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ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

Early-season red card rate in MLS second-highest in 15 years

Referee Mark Geiger sends off Red Bulls midfielder Felipe Martins, left, on Friday night.

The number of red cards handed out through the first five weeks of the MLS season is up slightly over previous seasons, hitting the second-highest rate in the past 15 years.

With four players sent off last weekend, MLS refs have issued 16 red cards through 42 games, a rate of .38 dismissals per game, behind only the rate of .43 through the first 44 games in 2011, according to Elias Sports Bureau data released by MLSSoccer.com.

Last month, the Professional Referees Organization (PRO) made spotting red card offences a point of emphasis after 28 percent of them were missed in 2015.

After Vancouver's Matias Laba was sent off on Saturday, opposing manager Bruce Arena of the LA Galaxy said the crackdown was "ruining" the season.

"There're just been too many red cards in this league," he said. "It's ruining games; it doesn't make the games entertaining, and I don't think the fans like it.

"I know about the players but, it seems like every game in this league there's a red card now."

Arena's count of one per game wasn't quite accurate, but the rate of red cards in the early weeks of the season has slowly increased in recent years.

In 2011, players saw red 19 times in the first 44 games, but that number dropped off sharply the following year, when only five were issued, and 2013, when four were given out and one of those was rescinded.

Since then, the red card numbers have started to return toward previous levels, with 13 in 2014 (two rescinded) and 14 in 2015.

Seattle Sounders coach Sigi Schmid told reporters on Monday that it would take time to adjust to the new emphasis.

"I think, over the long run, it's [good]," Schmid said. "Finding the right balance right now? Probably not. But it takes a while to find that balance. Eventually, things change. Things become different."

After a relatively low rate in the league's first years, 1998 still holds the red card record in the early weeks of the season with 23 in 43 games, a rate of .53.

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