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MLS issues mandates to its referees

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If Major League Soccer is true to its word, we can expect to see a rise in the number of cards and penalty kicks awarded in games this season.

Commissioner Don Garber outlined some new points of emphasis for MLS officials in his season kickoff conference call Friday. Garber made it clear that the league was concerned over what it felt was the number of infractions that went unpunished in games last season.

A new headquarters will be set up, where U.S. pro soccer officials can watch MLS games and rate the performances of the referees.

“They will evaluate, grade much of the games,” said Garber.

And some clear mandates are being handed down from league headquarters to the officials. After consultations with the United States Soccer Federation and the Canadian Soccer Association, MLS has pinpointed areas of concern.

After seeing a lot of studs-up challenges go without whistles in 2010, MLS wants refs to do their best to protect the man with the ball at his feet.

“The man on ball will be protected a lot more than in the past,” said Garber.

As well, the league is frustrated by the amount of shirt-pulling, pushing and holding done as players jockey for position on corner kicks and free kicks.

“Verbal warnings without punishment aren’t working for us,” said Garber.

UEFA gave its referees the same kind of anti-holding mandate ahead of Euro 2008, and it resulted in a couple of controversial penalty decisions in round-robin games, Italy-Romania and Austria-Poland. But, after the tournament — which was far more entertaining than the 2010 World Cup — we didn’t see any follow-up. The push to stop the clutching and grabbing stopped there.

As well, MLS linesmen are being encouraged to keep their flags down if they have the slightest shreds of doubt about offside calls.

“We are hoping the benefit is given to attacking soccer,” said Garber, adding he wants linesmen to be “absolutely sure” before flags are raised.

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