Herron's Elbow: Well...We're Waiting (+ Video)

One of the "great" talking points of Major League Soccer's (MLS) Week 3 was almost certainly the elbow Columbus forward Andy Herron planted on New England defender Jay Heaps' head. It turns out this shot left Heaps with a concussion plus a happy flutter of butterflies where his memory of the end of the first half, halftime, and the early parts of the second half should be.

That's an ugly scene, no doubt, but the questions central to this with the words "suspension" on nearly everyone's tongue (though nothing showing, as yet, on MLSnet.com's discipline report) are intent and self-defense - e.g. was Herron swinging "to kill" and was he retaliating? And some interesting answers to these points have shown up here and there as the week progresses.

USSoccerplayers.com scribe Ian Plenderleith opened the defense by noting something the Greek Chorus in the announcing booth might have missed:

"...as any viewer could see from the 15 or so replays of the incident, the not-so-angelic Heaps clearly does something in the back to Herron at below camera level as the ball is played, and that is what Herron responded to. Not that this mitigates Herron's disgraceful violent conduct, but it puts the incident in a context that the commentators for some reason ignored. Fortunately, Heaps was not badly injured."

I can't say I noticed the thing Heaps did; as I saw it, Herron looked to be checking over his shoulder to make sure it was indeed Heaps behind him. Then again, I've got a three-year-old distracting me through it all and am thus willing to admit I misread the thing.

Still, thank God for Youtube, right? Judge for yourself:

After watching that, I have to admit, Herron sure does look like he's reacting. But look at the man's face when he swings: there's a scowl brimming with intent. And that brings up another defense I came across today, this one straight from Herron himself, that appeared in the solid Hunt Park Insider. Even as the author, Steve Sirk, points out that "upon seeing the replay, Andy's explanation falls short on many levels", here's what he had to say:

"'I saw the ball coming, and I looked back, and I didn't see nobody,' [Herron] explained. 'So when I jumped up, you are gonna try to protect yourself in case someone comes in and tries to push you. It didn't feel like I hit someone, but everyone says I did. He's shorter than me, so he probably hit my elbow. They said it probably seems pretty bad. I talked to him at the end of the game and said "You scream at me and you kick me and I tell you everything, but I am not going to elbow you for dirty, man." It was just the motion of the play. I told him sorry, but then I was thinking "should I?" because I don't even remember hitting him. I am going to check out the replay, and they say it might cause me some problems, but hopefully the league will look at it and see it the right way.'"

I don't think that story will carry Herron's case very far either. But the bulk of Sirk's argument - and he in no way defends Herron's elbow, specifically or generally - is that the referee lost control of the game, creating an atmosphere where players take such things into their own hands.

For what it's worth, I think Herron is toast - hardly a bold prediction, but there it is. Put another way, there's a reason no one outright defends Herron; and it's possible he'll lose a person or two with his comments to Sirk, smacking as they do of dishonesty. But what of the mitigating factors - e.g. a "Wild West" environment and a series of missed calls? What kind of suspension would you hand down? Me? I'd go with six to eight weeks, with one of those awarded for talking crap to the media.

What irks me about the wait, though, is a sneaking impression that the league is waiting to hand down sentence for the same reason government bodies release bad news late on Friday: they're not comfortable with their decision and want the fewest possible people to notice. Still, it's not that there's nothing to consider.


Fullback said...

I agree with your initial impression that Herrón takes a cold-blooded look back and then delivers the elbow. He has a history of this kind of behavior, but in his defense, Heaps' own history says that the foul he committed to give up the free kick initially was probably not his first "attack", be it verbal or physical, on Herrón.

I'm struggling a bit with the specific memory here as Heaps has a sordid history of flying elbows and thuggish tackles, but I seem to recall an incident where he takes a cheap shot at Moreno and then falls down himself, rolling on the ground and clutching at his face. There are no angels here.

Hydro said...

Herron is an absolute liar. To say that he didn't intend to hit him is stretching the truth based on the look on his face, but to say he didn't feel like he hit Heaps at all is outright snapping the truth into many small pieces.

As he whips his head around as he's striking Heaps in the head, how can he not see & feel that he's made contact.

The only (very small) thing in his favour is that he does not react to Heaps after he's clattered him to the ground. His eyes are back on the ball.