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Sounders not buying what MLS social media is pushing

TUKWILA, Wash. — It was probably inevitable that Major League Soccer — typically starved for attention outside its own bubble — would jump at the chance to latch on when arguably the world’s most famous actor responded to Tim Melia’s borderline assault of Cristian Roldan.

But while MLS might have been smelling what the Rock was Tweeting, the Sounders found the league’s antics a bit more off-putting.

Should anyone somehow not be up to date on the incident: In the 55th minute of the Sounders’ 2-1 loss to Sporting Kansas City on Saturday, Cristian Roldan and Tim Melia were involved in a goal-line incident, fighting for a loose ball. After Roldan had backed Melia into the goal (for which Roldan was called for a foul), Melia grabbed Roldan and slammed him to the ground with force using a judo-type move. After some deliberation, Melia was awarded a yellow card, so at a minimum the play was deemed to be an illegal one.

Melia’s takedown was about as far from a soccer play as there is, short of taking a steel chair and cracking Roldan over the head. But social media being what it is, the play was immediately flagged and posted online by various outlets, with The Rock ultimately weighing in (and opining that it was worthy of a red card, no less).

The engagement from an actor with five-times the following of MLS must have made their year, and the prospect of getting any sort of rub from The Rock surely sent the dopamine centers of the league firing. Of course, chasing that dopamine hit can lead people to make rash decisions, as any addict will tell you. Perhaps that explains the tweet from the league following the Rock’s comment.

While the league seemed pleased with themselves, the Sounders were less amused, given Melia’s takedown was pretty obviously dangerous. There’s also a chance that the MLS Disciplinary Committee will suspend Melia.

Which is where the Sounders come in.

The Sounders weren’t happy in the immediate aftermath of the play, and it’s fair to say that time has done little to improve their mood. At the post-game press conference Cristian Roldan said he wasn’t told why Melia was still on the field.

“I didn’t get an explanation, so I want to hear what Howard Webb has to say about it,” Roldan said. “I want to hear what Ismail [Elfath] puts in his notes. I want to hear an explanation on what happened because I still don’t know.”

Head coach Brian Schmetzer was more bemused than angry in his post-game press conference, but after Monday’s training seemed more resolute in his opinion of the incident.

“There was intent, because everybody could see that Melia was upset that Cristian was in his space,” Schmetzer said. “The ball was already past, and he threw him down. That’s what it shows clearly on the film.

“To me it was clearly a red card because of the intent that Melia showed. It was retaliation.”

Given a couple days to think about what happened, the players’ frustrations had only grown.

“Obviously everybody saw the PK that could have given us extra motivation and the red card that [Melia] should have,” Montero said. “I believe if I tried to do that in the next game I would get a red card. Hopefully, that type of incident won’t repeat again.”

In the meantime, while the Sounders await the review from the Disciplinary Committee, the team is themselves are not taking the issue lying down. Schmetzer indicated the Sounders sent the league a “stern” letter providing their perspective on the matter. Given the chance to respond to MLS marketing a play that could have resulted in serious injury, Schmetzer seemed more disappointed than anything.

“What do we want to promote?” Schmetzer asked. “Our sport needs to have rules in place to prevent that type of behavior. I think the league should think about the message they send. Words do matter.”

PRO’s response to media inquires didn’t do much to answer any questions, so the Disciplinary Committee will have the last say. But what impact will the league’s glorification of the incident have on the decision-makers? Schmetzer acknowledged that the league making light of the incident could be seen as some be a problem, but expects the Disciplinary Committee to do its job.

“I have trust in the disciplinary committee,” Schmetzer said. “Those guys are all experienced on that committee and from my vantage point, Melia was upset, the intent was clear, he lost his mind a little bit and he threw Cristian to the ground and you can’t throw players to the ground.”

Still the league’s rush to promote the incident surely left a sour taste in the mouths of the Sounders, and from their point of view calls into question whether the MLS cares more about social media engagement than protecting players. For one Sounder at least, the case is open and shut.

“Judging by what they [MLS] did with that tweet yes, they want marketing,” Montero said.