Nov 4, 2023; Harrison, NJ, USA; FC Cincinnati defender Matt Miazga (21) receives a yellow card during the second half against the New York Red Bulls of game two in a round one match of the 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs at Red Bull Arena. Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

After a hard-fought win over the New York Red Bulls in Round One of the 2023 MLS playoffs, reigning Defender of the Year Matt Miazga had a confrontation with match officials that led to the league issuing a three-game suspension.

Miazga will now miss the conference finals when his team, FC Cincinnati, takes on rivals Columbus Crew. The winner will host the MLS Cup against the winner of LAFC v. Houston Dynamo.

The issue began in the final minutes of FCC’s second game in a best-of-three series against the Red Bulls. Miazga received a yellow card in stoppage time for dissent and received a second yellow card during the PK shootout for excessive celebration. The cards resulted in an automatic one-game suspension for Miazga. Upset with the decision of the center official, Miazga entered the locker room of the referees in Red Bull Arena roughly 80 minutes after the game ended. The area is off-limits to players, but security was not directly guarding access to the locker room. Reports vary in specificity, but the general gist of Miazga’s alleged behavior is that he swore at match officials and refused to leave the locker room when told.

What precisely happened is now the subject of a public argument between the MLS Players Association (MLSPA) and the Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA), the union that represents MLS officials. The spat began when the PSRA made a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, that a player from the match gained “unauthorized entry” into the official’s locker room and had to be “forcibly removed” by stadium security. Pushback to the story was swift, with team officials disputing that security was involved or that Miazga had to be “forcibly” removed.

After MLS released their decision to suspend Miazga for three games, PSRA took a victory lap, thanking the league for taking the matter seriously. Miazga appealed the suspension, but the appeal was denied. MLS did not specify if Miazga was suspended for simply entering a restricted area, his behavior while in that area, or some combination of both.

Thursday, the MLSPA pushed back with a harsh statement, saying that the “match report approved by the officials and the statements released by the PSRA regarding the incident contained material falsehoods. Since then, the PSRA has not only failed to correct these falsehoods, its President has continued to repeat them publicly.”’

The statement calls for public discipline for the referees for “submitting a match report with multiple false statements” and says that “video footage made available and reviewed during the disciplinary process confirms that statements made by the referees and the PSRA were false.” However, it’s notable that the MLSPA has not said what statements are supposedly false. Are they disputing that Miazga ever entered the locker room? His behavior while in the locker room? The manner in which he left?

FCC head coach Pat Noonan echoed some of the MLSPA’s concerns while speaking to media members during a training session today, saying “I also would like to see just some transparency and accountability with the officials.” Alleging that match officials lied is a serious charge. Despite calling for transparency, neither the MLSPA nor Noonan are giving transparency themselves, by stating clearly what happened and what they believe the officials are lying about. The first-ever in-state conference final in MLS history is now overshadowed by a he said/she said fight in the media, and if FCC wins and hosts the MLS Cup, the reigning defender of the year missing that game will surely keep the conversation going.