Us Americans love to innovate. Whether it’s breaking ranks with the British monarchy to form a brand new country or making game-changing decisions in sport, soccer is growing in popularity in the US. While the men and women have had different fortunes on the global soccer stage, could Major League Soccer step up and introduce sin bins to the world’s favorite sport?
What is a Sin Bin?
For those of you who follow the latest soccer headlines and no other sports, you might be unaware of a ‘sin bin.’ It’s a concept used in other sports like rugby and hockey. This is where a player has committed a foul or shown unsporting behavior. Their actions are more severe than a telling-off but less troublesome than a sending-off. This is where the sin bin comes into play. The offending player is told to head off the play zone and cannot participate in the game for a predetermined amount of time, usually 5 or 10 minutes, depending on the game.
Major League Soccer is suggesting that this rule should be implemented in football. Why? Well, they and US Soccer believe that there are enough instances in the game where a foul or dissent falls between the current jurisdiction of a yellow and a red card.
Where Have Sin Bins Been Used in Soccer?
While the current soccer news is all over the concept of sin bins, some leagues have already experimented with the protocol. The Football Association of Wales has implemented sin bins for the 2023/24 season for multiple amateur divisions. These will be used when a player commits a ‘Dissent Offense’ when the ref will send the player to the sidelines for a minimum of 10 minutes, and they can only return when the ref says so. Should the player continue to offend while in the sin bin, they will be completely ejected from the game.
In the 2019/20 season, English football implemented a similar protocol for its grassroots game, where they used sin bins for lower levels of competition, i.e., seventh tier and below. However, given the lower stature of these leagues, understanding of the process is not common knowledge.
Sin Bins in the Clericus Cup
The Vatican City isn’t known for outstanding soccer exploits. However, it does host the annual Clericus Cup as it welcomes football teams representing churches and other Christian-based bodies within Rome to compete in an encompassing football tournament. While the competition is seldom a showcase of the Azzurri, there is an interesting blue card rule. If a player commits an unsportsmanlike offense (severe tackle, arguing with the ref, etc.), the official can show a blue card. This will trigger a 5-minute bench penalty where the player will have to sit out of the game for that time, working the same as a sin bin.
What Does Major League Soccer Gain From Sin Bins?
In the 2016/17 season, the English FA reported that around 73,000 of all cautions and card issues were for dissent. That’s a few bookings and conservations that could have been avoided, as well as many opportunities missed to stamp out poor player behavior. In the aforementioned trials by the English grassroots leagues, the competitions saw significant reductions in dissent-related incidents after the sin bin policy was introduced. In theory, if Major League Soccer implements this, they too will see a reduction in the number of dissent-based incidents.
Will Sin Bins Change the Game?
If your team has an emotionally charged player who is very animated and likes colorful language, then yes, football is going to change for your team. Players who make it a habit to give the referee a headache. Let’s say this rule was in place when Zlatan Ibrahimović was at LA Galaxy; he wouldn’t be scoring all those goals in El Tráfico – he’d be sitting on the sidelines! He was more than guilty of badgering refs. Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, and even Lionel Messi in his younger years were all known to bother the officials when they didn’t get the decision they wanted.
Does Soccer Need More VAR Involvement?
If you ask the hardened football fans who go to watch their team every weekend, most of them would agree that VAR takes away from the spectacle of the beautiful game. While the result can benefit a team, there’s something illogical about the decisions being made miles away from the ground. Some deliberations between refs and the VAR team take way too long as it is, only for the wrong decision to be made anyway. Will the introduction of a sin bin review help the game or slow it down? Every tackle could be assessed to grade whether it was a yellow or a sin bin offense.
Can Soccer Modify the Rules Instead of Adding New Ones?
You don’t have to read all the recent sports updates to know that soccer fans, especially European ones, dislike change. The beautiful game has been altered enough to irk ardent supporters who long for the game they used to watch at 3 pm on a Saturday with fellow like-minded people. The concept of sin bins will not sit with the Ultras of AC Milan, the south stand at Elland Road, or those who cheer Celtic winning a two-horse race. They’ll begrudgingly sit through sin bins (as they have every other change, VAR, etc) but not like it. At the same time, those cheering on Manchester United might welcome the change, considering their recent woes.
There are, however, valid concerns that the current disciplinary measures at the disposal of the officials do leave gaps. I.e., a tackle that is worse than a typical yellow card offense but less than a red card foul. Or if a player consistently commits minor offenses, but sending them off seems excessive. What’s between yellow and red on the color chart? Orange: what soccer needs is orange cards as an intermediate step between the pre-existing booking methods.
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