So Tuesday night in their US Open Cup match against Portland, the Seattle Sounders were probably hard-done by a series of bad calls by a relatively inexperienced official. And certainly this tournament means a lot to the Sounders. Add the burn of losing to their Cascadian rival, and it was a pepper pot ready to boil over.

Then Clint Dempsey lost it.

Playing down two men (one by a sending off, the other via injury after exhausting their 3 subs), referee Daniel Radford had the gall to give Michael Azira his own trip to the showers. That was the end of that, as far as Dempsey was concerned. He proceeded to snatch Radford’s notebook from him and shred it like an unwatched two-year-old. Needless to say, Radford had his own red card for the US Men’s National Team captain.

That leaves the talking point to be the punishment. In this case, Radford definitely went too far in at least one case (Azira), but that’s no excuse for losing one’s decorum and disrespecting the official.

The rule book indicates a three-month suspension in all competitions. That seems like a harsh penalty, but the Federation must protect its officials.

In every sport I follow, putting your hands on an official (or his effects, i.e. picking up a flag in the NFL) is a no-no which can land you in a heap of trouble. Arguing borderline calls is often given some leeway, but there is still a level of respect that must be paid to those who are charged with keeping order.

That’s where Dempsey went wrong. To go light on him would be a mistake, though that seems to be a popular suggestion across those who cover MLS. There should be absolutely no tolerance given to a player who will make contact with a referee in a manner that conveys disrespect or the potential for violence.

Going soft in some suggestions I’ve heard would be limiting the punishment to US Open Cup matches. That’s ludicrous. He wouldn’t serve a minute of the suspension until 2016, effectively allowing him to keep on playing even after acting infantile and unhinged.


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Maybe the Sounders got screwed on Tuesday, maybe not. That doesn’t give any license to treating the referee in such a fashion. People make mistakes, and a team that has won multiple Open Cups (including last year no less) should show more class and respect for the tournament.

If USSF does suspend Dempsey in all competitions for three months, it would sideline him for the Gold Cup, as well as much of the team’s remaining MLS campaign. The Sounders lead MLS in points right now – that might change without Dempsey. But he would be back in time for the stretch run as well as the playoffs.

Is that harsh? Maybe. But it’s the right call, and USSF needs to show that their own procedural rules mean the same for all.