Friday, Southsider and blogger Michael McColl takes ALL CAPS “Away From
The Numbers” for a fan’s perspective on the Vancouver Whitecaps

It’s the hardest job in football.

No, I’m not talking about the account manager for season ticket renewals at Toronto FC, but referees.

Few like them. Few admire them. Yet, without them we wouldn’t have the game of football that we know and love today.

They’ve been around in one form or other for nearly as long as the game itself, and became prevalent when the Football Association introduced the first official “Laws of the Game” on 8th December 1863.

Someone had to take charge to prevent chaos and ensure fairplay and correct enforcement of the rules. They still only had minor parts to play at times and it took until 1891 for the FA to declare that referees were to be the final judge and jury for matches.

The game of football itself has come on leaps and bounds since the 19th century.

Those watching MLS games this season would be forgiven for thinking that we seem to have had no such advancements in the quality of officials in North America since they were first introduced.

The standard of refereeing in Major League Soccer this season has been nothing short of dreadful.

We already have Baldomero Toledo go down as the infamous villain of Empire. Every club in MLS has a tale to tell this year it would appear.

Now, referees aren’t there to make all the fans happy. You’ll very seldom be able to please both sets of supporters out there.

But when you have games like the Caps 1-1 draw against New York on Saturday and both sets of fans are vehemently criticising the referees for poor decisions, then you know you have a problem.

I could analyse Terry Vaughn’s decision to disallow Camilo’s goal for paragraphs and still be none the wiser as to what the hell happened there.

Referees don’t have it easy of course. Players are flopping everywhere, challenging every decision and his authority at every turn and the whole stadium want to string him up.

Why anyone would actually become a referee has always puzzled me. Why MLS aren’t doing something to make the referees they do have actually better is now puzzling me more.

There’s no easy solution of course.

No amount of training or full time employment can fix human error and we can’t rely on technology and instant replays for every single decision in a game. But there are things that can be done to help.

The biggest problem MLS has, of course, is that it’s not their officials in charge of games. They’re primarily coming from the United States Soccer Federation.

They’re part time and they’re probably getting very little investment and opportunities to develop in the grand scheme of things.

So what’s the answer for us here?

Many already look down on MLS (wrongly) in terms of quality and the terrible officiating gives them more ammunition. But such bad decisions take place in every league and at every level in the world.

That said, something has to be done next season and the onus is on MLS to act, invest, train and develop a batch of referees that will raise the game of officials and also be held accountable for mistakes.

It’s crazy that refs are going from week to week with no accountability for their mistakes.

Ideally they need to prise away the control of officials from the governing bodies and have their own league officials.

Too many people from managers to players to television pundits to fans have complained about referees this season.

Every week we expect a story now and unfortunately we get it.

We’re not going to make them infallible, but at least if we can see that they are getting proper development, we can be a bit more understanding.

After all, no one really likes chanting “two r’s, four e’s, one f in referee”. Do they?

About the author:

McColl began writing about football in 1989 and has freelanced for
various newspapers, magazines and websites in the UK. He moved to
Vancouver in 2007 and currently pens two “Away From the Numbers” blogs
one on everything football and the other specifically about the Whitecaps and North American “soccer”.

a proud member of the Vancouver Southsiders supporters club, though his
views are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the
Southsiders organization.

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