".....went down like he was shot. His face contorted with pain as he grabbed at his shins. Never mind, that he was hit in the head."
You could fill in any name you wish to begin the above mock quote. For critics who want to shame the game of soccer you can always count on them to bring up the image of a player going down with little contact; writhing on the ground in mock pain.
For fans of the game it is one of the most shameful experiences. We have no defense. It is a tragedy in the sport that this behavior exists and continues. It is embarrassing.
MLS has a good share of these players. Carlos Ruiz usually comes up as example number one. Young Ciaran O'Brien's tackle on him in the Rapid's opening game looked bad, but it actually surprised many people when it turned out Ruiz was not faking the injury. "The fish that howled wolf" seems like an apt title for the story of his career. Carlos is not the only offender, but the totality of his gamesmanship puts him on another level than most.
This is why the play of Omar Cummings has been so refreshing to watch. Omar plays an honest game.
On opening day, Omar was brought down in the box by Abel Xavier. He immediately jumped up and took possession of the ball looking to pass to a teammate. Abel was called for a penalty kick and Christian Gomez knocked it in for the Rapids second goal.
L.A. felt robbed by the referee. A few commentators even pointed to mentioned Omar's continued play as an indication that even he did not think it was a penalty. The expectation being that a fouled forward would do his best death roll after going down. That's just not how Omar plays.
Against Kansas City, Omar was again brought down as part of a pile up in the box. He once again jumped up and regained possession. There was no foul called on this play. Instead DiRaimondo came crashing through, took the ball off of Omar's foot, and punched it home. Had Omar stopped playing the play would have ended.
In last weeks win at New England Omar collected the ball near the left corner flag. Once again he was fouled. Once again he jumped up and had possession. This time the referee called the foul. Jose Burciaga then took the free kick a few yards from the end line. His swerving ball found the head of Nick LaBrocca, who put it in the back of the net.
In each instance the knee-jerk reaction of many MLS forwards in each of these situations would have been to lie on the ground. Maybe the forward would glower at the ref, and get up slowly as the play moved on. Each time Omar kept the ball alive, not putting the game in the hands of the referee.
I applaud Omar's honest play in these situations. MLS and the world game of soccer needs more of his kind. Sometimes a player is rewarded for the play acting, but more often they are not. So far Omar's shown us that just keeping the ball alive will get results. Let the ref make the calls, and the players play the game.
Looking ahead to San Jose the Rapids are starting to feel confident. They beat a good New England team in a game where they relied on a single goal followed by forty minutes of clock kill. It was ugly, but effective. They now face a weak team that they should beat.
I have advocated for the maintaining the same lineup for the first three games. I continue to think this is Clavijo's best bet for Saturday when the Earthquakes come to town.
The play in midfield has been too good, too well coordinated for the team to give up on DiRaimondo and LaBrocca. The defense has shown once again that it is solid, and that only Jimmy Conrad really knows how to beat it. The veterans will get their chance after these three games the veterans will have to earn their spots back.
After praising Omar I regret that the forward situation has me a little concerned. Christian Gomez appears to miss having Jaime Moreno as a second player maker. Omar has shown that his game is about speed, and he has done a credible job holding the ball as multiple defenders cover him. Too often he has been alone in front of the goal.
The solution to this may be for Gomez to play a little higher. Or, Omar needs to discover a quicker more accurate shot within himself. The Rapids will soon begin to see a carousel of forwards until one of them starts scoring. The solid defenses of Kansas City and New England made it tough. A home game against San Jose should be the opportunity for one of the forwards to step out from the pack.
Who will the forward be? I am pulling for Omar.
Photo of Omar Cummings courtesy of Mark Bodmer.