The FC Dallas Saga is Another Black Mark for a League Craving Credibility

MLS suffers from a credibility problem. Yes, it has made gains over recent years. It has more fans than it ever has before, has it’s third expansion team in two years entering the league next year and has plans to expand to 28 total. Despite all this, questions about credibility have continued to plague the league. Moments like the FC Dallas ruling do not shine brightly upon the league nor Commissioner Don Garber.

VAR brought new controversy in 2017. Gone are they days of simple controversies like the quality of PRO referees (find me a league that doesn’t constantly question its officials) or unbalanced schedules. 

No, we have a new set of controversies facing the growing league, and FC Dallas knowingly stirring the pot gives us a debate topic that could last through MLS Cup. 

In short, FCD placed Michael Barrios in the starting lineup against Orlando on September 30. Fifteen minutes before the match started, Dallas removed him from the starting XI and placed him on the bench. According to FIFA and MLS rules, any removal of a player from the starting XI within an hour prior to kickoff results in that player not participating in the match. PRO referees allowed the substitution to occur (but shouldn’t have).

But Friday afternoon’s ruling on the FC Dallas team sheet debacle, docking FC Dallas $75,000 in GAM and fining them an additional $25,000, brings a whole new set of moral hazards unaddressed by the league. 

First, Dallas openly acknowledges that it knew the rule, knew of the infraction, and yet they still decided to go along with the substitution. Second, the match referees were aware of the infraction and still allowed Barrios to be moved to the bench (later to enter the match).

Dallas ended with a 0-0 draw on the road, moving them a point closer to a playoff spot as a result.  Maybe if Barrios would have scored the go-ahead goal giving FCD the full three points we would’ve heard more intense calls for justice from across the league. Maybe we would have seen a rage-filled, red-faced Mike Petke and Trey enter a press conference covered in paper cuts and color copies of the league’s competition rules. We could’ve had that.

But Dallas should, according to MLS rules, be forced to forfeit the match. Orlando wouldn’t benefit much from this decision as they are well adrift of playoff positions. But for San Jose, Salt Lake, and Houston, Dallas’ point earned could eventually mean a lack of a postseason for two of those three. And just because Orlando City would likely miss the playoffs either way doesn’t mean Jason Kreis is any less unhappy about the decision.

For a league that craves credibility in the eyes of the world and fans across its own country, the $100,000 fine handed to Dallas today won’t suffice. It certainly will not for the Quakes, Dynamo, or RSL. Indeed, $100,000 is a substantial fine. Dan Hunt won’t be able to sign a couple more Nicaraguans from the El Salvadorian second division, group A.  But the league will now leave the playoff race in the West to the gods, with a potential asterisk to hang upon the 2017 postseason and a missed opportunity to reinforce some integrity. 

Instead, we got another blind envelope draw.

The moral hazard of this decision will linger. Teams now have enough of a precedent to skirt the gameday roster rules. This may not seem like a big deal, but to a league that still needs and desires credibility, despite gaining so much in recent years, this is a self-inflicted wound that will have to be resolved somewhere down the line. For the love of God, no one mention the implications of this decision if pr_moti_n/relegati_n was a reality (misspelled to save the comments section).

Suppose that Dallas make the playoffs and go on a run that carries them to MLS Cup. Would the fine be worth it? Absolutely. Will other teams consciously make that call in the future to suffer a fine but still earn the points needed for success? Bet on it.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, Dallas could still miss the playoffs. Today’s favorable ruling could be a pyrrhic victory and nothing more.

Maybe, just maybe, months down the road and after the dust has settled, we’ll all have a good laugh about this after Dallas fails to make the playoffs despite an obvious favor done for them. 

Maybe September 30th’s paperwork will end up framed in the US Soccer Hall of Fame, right above a picture of Chuck Blazer. 

But the precedent established by the league will eventually have to be resolved, even if any two of the three other teams in contention end up playoff bound, and this was all for naught.