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Monday 25 March 2013

MLS Referee Watch – Round Four

    With the fourth weekend of MLS matches having passed, it’s time to check up on the continued development of the referees.

    Following up on POV-FS’ Red Card Theory, it was a slightly disjointed weekend and having previously gone three weeks without a red card – omitting that which was rescinded – three were shown this round.

    Colorado’s Drew Moor fully deserved his marching orders, for his back-hand swat of Los Angeles’ Marcelo Sarvas. No complaints; excellent communication between the lead official and his assistant working the line, who was closest to the incident, which occurred slightly behind the play.

    This moment of madness – can only be termed thusly, as it was only the second red of his nine-year career – dramatically altered the match, reducing the Rapids to ten men and conceding, what would be, the game-winning penalty kick.

    The other two dismissals were for second bookable offenses.

    New York’s Brandon Barklage was sent off in the seventy-third minute for his fourth foul, barging over Patrice Bernier as he charged towards goal. His first yellow came eight minutes earlier for his third foul of the match, blatantly blocking off the run of Justin Mapp who was countering through the middle of the pitch.

    Having show a card for cutting the off the first run, the referee, Chris Penso, was left with little choice other than to show a second.

    A little harsh perhaps, as the second was more a coming together than the first, but obstruction – Partially Obstructed View is no fan of obstruction - is one of those hot-button issues.

    Salt Lake’s Yordany Alvarez was similarly show a pair of yellow cards leading to his dismissal at the end of his side’s match in Dallas.

    His first came in the thirty-seventh minute, when he was late and heavy into a challenge on Dallas’ David Ferreira in the midfield – it was Alvarez’ third foul of the game – again could be classed as obstruction.

    He picked up a second booking in the eighty-third minute for a horrible dive in hope of winning his side a free kick above the opposition’s arc.

    Fully deserved; no qualms at all with the decision of Juan Guzman there.

    Neither card directly affected the outcome of the matches - the eventual winners were already in the lead in both cases; though the ability of the guilty’s sides to fight back into the match, was undoubtedly hampered, which of course falls on the misbehaving players and not the officials.

    Alvarez’s dismissal did point to what seemed to be the issue at the forefront of referees mind’s this weekend – diving.

    From the naked eye, fouls were harder to come by for suspect challenges in this round – after a few weak penalty calls in Montreal (Andres Romero and Terry Dunfield, in particular) - and at least two other players – Columbus’ Eddie Gaven and New England’s Benny Feilhaber – were also booked for simulation.

    Gaven’s was worse than Feilhaber’s by far.

   One aspect of PRO’s (the Professional Referee Organization) mandate was to hold regular three-day training camps for the officials, a chance to meet, discuss issues and performances. Though there has been no confirmation that the first such camp has taken place, it is a solid bet that it has and diving was the key issue discussed.
    One consequence of improving the overall level of officiating is that sometimes, with some many instructions running through the mind, referees will make mistakes.

    A sloppy match in DC between United and Columbus featured a bizarre incident that saw the offside flag raised, play carry on, a goal scored, only to be over-ruled and negated.

    In the end, after conferring with his assistant, referee Allan Chapman made the correct decision – more-or-less – to call off the goal.

    Lionard Pajoy was indeed well offside, when he motioned towards the ball from his position – becoming active, the flag was duly raised. Columbus’ defenders responding to the flag stopped and play could have been whistled down, but Kyle Porter, who was not offside, ran onto the ball and slotted it home.

    One can debate passive offside and DC can feel aggrieved, but only slightly. The call did not cost them the match, their defending and lack of offense did.

    There was also a pretty blatant handball called missed in the New England-Kansas City match, when Ike Opara spread a chicken-wing out to block an Andrew Farrell cross from the right, but those are missed as often as they are given.

    It would have helped New England to gain the penalty, but in the end a draw was a fair result for a lacklustre match.

    Again, it seems referees have been encouraged to only intervene when absolutely clear and necessary.

    All told, it was a well-officiated weekend; there will never be zero incidents but limiting decisions to those that are necessary and clear, will curtail a lot of the criticisms that have been labeled at MLS referees in the past.

    The evolution of officiating under the guidance of PRO will continue to be an interesting storyline to follow this season.

An interesting side to the officiating question – an internet search turned up this little note: North American Soccer Referees are attempting to form a union.

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