Clint Dempsey handed three-game ban after referee incident

Seattle Sounders forward Clint Dempsey received a three-match ban from MLS on Friday for ripping up a referee’s notebook earlier this week.

Dempsey received the suspension for his actions in a 3-1 defeat to Portland Timbers in a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match on Tuesday. In response to a red card shown to Micheal Azira, Dempsey reached into the pocket of referee Daniel Radford, pulled out his notebook and ripped it to shreds on the field.

Radford dismissed Dempsey for his actions and triggered an extensive review in the process. Dempsey’s conduct — as reported by the match commissioner and the referee — fell squarely under a provision in the U.S. Soccer Policy Manual pertaining to referee assault and/or abuse.

The provision allocated jurisdiction for meting out the punishment to MLS. The league eventually handed down the ban on Friday afternoon after reviewing the pertinent language in the policy manual and deciding the actions constituted referee abuse.

In any incident deemed to constitute referee abuse, the league — MLS in this question — is required to levy a three-match suspension, according to the applicable policy. MLS also handed down an additional, undisclosed fine.

"We do not tolerate conduct of this nature from any of our players," MLS deputy commissioner Mark Abbott said in a statement. "No matter how passionate our players are or what happens in the ‘heat of the moment,’ they must always respect all aspects of the game, especially the referees. In light of Clint’s actions and our past precedents, we felt that a significant suspension was appropriate."

Under the terms of the applicable U.S. Soccer policy, the suspension renders Dempsey ineligible to feature in "any soccer competition until the suspension has expired." This clause rules him out of any matches — including potential games for the U.S. national team or the Sounders’ reserve team in USL — until his suspension concludes after the Sounders’ match against the Timbers on June 28.

The timing of the suspension allows Dempsey to link up with the U.S. national team ahead of the Gold Cup if he is selected by U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann. If Dempsey had been found guilty of referee assault, he would have received a mandatory six-match suspension, which would have ruled him out of the group stage and a likely quarterfinal match in Baltimore on July 18. U.S. Soccer must submit its 23-man roster to CONCACAF by June 22.

In addition to this suspension, Dempsey — and perhaps other members of the Sounders — face discipline from the U.S. Open Cup Adjudication and Discipline Panel. Those penalties will apply only to Open Cup matches, per U.S. Soccer regulations. The five-person panel will hold a hearing next week, according to a U.S. Soccer release.