Canales Corner: Henry's Hartman Incident Puts MLS On The Spot

The spotlight reveals harsh truths.
Perhaps it's just as well that Thierry Henry isn't traveling to California with his Red Bull teammates for the highly anticipated NY-LA showdown that Major League Soccer has hyped for months now.

After all, the player who Henry injured during his last match of action, goalkeeper Kevin Hartman, was a much-beloved Galaxy player for many years, earning the nickname "El Gato" (The Cat) from the team's Latino fans for his quick reflexes.

Never mind that Hartman doesn't play for the Galaxy any longer - many fans still remember Hartman as a Galaxy icon, and would need little reason to boo Henry beyond that of his causing Hartman any pain.

For that matter, quite a few nuetrals have also taken offense to Henry's actions on the play where Hartman suffered the knee injury, though others view it as a mere accident.

Not surprisingly, Henry's Red Bull coach, Hans Backe, is in the camp that considers the Hartman injury mere happenstance.

"I feel sorry for Hartman," Backe told today. "It is an accident. When you see the game against Colorado when we scored, Henry wasn’t the scorer, but he takes the ball and hammered the ball into the net. This was the same thing he did when Hartman blocked the shot and twisted his knee."

Indeed, it's likely that Henry was merely trying to celebrate in a way he has often done, an emphatic kick of the ball back into the goal, like he said recently to AP.

“The ball was there and like I do sometimes, I just wanted to kick the ball back in the net,” Henry said. “He put his foot out there and that’s how he got injured."

Except one would imagine that it would be hard for Henry to not realize a six-foot goalkeeper was in the way before the kick.

The entire incident has thrown attention on a couple of key things.

1) When did the after-goal moments turn into a zone as free of rules as the octagon in mixed-martial arts?

Back when FIFA was busy instituting rules as useless as mandating a yellow-card against players who remove their shirts to celebrate goals, it somehow managed to overlook an aspect of the game that has turned into a bit of a free-for-all.

In the aftermath of a goal, there is no set time limit for celebration, nor is there a specific protocol for how the ball is returned to the center circle for the restart. As such, at times, there have been virtual scrums in the net as goalkeepers, many who believe the goal area to be their sacred right and property, tussle for the ball with opposing field players eager to grab the ball and begin play again quickly in search of an equalizer or winning goal.

As the play is dead once a goal is scored, there isn't any chance to begin a counterattack by fetching a ball out of the net first or anything at stake other than a few seconds of game time, but to see some players shove each other about, it's a huge ego deal.

What's more of an issue is whether or not kicking the ball away wastes time - as FIFA has expressly forbid such actions during matches and decried them punishable by a card.

"That's definitely a yellow card," Galaxy player Landon Donovan told the Daily Breeze. "It's a foolish play - I think Henry knows that. ... The reality is, you might have ended (Hartman's) season and that's unacceptable."

Then there's another aspect the whole kerfluffle brings up.

2) Does the punishment fit the perpetrator's means?

Not only did Henry not receive any card (as he has already drawn a yellow earlier in the match, a second would have put him out of the game) for the Hartman incident, he did not receive any sort of suspension once the league committee reviewed the incident.

Instead, his actions were deemed "unsporting" by the committee and a fine of 2,000 dollars was levied against him.

While this is among the larger of the fines ever meted out by the MLS Disciplinary Committee, it pales in comparison to when the league fined D.C. United president Kevin Payne fifteen grand for merely talking about a referee.

Two thousand dollars, however,  is mere chump change to a player like Henry, whose earnings are in the millions, but it would be a considerable blow for player on the lower end of the MLS salary scale.

It raises the issue of whether it is remotely fair that MLS has no gradation in the structure of its fines. This is less of an problem in overseas leagues where even bench players pull down fat salaries, but in MLS, the disparity between the haves and have-nots is quite huge, given that the league's minimum salary is $40,000.

One wonders if it wouldn't it be more just for players to be fined on a percentage scale. Say, half of a percent of their salary for "unsporting" incidents? Or perhaps a day's worth of pay? Does a silly, unnecessary play that injures a fellow player measure up to the cost of a daily wage?

The big-name players to MLS definitely draw more attention  to the league. It would be nice if under the scrutiny of such focus, MLS would show itself to be an entity where rules are not only clear and consistent, but also equitable in their consequences whenever they are broken.

Andrea Canales is Chief Editor of North America and is trying to remember to update her Twitter account.

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