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Public Criticism of MLS Referees Could Cost Toronto FC in the Long Run

It is clear that the level of refereeing in Major League Soccer needs to improve, but Toronto FC need to be the careful when talking about the matter.

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The last couple of weeks have left Toronto FC fuming at Major League Soccer referees. Last week, it was the non-call of an apparent foul on TFC's Justin Morrow prior to a goal for Sporting Kansas City. This week, it was a red card given to TFC midfielder Benoit Cheyrou that drew the ire of the team and its supporters.

Today, the theme of poor refereeing decisions is not only prevalent in Toronto, it was the talking point of the weekend across the league. Three controversial red cards, and a handful of the questionable calls have several teams around the league up in arms with the league's officials.

New York Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch called the decision to send off Felipe against the New England Revolution "shameful". Vancouver Whitecaps coach Carl Robinson said that he wasn't entirely sure why midfield Matias Laba was sent off against Los Angeles Galaxy. Even Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said there have been too cards of late post match.

But if this is some sort of crusade against MLS referees, it appears Toronto FC are leading it. With controversial calls in their last three games, Toronto are clearly fed up. After a phantom elbow call saw Cheyrou sent off, and Toronto having to play most of this weekend's match with 10 men, they fired even more shots at MLS officials.

"Another match impacted by refereeing," said Toronto FC coach Greg Vanney after Saturday's match. "That's three of four matches that have been such."

Taking a stand against refereeing decisions is a bold stance for Toronto FC to take, and they aren't necessarily wrong in their assessment of officiating so far this season. It is also a big risk for the club and its players, however.

The club can pay fines, and deal with other such disciplinary action that results from consistent complaints against officials. But it is a developing a reputation for doing this that could get the club into trouble. This doesn't only mean post game comments, but also the amount of abuse the players and staff direct towards officials during the match as well.

After all, MLS referees, while being asked to be impartial, are only human. Like all other humans they have a memory, and will certainly remember some of the pointed comments Toronto FC have been making lately. Criticism is one thing, but the amount that Toronto have been doing publicly, and during matches of late has been concerning.

The club already has a history of doing this, as well. Captain Michael Bradley has been pretty vocal about the league's poor officiating since he came to Toronto. He was recently fined for mass confrontation of MLS officials after Toronto's 1-0 to Sporting Kansas City last month.

One would hope that this doesn't affect how an official calls this game, but it's silly to think that it doesn't. Officials who have been publicly criticized by Toronto FC, often repeatedly, will be far less likely to see a play from their point of view. This is perhaps impossible to see play out tangibly, but it is certainly a risk.

Toronto can continue to fight for the improvement of officiating in Major League Soccer, it is well within their rights. But they should take the fight off the field, and away from the microphones. Far less will be accomplished in this theatre, and it could end up costing the team.