SANDY, Utah (AP) – Let a petulant child get away with enough bad behavior and, before long, there is no telling what kind of trouble that spoiled brat will get into.
This is the lesson being learned by Major League Soccer after David Beckham threw his latest and most embarrassing tantrum since joining the league more than five years ago.
In case you missed it, Beckham kicked not one, but two balls at San Jose midfielder Sam Cronin while Cronin lay on the ground after a collision late in the LA Galaxy's eventual 4-3 loss to the Earthquakes. The second kicked ball struck Cronin, and sparked a tussle that marred what had been an exciting and memorable game.
There was no denying that Beckham set out to hit Cronin, having struck him after missing with his first attempt to deliver a laser shot from the sidelines of Stanford Stadium to the six-yard box, where Cronin lay.
It doesn't take having a psychology degree to know that Beckham was frustrated and lost his cool after watching Galaxy blow another lead just days after his Olympic dreams were dashed when he wasn't chosen to be a part of the Great Britain Soccer team.
You could see how that might have had Beckham on edge, but that is still no excuse for Beckham's behavior. That being said, his tantrum may have simply been written off to having a bad week, but the fact is Beckham has let his temper get the best of him before in MLS, and he has almost always gotten away with it.
Ugly tackles that would earn other players red cards? Check. Flagrant verbal abuse of referees that often goes ignored by officials who would be quick to eject other players for similar behavior? Check. Public criticism of referees ignored by a league that has never been shy about fining players and coaches for that very behavior? Check.
No, Beckham hasn't been some Joey Barton-like pariah in MLS. For the most part, Beckham has done a good job of being an ambassador for the league, and last year he showed great fortitude and quality in helping lead the LA Galaxy to a championship.
Where Beckham can lose it is with his temper, which has led to plenty of ugly incidents he has gotten away with in the past. Saturday was just the latest episode, and led to reactions around the league from players and coaches who were genuinely curious if Beckham would finally see the kind of stiff punishment other players would receive for the same actions.
Just a month ago, Brek Shea was hit with a three-match suspension after kicking a ball at an assistant referee. The ball hit the official in the mid-section, and while he was not sent off during the match, Shea was punished swiftly by the MLS Disciplinary Committee, which issued a suspension that not only cost Shea three matches, but also a call-up to the U.S. national team (U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann made it clear that Shea's suspension led to him not being called in for the national team's recent matches).
That is the kind of message MLS has failed to deliver to Beckham on repeated occasions, a message that may have let the former England captain know that he can't just do what he wants because he is David Beckham.
Beckham's latest transgression sparked a scuffle during and after Saturday's Earthquakes-Galaxy match. It spoiled an exciting televised game, the kind of match capable of winning over fans. Instead, the ending of a great match was marred by scenes of shoving and Beckham being escorted away from the field (and at one point appearing to mix it up with an Earthquakes mascot).
Was Beckham the only one to blame for things getting ugly on Saturday? No. You could also point to a referee who missed some major calls, and also lost control of a testy match. You could also look to Cronin, who looked guilty of time-wasting by faking an injury (He seemed to be magically healed of whatever had him on the ground as soon as Beckham's angry shot made contact with him).
Missed calls by referees and play-acting by players are nothing new, and are certainly issues that can always benefit from a discerning eye, but what stood out the most on Saturday was Beckham's misbehavior.
MLS will have a hard time letting Beckham walk this time around. The league will have no choice but to give the English star a stiff punishment and let him and the rest of the league know that his days of getting away with tantrums and misbehavior are over.
If the league doesn't send that message, it will lose credibility with its players, and it could wind up setting us up for even worse from Beckham, a great player who needs to be shown that he is not above being punished for bad behavior.
This Week's Best in MLS
MLS Player of the Week: Sean Johnson. The Chicago goalkeeper turned in his best showing of the season in shutting out Sporting Kansas City at Livestrong Sporting Park last Friday. Johnson made five saves, most of the jaw-dropping variety, to push Chicago's unbeaten streak to three games.
MLS Team of the Week: Colorado Rapids. Delivered the most dominating victory of the weekend in a 3-0 humbling of the Portland Timbers. Conor Casey and Jamie Smith both scored their first goals since returning from long injury layoffs.
MLS Rookie of the Week: Austin Berry. The Chicago centerback was outstanding in the Fire's 1-0 victory against Sporting Kansas City. The Louisville product has showed poise and strength since settling in as a regular starter for the surging Fire.