MLS is a professional soccer league and one that has stated its desire to be among the top leagues in the world. So it might just seem odd to you that until now they did not have an sort of established organization for professional referees. In fact, in previous seasons the leagues officials have not actually been designated as professionals. That makes a lot of sense now doesn't it. A professional league not having its own base of professional refs. Yet, we still wonder why the standard of reffing in the league has been so low in previous years.
Now the creation of the Professional Referee Organization, or PRO, is not going to fix that awful officiating over night but it is a key first step. It was really only a matter of time before MLS got together with US Soccer and the CSA to put something in place to improve ref quality. This PRO setup will now oversee the referee program for professional leagues in the United States and Canada.
The following is from the official MLS press release on the new program:
NEW YORK (Tuesday, March 6, 2012) – Today Major League Soccer and the U.S. Soccer Federation announced the formation of the Professional Referee Organization (PRO), an organization that will be responsible for managing the referee program in professional soccer leagues in the United States and Canada.
The creation of PRO is designed to increase the quality of officiating in U.S. and Canadian professional leagues, develop more professional quality officials at a younger age and develop officials who will represent the United States and Canada in FIFA competitions.
Veteran English referee Peter Walton has been named General Manager of PRO. All current U.S. Soccer professional referee staff positions will transition to PRO and report to Walton, who begins his full-time work for PRO on April 2 and will be based in New York City through the conclusion of the MLS season.
U.S. Soccer and MLS will govern and fund the organization, with ongoing collaborative support from the Canadian Soccer Association and other professional leagues. Beginning this year, PRO will manage officials in the MLS and MLS Reserve games, the North American Soccer League, USL PRO and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
Really there is not a whole lot of note in there as it is a program that was much needed and is probably a few years too late. The league has out grown the quality of the officials at their disposal so now this program will be tasked with helping them play catch up.
One area worth noting is that PRO will be managed by an veteran English referee. I guess that makes sense as there is no real option for that position without looking overseas. I am by no means anti-English influence on the game here but it will be great to one day have this program headed by a North American since it is not like the English FA and their referees are exactly the model of perfect professionalism.
The other area of note in this press release is how the Canadian Soccer Association is treated. Kind of seems like they are an after thought in the whole thing and just thrown in there at the end. I understand that the CSA has limited funding so any contribution from them to this program will probably be limited but would have been nice to see them actually treated as partners in it. For now though it seems that they will only be consulted on an as needed basis with only the three MLS teams really being affected by this program.
Good news is that having a few better refs might just mean that the phrase "getting CONCACAF'ed" will be a thing of the past.