is and is not allowed, which is why the refereeing in the MLS needs to improve. The refereeing in the game Sunday was simply not strict enough, allowing players to pull, kick and tug their way out of defensive situations to regularly unpunished. It seemed every time the Crew’s Justin Meram was involved in the match, he was being tossed to the ground seconds later by the opposition as they sprang forward on the counter.
Referees in MLS have long been criticized as not strong enough for the level, but who is creating the standard for what is and isn’t allowed in the MLS? Every viewer of a match wants the game to flow and not be interrupted constantly by a referee’s whistle, but at what cost? A stricter stance on what is and isn’t a foul in the MLS may encourage more creative players to shine in the showcase games. Too many times pace and power seem to prevail over skill and technical ability in MLS games. A stricter policy on the play would encourage clever players to outwit defenders, without the threat of a blatant foul being unpunished by the officials.
Should a stricter stance be taken by referees in the MLS? If a new stance was implemented into the league, there would be an adjustment period where players would learn the new standard, which may mean a lot of whistles and interruptions during the game. In the end, I believe the league would benefit from a new stance. Am I getting soft in my old age? Possibly, but I would love to see the creative number 10s in the league operate without constantly being pulled, pushed, or body slammed as we all saw Sunday. None the less Sunday concluded another entertaining season of MLS soccer with a league that is set to continue to grow in the years to come. The Timbers, from the proudly weird city of Portland, are champions of MLS and there is not a group of supporters who deserve it more.