What to do about MLS officiating?

I think everyone has agreed that MLS officiating has been really, really bad this season. Ed sums things up from a DC perspective very nicely, here.

But what I have rarely heard are any ideas to make the officiating better. I don’t have any brilliant brainstorms on this either, but I just cannot understand why this problem remains so difficult to solve. Here are some ideas that crossed my mind:

  • MLS pulls the officials out from under the auspices of the USSF, hires them full-time and places more investment in training, etc.
  • MLS goes out and gets a fleet of foreign referees who may (or may not) perform better than our American ones.
  • MLS tells FIFA to screw off and experiments on its own with improving officiating through video review or a second referee.

I have no idea whether any of those ideas are feasible or would even prove successful. They are just some things that crossed my mind. Are there some concrete ideas that could be presented to MLS/USSF? Because, I think everyone could agree that the officiating is proving a problem in the league right now.

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9 thoughts on “What to do about MLS officiating?

  1. “I think everyone could agree that the officiating is proving a problem in the league right now.”

    In what league don’t the fans say this?

  2. Well, since you asked, here’s my radical idea: Give the ref’s not just permission but explicit guidance to take a player’s reputation into account when making calls. Ref’s call a lot of stuff that is marginal or that they’re not certain of because it happened so fast — that’s not a criticism, that’s just describing the nature of the problem. So tell refs, listen, if you’re dealing with someone who you’ve seen over the season or over a career is someone who dives, or who has canny little ways of creating calls or trumping up small transgressions into big ones, then be more certain of what you saw before you call fouls for those guys.

    This will have two effects: first, fewer bad calls and bad bookings. Second, this I think is more effective than threatening to give yellow cards in terms of limiting diving. People will become scared of getting such a reputation and will stop doing it in the first place.

  3. Don’t they do this already? Isn’t this just sort of an unwritten truth of officiating?

    Honestly, I think people in the NFL and especially the NHL would say that their officials are doing a pretty good job. Where I think the NFL runs into trouble is in legislating rules that the officials cannot possibly judge and from talking to players back when I was a “real” reporter, I think NHL players respect the referees immensely.

  4. Hire Pierluigi Collina to head the refs for at least a season, maybe start a training system.

    Even if MLS believed that things were going ok, it’d be a PR ‘win’ for them, giving the impression that they were serious about it.

    Ed’s note: Fixed spelling of ref

  5. I think that there are two type of penalties that are causing a lot of the frustration fans.

    1. Players diving to earn penalties
    2. Referee’s calling phantom penalties.

    The missed off-sides calls, I don’t really care about. That’s a normal issue, and its difficult to judge sometimes.

    In terms of players diving (e.g., rolling around to stop play and to draw a foul), I think that the player should be removed from the field of play for 5 minutes (for the safety of the player, of course) or the player should be subbed off.

    If the injury is legitimate, then the removal of the player for 5 minutes give a training staff ample time to evaluate the players ability to return to the field. The 4th referee will be responsible for tracking this 5 minute time frame and for allowing the player to return to play when the time is up.

    If the player is not injured, they should just get up, and let the game move on… as is suppose to happen.

    I think that this will help referee’s to call actual fouls or just players falling down. I think will also reduce the number of dives because a player like Christiano Ronaldo will have to be off the field for 5 minutes causing his team to play a man down for a period of time. Fans and coaches will start letting players know what is acceptable.

    As for referees making phantom calls, unfortunately, this is a harder solution. My first thought would be to:

    1) Institute a coach initiated challenge to penalty kicks awarded. However, a FIFA referee representative would review video of the play to uphold or overturn the penalty kick. I don’t really like this solution because it breaks up the game, but it would be a solution. However, if I were asked whether I would mind a 5 to 10 minute break to allow for reviews or for my team to win, draw, or lose based on a bad call, I’d probably take the break.

    2) Referee’s should be fined/suspended for repeated poor performance, similar to receiving yellow, accumulated yellows, and red cards for their performance. While this is the easiest to implement (and probably doesn’t lead to FIFA’s involvement), it may deter qualified individuals from becoming referees. If I got fined or suspended when I made a mistake at work, I’d probably look for a new job.

    Either way, I think that the league should admit that the Referee’s have been making high-profile mistakes this season and is instituting solutions to address them. They may be making few mistakes, but the ones they are making are a bit more influential on the game.

  6. I am not 100% sure on this…but is there a situation on the planet where the league, instead of the federation (assuming said league is part of said federation and is an actual league), administers its officials?

    I’m not 100% sure they can, or would want to, get into the business of recruiting, training, administering and disciplining referees. Sounds like it would take more bandwidth than they have.

    The problem, as I see it, is two-fold:
    1 – USSF doesn’t spend nearly enough money on recruitment, training, support, education, administration, education and development of officials.
    2 – Fans whine too frigging much.

  7. #2 is of course much closer to the answer, but another problem we have here is there’s just not enough lower level games of quality anywhere near to MLS now for referees to cut their teeth. The amount (and quality) of matches in USL-1 & 2 and especially Frank Marcos’ Cape Cod League just ain’t cutting it…

  8. I don’t have any expectation that you’re going to reply to this, because you haven’t replied to substantive replies you’ve received on this question elsewhere. But I’ll answer your question this way: it’s a matter of degree. I *don’t* go into every match in La Liga or the EPL or the Bundesliga that I watch with the acceptance that there’s a fairly good chance the match result will be determined by a refereeing error. I *do* go into MLS matches with that acceptance. And it’s that fact that has caused me to scale way, way back the amount of MLS matches I watch this year.

    I still watch everything my team’s in, because I’m sufficiently emotionally invested to suffer through the refereeing mistakes. But when it comes to matches where I’m a neutral — well, I used to watch every single match I could. In a typical week, I’d miss only one or two matches; the rest, I’d watch all the way through. (DVRs are a wonderful thing) Now, I watch maybe one match other than my team’s each week, if that. And the single biggest reason for that change is the refereeing. It’s literally made the games *not fun to watch*.

  9. “MLS pulls the officials out from under the auspices of the USSF, hires them full-time and places more investment in training, etc.”

    This would make things worse. For years the problem in MLS was that there were different expectations from the League to normal FIFA refereeing practices. It was mainly to avoid too many red cards and then suspensions etc. Overall it lost respect for the league regarding how the
    games were played. You can find tons of postings on this aspect on this site and in many other articles written elsewhere.

    “MLS goes out and gets a fleet of foreign referees who may (or may not) perform better than our American ones.”

    Most such referees would want to referee strictly according to the Laws, and the way the game is played in MLS, this would create even more problems. Also it would mean that US referees would never get better, and this would discourage people from trying, since they could not get to referee at the top level league in the US. NASL actually did this to some extent in the late 70s, with very mixed results. Some of the foreign guys did OK, some did worse, but most were about the same as the US and Canadian refs. The idea was scrapped.

    “MLS tells FIFA to screw off and experiments on its own with improving officiating through video review or a second referee.”

    Totally impractical. This would result in USSF getting suspended by FIFA and not being allowed to participate in World Cups etc.

    The real answer lies in better training and evaluation of the referees. Contrary to previous seasons, this is now being addressed by the new people in charge in USSF. It may take a season or two to get it all worked out.

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