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Dempsey is suspended three MLS matches for Open Cup tantrum; Gold Cup eligibility unthreatened.

By Robert Wagman

(Friday, June 19, 2015) -- Seattle Sounders FC forward Clint Dempsey is suspended from all soccer activities for the Sounders’ next three Major League Soccer matches, but the United States Soccer Federation can breathe a little easier because his extreme actions against a referee in a Tuesday Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match will not prevent him from playing in the upcoming CONCACAF Gold Cup should coach Jürgen Klinsmann choose him for his squad.

Dempsey’s suspension involves the horrific ending to the Open Cup match between the Sounders and Portland Timbers FC in Seattle.

The confrontation began in the 113th minute, the second period of extra time, with Seattle trailing their Cascadia rival 2-1 and down to nine men following a red card to Sounders defender Brad Evans and an injury to striker Obafemi Martins. Dempsey came on in the 71st minute of what would be a 3-1 Seattle defeat in the Round of 32.

Following a red card to midfielder Michael Azira for a challenge on Timbers’ forward Gaston Fernandez, leaving Seattle with eight players, Dempsey took referee Daniel Radford’s notebook and threw it to the turf, drawing a yellow card for dissent in the 114th minute. He then picked up the notebook and tore it up, drawing a straight red card for abuse, according to the official match report.

Even though this was an Open Cup match and thus took place outside MLS league competition, any alleged actions by a professional player against a referee is adjudicated by the league in which the player competes. In this case, MLS acted in accordance to the provisions of the U.S. Soccer Policy Manual.

Under MLS regulations, abuse of a match official must result in a minimum three-match suspension. Therefore, the penalty he received was the minimum and avoided a farther-reaching suspension that might affect his eligibility for the Gold Cup.

In the 2014 MLS playoffs, D.C. United striker Fabian Espindola was given a six-game suspension for jostling an assistant referee during a vociferous post-match protest. Surprisingly, Espindola was allowed to play in CONCACAF Champions League.

“We do not tolerate conduct of this nature from any of our players,” MLS deputy commissioner Mark Abbott said in a statement. “No matter how passionate our players are or what happens in the ‘heat of the moment,’ they must always respect all aspects of the game, especially the referees. In light of Clint’s actions and our past precedents, we felt that a significant suspension was appropriate.”

Dempsey will not be available for Sounders matches against the San Jose Earthquakes (June 20), Philadelphia Union (June 24) and Portland (June 28). He will conclude his suspension in time to join the U.S. men the Gold Cup, which begins on July 7.

In addition, a hearing will be held next week by the Open Cup Adjudication and Discipline Panel which will have the power to suspend Dempsey further in Open Cup competition. Since Seattle is now out of Cup competition in 2015, any further discipline will pertain to the 2016 competition or beyond.

The hearing is required after the Open Cup Commissioner, under the rules of the 2015 U.S. Open Cup Handbook, determined that the multiple red cards and subsequent actions by Dempsey warrant review by the panel for possible further sanctions, which can include additional suspension from Open Cup matches and/or fines.

At this point, the panel has gathered evidence, including the report of the referee and the Match Commissioner, video of the incident, and is currently conducting interviews with the relevant parties. Any decision made by the panel on further sanctioning will pertain only to future Open Cup competition. Per the USSF policy manual, alleged referee assault or abuse in a professional match is governed by the professional leagues policy against referee assault, as outlined in Policy 202(1)(H)-2.

Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correpondent.

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