By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Sep 2, 2015) US Soccer Players - MLS has a problem. Okay, let me rephrase that, seeing as how many would suggest MLS has many problems, not the least of which is the way it operates. So let's narrow this down a bit.
The problem in question, this week anyway, involves the officiating. It's two things here. The performance of the referees and the response to that performance. It's the response that's the problem.
It’s open season on referees across MLS. A troubling development that threatens to undermine any progress those charged with improving officiating in the United States and Canada might be able to make.
The last round of MLS matches alone prompted out-of-bounds criticism of the referees from three coaches and an owner. In each case, the individuals in question know better. In one case, the wisdom of “think before you tweet” comes to mind. Social media is a powerful tool that allows those in positions of power at clubs and leagues to communicate directly with the fans. It’s also a potential pitfall that can swallow even the most thoughtful and careful among us.
In the heat of the moment, cooler heads are required.
The four men in question are, in no particular order, Merritt Paulson, Peter Vermes, Caleb Porter, and Bruce Arena. These are not low profile people in the world of American soccer. These are some of the leading figures of MLS, men whose words and actions carry weight. Charging out either during or after a match and lambasting the referees is not only distasteful, it’s counterproductive.
Never in the history of sports has a coach earned something back by spewing venom in the direction of an official after a match. Public moaning on the part of an owner, perhaps even more egregious because of his status and separation from the team itself, comes off as nothing more than entitled whining.
Arena’s beef involved a red card handed out to Leonardo in LA’s 1-0 loss to San Jose on Friday. “I think the entire officiating crew didn’t do a good job. I don’t even know if it’s a foul, and he’s not the last player — Omar’s there — and it’s a bad piece of officiating,” he said. “If you’re going to give a yellow card, I’m going to maybe say OK, but I don’t even think it’s a yellow card.”
The Galaxy’s boss’s comments didn’t sit by themselves, by the way. LA captain Robbie Keane also took shots at the referee in his postgame chat with reporters.
Vermes took his shot in a conference call with reporters after Sporting Kansas lost 2-1 on the road in Colorado.
“The other team didn't beat us, he said. “What beat us was the guys who are supposed to be the impartial guys reffing the game. They are the ones that beat us, for the second week in a row.”
Maybe it was his frustration boiling over from a poor run of results for Sporting. Or maybe, like so many others, Vermes feels comfortable taking the referees to task without fear of serious repercussion.
The Timbers double act was Paulson and Porter. The former vented about the team’s unfortunate first half during the match. Despite convincingly outplaying Seattle, the Timbers found themselves on the wrong end of the score line. “Absolute crock. Playing these guys off the field and they get two gifted goals...one from us and one from ref. garbage,” Paulson tweeted.
After the Timbers fell 2-1 over 90 minutes Porter had his chance to open up on the referees. The Portland head coach took great pains to thrown in caveats to lessen the blow, but the sentiment remained the same. Like his colleagues and his owner, Porter felt it appropriate to call into question the referee’s work as part of his assessment of the loss.
“We’re coaches, and we’re all ambassadors for MLS and want the game to grow, and I thought the game was very poorly managed by the official,” he said. “And he’s an experienced guy, but he seemed to be sleepwalking through the game. It wasn’t anything where he was biased toward one team or another, nothing unethical, I just thought he was very poor. Just like coaches have poor games and players have poor games, I thought he had a poor game.”
Again, all of this is a problem. While the level of refereeing in MLS is an issue that needs continual attention, that problem is separate from public disrespect flowing from the mouths of the group cited above. There’s nothing said by any of them that couldn’t wait for a phone to be made to the League offices. There’s nothing so pressing about calling out a referee that it can’t be put on hold until heat of the game has dissipated.
How interesting it is that no coach complains about the officiating after a win. Oh, your team lost? And you have issues with the referee? How surprising.
Respect for the officials has to be a universal theme, across the league, at all times. This is a sport dealing with rampant match-fixing and corruption. Anything that hits at the legitimacy of referees in MLS prompts bad thoughts that go bad places. With the precedent in places, these figures are going after referees for judgement calls that split observers even with the added advantage of instant replay. Not every “controversial” call is really controversial. Sometimes it’s just a tough, justifiable call made in a single moment
It’s time for MLS to take severe measure to curb this trend. Coaches have to know that going after referees in the public forum will land them significant fines and suspensions. Small fines are going to do the trick. Sending a message through serious punishment is the only way to fix the problem.
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