While Major League Soccer has made great strides in its level of play it cannot be considered a truly top flight international league until the quality of referees improves. Since 1996 the league has had a program in place to evaluate referees and to reward top referees with plum assignments but with the exception of Brian Hall (who has refereed two world cups) and perhaps one or two other head referees the level of officiating in the league remains at 1996 levels.
Several incidents this past weekend illustrate the problem. Let’s walk through them.
- In the Red Bull New York vs Houston Dynamo match Dwayne DeRossario committed a flagrant hand ball in the box by trying to knock down a cross. He was given a yellow card even though a clear intent to knock down the ball was obvious, a no brainier red card offense.
- In the same match Clint Mathis was sent off for a hard tackle. It was ruled a serious reckless challenge even though the replay indicates it probably was not even a yellow card offense.
- In the New England vs Columbus match Andy Herron blatantly elbowed Jay Heaps but was not even given a caution.
- In the Chivas LA vs Real Salt Lake match, Chivas’ Sacha Kljestan committed as ugly a reckless tackle from behind as you will ever see on Andy Williams. Williams leg was broken and he could be out for four months. Yet Kljestan was given only a yellow card caution even though FIFA has clearly established guidelines for red card ejections for such reckless challenges. What made the challenge even worse is that Chivas was up 3-0 and no need for such an ugly play was necessary.
- Finally Colorado scored its only goal versus FC Dallas when Jovan Kirovski clearly batted the ball down to his feet with his hands and then beat Shaka Hislop for the goal. Kirovski’s hand ball took place right in front of the referee who either determined it was incidental or pretended he did not see it.
Every week I watch MLS, I see incidents like this that sadly affect results of games and the employment of players and coaches. For example John Ellinger is already on the hot seat in Salt Lake, and losing a player as seasoned Andy Williams could be the final nail in his coffin. Moreover the missed calls make it more difficult for European and South American fans to tolerate MLS. Fans of top worldwide leagues are used to a certain consistency in officiating, and MLS for its twelve year existence has had more than its fair share of outcomes determined by poor calls or missed calls.