TORONTO - The MLS schedule is just three weeks old and already the shots are coming fast and furious.
Too many on Clint Dempsey, says U.S. coach Juergen Klinsmann.
But the league decided that Dempsey was the trouble-maker not the victim when it suspended the Seattle Sounders star striker two games Friday for "violent conduct" against Toronto FC defender Mark Bloom.
The incident happened off the ball in the 40th minute of Toronto's 2-1 win in Seattle last Saturday. Dempsey swung an arm and caught Bloom in the groin.
The U.S. international was also fined an undisclosed amount.
Klinsmann stepped in after the game, saying MLS has to offer key players like Dempsey more protection.
"Obviously we are a little bit worried about Clint Dempsey getting fouled I don't know how many times in this game against Toronto," he said in a U.S. Soccer video.
Toronto committed 25 fouls compared to 15 for Seattle.
"I'm hoping MLS is having an eye on that ... What I saw there on the weekend there were certain things not within the rules any more," Klinsmann added. "So I hope that our players in a certain way get a little bit of protection because they need to be healthy going into this World Cup."
Seattle was also the victim of 25 fouls in its season-opening win over Sporting Kansas City.
Asked about the Klinsmann comments on protecting stars, Toronto FC manager Ryan Nelsen stuck his tongue firmly in his cheek.
"I 100 per cent agree with him," he said. "Jermain Defoe, Michael Bradley and Gilberto should be left alone, they shouldn't be allowed to tackle them."
"I think there's a hidden agenda with Juergen's comments," he added.
Bradley, a veteran U.S. international whose father Bob Bradley used to coach the American national team, also downplayed the issue.
"It's a physical league for sure but when you look around the world, all the best games are physical," he said. "They're hard, Teams compete at the highest level. For us, when we look back at last weekend, we feel like we played hard, we competed hard, we left everything we had on the field but in an honest, fair way.
"And so I think, after the fact, for people to look and to start to talk about a play here, a play there, let's be honest, there's little plays like this that go in every game. And still when you look back at 90 minutes, I think the way that we were able to get after Seattle and make the game hard on them and really win the physical battles was something we want to take forward into this game (Saturday against D.C, United) as well."
Seattle coach Sigi Schmid didn't offer much on the suspension in an interview posted on the club website.
"It is what it is so we have to deal with it," he said.
Dempsey is eligible to return for an April 5 road game in Portland.
The MLS disciplinary committee also suspended Chicago Fire defender Lovel Palmer for two games and fined him an undisclosed amount for violent conduct toward Portland Timbers forward Maximiliano Urruti last weekend.
Both Dempsey and Palmer submitted appeals that were turned down.
Montreal Impact midfielder Justin Mapp was also fined an undisclosed amount for simulation in a game against the Houston Dynamo.
New York Red Bulls defender Armando was banned one game and fined an undisclosed amount for serious foul play against Colorado Rapids forward Deshorn Brown.
Prior to the start of the season, the league's board of governors approved a policy stating that any player receiving a red card for violent conduct or adjudged unanimously by the discipline committee to be an unequivocal red card for violent conduct will be automatically suspended for at least two games and be fined.