MLS Commish Don Garber’s Ideas For Improvement Ignore Elephant in the Room: Red Cards

In past interviews, MLS Commissioner Don Garber stated that he is pressing for referees to make more consistent calls on fouls.

His position seems to be that hard-line refereeing is needed in order for the offense to open up and for more goals to be scored.


Image via Wikipedia

“The league and U.S. Soccer are working closely together to try to do everything we can to raise the quality of refereeing in our league,” Garber said.

“Nobody wants to see persistent fouls and persistent infringement and attacking players constantly being pulled, clutched and thrown to the ground. That’s just not good soccer. We need to be sure we’re not just protecting a specific individual player, but we’re protecting the concept of supporting entertaining, quality play,” he added.

The biggest point he is trying to make is that the sport lacks offense.  If each individual game is not called by the refs to the letter of the rule, it impinges on the potential for creativity and more scoring.

It is the one issue that has been consistently avoided by the commissioner and others representing pro Soccer in the U.S.  From a public relations standpoint, no one seems to want to directly address that there is not enough scoring in soccer for American fans.

It appears that the Commish uses his words on the matter of improving refereeing to cover up a bigger issue.

Simply put, referees cannot call the game the way it should be called because there is only one caution and then the player is tossed with a red card.

In other words, there are really only two fouls as compared to other sports, like pro basketball, where there are six fouls before a player is asked to leave.

But the big difference between an NBA player leaving after 6 fouls is that he gets replaced by another player.  The game does not become five versus four players.  Or, like in pro hockey, players are given time penalties to sit out of the game, but not expelled.

Referees are not stupid people.

They know that too many red cards will detract from what is expected when fans watch a match, some paying to see it live, and that no one wants to see an unfair advantage.

A red card produces unfair advantages by giving teams 11 against 10 players on the first one issued.  Officials, therefore, try their hardest to give red cards only in the worst circumstances.

Garber is unrealistic in his hopes for more offense and less physical play.  There’s a sense of dishonesty to what he says as he talks around the issue.

American fans are always going to plead for more scoring from soccer.  Without more scoring, there will always be doubt as to how far pro soccer (MLS) can go versus the other bigtime leagues.  If being #5 after the NHL, MLB, NBA and NFL is satisfactory, then no improvements are necessary.  If rising to the top of all the leagues is the goal, then scoring will have to improve.

Soccer’s red card rule needs to be adjusted to allow for another player to enter the game for the suspended player.  Readers can see much more on this suggested rule change and how to enforce it by reading Americanizing Soccer for the U.S. Sports Fan pt. 3.

Currently, there is not any real plan in action.  It’s impossible for there to be a plan because MLS does not control how the game is played.  MLS does not have the ability that the other major sports have in this country to come together as a rules committee at the end of the season and make subtle adjustments for the pleasure of the sports fans and the sound judgment of the game.

MLS always has a back story for why things happen.  There is no common sense answer for how to improve things because this is a league not running on its own merit; rather, it’s running according to how its told to run.

In order to improve scoring or improve refereeing, MLS will have to be bold enough to break away and learn to lead, like a baby bird growing up, eventually flying from its mother’s nest to go and build its own nest.


Howard Alperin is Managing Editor of

About Howard M Alperin

Husband, Father, Teacher, Planner, Advisor, Counselor, Social Worker, Businessman, Consultant, Blogger, Author, Entrepreneur, Inventor, YMCA Coach, Marketer, Innovator, Advertiser, Promoter, Court Appointed Special Advocate to children, Volunteer, Runner, Athlete, Spanish Speaker, Non-Sports Card Collector, Dog Agility Enthusiast and OIF Veteran.


  1. Seriously?  Why play the sport if you aren’t going to follow the rules the rest of the world uses?  The ref doesn’t have to give a yellow for the first offense.  Verbal warnings are very exeptable for initial infringements at all levels, and if you continue, then you get the cards.  Maybe they should improve the skill instead of having sub par players unable to keep up, so they just get physical.  The English game is very physical and they get carded as well, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of the desire to do away with a red card.  It’s integral to the game.  If you don’t want a red card, then don’t commit the foul.  Also, what better way to increase scoring than having people sent off?

  2. The Football is Round says:

    Who ever wrote this argument is woefully ignorant of football. (The real one).

    MLS and leagues play by the same laws of the game.

    MLS can only operate if it plays by the rules everyone around the world plays by.

    Were MLS to do what the author of this article proposes they would quickly be declared an outlaw league by FIFA.

    What does that matter you ask?

    Well for starters, any player who would want to participate in FIFA competitons at ANY LEVEL up to and including the World Cup would be banned from playing in MLS or else lose their FIFA eligibility.

    Not to mention this would be a return to the kind of madness that MLS started out with in the 90s (countdown clocks, shootouts to settle tied games, 4 subtitutions with a special “goalkeeper substitution”)

    MLS became the laughing stock of world football because they started out mistakenly believing such nonsensical non-compliance with the world standard would win over “the average American sports fan”.

    Guess what? It didn’t.

    You know what did help MLS thrive? Getting rid of the pandering to “average american sports fans” and becoming true to the game for the soccer/football fans in America.

    We’ve come TOO FAR to go backwards so there is NO chance MLS will do anything that stupid again.

