Monday, June 20, 2011

The MLS Grinder: Do we have a diving problem?

Before we get started today, just want to remind everyone I'll be making the trek down to Houston on Wednesday to cover the US's Gold Cup semifinal against Panama (and peep some of the Mexico match as well), so keep it locked to NSC this week for some exclusive content. Now.

Our lead story could easily go in Worst of the Worst, but I've decided to forgo a game of the week tonight because this seems to be an issue creating some genuine waves in our community these last few weeks, that being the "One taboo we don't do."


In about 30 seconds, RSL's Chris Wingert endured one of the most unfortunate (and blatant) injustices I've seen in the league this year. First, he tweaks his hammy running back to cover a DC United break being led up by Charlie Davies. Shortly thereafter, he watches Davies perpetrate one of the most egregious flops of the year.

Head to 5:08 here, and maybe strap in.

Which brings me to an interesting point on the subject. After Bedoya's blatant dive in the box against Panama last week and Jermaine Jones' ham-fisted attempt to make a slight bit of contact look like a sniper shot against Jamaica, US soccer is treading dangerous moral ground. For years, the Brian McBride rule generally applied to contact drawn, that being, "You're an American, sack up." I'm going to try my hardest not to sound like a bitterly aged, cane-toting, liver-spotted malcontent who's "HAD IT UP TO HERE WITH YOU WHIPPERSNAPPERS." Which in theory is impossible since I'm 25. But the youngest generation of American players seem to follow the general rules of engagement perpetrated with such verve by Europeans and Latin Americans for decades. If you can't beat 'em, act like they sunk a metal stud into your lower intestine and let the ref sort it out. Not everyone follows this rule, but more than we're used to, and certainly more at a given time than I'm used to.

My question, which may not even have an answer as of yet: do we have a problem?

If you'll allow me to be a history nerd for a moment, there is a parallel to be made here with antiquity. The Ancient Romans tied certain values to a prosperous life, and to live apart from them was to live apart from the Roman Way. Those being industria, prudentia, veritas, among others. It was this stubborn refusal to compromise that fueled the machine for one of the greatest civilizations ever.

That set of values has always reminded me of the US perspective on our sport. Play hard, play fair, play straight. Not to suggest that these labels have fallen by the wayside, or that the US has been perfect in enacting them, but years of scoffing at dives and the niggling trickeries that sides like Spain and Brazil have exploited so expertly created a fan culture of infuriating disdain for these practices. So naturally, the reaction to Bedoya's play-acting and Davies' most recent transgression (read down) have sparked a firestorm of debate. To prove it, check this out, a meticulous video article examining the act in explicit detail. In what other country would a single dive that resulted in a 1-1 draw in a midseason match in a domestic league make such news?

More to the point, these acts are undercutting the fans' ability to tread the moral high ground on these matters. The smack has been especially acute in the Mexico rivalry, where two styles fundamentally at odds with each other often provoke a laughing disdain from US fans when, say, this happens, or this happens.

Of course there is always the notion that Charlie Davies is just a diver. After all, he's pulled similar pranks before. And I'm not passing judgment on the issue one way or another, but I do think it's an interesting yarn to keep tugging on as we watch a new post-Donovan/Dolo/Dempsey (who isn't perfect in this arena either) era begin to assume some responsibility for the USMNT. These youngsters are really the first to be reared in a United States where you can finally stumble upon fairly legitimate pockets of fanatical soccer support if you look hard enough. And they're finally growing up on club teams abroad. Is that brand of trickery finally rubbing off? And is that style being imported here to our youth leagues, colleges and *gulp* MLS? If any soccer crazies out there chart dives, I'd love to see some stats on the subject.

All weighty questions worth exploring, methinks. And I do think Jermaine Jones was clipped. But that parachute pose he cut on the way down was something straight out of Cristiano Ronaldo's handwritten playbook.

Best of the Best

- If there was a game of the week, the 3-3 Timbers-Red Bulls result is it. Two penalties, one red card, six goals, and still New York is stuck on draw. The Red Bulls have drawn five of their last six matches, even if this one was at Jeld-Wen. If Juan Agudelo doesn't start getting more regular PT with this group after the Gold Cup, that's a criminal offense. Dude needs to play.

- I'm 100 percent jaded by Eric Hassli's magnificence (I've mentioned this goal four times in five days because I want to marry it), but I guess Juninho's goal in LA's 3-1 victory over the Rapids was okay.

