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Rule Changes Coming to MLS in 2017

The IFAB have released a series of new rules that went into effect on June 1, 2016 but will apply to MLS for the first time this season.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at Sporting KC Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

When Major League Soccer started play 22-years-ago they didn’t follow the rules that most of the rest of the world were using. One such example is that their clock counted down instead of up. This was in an attempt to align themselves with other American sports instead of playing football (soccer) like the rest of the world does.

Starting in 2005, MLS adopted the rules from the International Football Association Board (IFAB). People often mistake FIFA as the governing body over the laws of the game. That said, FIFA represents half the voting members of IFAB, but they are separate institutions.

You are probably wondering why all of this matters. Well IFAB have released a new set of rules that went into effect on June 1, 2016 and MLS officials have confirmed that they will begin using these rules with the start of the 2017 season (and you’ve likely seen some of them in play during preseason).

So when Sporting Kansas City kick off their season against D.C. United, some things will be different. We will highlight a few of these rules for you but if you are a rules wonk and want do dig deeper, the full list lives on the IFAB website.

DOGSO Triple Punishment

Currently, when a player commits a denial of an obvious goal scoring opportunity (DOGSO) a player is given a triple punishment. The triple punishment is a red card, suspension and penalty kick. The new rule will allow an official to only issue a yellow card instead of a red card.

A red card will still apply if there is a handball, holding, pushing, pulling or a player is not attempting or couldn’t possibly have played the ball. So basically, if a player just makes a dumb tackle but he was going for the ball, it will just be a yellow card.

Pre-Game Sending Off

Before a game starts a player can now be ejected. For example, if a player were to do something while coming out of the tunnel to start the game or in warm-ups, the official can dismiss that player from the game. If that player was a starter and the team sheet is already out, they can be replaced. However they can only be replaced by another player in the 18. If the dismissal happens before team sheets are out, then the team can still dress a full 18 players. Either way, three substitutes will still be available.

Injured Players Aren’t Forced Off the Pitch

When a player is fouled and that results in a yellow card or red card, that player doesn’t have to be taken off the field after receiving care on the field. This is to prevent teams from playing down a man for a period of time until the referee waves the player back on.

This could be a negative as it could lead to more players faking injuries. Before they would have been forced off when a trainer comes onto the field. Now they will not. That said, players already try to “sell” the injury to get the player who committed the foul to be carded.

This could be a positive too in the case of legitimate injury. Why should the team who had their player violently fouled then suffer by playing down a man?

Red Card When Advantage is Played

If a player commits a foul that will result in a red card, but advantage is played and the player who committed a foul then gets involved in the play again, play will be stopped and it will result in an indirect free kick. So instead of the free kick being played from where the initial foul occurred, it will be played in a potentially more advantageous position.

This could be somewhat flawed as the player who committed the red card foul doesn’t necessarily know that they are about to be red carded and in an effort to hustle and help their team could potentially further cause damage to their team by getting back into the play.

Attempted Violent Conduct is a Red Card

An interesting rule, that I somewhat thought already existed, is that if a player attempts “violent conduct” then it will result in a red card even if no contact is made. This reminds me of the foul “committed” against Conner Hallisey in the season opener in Seattle last season that resulted in a player being sent off for Seattle despite that there may have been no contact.

I assume this is also the case for someone trying to take a swing at a player but missing or some similar conduct. It will now be a red card.

Another way to get a red card that I thought was a rule is contact to the head of a player by hands or arms when it occurs away from the ball. The thing with this will be if anyone sees it. One would assume the referee will be watching the action around the ball and this will be something where discipline will be handed down later. Though, the next rule could solve that.

Video Replay

The new rules allow experimentation around the use of instant replay. Obviously this has been in play throughout the preseason, including the call that ultimately earned Cameron Porter a yellow card and gave the Colorado Rapids their game tying goal in the Desert Diamond Cup. MLS has said they will keep testing this rule but it sounds like it won’t be fully implemented until potentially the middle of the season.

Things that Never Happen

There are new rules around scoring an own goal from a corner kick or goal kick. If a player is taking a corner kick and he somehow sends it all the way to the opposite end of the field and goes into the goal, it won’t result in an own goal but instead will result in a corner kick for the other team. On that same note, a goal kick that is taken and somehow goes into your own goal, will also just be a corner kick for your opponent. I would love to know if video exists of these things happening.

Other Random Rule Changes

  • Tape or material covering socks must match the sock color. I wonder if they could potentially affect TruSox, which many players wear under/over they game socks? If you haven’t heard of TruSox, it’s the best story about socks you’ll ever read. Seriously!
  • Kickoffs no longer have to go forward first. This will eliminate the need for two players to be involved in the kickoff. Another point of emphasis is all players need to be on their side of the halfway line at kick off.
  • Coin toss will decide which end of the field a penalty kick shootout will be on. A second coin toss will decide who goes first. Also around PKs, goalkeepers can be replaced at any time. Previously all substitutions needed to be made before time expired on the game and the shootout began.
  • Now an opposing player cannot touch a goal kick if they were in the penalty box when the kick was taken until someone else touches the ball first. So no intercepting an errant pass if you were still in the box.
  • Yellow cards will be issued to GKs who move off their line early (again, I thought this was already a rule).
  • Yellow cards will also be given to players who feign a PK and they will not be allowed to re-kick.
  • An attacking player in the goal can be flagged for offsides even when they don’t contact the ball on a goal scoring play. I have to assume this would be if they interfere with the goalkeeper, which is something we’ve also seen in the past.

Points of Emphasis for 2017

PRO, the Professional Referee Organization, also put out four points of emphasis for 2017. The first is holding and pushing in the penalty area. Peter Walton is looking for a situation when the offender is “clearly impeding the opponent” while not playing the ball.

The next one could be tough for Sporting KC. The second point of emphasis is acts of visual dissent. This includes chasing the official to complain about a call or doing things as simple as throwing your arms in the air. Watch out Benny Feilhaber!

The third point is delayed restarts. This is something that is incredibly common in the league. A player will stand in front of the ball to stop it from being put back into play or will kick the ball away. It’s not uncommon to see a yellow when the ball is kicked away but PRO will be looking for “blatant offenders” on standing in front of the ball. Which is basically everyone.

The last point of emphasis is persistent infringement. This is obviously already a rule but maybe PRO will be cracking down on those teams that play ugly soccer and foul to slow the pace of the game, even if the fouls are minor. PRO didn’t indicate how many fouls merit a persistent infringement yellow.

Between the new rules from IFAB and the new points of emphasis, the beginning of the season, much like it was last year with red cards, will probably be choppy and inconsistent from PRO. As much as we all hate on the officials, they have a terribly difficult job. I’d be interested to see new rules that allow for additional officials so that so much doesn’t fall on the center referee who simply cannot see everything going on between the 22 players on the pitch.

[Update: Robert Romero from Offside Soccer actually sent me an own goal scored from a goal kick. Video proof below.]