Remember when RSL's Alvaro Saborio was suspended last year for diving to draw a penalty against San Jose?
Yeah, you can expect more of that.
On the eve of Major League Soccer's 17th season, commissioner Don Garber said Thursday that the league will continue to take an aggressive stance toward "embellishment" and aggressive play — to the extent that it's changing the way its disciplinary reviews games.
Previously, he said, the league's disciplinary committee did not act on plays that did not include either an injury or a card.
"That's going to change this year," he said.
Now, league officials will have wider latitude in disciplining players in order to "rid that unsportsmanlike aspect of our game, which does nothing to advance the sport."
The league just this week announced the formation of a new Professional Referee Organization that will manage all referees and refereeing matters for the pro leagues in the United States and Canada. That move reclaims control and organization of the referees from U.S. Soccer.
"The aim is really simple," Garber said, "to try to increase the quality of the officiating in the pro leagues."
Certainly, RSL fans will cheer that goal — though Garber cautioned fans to not "expect it to change overnight. … It's going to take some time for the full impact of this program to be felt, but we're very excited about it."
In his annual state of the league address, Garber also lauded MLS' growth, noting that it set league records last season with an average of 17,782 fans attending its games, with 87 sellouts. Just a few years ago, he acknowledged, it was "hard to imagine our teams would be selling out so many games, and we expect to have a similar number of sellouts in 2012," when the expansion Montreal Impact become the league's 19th team.
Garber said he hopes the league's middling television ratings will soon catch up with the popularity at the gate, and said the league is managed in such a way — "checks and balances," he said — that will keep it from growing too fast.
"You could argue if Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo were playing in the league, the league would be more popular than it is today," he said, "but we'd go bankrupt tomorrow."
Garber said he's not promising the league can or will continue to grow at its current pace, but rather that "we'll grow and be more popular each year. … It all feels a bit like a tidal wave that's rising."
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