The disconcerting state of affairs with Major League Soccer referees looks like this: A man with a whistle and set of disciplinary cards entering any MLS ground is controversy and acrimony waiting to happen.
This is what Major League Soccer and the U.S. Soccer federation has created through years of inattention to its lesser refereeing condition; We all know so, and today it is what it is.
But here’s something related that really, seriously needs to stop: This insinuation that referees are making mistakes because they covet the spotlight.
It’s degrading. It’s lame. It reeks of entitlement. And it doesn’t even make sense.
And yet, we keep hearing it. (In part because MLS has refused to deal with it recently, providing tacit approval in that way.)
This is what D.C. United president Kevin Payne said to the Washington Post about referee Mark Geiger after Sunday’s cascade of wackiness at RFK.
He had a very poor night, not just on one call but on multiple calls. . . . The call on the penalty is like a high school call. . . . He is just back from the Olympics. He likes to be on NBC Sports apparently. He was on it a lot today.”
The game was on NBC Sports Network. The decision in question here was Hamdi Salihi’s encroachment on Dwayne De Rosario’s late penalty kick. (By the way, this is not a rare decision. It’s not common, but it has been called in similar situations this year, just about month ago, in fact, when the league’s leading scorer was ordered to take a re-kick.)
And yet, this from United coach Ben Olsen, also from the Washington Post:
It’s the Geiger show. He wants to make a big call to change games. It’s what they do.
“Coming back from the Olympics, it was his show tonight. It’s not about the players.”
That’s just wrong. Period.
If they want to proclaim that a referee got it wrong, fine. If a coach or official insists that MLS refereeing has so very much room for improvement, I won’t argue. Heck, I’ll put their words in the same bold type as the misguided sentiment above. I’ll have their back on that one.
But I never buy any bluster suggesting referees intentionally favor one team over another, and I wince every time I hear about referees wanting to be “stars of the show.”
David Beckham set the precedent on that one, saying similar things about referee Jair Maruffo in May. Major League Soccer provided tacit approval of this sentiment by meekly declining to fine or suspend Beckham, an action that would have incurred AEG wrath.
Honestly, I don’t rate Maruffo very highly as an MLS referee. But I adjudge him a poor official because he doesn’t take proper control of matches and too frequently refuses to call fouls. So I might call him an inferior referee at the professional level – but not an attention-seeking narcissist.
We have athletes and actors for that.
Is there some ego involved with refereeing? Sure.
But mistakes are mistakes. Geiger, by the way, wasn’t all that bad Sunday. I see worse every weekend in MLS.