Major League Soccer has a slate of replacement referees who will look after this weekend’s First Kick matches.
But the decision by PRO, the body which assigns the officials, to lock out its member referees, doesn’t just affect MLS. Remember that NASL also takes its American-site officiating assignments from the PRO pool. Last season, there were many cases where a PRO referee would look after an MLS game one week, and an NASL game the next.
The NASL doesn’t begin play till the second week of April, and the league has declined to make any official comment on the referee situation. But, it did confirm that the dispute will not impact games played in Edmonton or Ottawa, as the Canadian Soccer Association, not PRO, handle the referee assignments for those matches.
But, when FC Edmonton opens the NASL season in Tampa Bay, and the Ottawa Fury visits the Fort Lauderdale Strikers (both on April 12), there’s a growing possibility that those games won’t be overseen by PRO refs.
Sources have told The 11 that NASL is working to have a contingency plan in place in case the first-choice referees aren’t available to work in the league’s eight U.S. stadiums.
FC Edmonton coach Colin Miller was asked about the situation — and he said that, with his team in the midst of training camp, the referee situation is “the least of my worries.”
But, he said the quality of officiating as a whole has to improve.
“I think as long as they use qualified officials, we are fine. But, speaking honestly, whether they were PRO referees or not, the officials and linesmen have got to be better. I think that, in a lot of games last season, the officiating was of a very poor quality.”
Really, we’ll have a better idea of the bargaining power the locked out referees have once MLS plays games with replacement referees. Let’s be honest; PRO refs were under fire last season in both NASL and MLS for missed calls and poor performances. And while missed calls happen all over the world, there is a hypersensitivity to officials that exists in North America.
But, in the NFL, when its referees were off the job, there was a noticeable dropoff in quality with the replacement zebras, which spurred the league to make a deal. So, this week won’t be analyzing the wins and losses in MLS as much as it will be second-guessing all the referee decisions that will be made on the fields.