- Vancouver broke a 14-match winless streak with a 1-0 win over... the Philly Union? The same Union team that's tied for first in the East? Right. I knew they were rioting in Vancouver for some reason. They were happy all along guys!

- Sporting KC is on the mend, it seems. What's up with minnows deciding not to be minnows this week?

Worst of the Worst

- Chivas USA with the defensive howler of the week. Skip on ahead to 6:58 for the ugliest of the uglies.

- The Dynamo are not very good right now.

- With Vancouver and KC perking up, it seems TFC has put in a convincing bid for the worst team in the league. Even the Reds' coach agrees.

- Will Parchman


Matt said...

You asked: "In what other country would a single dive that resulted in a 1-1 draw in a midseason match in a domestic league make such news?"

The answer: Italy. The Italian news would show a play like that 150 times. I'm not kidding.

Cheese Tease said...

the fact that Davies has scored 6 penalties this year is unbelievable. I don't know that RSL has had 6 penalties called in two years. I was at the game and the dive was disgraceful, only more disgraceful was the linesman not even making a case to the official who was chasing the play.

Will Parchman said...

Let's be honest, Matt. The two countries have different views on the matter. I've been a Roma fan for as long as I can remember, so I watch plenty of Italian footy, and embellishment has been accepted as a part of the game in some respects. The Italian sports press blows a lot of things out of proportion, but the level of coverage and discussion these dives have gotten stateside have been in no way proportional to the general mid-June MLS chatter.

It's certainly not the disgusting practice it is here. I've only recently noticed American players going down like a shot for nothing more regularly in the last few years, and there was one such instance in the Jamaica game when Dempsey went down like he'd snapped his ankle, screamed until he noticed the ref had jogged on and then sprang back up and joined the play. It's just not something we're nearly as used to seeing as most of the rest of the world. I'm not making a pronouncement on it, but I definitely think this has all sprung up in higher numbers over the last few years.

M & M said...

you need to retract this immediately: "After Bedoya's blatant dive in the box against Panama last week". that's slander.

watch the clip again. the goalie clips bedoya's foot with his knee and rotates it backwards. and just to be helpful I took a screencap for you right off of youtube.

you see that. having your foot trapped by a sliding knee lunge and subsequently rotating back almost 180 degrees does not constitute a dive.

Will Parchman said...

I've watched that video at least two dozen times. It was simulation in my eyes, and obviously I'm not alone. Even if the keeper's knee did graze Bedoya's ankle (and people roll their ankles on their own all the time), that wasn't what brought him down. He takes a step beyond the keeper, drags his back foot (the one that was supposedly rolled over) and swan dives onto the turf.

I don't know if you've ever had your ankle rolled over enough that it takes you to the ground, but you're down immediately, and you usually stay down. If the contact was significant enough to warrant a penalty, it would have been much more obvious than this. You'll just never convince me that he didn't dive.

M & M said...

we'll have to agree to disagree. when i see a player's foot get stepped on and snapped back 180 degrees, i see a foul. frankly, i think bedoya was lucky to escape the tackle without injury. so what of the fact that he was able to get his foot back out in front of him (your evidence of a "blatant dive") in time to put it down? congrats to him for excellent balance and athleticism to stay up after a foul. so what of the kicking the ground and swan dive? sure that's a dive. but there is no advantage to be played here- PK vs dribbling away from goal after a clear trip.

what if the goalie had come out and slapped bedoya in the face and bedoya took a step then fell? is that a foul in your eyes?

M & M said...

you know i watched it again and WHAT I SAID PREVIOUSLY WAS WRONG. after he was tripped, he never put his right foot back down. sorry alejandro. he was able to step onto the unimpeded left foot and then fell when trying to step onto the right. the case gets better and better for bedoya.

Greg Seltzer said...

Speaking as a winger (if that matters)... it sure looked like a flop to me. Ale doesn't go down so easy.

Will Parchman said...

"what if the goalie had come out and slapped bedoya in the face and bedoya took a step then fell? is that a foul in your eyes?"

The precedent was set in John Carew v. Everybody. I only take my cues from this.

timothy dee said...

You do realize Rome fell in a sea of corruption, right?

That said, embellishment and simulation are completely separate things. Davies simulated contact, while Jermaine Jones embellished a foul. Granted, it was only conclusive on the Univision feed that his trailing heel was clipped. For me, ensuring that the referee sees an infraction is fundamentally not the same as feigning one.

As far as the Bedoya incident goes, I still haven't seen anything determinative. I'm gonna have to trust the referee in that case.