The organization which provides referees for both MLS and the NASL, PRO, has come under fire already this season because of a massive increase in the number of red cards issued in MLS matches. Through the first month of the season, reds have been issued at a near-record pace, and the subject has been written about quite a bit.
Peter Walton, General Manager of PRO, isn't happy about this development, and believes that the focus should be on the players, as opposed to the referees:
"It would seem that referees are flavor of the month, and that’s something I don’t want them to be, because it’s about the players and not the referees."
Following the NASL opening weekend, which featured three red cards in five matches, we looked at a bit of the criticism these referees are facing from MLS coaches, worrying that this trend of more sending offs might trickle down to the NASL. Walton went on to explain that the sudden rise in red cards isn't due to his people calling matches more tightly, but simply putting themselves in position to see more offenses:
"Referees are seeing more of those challenges. There are more red cards rather than more reds as consequence of two yellow cards. We are now punishing the offense as it should be."
"This is nothing new and this has been on the agenda since 2012 ever since the poor days in 2011 when a number of key players in MLS had significant injuries. The thought then was to perhaps act on challenges that would impact the game and would impact individuals."
"Nothing has changed in law, nothing has changed in the way that PRO wants the game to be played and administered. What has changed is our referees are much more consistent in the application of the law."
While I'm not thrilled with the increased sending offs we're seeing from PRO, I'll be ok with it if it means they do a better job controlling matches this season. PRO has been one of my biggest criticisms of the American game in recent years, so significant improvement would be huge for both MLS and the NASL.
That said, let's just give these referees as much help as possible by utilizing more technology. Just because Uefa don't want those damn cameras on their lawns doesn't mean that we can't improve refereeing here in the US.