NEW YORK (AP) — Seattle forward Clint Dempsey was suspended for three games by Major League Soccer on Friday and fined for his conduct toward a match official during a U.S. Open Cup game this week, a penalty the U.S. captain will finish serving before the Americans start the defense of their CONCACAF Gold Cup title next month.
MLS Commissioner Don Garber concluded Dempsey’s behavior was “referee abuse,” which requires a minimum three-game suspension, and not “referee assault,” which has a minimum six-game ban.
Dempsey was punished for a confrontation with a referee Tuesday in the Sounders’ fourth-round loss to rival Portland, when he grabbed a notebook from the official and tore it after a teammate was given a red card. Dempsey could face further discipline from a panel established by the U.S. Soccer Federation, but any additional suspension would be limited to U.S. Open Cup matches.
He will miss league games against San Jose on Saturday, Philadelphia on Wednesday and Portland on June 28. While Dempsey would have had to sit out U.S. national team games during the suspension, the Americans do not play until a July 3 exhibition against Guatemala, four days before the Americans start the Gold Cup against Honduras.
Referee abuse is defined as conduct that “threatens through a physical act or verbal statement, either explicitly or implicitly.” Part of the definition of referee assault is “damaging the referee’s uniform or personal property (e.g., car, uniform, or equipment).”
“We do not tolerate conduct of this nature from any of our players,” MLS Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott said in a statement. “No matter how passionate our players are or what happens in the ‘heat of the moment,’ they must always respect all aspects of the game, especially the referees. In light of Clint’s actions and our past precedents, we felt that a significant suspension was appropriate.”
The Professional Soccer Referees Association was less than pleased with the three-game suspension, calling it a “slap on the wrist” and calling Dempsey’s actions a direct threat to the integrity of the game.
“In late 2014 MLS was moving in the right direction in their response to referee assaults. Unfortunately, this is a serious step backward,” the PSRA said in a statement. “Referee safety is an important issue at all levels of the game and MLS should have used its high profile position to lead rather than regress.”
With Seattle down to nine men in overtime after an injury and red card, teammate Micheal Azira was ejected for an elbow to a Portland player.
Dempsey, who was not near the play, walked up to referee Daniel Radford and grabbed his notebook out of his hand. Dempsey threw the notebook, picked it up and ripped it in half and was shown a red card, leaving Seattle with seven men — the minimum for the match to continue.
After being shown the red card, Dempsey had to be restrained by teammates and a couple of opponents from getting in the face of Radford. As Dempsey walked off the field, he clapped derisively in the face of an assistant referee on the sideline.
Portland went on to win the match 3-1, ending Seattle’s reign as U.S. Open Cup champion. Upset fans threw water bottles on the field, and Radford’s officiating crew left with a police escort.
On Thursday, Seattle owner Adrian Hanauer said the incident “wasn’t our proudest moment.”
According to the USSF Policy Manuel, MLS had jurisdiction because he was participating in a professional league member activity.
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