Major League Soccer and the North American Soccer League might not have a whole lot in common, but they do both use PRO referees. Unfortunately, those referees have been at the center of quite a few controversies already during the 2016 season, as MLS has urged PRO to do more to protect player safety, and the referees have responded by sending players off at near-record levels.
Thus far, MLS coaches don't seem to be pleased with the way matches are being referee'd, despite the fact that this rash of red cards likely came at the urging of the league itself. Head Coaches have been highly critical of the sudden change, with quite a few of them making comments to the media about it over the course of the past week.
First up, here are the comments from the Los Angeles Galaxy's Bruce Arena, who clearly isn't happy with the way things are being called:
"There's just been too many red cards in this league, it's ruining games. Those are difficult games and it doesn't make the game entertaining and I don't think the fans like it. It seems like every game in this league, there's a red card, and it's been tough."
Vancouver coach Carl Robinson is in agreement with Arena:
"I agree with Bruce’s comments. There are too many red cards. Fans pay their hard-earned money to watch games of football and watch the best players on the field 11v11. The players are unsure (about what a good tackle is). We’ve got one of the top midfield players in the league (in Laba), whose made a tackle today, and he’s been sent off. I’m not sure, why."
Seattle's Sigi Schmid was a bit less critical of PRO, noting that it's difficult for referees right now:
"I think, over the long run, it’s (good). Finding the right balance right now? Probably not. But it takes a while to find that balance. Eventually, things change. Things become different."
Real Salt Lake was one of the least disciplined teams in the league last season, and Jeff Cassar made it clear that the way refs are calling the matches this season is tough on the players:
"It’s pretty clear they’re calling things tight. It’s going to be a lot of hard learning experiences throughout the whole league on these until it starts to take shape. I’ll be really disappointed if they start to now not make those calls."
Greg Vanney of Toronto FC feels his side have been particularly hard done by this season, and after a phantom elbow saw his side go down a man this past weekend, he tee'd off on the refs again:
"Another match impacted by refereeing. That's three of four matches that have been such."
Finally, Jesse Marsch wasn't pleased with Felipe's red this past weekend, and would definitely be appealing the decision if MLS didn't limit franchises to two per season. He's still considering the appeal, and he's not happy at all with the way the loss to the Revs was handled:
"The referee had such a huge impact on this game by having a bad performance. That’s another one that’s not a red card."
Every single one of these comments is from the past seven days, and really had me worried about what we'd see from PRO during week one of the NASL Spring Season. While the five-match sample is obviously far too small to notice any sort of definitive pattern, the fact that there were three sending offs on opening weekend (two straight reds, one for two first half yellows) is definitely a bit worrying. I've railed on PRO for calling matches far too loosely in the past, but they way they've been calling MLS matches thus far in 2016 is an absolute sham, and as Arena and Robinson have noted, is ruining quite a few matches.
With any luck, PRO will listen to the criticism of MLS coaches and fans, and ask the referees to be a bit less liberal with the red cards, in the interest of keeping matches watchable. If not, I really worry that this trend could have an even greater impact on the NASL than it has on MLS, and that definitely won't be a good thing, in either the short or long term.