On Wednesday, an unlikely ally for David Villa emerged in the debate over his non-suspension: Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley.
The MLS disciplinary committee has been widely criticised this week for its decision not to react to one kick with another by booting Villa out of the second leg of New York City FC’s Eastern Conference semi-final against the Reds this Sunday.
But when the questions came as Toronto’s players and coach faced the media on Wednesday, they took the high road - and none more so than Bradley.
“I’ll be honest; I like the decision,” Bradley said. “I think the league and the disciplinary committee went overboard this year in terms of retroactive suspensions and punishments.
“If this is a first step in them going back in what I would call the right direction in terms of letting games play, understanding that referees make decisions on the field and [that] you can’t go back and re-ref every single game on Monday morning, then I’m okay with that.”
He added: “Obviously, the thing that frustrates some people is that Armando Cooper got suspended [in September] for something that was far, far less. But I’ll be honest, I couldn’t care less.
“In terms of whether [Villa] plays or doesn’t play, it doesn’t change one thing for us. Ultimately, it all gets filed under the category of things that are of out of our control and things we shouldn’t be spending one second or one ounce of energy worrying about.”
It’s an admirable stance, and a fair one. Most of the anger around the decision has concerned not Villa’s actions, but (a) the description of the grounds required for the disciplinary committee to issue a suspension, which Villa’s offence seemed to easily meet, and (b) the circumstances of the Cooper suspension that Bradley alluded to.
In short, the disciplinary committee is doing a bad job of making decisions they should probably have less power to make in the first place. I could go on for a while here, but Austin Fido of Once A Metro has already written an excellent takedown that is well worth your time.
Instead, allow us to continue to act the victim by turning our attention to this week’s announcement of the nominees for MLS’ annual awards. Drew Moor and Greg Vanney might have cast a hopeful eye in the direction of the Defender and Coach of the Year categories, respectively, but the most surprising snub - not only in Toronto, but league-wide - was Sebastian Giovinco from the three-man MVP shortlist.
“As a group, when we set out at the beginning of the year, all of our goals were team goals, that’s for certain,” Vanney said. “All the trophies are irrelevant if we can lift the last trophy at the end of the year, hopefully at BMO [Field].
“We’ve got a lot of work to do still. Some of the accolades... [the omission of] Sebastian, particularly, is ridiculous, but it is what it is. We move forward - again, our focus is on New York City and hopefully if some guys are angry then that can be motivation as we go into this weekend and have a tough game in a tough place.”
Giovinco has probably been left off the shortlist for two reasons. Firstly, he missed the end-of-season run-in due to an injury, resulting in Toronto falling out of the race for the Supporters’ Shield. In many ways, that sequence - and the Reds’ form since his return - perfectly illustrates Giovinco’s value, but he was out while Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan were continuing to combine to tie up top spot in the Eastern Conference for the New York Red Bulls.
Secondly, there are the cases for the other nominees. Goals will always rule when it comes to these awards, and Wright-Phillips and Villa have separated themselves from the rest of the pack in that regard. It’s no surprise to see him both nominated, but worth asking - in judging their individual value to their team - how each of their clubs would have fared had they been swapped for Giovinco this season. In that scenario, to me, Toronto - with Villa or Wright-Phillips instead of the Italian - are the only team that look worse off.
Kljestan’s inclusion over Giovinco is even more debatable. He’s a terrific player, and the idea of a 20-assist season is an alluring one. It rests on an MLS definition, however; if we use Opta’s statistics instead, Kljestan has 16 assists this season - just two more than Giovinco, who has added 17 goals to the American’s six.
Toronto are playing it very cool in front of the cameras, but MLS may have ruffled a few feathers in the dressing room this week. Vanney will not need to be particularly creative in searching for a way to motivate his players at Yankee Stadium on Sunday.
I’ll redirect you here once again to that Once A Metro piece linked to above, and this profile of Italian super-agent Mino Raiola from a few days ago.