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MLS execs ‘pleased’ with replacement referees’ performance amid lockout of PSRA

Major League Soccer executives were “pleased with the performance” of the match officials who replaced those represented by the Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA) for the opening games of the regular season, according to a memo sent by MLS executive vice president Nelson Rodriguez to the MLS board of governors and obtained by The Athletic.

The PSRA officials who work MLS games are being locked out in the opening weeks of the season as they seek a new collective bargaining agreement with the Professional Referee Organization (PRO), the MLS-owned entity that manages the officiating of most professional matches in the United States.

Citing internal metrics, Rodriguez wrote in the memo that the replacement officials’ performance “aligns with the professional standards observed in the past seasons, maintaining consistency in officiating quality.”

Reached for comment, PSRA president Peter Manikowski wrote in an email that “there are hard metrics to look at such as the number of video reviews in a weekend (14 last week as opposed to 2-3 in our season averages), the amount of time the ball is in play, number of incorrect offside decisions stopping good attacks, and number of incorrect/avoidable yellow/red cards.”

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Manikowski added: “Refereeing in the professional divisions is driven by experience-guided situational awareness, knowledge of the rules, and expert communication. The locked-out officials display these at the highest level – nine of our officials worked a World Cup Final in 2022 or 2023…This dispute will be resolved by bargaining – and there is clearly more bargaining to be done.”

Rodriguez’s memo also states that PRO will be adding 17 “experienced referees” to its pool of replacement officials, adding that former professional referees have reached out to PRO about working MLS matches.

On Wednesday, PRO and the PSRA failed to reach a deal in a round of negotiations overseen by federal mediators. PRO then notified the PSRA on Friday that a Feb. 13 contract offer to the officials would remain on the table until midnight on Monday, March 11.

“To incentivize PSRA and the membership to accept this offer,” Rodriguez wrote in his memo, “PRO advised PSRA that they have until midnight on March 11 to accept and ratify this proposal, or certain economic terms of the offer will be withdrawn and replaced by less generous terms.”

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PRO locked out the officials represented by the PSRA on Feb. 18 after a pair of temporary extensions to the previous labor agreement between PRO and the PSRA expired and the PSRA’s membership resoundingly rejected the initial proposal put together by negotiators. MLS proceeded with a collection of replacement referees for the league curtain-raiser on Feb. 21 and all of the weekend’s other openers.

As part of the move to replacement officials, the league suspended a handful of officiating rules that were due to begin this season, including time limits relating to substitutions and in-stadium PA announcements explaining VAR decisions.

The most notable missed call of the weekend came in Sunday’s 1-1 draw between the LA Galaxy and Inter Miami, when Galaxy midfielder Marky Delgado was issued a second yellow card for a challenge on Sergio Busquets that did not make contact with the player. Lionel Messi scored the equalizer against the 10-man Galaxy in stoppage time. The MLS Independent Review Panel rescinded the yellow card on Thursday.

(Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)


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