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MLS coaches, players want consistency in issuance of red cards.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Wednesday, April 29, 1998) -- Major League Soccer coaches continue to express confusion about the profusion of red cards being issued for rough tackles.

Los Angeles' Octavio Zambrano: "The game has changed so much . . . I'm baffled."

Tampa Bay's John Kowalski: "I don't understand it, nor do most players or coaches. It's been a little bit inconsistent."

Kansas City assistant coach Guy Newman: "It's very hard to tell what's a foul and what's not these days. A lot of (red cards) are just mistimed tackles."

The players also are concerned, but from various sides.

San Jose's Eddie Lewis, after 10 cards (three red) were issued in the game with New York/New Jersey: "It just seems like as soon as they started giving all the cards, the game wasn't in the hands of the players anymore."

But Chicago's Frank Klopas was angered about a tackle by Colorado's Chris Martinez just drawing a yellow card. "It was 100 percent a red card," he told the Chicago Tribune. "He almost broke my (left) ankle. It cut me open. I had planted my foot, and I thank God I wasn't hurt more seriously."

He left the game three minutes later, feeling numbness in his ankle.

Los Angeles' Cobi Jones likes the emphasis on enforcement. "I think it's a great rule," the MLS scoring leader told the Los Angeles Times. "In the past you always had concerns if you were coming back and trapping the ball -- if a defender was going to nail you from behind. It's not a situation where they really have a chance of winning the ball. It's an intimidation factor . . . I think that takes away from the game."

The wording of the world soccer governing body FIFA rule -- set to go into effect worldwide July 1 but being used now in MLS and scheduled to be applied in the World Cup -- says a red card should be issued for "a tackle from behind which endangers the safety of an opponent. . . "

Many observers thought "endangers" tackles always brought ejections. Many officials, however, frequently weren't enforcing that aspect -- until this year in MLS.

Now they're being more rigid -- based on videos distributed by MLS to teams and referees about non-calls last year that they want called this year. Few doubt that endangering-safety tackles should merit ejection -- even if in the first few minutes of the game.

But questions still exist about what exactly is meant "from behind" and the judgment inherent about borderline "safety" tackles. Most players are not happy with the MLS pronouncement that if it's a 50-50 situation, go with the red card.

"We're all for helping good (skill) players, but the game has a physical element to it, and I hope we can find middle ground," Zambrano told reporters.

Coaches and players alike are hoping that consistency develops on enforcement by mid-season. Officials are hoping players -- and being clumsy doesn't count -- will stop making reckless tackles.

Jerry Langdon is the Gannett News Service sports editor and can be e-mailed at jlangdon@gns.gannett.com.

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