SANTA MONICA – In the latest case of Major League Soccer seemingly holding its Designated Players to a different standard than others, NYCFC striker David Villa has avoided retroactive suspension for a blatant kick-out at Toronto FC’s Armando Cooper.
The incident took place on Sunday, some 20 minutes into the first leg of NYC’s Eastern Conference semifinal clash with Toronto. As Villa and Cooper contested the ball, the Toronto man got position on the Spanish World Cup winner. Villa then swung his leg, chopping Cooper to the ground.
Villa avoided detection from referee Silviu Petrescu for his action at the time, despite both teams rushing to the spot in an incident that halted play for several moments.
Neither player was shown a yellow card at the time and play resumed with Toronto going on to win 2-0 on goals from Jozy Altidore and Tosaint Ricketts.
However, as replays of the incident circulated, it was brought up for review by MLS’s five-man Disciplinary Committee. While the DisCo agreed the incident was worthy of a red card, it opted not to suspend Villa, on the grounds that it wasn’t “egregious” enough to warrant doing so.
The decision has been a perplexing one, as almost any other player in the league would have surely been suspended ahead of Sunday’s second leg.
It has reopened the case on whether MLS holds its Designated Players to a different standard than the rest of the league. While it’s not uncommon for referees in any league to get it wrong in the heat of the game, the video replay provides inarguable evidence that Villa’s actions were as blatant as it gets.
Villa however, who won the World Cup and the Euros with Spain, as well as La Liga and the Champions League with Barcelona, is one of the league’s marquee talents. Currently on the shortlist for league MVP, the 34-year-old has 23 regular season goals and has been a huge part of NYC’s push to the playoffs.
He’s also one of the league’s biggest draws in terms of star power.
MLS holding its DPs to a different standard is nothing new. We saw it last month in the Montreal Impact’s handling of the Didier Drogba incident; in which the Ivory Coast striker also avoided suspension despite removing himself from a game-day squad after learning he’d be starting on the bench.
While DPs do add value to the league, in terms of attracting new fans and, as in Villa’s case, making a big contribution on the pitch, MLS damages its own credibility by holding these players to a different standard.
Understandably, most neutrals want to see players like Villa in the big games, like the playoffs. But if MLS really wants to be taken seriously as a league that might someday contend with the big European leagues, it needs to stop treating Designated Players like Villa or Drogba as if they’re bigger than the league.
Written by Alex Baker. Photos by Jose L. Argueta.