If bad calls by referees were rewarded with yellow cards the accumulation would have red-carded most Professional Referee Organization-provided officials just six weeks into the 2014 NWSL season.
In only the first six week of the 2014 season the refs have given 61 yellow cards and 2 straight reds (2 more reds for same game accumulation of yellows) and 18 PK’s. To put this in perspective here are some 2013/2014 comparisons:
2013 2014 (through 6 weeks)
Regular season games: 88 35
Yellow cards: 33 61
Red cards: 4 4
Penalty kicks: 27 18
I think the problem is twofold. First, the message was sent from someone; the league, the owners, the players, fans in tinfoil hats, that refs had to crack down and call the games tighter to improve level of play (in which case they’ve really lost the plot). Second, the refs are so badly trained they couldn’t make a call for pizza and get it right.
Last season saw many fouls go uncalled that allowed some games to get out of control with physical play and made the league look less than professional. A call to tighten things up would make the game more enjoyable to watch from a purely “beautiful game” perspective and also might serve to avoid player injuries. Good in theory, poor in application. Even with an average 20 fouls called a game referees still don’t seem to be in control of some games. The increase in PK’s alone is alarming. PK’s are being awarded at six times the rate of 2013. In 2013 PK’s were awarded at a rate of 0.29/game and in 2014 at 1.9 per game, so far. Since I can’t find any statistics about how many PK’s are for the ugly “handball” (clearly not applied according to the rule) I’ll just go with my observation and say a lot.
My belief is that the referees are not sufficiently trained to call games at this level. I do not think all referees fall into this category, but more than just a few and that includes AR’s. From really bad offside calls to the previously mentioned “handball”, referees and AR’s are getting it wrong. I’ll admit that I have the benefit of replaying the video most times and refs don’t, (although they may have at least one AR with eyes on the play) but usually my initial reaction is borne out by the replay. NWSL has to demand better. Referees are paid and not doing this on a lark and as such are professional referees (see PRO Referees). Even though PRO general manager, Peter Walton, sees the referees improving for MLS, I’d have to say that’s not the case for NWSL. And it begs the question, if MLS refs are sent down to lower levels when they need more experience/education, which level is NWSL?
Everyone complains about the refs, I get it, but it’s gotten to a point that way too often the referees are negatively impacting the results of the game. That negatively impacts the perception people have of the league. And that ultimately impacts the leagues ability to attract and retain valuable fans.
It’s time NWSL steps up and does the right thing for players and fans and tells PRO they won’t settle for the frequently substandard refereeing. It should not have to come to a coach being fined for speaking out for action to be taken. If U.S.Soccer is the front office, then they should act like it and address this situation immediately.