The MLS Players Union on Saturday questioned Sporting Kansas City's security and urged the league to consider its own fan conduct rules, while acknowledging Tim Howard's "inappropriate" actions that led to his suspension.
The response came one day after MLS suspended the Colorado Rapids and U.S. national team goalkeeper Tim Howard for three games and fined him an undisclosed amount for a pair of incidents last week after a testy 3-1 loss in Kansas City.
Howard was seen on a video posted to social media exchanging expletives with some in SKC's home crowd late in the match. A source also told ESPN FC that Howard grabbed an SKC supporter by the arm as players were leaving the field.
The union, which earlier in the week successfully lobbied for MLS to lift a suspension on Montreal's Wandrille Lefevre, did not dispute Howard's responsibility in the matter but noted he had been goaded into reacting by "unacceptable behavior" from SKC fans.
"We are disappointed with the league's handling of the situation involving the Kansas City fans and Tim Howard," the statement said. "Following the incidents, which involved a verbal exchange with a fan, as well as an altercation after the game, Tim acknowledged his culpability and responsibility for his role. However, he is the only one involved to do so.
"Although the Players Union and Tim acknowledge that his conduct was inappropriate, there is further context that should not be lost. MLS has a detailed Fan Code of Conduct in place under which fans are expected to be respectful to each other and to players, and are prohibited from engaging in disorderly behavior, including obscene or abusive language.
"The fans involved repeatedly, routinely and openly violated that Code of Conduct, without any repercussions. It is thus not surprising that there was a reaction from the player."
The union went on to say the security at Children's Mercy Park should never have allowed the postgame interaction with a fan to occur.
"The security provided by the league and Sporting Kansas City was wholly inadequate to protect players and fans," the statement said. "As Tim was attempting to leave the field, a fan with alcohol in hand was able to come within two feet of him on field level and aggressively scream obscenities in his face. That is unacceptable behavior anywhere and is not something that players, or anyone, should be subjected to in their workplace.
"Tim takes responsibility for his actions, but MLS needs to do the same, and send a clear message that it is committed to creating a safe experience not only for its fans, but for its players too."
Sporting KC president Jake Reid told the Kansas City Star he was surprised by the union's statement, and noted that SKC is one of only five MLS teams with a full-time security staff.
"We put safety first and foremost at Children's Mercy Park," Reid said. "If we ever felt at any time that safety was a concern, we would have changed a policy or an action a long time ago. But in response to this, will we look at all the things we do? Absolutely."
Reid also said he didn't feel fans' verbal abuse was "an issue at this point in our venue."
The Rapids said before Saturday's game that Howard would not be speaking on the suspension, and that he was not in attendance.