Major League Soccer may be set to introduce sin bins ahead of the 2024 regular season. The International Football Association Board (IFAB) approved trials for the potential new law during a meeting on Tuesday. The international group currently determines the laws and rules of soccer worldwide.

Nevertheless, implementing sin bins in soccer leagues cannot become official until the annual business meeting (ABM) takes place. This assembly is on March 2. Although the 2024 MLS season does not currently have a set start date, the most recent North American league began on Feb. 25. Their 2022 campaign also started on Feb. 26. Assuming the law becomes official, MLS could become the first league to trial the controversial rule.

IFAB hopes sin bins deter referee dissent, tactical fouls in MLS

Sin bins have been in place in rugby for more than two decades. While the exact implementation of the rule in soccer is not yet set in stone, referees send offenders to the sidelines for a temporary amount of time. Trials of the rule began at the grassroots level in England back in 2019. In these trials, culprits must leave the pitch for 10 minutes. After the time is up, they are then allowed back into the game.

Sin bins would target MLS players guilty of dissent, which is a growing problem for referees today.
Sin bins would target MLS players guilty of dissent, which is a growing problem for referees today.

Sin bins would target MLS players guilty of dissent, which is a growing problem for referees today.

The potential rule deters certain situations such as dissent and extreme tactical fouls. English officials previously introduced strict rules regarding dissent ahead of the current Premier League campaign. Top-flight referees can now issue yellow cards to complaining players more freely.

IFAB also discussed one particular instance of an extreme tactical foul worthy of a player heading to the sin bin. The previous incident involved Italy’s Giorgio Chiellini. The defender harshly pulled down England winger Bukayo Saka during the Euro 2020 Final. Saka was on a clear breakaway when the opposing defender dragged him to the ground by the collar of his shirt. Chiellini earned a yellow card for the infraction. Lawmakers believe the incident is a perfect example of a sin bin violation.

Top rugby exec ‘surprised’ by potential rule change

Potentially introducing sin bins is, however, not a popular idea. The law’s potential implementation in soccer shocked Exeter rugby director Rob Baxter. “I will be honest with you, I am very surprised [soccer] is doing it,” Baxter recently stated.

“My advice to [soccer] would be just be careful. Do you think you genuinely need it to improve player behavior? Or do penalties, free kicks and yellow cards as they stand, which can escalate to reds for a double yellow, have they got the sanctions already within their game to control player behavior and they just haven’t been using them? That is what I see in football.”

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“They have got the sanctions available in their game, so use them. For player abuse, you only need to do it in one or two games and things change very quickly. Introducing yellow cards and removing players from the pitch is something I would be very careful of.”

Former Arsenal star says sin bins will ‘kill the game’

Sky Sports pundit and former Arsenal midfielder Paul Merson agrees with Baxter. Merson recently addressed the notion of introducing sin bins in an article for the aforementioned news outlet. The pundit went as far as to say that sending a player temporarily off of the pitch would ruin the sport.

“You put someone in the sin bin in football for 10 minutes, you’re killing the game,” proclaimed Merson. “You’d get 10 players sitting behind the ball the whole time. It’d be the most boring [soccer] ever. It’s an absolute waste of time, a waste of time.”

“All they’d be doing then for that 10 minutes is taking their time over taking a throw-in, they’ll take a goal kick, they’ll buy a foul, and it’ll just grind out the worst 10 minutes you could imagine.”

Possibly implementing sin bins was not, however, the only topic of conversation for IFAB officials in their recent meeting. The governing body also approved a trial for referees to directly communicate VAR decisions to the crowd at stadiums. This potential rule would receive significantly more approval from the fans.