Point/Counterpoint: Professional Referee Organization

In Point/Counterpoint, we ask two of our writers with differing opinions to weigh in on a controversial issue. This week, Clay and Ian dispute the relative value of PRO, the Professional Referee Organization. 

PRO Is Awful

Everyone knows how truly bad officiating has been in MLS this season. There’s a few notable cases from earlier this season such as: when Drew Moor got away with a stomp on Teal Bunbury in the box and then Giovinco went down and scored giving Toronto the win over New England, the missed handball from when Kevin Molino controlled the ball in the box to hit and score giving Orlando City a 2-1 win over New England (poor Revs) and when Nigel de Jong got away with THAT disgusting tackle on Darlington Nagbe. Yes,de Jong got a yellow, but even my father who’s watched about three games of soccer in his 49 years of existence said that should be a red.

But it all came to a boil this weekend, and something has to be done. There were five instances that need to be highlighted, and basically that whole San Jose and Sporting Kansas City game. I’m going to focus on two, because they had very real effects on the games they happened in. Let’s start with the tackle/RKO attempt by Karl Ouimette on Cyle Larin. You have got to be kidding me PRO, you don’t call that? It should have been a red card for dangerous play and DOGSO, but instead it’s play on. What happened next? New York keeps all 11 men, and then scores nearly immediately after that play. Now, Larin did appear to be offside, but the call was missed and the AR’s flag stayed down (more on that later). That doesn’t change the situation. When the flag stays down and no call is made, you have to make the call that happens, which in this case was the tackle. The Red Bulls win 3-2. Zero points for the Lions. A similar tackle was made on Dom Dwyer by Andre Imperiale in the Quakes and Sporting game, nothing again, and San Jose scores on a good penalty call. Yeah they got something right, bravo. Quakes win 1-0, zero points for SKC when maybe it should have ended 1-1.

Now on to the AR keeping the flag down, something he should not have done on Kevin Doyle’s goal in the 86th minute of Saturday’s Rapids and Sounders match to make it 3-1, killing Seattle’s momentum and putting the game out of reach. Doyle was offside, and by offside, I mean he was in the parking lot when he headed that ball in. He had to catch a bus to celebrate the goal. Brad Evans was mad, for good reason, and doubled down on yellow cards to hit the showers early for dissent. It all stems from an easy missed offside call, and that’s the biggest problem this season. These missed calls/bad calls are changing games.

All of these calls, especially this weekend, have played huge roles in denying teams points in games where it’s very possible that they could have picked up points. Just ask New England, and especially Sporting KC this weekend. Changes have to be made. What are they? Maybe start punishing refs who make terrible calls, and I think Hilario Grajeda should be the first after missing that move from the top ropes onto Larin’s legs.  

- Clay

PRO Is Probably OK

I know that this isn’t going to be the most popular stance to take, but somebody must speak up for PRO. Who will think of Mark Geiger and Jair Marrufo? Who will stand for Ted Unkel or Silviu Petrescu?  Who has Ismail Elfath’s back?  Well today, it’s me apparently.  

To understand why I’m able to say that PRO is probably fine with a straight face, we have to be able to look at the situation objectively. You know, like a ref would look at it. Let’s clear aside all of our bias. Let’s try and forget all of those times that Ricardo Salazar ruined your month and just look at situation from a neutral point of view.

Do officials make bad calls? Yes. All of the time. Is PRO any more guilty of this than any other referee organzation in the world? No. In fact, would you believe that in the overall scheme of things PRO is remarkably good at their jobs?  If you don’t believe me, why don’t you try and tune in to some lower division South American Soccer.  Why don’t you go over to the Chinese Super League and watch players get murdered while the ref looks the other way? You think PRO is bad? Check out how matches get officiated in Turkey? There are refs that literally fix matches for money. I really don’t think any of those belong to PRO.

One of the tragic propensities of the human condition is that we frequently judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions.  If you really believe that PRO is evil. If you truly believe that their incompetence is willful and by design, then there isn’t really anything that I’m going to say that can convince you otherwise. So just stop reading and go ahead and go to the comments section to call me names.  

I’ll agree the calls haven’t been stellar and I’ve been furious with some of the officiating this season just like everyone else, just like every season, but one thing I haven’t heard in all of these complaints is a good solution to the problem.  Here’s what has been suggested to me:

1. Get Rid of PRO

Ok. So you were interested in going the replacement ref route? I’m sure that will work out just wonderfully.

2. Fire them.

Seems harsh, and let’s just keep in mind that if you fire one of the main refs in rotation you are essentially promoting someone whom even PRO doesn’t think is ready to regularly handle the center circle.

3. Suspend them.

Less harsh, but the same reasons as above.

Fine them.

They already don’t get paid all that well.  You shouldn’t fine officials for underperforming. You don’t do it to players or coaches.

5. Instant replay.

Ok! Now we’re talking!  Let’s explore it. I’m all for that.  Instead of burning PRO to the ground let’s see what we can do to help them. This is a good idea, but probably still a pretty long way away from being possible.

-I’d like to leave you with one more thought.  Even if the Utopian ideal situation occurred and we managed to lure the world’s best officials to Major League Soccer you would STILL frequently be dissatisfied with their decisions. How do I know this? Because it’s all a subjective matter based on your limited viewpoint. The single worst decision I’ve seen this year was when Christian Bolanos was awarded a penalty against Seattle despite very obviously tripping over his own feet. There was no moment where contact occurred. It was simply a TERRIBLE call.  To this day, if I reference that moment there are Vancouver Whitecaps fans that will INSIST that the call was correct.  There are Los Angeles Galaxy fans who tweet at me every week and tell me that Nigel de Jong shouldn’t have even had a foul called on him. That Darlington Nagbe dived, and that it was a perfectly fair 50-50 challenge.

Again, I’m not saying that all of the calls have been right, but it’s worth remembering that somewhere around 90 to 95% of them have been. These flashpoints we focus on are just a small minority of the decisions a PRO ref makes every match.  Nobody writes about the planes that land I know, and “Great Job Ref” isn’t a very enticing headline for the press to write about but here we are eight weeks into the season and just like last year and the year before that one. Just like they do in England and Spain and Germany, and Italy (especially in Italy), and India and China and France and Mexico and Costa Rica , just like they do in every league in the world, when things aren’t going the way we want them to, we’re going to blame the refs.  So is PRO bad? Sometimes, but we don’t really have a better option at this point do we?

- Ian