Let’s Talk About Refs Baby

You have to wonder, what drives people to become referees?  The second you step out onto the field, you instantly jump to the top of everyone’s “Least Favorite Person” list.  On the best days, the referee will go completely unnoticed, nobody bothering to look up their name or tweet congratulations for a well called game.  But at its worst, referees become the main talking point of the game, how they influenced the game or had it out for a particular player or team.  This documentary from fox sports does a good job of showing what goes into being a referee in the United States.  And let’s be honest, it is a shit job. And FC Cincinnati fans this season seem to be more vocal than ever about the referees and their calls.

One of the main complaints that you will hear from FCC fans is “the league has terrible referees” or “the league needs to train their refs better”.  Maybe you can get behind the sentiment, but you should know that the premise of the complaint is actually flat wrong.  The USL does not employ a single referee.  No, that’s not a joke about how they’re so bad they shouldn’t be considers referees.  But USL does not hire referees.  Neither does MLS either by the way. Or even “we’ll do everything our own way” NASL.

Deep breaths everyone, it's just a referee, you can remain calm, I believe in you!

Deep breaths everyone, it's just a referee, you can remain calm, I believe in you!

Referees are provided to the professional leagues of the United States by the Professional Referee Organization or PRO.  PRO is a large organization that develops, trains, and assigns referees to our professional leagues as well as the Open Cup, CONCACAF tournaments, and FIFA tournaments in the region.  They keep statistics on the referees and a log of the games they officiated in the past.  This incredible resource allows the leagues to remain separate from their referees and keep them neutral in their calling of a game.  One amusing conspiracy theory out there is that the USL gives the worst referees to FC Cincinnati games in order to punish Cincinnati for trying to go to MLS.  Not only is that completely off base with how USL view’s FCC, but functionally the league cannot influence which refs are assigned to USL games, much less which refs will get a particular game.  Oh, and if FC Cincinnati moves up to MLS?  We'll have the exact same referees. 

Now, that being said, it is worth taking a look at who has refereed FC Cincinnati’s games so far this year, and see if we can find where some of the major complaints are coming from.  In some cases, like the season opener against Charleston Battery, the referee was Geoff Gamble. Gamble has had the honors of being the referee for an MLS Cup Playoff game, absolutely the calibre you would want to be the referee of a game involving your team.  But on the flipside, we have had referees like Calin Radosav, who was the poor soul at the center of the card fest that was the last game against Orlando B.  Now, I don’t know much about Radosav because his name is nowhere on PRO’s statistics page or really anywhere on the website outside of the assignments lists.  However on a third party site, we have this:

That is a referee in their first year as a professional ref who is extremely card happy.  And given how FCC’s fortunes have gone this season, it is impressive that we escaped without a red card. This is a situation where complaints about a referee are warranted, something like this needs to be addressed by PRO, and maybe more training is needed.

This is something that should be stressed: being a ref is hard, it is not exactly fun, and is a necessary aspect of the game.  There is no need for a witch-hunt or campaign against the referees if the calls don’t go your way.  In a lot of ways, complaining about the referee is like complaining about the corner flag or the goal posts, there are very few times where outrage is deserved.  

It is also worth mentioning that PRO has done a very poor job maintaining their website this year.  Very few of the referees that FC Cincinnati has had this year are even found on their website.  They have not updated the stats page in a year, and seem to only concern themselves with MLS and that league's news involving referees.  USL was among the first leagues in the world to experiment with video assisted refereeing, and it would be nice if PRO would treat USL like a partner rather than an obligation. 

This is a yellow card for PRO, get your website together

This is a yellow card for PRO, get your website together

To see how the referees have treated FC Cincinnati, let’s take a look at the red cards FCC has received this year and see if we can find somewhere to be outraged.

Red Card 1: Paul Nicholson drags down a Philadelphia Union 2 attacker in the box when he’s the last man back, denying a clear goal scoring opportunity.  Now FIFA did change their rule about red cards in the box recently, however it does not apply here since Nicholson deliberately fouled the player in order to prevent a goal.  Play is here

Red Card 2: Kadeem Dacres attempts to play a bouncing ball in midfield, raises his foot out in front of him, and catches a racing Tampa Bay Rowdy attacker in the crotch.  This is an iffy one, since Dacres is playing the ball and has a right to that ball.  Though at the same time, his studs end up right in the groin of another player which could be considered reckless and dangerous.  To be a straight red is harsh, a yellow for sure and if it was Dacres second yellow it would have been more than justified.  This is one where there is an argument, but at the end of the day his studs ended up in the rowdiest part of a rowdy player. Play is here

Red Card 3: Djiby’s horrific tackle on some louisville player is amongst the most obvious red cards you’ll find.  Studs up playing tackle straight at the other players standing leg is a straight red no matter which league.  Now this one has the distinction of also being when the alleged bite happens, so take a look at how after the red: 1) nobody acts like anyone has been bit 2) the ref doesn’t see a bite 3) Djiby doesn’t bite anyone and 4) how none of the louisville players act like anyone has been bitten.  I hope Djiby has been practicing his tackling form during his time off! Play is here.

Everything about this picture just screams "ugh"

Everything about this picture just screams "ugh"

Red Card 4: Andy Craven gets really mad at a Philadelphia Union 2 player and belligerently attacks them with his elbow.  Fighting, it turns out, is a good way to get a red card.  It will also get you cut from this team,  errr, I mean traded. The play starts a little after Craven gets in a shoving match while the commentators talk about how experienced and mature of a player he is.

So looking back over the red cards from this year, there is one questionable one and the rest are frankly obvious.  Hopefully we’ve seen the end of the plague of red cards, and once this team is finishing their games with 11 men on the field, the points are going to start rolling in.

On a slightly more personal note here, can we stop with “The Referee's a Wanker” chant?  Unless you’re English, and be honest, you’re probably not, you don’t call people wankers in other parts of your life.  Also, FCC is not an English team, we’re American.  Can we not come up with some other way to berate the people who work hard for a few hundred dollars a game to allow us to watch the sport we love without having to completely and shamelessly co-op language we would never use from a culture we like to watch on tv?  Just a thought.

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Kevin Wallace