Clint Dempsey and Abby Wambach: Two Captains, One Problem

EDITORIAL – Every time a story comes up about abuse of officials, we hear the same narratives: What should the penalty be? Is the penalty given appropriate for the act? Will the player learn from their mistake?

Then we have the cases of two United States National Team captains, both abusing officials within a week of each other. For Clint Dempsey, de facto captain of the Men, the penalty, a three game suspension from Major League Soccer, has already been handed down.  Dempsey took an official’s notebook, ripped in two, and earned a straight red for his display during last week’s US Open Cup match. For Abby Wambach, no judgement has been levied for comments made after the US Women won 2-0 over Colombia, but it will be interesting to see if FIFA penalizes her.  Two of her teammates, Lauren Holiday and Meagan Rapinoe, will miss the USA’s quarterfinal match on Friday due to yellow card accumulation, which was the focus of Wambach’s post game comments Monday night.

In the case of Abby Wambach, this is not the first time in even this World Cup that her comments are controversial.  Wambach has been especially vocal about the tournament being played entirely on turf, while being a paid spokesperson for Scott’s.  On Monday, she made some questionable comments about the yellow cards given out by official Stephanie Frappart. “It seemed like she was purposely giving those yellows to the players she knew were sitting on them.  I don’t know if it was just a psychological thing,” she quipped.

Comments like this generally and historically met with either a fine or a suspension. In a case like this, FIFA does have a precedent, as mentioned by Kurtis Larson in the Toronto Sun.  Apparently, Christine Sinclair received a suspension for similar comments made during the 2012 Olympics.  There are also rumblings that Wambach’s circus is actually to deflect attention from Hope Solo’s situation.

With Clint Dempsey, abuse was a bit less passive-aggressive.  Dempsey, in the Sounders’ USOC match vs Portland last week, made his point clear immediately and physically.  After receiving the red card he clapped in the fourth official’s face before hitting the showers.  Because of USSF regulation, the penalty fell to Major League Soccer, who seemed to miss the mark.  Instead of the issue being ruled assault, MLS ruled that it was simply abuse, and the US Men’s captain earned a 3 game ban.  Because of the condensed schedule the Sounders have, it won’t even amount to a week.  Of course, USOC needs to decide on an appropriate punishment, but unless US coach and technical director Jurgen Kilnsmann decides to exclude the striker, Dempsey’s participation in the upcoming Gold Cup tournament will remain unaffected. Unsurprisingly, Dempsey’s club coach Sigi Schmid could also be guilty of abusing an official, but MLS seems unwilling to levy serious punishment for such things.

This all seems unacceptable and is the product of a program’s apathy towards the idea of respecting officials.  How often do we see players in MLS getting in officials’ faces, or even going as far as DC United’s Fabian Espindola did, pushing the ref to the ground after his club lost the Eastern Conference Finals by aggregate.  Landon Donovan was another player that would run up to officials and scream in their faces.  Finally, even Sacha Kljestan got a little aggressive after being shown red just this Saturday, even though he admitted after the match that it was a valid ruling. All this despite the rule instituting a mandate against “mass confrontation” in the wake of increased issues in league play during previous seasons.

If you watch European leagues, players seem to still express their opinion, but they hardly ever get into an official’s face, and if that does happen, there are fines and penalties levied in the form of yellow caution cards or even red cards.  Even in other American sports, it is rare to see a player get that abusive towards an official.  For example, in the NHL, you’ll see a player make some comments on the way to the penalty box, but you rarely see a player aggressively and dramatically go after an official. In soccer, it seems to be rooted in an intrinsic lack of respect.

The solution is unclear, but one thing remains certain, Dempsey and Wambach are both leaders on their club.  Abuse of officials is against the spirit of everything a leader should stand for and has no real place in the game of soccer.  It’s obvious that roster decisions need to be made to help the club win, but captaincy has no impact on whether the player actually plays.  If Ellis and Klinsmann were willing to make a statement, regardless of participation, neither Wambach nor Dempsey should ever see the captain’s armband again.

Photo by Maddie Meyer – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

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  1. Let’s not forget that the same referee who Wambach accuses of bias against the Americans called the two penalties that assured the Americans a victory over Columbia. Without those two calls it may have been 0-0 at the last whistle and back to penalty kicks. She gave them two gifts she could have called the other way if she had it in for the USWNT.
    I doubt she was running the field looking for excuses for giving Rapinoe and Halliday another Yellow. If their next match was against France? that may have raised some eyebrows, but not China vs. US. This is US Exceptionalism at its worst. At least the Dream Team goes out and kills their opponents on the basketball floor and then goes and shakes their opponents hands and poses for photos.

    1. agreed, Wambach is a whiner.

      Not just two penalties, but also a straight red that took out the Colombian keeper.

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