Blowing the whistle on MLS refs

MLS commissioner Don Garber must have hoped all eyes this week would be on Real Salt Lake's historic match Wednesday night in the CONCACAF Champions League finals.

Garber didn't get his wish. He got a distraction.

Much of the talk around the league has been on the serious injuries suffered last weekend by two of the best players in the league, FC Dallas' David Ferreira breaking an ankle, and the Seattle Sounders' Steve Zakuani breaking a leg.

“It's a shame, it's a shame,” Fire coach Carlos de los Cobos said. “Really, really, it's a shame because first of all they are human beings, and they are very good players. It's a shame because these two players are very professional. They are the kind of players everybody wants to see.”

It should be a wakeup call to MLS and U.S. Soccer that the league is too physical, that referees need to be quicker with the whistle and the cards.

Jonathan Leathers' tackle on Ferreira, the 2010 league MVP, was not called a foul, but Brian Mullan's tackle on Zakuani gained him a quick, deserved red card. The league handed down a 10-game suspension Thursday. Anything less would have been a disgrace.

Two of the most skilled, exciting players in the league had their seasons ended. It's a loss not only for their teams, but for the league.

“It's a really physical game (in MLS),” said Fire forward Dominic Oduro, a native of Ghana. “Anyone who travels outside the country comes back here and that's one thing they tell us, that it's really physical.”

Garber lobbied in the preseason for referees to monitor the game more closely, but they are employed by U.S. Soccer, not MLS, so it's not something he can enforce except with long suspensions for the overly aggressive. He needs to keep lobbying the referees and U.S. Soccer referee supervisors, however.

“I think the referees are doing a great job about it,” Oduro said. “As to whether it's up there, I don't know yet. We'll see how time goes on how the refs deal with it.”

It's not just a problem in MLS, but a problem with American soccer in general, all the way down to the youth leagues, where referees hesitate to call anything but the most obvious fouls.

More changes to come?The Fire will try to get its first win since March 26 when it visits defending MLS Cup champion Colorado on Saturday (8 p.m., Channel 50). It might have to travel without its captain.Midfielder Logan Pause limped off the practice pitch Wednesday clutching a hamstring and was driven straight to the stadium by trainer Bo Leonard.Meanwhile, defender Cory Gibbs did not practice again Wednesday because of his own hamstring problem and won't play this weekend. #8220;Cory is better, he's improving, but he's not ready to play,#8221; coach Carlos de los Cobos said. #8220;Maybe the next week.#8221;Yamith Cuesta was in Gibbs' spot again in the First XI during the team's scrimmage at practice. De los Cobos said he expects Cuesta to start again. Jon Conway remains the starting goalkeeper.Also with the first group were midfielders Daniel Paladini and Corben Bone. Neither has played yet this season. #8220;It's possible,#8221; de los Cobos said. #8220;I like these two guys. They are young players. They have great qualities, different skills. They have a good dynamic. Quick players with good technique. They have the qualities I like because they are good with the ball.#8221;Colorado will be without the injured Conor Casey and the suspended Brian Mullan and is scoreless in its last three matches.#8220;I'm thinking of the way to play because we have a very difficult match,#8221; de los Cobos said. #8220;Colorado is a very good team. They are not having a good moment.#8221;Manchester United tickets:Tickets for the Fire's match July 23 at Soldier Field against Manchester United go on sale Monday. Fans can call (888) MLS-FIRE or by going online to