Clint Dempsey suspended three games by MLS for ref incident

Seattle Sounders midfielder Clint Dempsey has been suspended three games by Major League Soccer.

The ban will not affect his availability for the 2015 Gold Cup, which begins on July 7.

The United States captain has been punished for his actions in Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup between Seattle and Portland, in which he tore up referee Daniel Radford's notebook. Dempsey, who had already been booked, was subsequently sent off.

Dempsey was also fined an undisclosed amount.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber concluded Dempsey's behavior was "referee abuse," which requires a minimum three-game suspension, and not "referee assault," which has a minimum six-game ban.

Despite the incident taking place in a non-MLS match, the league, per its policy, has jurisdiction to review any alleged actions involving its players and a referee in any competition.

Dempsey could face further discipline from a panel established by the U.S. Soccer Federation, but any additional suspension would be limited to U.S. Open Cup matches.

"We do not tolerate conduct of this nature from any of our players," MLS Deputy Commissioner Mark Abbott said in a statement after the punishment was announced.

"No matter how passionate our players are or what happens in the 'heat of the moment,' they must always respect all aspects of the game, especially the referees.

"In light of Clint's actions and our past precedents, we felt that a significant suspension was appropriate."

Referee abuse is defined as conduct that "threatens through a physical act or verbal statement, either explicitly or implicitly." Part of the definition of referee assault is "damaging the referee's uniform or personal property (e.g., car, uniform, or equipment)."

The referees' union, the Professional Soccer Referees Association (PRSA) issued a statement signalling their displeasure at the apparent leniency of Dempsey's ban.

"PSRA is deeply disappointed with the decision of MLS to give Mr. Dempsey a light slap on the wrist by suspending him for a mere three games following a report of both referee assault and abuse as those terms are defined under applicable policies," read the statement. "This type of conduct toward any referee is a direct threat to the integrity of the game, and should not be tolerated under any circumstances.

"The ceremonial discipline issued by MLS not only fails to deter such reprehensible conduct going forward, it conveys the message that a player can physically engage, destroy property and threaten a referee and suffer minimum consequences.

"In late 2014 MLS was moving in the right direction in their response to referee assaults. Unfortunately, this is a serious step backwards. Referee safety is an important issue at all levels of the game and MLS should have used its high profile position to lead rather than regress.

Dempsey will miss a home game against San Jose, and away games against Philadelphia and Portland over the course of his ban.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.