No Parity In Referee Assignments

Has Toronto become MLS "lab rats" for inexperienced officials?

Parity is embraced by Major League Soccer in order to keep a level playing field. Some of the highlights include a salary cap, certain player quotas and that all teams must fly on commercial airlines because many can’t afford to charter airplanes. However, parity seems to wane when it comes to officiating, and in particular, where Toronto FC matches are concerned.

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According to club president and general manager Kevin Payne, Reds have become the “lab rats” of MLS as the league – in order to curb years of criticism about poor officiating – tries to blood a new crop of young referees in a hurry. Payne has the numbers to back his claim.

Toronto matches have regularly featured inexperienced referees who have been in charge for 10 or fewer games. On average, a referee will have presided over just 40.1 games before bringing his whistle to a TFC match. That last number drops dramatically to a much lower 28.2 without Baldomero Toledo, the league’s most experienced referee, who has been used for one Toronto game this season.

Contrast that with LA Galaxy and New York Red Bulls. For all the talk of a level playing field, LA and New York enjoy the advantages of Cinderella’s stepsisters when it comes to high profile player signings. Their good fortune extends to officiating as well. Galaxy and NYRB are likely to get more experienced match referees this season, with officials averaging 106 and 72.8 games respectively.

Toronto’s two games against LA & New York featured two referees who each had 78 and 92 games MLS experience. Toledo presided over another high profile match, the derby in Montreal.

“I have brought this to the league’s attention,” Payne said. “We seem to be the lab rats to get more games for young referees and I don’t like it at all. I think it’s inappropriate to have one team subject to more experienced referees.”

Payne feels particularly aggrieved by having inexperienced officials at Toronto matches because they have missed a series of red-card worthy incidents lately. The latest is a Marvin Chavez elbow on Logan Emory when TFC visited San Jose Earthquakes last week. Chavez was suspended for two games by MLS. There was no call on the play.

“I’m just at a loss how they would not have called that. Everybody in the stadium saw that elbow,” including San Jose head coach Frank Yallop, who Payne said told him after the game that he thought his Earthquakes would be down to 10 players.

Referees in MLS are highly unpopular with fans regardless of their experience. Some of the most vitriolic abuse is hurled toward the well-known officials because their names are familiar, and their deeds associated with injustice. However, as with any workplace, experience usually creates a more valuable employee and referees are no different. In this scenario, LA and New York receive the high performers while Toronto gets the refereeing equivalent of the office intern. There's no parity to referee assignments.