By Kevin Kinkead

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s always a slippery slope when you presume to know a player’s intent on the field.

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Did Cristian Maidana purposefully spit at Lee Nguyen last Saturday at PPL Park?

The Union midfielder was sent off in stoppage time when referee Chris Penso confirmed that he “deliberately” spat at an opponent on the ground.

Maidana told reporters afterward that he chews gum while playing. He said there was nothing intentional about the incident.

Still, the red card stands, and a longer ban is likely. Sources tell CBS Philly that Maidana could see three on the shelf, returning him to action about one week before September 30th’s U.S. Open Cup final.

MLS suspensions rarely exceed two games. Several incidents involving homophobic language warranted three-game bans. D.C. United’s Fabian Espindola got six games for shoving a referee and others have received lesser bans for “violent conduct” on the field.

The longest ban in league history is the 10-game suspension levied to Brian Mullan for his leg-breaking, career-ending tackle on Steve Zakuani.

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“Well, the spitting one is always the one that everybody finds is…for me, I’d rather get punched in the face than spit on,” manager Jim Curtin told reporters at his mid-week press conference. “So, again, Chaco told me he didn’t intend that so, in that regard, we’ll…I believe him. So, again, we’ll have to evaluate. Comparing it to different things, I think every case is unique. You mentioned the homophobic slurs and things like that, they shouldn’t be tolerated, things like that shouldn’t be tolerated. They have a good (disciplinary) committee that it goes to, guys that I’m friends with and old teammates that are on it, so there’s been some dialogue as to where they’re at but no official word has come forward yet. I’m kind of wait and see. But anytime you are judging intent, whether he meant it or not, is a gray area because only one guy really knows, you know, and that’s Chaco, Chaco’s the only one who really knows deep down the decision that he made.”

Curtin explained that there is an appeal process for the red card, but the team will wait for judgment on the incident before choosing a course of action.

MLS has ruled on two spitting incidents in previous years, the most recent in 2013 involving Chivas USA striker Tristan Bowen, who was suspended for just one additional game despite the disciplinary committee categorizing the offense as “violent conduct”.

Dallas defender Jair Benitez was similarly suspended for spitting at Houston’s Geoff Cameron in 2011. This was during a preseason game, and the league decided to halve a two-game ban upon successful appeal through the MLS Player’s Union. Commissioner Don Garber reportedly reduced that suspension.

“I talked with Chaco about it, he gave me his side of the story,” Curtin added. “He’s adamant that it was not intentional, so I trust my players, I believe in them. Now, it’s kind of out of our hands. We can state our case and then they’ll make a decision.”

It’s tricky territory for the disciplinary committee, who will revisit the spitting issue in a higher- profile setting. The incident with Bowen was under-publicized, as was the situation involving Benitez and Cameron. Similar to the NFL’s struggle in comparing domestic issues to deflated footballs, MLS will have to decide how spitting stacks up against violent conduct, doping, pushing, punching, biting, scratching or any other offenses that have been ruled on in the past.

The scrutiny might not be deserved, but it’s inevitable.

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“I would just say, again, they’re all case-by-case basis,” Curtin explained. “I can remember back when Ricardo Clark kicked Carlos Ruiz in the head and you’re kind of going, ‘This is new, how the heck are they going to respond to this,’ you know? This is a unique one because it involves gum, bubble gum, I’ve not seen that. I know Chaco chews gum when he plays, he spit it out during the foul at the end of the game and, again, it’s a unique one, it’s a strange one. It’s kind of out of our hands. Again, Chaco can give his side. I believe him. From there we’ll go and it goes into the league’s hands. But,every case is unique. To compare one to the other is very difficult. Spitting has come up in our league but it’s been with actual spit – and you can always tell when someone is spitting on someone because it’s pretty face-to-face and it’s clear. This one it’s not clear on the video, you can’t really tell a hundred percent if that’s what he was trying to do.”