Marco Fabián's additional one match suspension was announced today by the Major League Soccer disciplinary committee. Fabián was charged with violent conduct after he landed on Sporting Kansas City's Johnny Russell, who had slid in with a late tackle and forced the Union midfielder to leap into the air to avoid injury and straightened his leg as he fell, making contact with Russell’s prone body in the process. Referee Chris Penso was only a few yards away from the play and did not initially brandish a red card. But after contact from the VAR, Penso returned and sent off Fabián. This additional suspension makes a total of two that Fabián will miss because of this incident.
Union Sporting Director Ernst Tanner argued today that this play raises concerns for him about the use of VAR in Major League Soccer. "On the initial play, Chris Penso, the referee, had a really good position next to both Marco [Fabián] and Johnny Russell," Tanner told PhiladelphiaUnion.com. "He was only a couple of yards away from the play. Then the VAR, who certainly had a worse position, stepped in, and we know what happened from there.
"In my opinion, it is an incorrect decision. Mr. Penso was observing the play in a good position, simply a better position than the VAR, and that means there is no reason for the VAR to step in."
Tanner's concerns were not limited to when VAR is utilized and how. He also pointed to an absence of contextualization in reviewing on-field events that could lead to conclusions that may not be warranted. "Additionally, Marco could not intentionally step on Mr. Russell because his focus during the whole action was on the ball," Tanner explained. "From the side perspective, it may have looked a little different when the video is paused. But if you review it from the goal line camera, you can see that Marco was focusing on the ball throughout the play.
"Furthermore, the position with which he landed was with a stretched leg in order to soften his landing. Marco did not intend to step on Johnny maliciously; he could not even see what he was landing on because his view was of the ball, which is something that we wished was taken into account."
Overall, then, Tanner pointed to both the involvement of VAR and a misattribution of intent as key aspects of this suspension that made the additional one match suspension troubling to him. And though he said the club is prepared to move forward without Fabián this weekend, Tanner encouraged the league to address the speed with which they reach decisions on disciplinary matters in the future.
The Union now face Columbus Crew on March 23 at Talen Energy Stadium missing a key piece up front. But with homegrown Brenden Aaronson stepping forward in Atlanta, Tanner and the rest of the club's technical staff seemed confident they can threaten Columbus' stout defense on Saturday.