The MLS Referee: The Thorn in Toronto FC’s Side

Toronto FC have dropped two games in a row, and it’s no thanks to the referees.

Referees are the focal point around countless leagues in the world and the MLS is no exception. If I were to be asked to think of one word to describe MLS referees this season it would be simple; “Red”. And I’m not talking about our beloved Reds, but rather the prevailing colour with regards to cards shown.

The league is only five weeks in, and there have already been an astounding 16 red cards shown this year and countless other incorrect decisions. Unfortunately for Toronto FC fans, we have been on the receiving end of many of these incorrect and game altering calls. Toronto FC have played four games to date, and three out of four of those games were very arguably negatively influenced by incorrect calls.

It’s not just an issue that’s felt among fans, but analysts and players as well.

In the second game of the season we saw David Villa bring down a ball with his arm and score within the 6-yard box, and in the third game we saw Sporting KC’s Brad Davis take down Justin Morrow in our defensive box and score the game winning goal.

As you can see for yourself, both plays were unquestionably questionable.

And in the fourth game, we witnessed midfielder Benoit Cheyrou accumulate two yellow cards in the span of three minutes, leaving the game with over three quarters still left to play.

Focusing on last weekend’s match against the Colorado Rapids, here is what I have to say. Out of all of the incorrect calls TFC has been victimized by this year, Cheyrou’s sending off was the only game changing call that the referee called correctly. The league has been very, very harsh this year, but the one thing I fear most with league referees is inconsistency.

Here is the first foul.

If I were the referee I would have shown a yellow card in this situation. Cheyrou stomped on the Rapids player’s ankle and was most definitely endangering the opponent, but upon review it is clear that Cheyrou was going for the ball and not the opponent.

With the way the league has been reffed this year, I was very shocked after watching the replay that Cheyrou had not received a straight red for this challenge. The league has been unimaginably strict regarding studs-up challenges, and I believe we should’ve considered ourselves lucky for keeping Cheyrou on for those extra few minutes.

Onto the second challenge.

I understand why the referee gave Cheyrou a second yellow. I however, do not agree with it. While there was an elbow to the face, I feel as if there was nowhere near enough evidence of intent to give a yellow, yet alone a second yellow. A stern talking to is what should have been merited.

This brings up another point – refs have to know the difference between a yellow and a second yellow. In the laws of the game, yes they are the same. But you’d think that referees would want to let the players play if a sending off is not necessarily warranted.

Because of this, it dumbfounds me even more that Cheyrou was handed a second yellow. There was little to no tension between the players, and once again it was crystal clear that Cheyrou was not intending to harm any opponents. Then again, it’s very likely that this was a makeup call given that Cheyrou’s first challenge warranted a straight red.

With the inconsistency professional referees have shown this year, there must be something done. If the league wants to ref the game as close as possible to what it says in the FIFA handbook, then by all means do so. But, you should expect to see an average of 2 red cards a game. Either ref within the box or outside. If they continue to ref between the lines, big changes will have to come, and soon.

Let’s hope for some better fortune as Toronto FC takes on the Revs this weekend in Foxborough, Massachusetts. If they insist on making incorrect calls, at least let let them go our way for once!