The Professional Referee Organization (PRO) has a very simple mission statement:
To supply World Class Match Officials for all professional soccer in North America.
I would like to suggest a rewrite for PRO.
To supply the referees, players, fans, and soccer leagues of North America with a competent organization that happens to be concerned with refereeing.
This is obviously needed because no one at the top of PRO seems to understand how to run a competent organization concerned with refereeing soccer matches.
On Sunday, during a match between the New York Red Bulls and Orlando City SC, Peter Walton, a former referee from England and current head of PRO, called into the FOX Sports booth. Why? Well, it was to let us know that Karl Ouimette's 63rd minute tackle of Cyle Larin should have been a red card (it wasn't even called a foul), as if most people didn't already realize that.
The thing is, it's very rare for PRO (or any organization responsible for referees) to call into a TV broadcast to say that one of their referees was wrong in making a call. In fact, there's only one instance of this happening before that we can find, and it happened to be on a call that also went the Red Bulls way. Austin Fido went in depth on why the decision to call into a MSG broadcast last year, when the Red Bulls scored on a "trick" corner kick against the Chicago Fire, was wrong, and the main message holds true. Calling into a live match to say your referee is wrong is not only bad form, but undercuts their authority.
The incompetence doesn't end there though. On Monday, Taylor Twellman pointed out that Larin was actually offside on the pass that led to the tackle. If this was called, the Ouimette tackle doesn't happen, and we're not talking about a missed call as a major point in the game. Yesterday PRO, through mlssoccer.com, confirmed this. This indicates a few things. First, Walton either didn't have access to the angle Twellman did, or rushed a phone call to FOX that he didn't inspect everything on Sunday night. Additionally, PRO is reacting to Twellman instead of clarifying its position on the situation when they should have been able to point this out on Sunday night, even though Walton shouldn't have called FOX in the first place.
Additionally, let's take a look at something that happened a few weeks ago against the New England Revolution. Kemar Lawrence went down with an injury while the Revolution were regrouping, and the Revolution continued to play and eventually scored while running past a downed Lawrence. PRO Training & Development Manager Paul Rejer used this opportunity to talk about stopping play due to an injury. Jake Catanese of The Bent Musket has a good write-up of the play and why the Revolution and Mark Geiger are not to blame. On the other hand, Rejer is right in that the Revolution were under no obligation to stop play, but his explanation as to why makes the reader out for fools, and the players way too simpleminded.
In the context of this play, as I have explained above, the New England players were unaware of any injury when the attack first developed, then [Juan] Agudelo and [Diego] Fagundez were totally focused and in the zone of an attacking move. Therefore, there was no evidence for Geiger to stop the game for a serious injury to a player and there was absolutely no obligation for the Revolution players to stop playing.
With the jump Juan Agudelo got on the rest of the Red Bull back line, he had to be ahead of the back line, with Lawrence the (downed) player keeping him onside. Agudelo probably doesn't know he's injured, but if he was any kind of smart player (money says he has to be), he of course would take advantage of a player keeping him onside. Diego Fagundez, after play continued without Mark Geiger stopping play, would of course take advantage of the play himself as most of the Red Bulls were looking for a whistle.
In this instance PRO played down the intelligence and awareness of the Revolution players to explain away why play continued, and in the process insulted readers who actually understand how the game works. When PRO does their weekly "Play of the Week" review articles, they should never try to focus or speculate on what the players are doing. Instead, in this situation the best explanation is to point out why Geiger and his crew didn't or can't notice Lawrence down behind the play rather than give a half-hearted excuse as to why the Revolution didn't play the ball out.
It would have been much easier to say "the play developed at such a pace that neither Mark Geiger nor his assistant knew what was happening until a point where they would have stopped the Revolution's scoring chance." That would have at least been an honest assessment that no one would argue with. The whole play took less than 30 seconds, and Geiger and his AR can't be looking at the back line all the time.
The "front office" of PRO has repeatedly shown that they either do not understand how to manage people or how to effectively communicate via Public Relations. This would be good if in fact PRO was fulfilling its mission of improving the level of refereeing in North America.
It can be argued that the MLS 2016 season thus far in fact proves the opposite. We've seen a lack of calls on some really serious fouls (Ouimette's tackle included) and a lot of calling things tight specifically to address issues (Felipe's red card - studs up challenges). We've seen PRO try to explain plays and either fail in explaining what is happening or managing to undercut the authority of their employees. Throw in the lack of transparency when it comes to MLS and the Disciplinary Committee and it makes things very frustrating for both the players & fans.
MLS & US Soccer need an organization like PRO. Improving the quality of referees will only help the domestic game. Mark Geiger being sent to the 2014 World Cup was big for the US as it showed we had people capable of being a "World Class" referee. As a soccer country, we've taken a big step back since 2014, and PRO is to blame. If they want to succeed in their mission things need to chance and soon.