The new Socker management that took over in October sent a message to players Monday when team president Ron Cady announced that midfielder Juli Veee will be suspended without pay for 30 days for Veee's altercation with assistant coach Johan Aarnio after Sunday's game.
Earlier Monday, Veee also was suspended without pay for two days for a "closed personnel incident" that occurred on the Sockers' opening-game trip to Wichita. The two-day suspension begins today and the 30-day suspension starts Thursday. Based on Veee's annual salary of $90,000, 32 days without pay comes to $8,000. Veee, who has one goal and one assist in five games, will miss 10 games.
"We had a team meeting a week ago Tuesday," Cady said, "and I told the players that anything visible to the public should be done in a professional manner. I told them not to air disagreements in front of the fans and TV cameras. And I said how things were run before and how . . . you were able to get away from things will not be tolerated."
As the Sockers left the bench and came off the field after their 4-1 victory over Minnesota Sunday, Veee connected with an open-handed slap that hit Aarnio. Aarnio staggered back, and then attempted to hit Veee, but missed. Veee finally held Aarnio off.
After Sunday's game, a smiling Veee said the incident was a case of "mistaken identity." On Monday, Veee said his agent Scott Simpson advised him not to say anything.
"It's certainly a heavy fine," Simpson said. "I feel Ron Cady and Ron Fowler (chairman of the board) are saying, 'Look, we now run the club.' It's unfortunate this has to come out to punctuate this point."
It's rare to see Veee serious and silent, but he was both as he left the team office early Monday evening.
Without saying exactly what transpired on the bench with Veee Sunday, Aarnio did explain.
"We had a verbal confrontation," said Aarnio, in his seventh season as Socker assistant coach. "I won't elaborate as to what it was. I don't think Juli likes to be confronted. Where there's a situation that needs confronting by a coach, I'll do it.
"He hit me with a blind punch. I never saw it coming. I think it's a regrettable act on Juli's part. He can confront me, but I never swung at him."
On Monday evening, Cady issued a statement that read:
"This incident involved unacceptable conduct on Veee's part, and calls for the maximum allowable penalty for a 'major offense' under the Major Indoor Soccer League's collective bargaining agreement with the MISL Players' Assn.
"This action reflects our conclusion that public misconduct of this kind is detrimental not only to the San Diego Sockers, but to our league and our community, and therefore must be dealt with in the strictist manner possible."
In an interview later, Cady called the episode "very stressful. It's an unfortunate incident and it's with a great deal of remorse that I had to come to such a strict penalty, but this is something we will not tolerate."
The incident Sunday was captured on tape and reviewed Monday by Socker Coach Ron Newman and Cady, who also met with Aarnio and Veee at noon.
"Everyone had their say," Newman said. "I was not aware of the gravity of the incident until I saw the tape. It was very, very serious."
Monday evening, Newman, Cady, Veee and Simpson met to discuss the matter. Veee and Simpson walked out of the meeting holding Cady's statement.
"I have nothing to say," Veee said.
Usually, Veee has everything to say, but Simpson told Veee to let him comment.
"We're all pretty devastated over the incident," said Simpson, who will review the tape today. "Hopefully, we can make something good out of a bad situation. I hope we would not have to appeal it (to the MISL Players' Assn.)."
Said Aarnio: "It (the suspension of Veee) shows me that there is a real commitment on the part of our new ownership to public conduct and image. I think what we do in the public eye represents us. We have to make sure we handle ourselves as professionally as possible."
What precipitated the incident between Veee and Aarnio, however, remains unclear.
"I don't know how the incident came about," said Socker midfielder Brian Quinn, "but there are two sides to every coin. Something like that builds up over a long period of time. Obviously, it's been building up between Johan and Juli. Something has to be going on for someone with Juli's class to act like that."
Said Crow: "I'm sure Juli will tell you what he did was wrong. You can't condone the action. But there were underlying reasons why it would happen. It was a buildup of seven years frustration, but none of his friends were around to stop it."
When asked if something had been brewing with Veee, Aarnio said: "I didn't think so. Juli has been his same self as long as he has been here."