With red cards seen as on the rise in Major League Soccer, there has been plenty of confusion as to which tackles now constitute ejections, and which ones don't. The reaction from players, coaches, and fans recently led Professional Referees Organization GM Peter Walton to come out and say that the refs are "applying the law as written."
After a recent scoreless draw between the LA Galaxy and the Vancouver Whitecaps, Bruce Arena - whose side was the beneficiary of Matias Laba being sent off - opined that "there's just been too many red cards in this league. It's ruining games. Those are difficult games and it doesn't make the game entertaining and I don't think the fans like it."
But on the flip side, situations like the one on Sunday between Arena's Galaxy and Portland Timbers seem to be the prime example of what MLS is looking to remove from the game. Nigel De Jong, who has a history of bad tackles throughout his career, went over the top of the ball, stomping USMNT midfielder Darlington Nagbe on the ankle, forcing Nagbe from the game.
And just when Allen Chapman was expected to pull the red card out of his back pocket, he instead chose to only show De Jong a yellow.
With all of this in mind, with all of the confusion as to what the refs are now meant to interpret as a red card, D.C. United manager Ben Olsen has been unsure as to what message he wants to pass on to his players, due to what he perceives as inconsistency from the referees in handing out red cards this year.
"I don't know what to tell the players, until that stuff gets consistent, consistent in what they're calling," Olsen told B&RU on Wednesday. "Red card or not, I don't care if it's a red card. That's not my job. It is my job to communicate to players, and reinforce what is going to keep them in the game, and what is not."
"I think they've sent a message that going over the ball, and getting studs into the ankle, and putting players at risk with these challenges, no matter where they are on the field, you're going to go to the locker room," said Olsen. "OK. Keep it up. Keep doing whatever they're doing. But just keep it consistent, and then we'll know."
Olsen, who has never shied away from an argument with a referee - in 2012 he famously referred to a game refereed by Mark Geiger as "the Geiger Show" - admits that the referees are put into tough positions in terms of calling the games. And that the referees usually have to bear the brunt of their bad calls, while their good calls go without notice.
But not knowing on which day which tackle will be a red card or a yellow card leaves Olsen bemused in terms of the message to send his players.
"Refereeing is tough. It's not easy. There's all these judgment calls by the guy in the middle that changes games. There's situations every year where there are a lot of mistakes, but they don't get credit for the ones they get right," said Olsen. "The ones they get wrong are all over the news. It's not easy. The more consistent they can be, the better it will be for everybody."
United has been fortunate enough to have not been affected by the increase in red cards. While Marcelo Sarvas saw red for a stray hand against FC Dallas in a game that was done for by that time, neither United nor any of their opponents have seen a retroactive ban following a game this year.
Still, it's an issue that Olsen seems to want to address with his team, so they know what to look out for.
Given the option, Olsen chose not to give his personal opinions on whether or not he agreed that the crackdown of studs-up tackles should result in red cards. Instead, he chose to acknowledge that the league was heading in that direction, and that once he completely understood what constituted a red card challenge, it was his responsibility to pass that along to his players.
"This is how our game is evolving, this is what our league wants. But once that gets consistent enough, I can communicate that. Right now I am not necessarily sure."