US referee numbers are plunging and aggression is to blame

We all want better officiating. But it’s tough for referees to develop when abuse from players and spectators hound them out of the game“My three-year-old could’ve made that call!” exclaimed commentator Kaylyn Kyle after an apparent handball wasn’t called at the end of an NWSL Challenge Cup game between OL Reign and the Washington Spirit. Unfortunately, most three-year-olds who grow up to be soccer fans will be armchair referees rather than being on the field where they’re actually needed. The Professional Referee Organization (PRO) assigns NWSL games to Tier B and Tier C referees in their development ladder, multiple tiers below MLS. The league lacks VAR, which might have shed some light on the incident Kyle decried as well as a horror tackle, committed by Washington’s Sam Staab, of which the referee didn’t have a clear view – screened, as is so often the case even with top-notch referees, by the defender trailing back to catch the attacker. MLS has some transparency via a weekly YouTube review, while PRO offers a weekly behind-the-scenes look at VAR in MLS. Refs assigned to the league also have a curious aversion to red cards – in 2018, Carli Lloyd and Marta were the only players to be sent off.

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