Red Bulls faced off against Montreal in the Olympic Stadium on Saturday night. The refereeing team for the game was Ismail Elfath, Peter Manikowski, Craig Lowry, and Terry Vaughn as the center referee, two assistant referees and fourth official respectively.
As Shep Messing and Joe Tolleson mentioned multiple times during the game, this was Ismail Elfath's first MLS match as a center referee. So who is this guy and why does he deserve to be an MLS referee?
On April 14, Elfath was the fourth official in a match between Dallas and Montreal. The following week he was the center referee in the North American Soccer League (NASL) when Tampa Bay Rowdies visited the Atlanta Silverbacks on the 21st. Then on May 4, Elfath was once again a fourth official for the Seattle-Philadelphia match.
I’m all for bringing in new officials in line with the Professional Refereeing Organization (which I wrote about on my humble little blog), but I don't think this guy necessarily qualifies for the fast track development program. PRO was partially designed to promote experienced referees from the lower divisions and to give new referees experience by splitting work between officiating NASL or USL games and acting as a fourth official in MLS. This is the same idea as developing a player in the reserve league and giving him late game substitution appearances with the first team, it gives the referees quality match experience in a lower competition while also exposing them to MLS in order to acclimate them to the style and pace of the league as a fourth official.
The rest of the officiating team, including the AR who made the penalty call for the Red Bulls, are more experienced. Manikowski and Lowry have each been assistant referees 6 times in the league this season before the NYRB match in Montreal. Terry Vaughn has been a center referee once in MLS, a center referee in NASL once, and has twice been a fourth official in MLS prior to Saturday's match.
In his defense, as the center referee Ismail Elfath successfully managed an NASL match with the Atlanta Silverbacks. Of the 7 games Atlanta has played in NASL this season, 4 have featured sending offs and 2 of those were straight red cards. Prior to Saturday's match, the Silverbacks averaged 14.7 fouls per game (during the match Elfath officiated they had 16), 3 yellow cards per game (Elfath issued 1), and .86 red cards per game (Elfath didn't send anyone off).
That doesn’t necessarily mean he prevented the game from getting out of hand, but that’s literally the only officiating job he’s had all year. It’s the only measuring stick we have to go by. Based on the numbers, Elfath seems to have managed a match with the bad boys of the NASL better than other officials. However, should exceeding (or at least performing above average) at one match in the second division be the only criterion used to determine which up and coming referees are fast-tracked to the MLS?
I don't think so and the farcical officiating in the match between the New York Red Bulls and Montreal stands to support my view.