  3. Tony Brita says:

    “Americanize” soccer? Honestly, this is one of the unintelligent articles I have read in ages on soccer in America. Attendance at MLS games has been increasing every year for years now and average attendance is higher than the NBA and the NHL. If replacing a player who gets a red card is allowed, it would simply encourage more dangerous tackles because there is no penalty to the team. Who cares if the guy gets thrown out? Someone else will take his place. Soccer players can commit as many fouls as they want. This notion that they “only” get two is ridiculous

  4. Allowing a “red carded” player to be substituted is just plain stupid.  What’s to stop a team from hiring three goon players to just take out the strikers from the other team?  Hurt a player, get a red card, sub another goon, hurt a player, etc. etc.  What’s the down side?  And don’t tell me some teams wouldn’t do that.  It will be just like hockey.  The Goober is an idiot. 

  5. Garber is indeed beating around the bush vis a vis soccer’s low scoring tendencies and Americans’ distaste of low scoring sports, but that is soccer/football.  1-0 scorelines are commonplace, and that’s fine.  The popularity of MLS speaks for itself; it’s the third highest attended sport in the US behind NFL and MLB.  There is no need to “Americanize” the game.  MLS tried that in the 90s with laughable results.

  6. Ruffhaus8 says:

    This is one of the most ridiculous suggestions I’ve ever heard.  Aside from being a completely naive, and and an unecessary change (soccer is drawing more American fans in case you missed the memo) allowing substitutions for red cards would unleash a wave of thugs into the leage who could proceed to goon it up with impunity because a subsitituin can always come in to replace them. 

  7. A. Wilson says:

    Wow, that may be one of the worst sport opinion articles I have ever read.  Not a single argument makes any logical or even practical sense.

  8. The author is clearly uninformed about soccer. He states that “there are really only two fouls as compared to other sports.” NOT EVERY FOUL IS A YELLOW CARD. ONLY THE RECKLESS, DANGEROUS FOULS. If the author has ever actually watched a soccer match, he would see referees calling 3 and even 4 fouls against the same player BEFORE giving a yellow card. Please don’t write subjects you have no knowledge of.

  9. The two table system is bad enough. They don’t need to “Americanize” the sport any more than they already have. Viewership is up and new fans are being drawn to the sport and the league every day. This kind of change is enough to make me stop watching.

  10. RIDICULIOUS article from someone who is a managing editor. How about the QPR- Man City match that QPR almost won with a MAN DOWN? Or the NYRB – Montreal match that NY won with a MAN DOWN? Also, the NFL in the USA is king. MLB, NBA and NHL will never dethrone football so to imply thats the MLS’s goal is stupid.

    One last point, I am okay with an American style of play in soccer. To move away from international rules just to suit our needs is not only childish but it is COWARDLY which is what the USA is not.

  11. bullonparade says:

    People need to do their math.  Last year, a MLS game averaged almost 3 goals per game, which is .033 goals per minute.  An NFL game averaged almost 6 touchdowns a game, which is, given the fact that an NFL game is 180 minutes on average, and thus twice as long as a MLS game, .033 touchdowns per minute.  Hmmm.  Next agruement.  

  12. this is ridiculous and i want the guy who wrote this article to c just how many people disagree with him. scoring needs to b more? are you kidding?! all that shows is ur lack of knowledge of the game and how difficult it really is to score a goal! because they are so rare it makes it that much sweeter when we do score. please find another profession or at least don’t write another article on football ever again.

  13. MLSSupporter says:

    This is the most ludicrous articles I have ever read and the author should take some time off from writing after this one.  Howard, you obviously know nothing about soccer nor are you a fan of the sport.  This is a pointless piece of garbage that only serves the purpose of making real fans angry because of your absolute ignorance.  And get your facts straight, MLS is not #5 anymore and has surpassed #3 as far as average attendance.  And honestly, mark my words, I foresee MLS becoming one of the top 3 soccer leagues in the world within the next decade.  

  14. Garybecker says:

    I’m so pleased to see that all the other commenters felt exactly the same way upon reading this garbage. I was afraid some might find “americanizing soccer” to be a good idea. Please, do us a favor, the best way to enjoy all of the high-scoring American sports you yern for is to go watch them. For the rest of us, there’s absolutely nothing better and more dramatic than a hard-fought 1-0 match.

  15. Sub for red cards?  Sounds like an excellent idea. Lets truly Americanize it and implement a change in the scoring system also.  4 points for a header that results in a goal from a corner kick, 3 points for a header from a free kick,  2 points for a goal from a penalty kick, 5 points for a goal from outside the 6 yard box, and 6 points for a goal from a kick outside of 25 yards.

    Allow each team 6 challenges to referees decisions, time outs, instant replays, and do away with the offside rule.

    Leave the damn game alone the way it is played has been good enough for the last hundred years

  16. BOY! That was a really piece of garbage article. Wow!!

  17. This wouldn’t Americanize soccer, this would cause the MLS to lose their status with FIFA. If this happens then Garber had better get fired.

  18. It’s funny to me that we want to be taken seriously as a league but keep insisting on rediculous concepts like this author suggests. Guess what, people are watching the sport and loving it! Better yet, they are exposing a whole new generation of fans when they bring thier kids to games and watch on TV. If you look at this like any other product/market it doesn’t make sense to try and copy the style and success of another product. If people want high scores they will watch basketball and football, not a frankenstein version of soccer. Beyond this, I think you would lose a large portion of hard core supporters that have helped push the league to where it is today. If the NFL and the NBA are Coke and Pepsi, let MLS stay Dr Pepper, I different but equally enjoyable option, not RC Cola.

Speak Your Mind