I have always found fans' opinions of refereeing to be both fascinating and totally boring. On the one hand, it's tedious to hear and read fans complain about how their team was so screwed, you guys, to everyone and anyone who'll listen (and often to those who don't care). This gets especially boring when it happens week after week.
But I admit a certain fascination with those who complain about a call or non-call when they appear to be blatantly wrong. I'm not talking about this as a fan on the other side, but as someone who really has no dog in the MLS fight nowadays and who was never really taken with blaming officials as a routine.
I mean, sure, there are occasions where a call is incorrectly made, or when an apparently clear call is missed, or something unfair happens. Unfortunately, that's the nature of soccer.
But this sense that "The ref is out to get my team!" is almost universal. Which team's fans are entirely content with the officials' decisions/non-decisions? That's right, no team's fans.
Hilariously, the initial reactions to the red card (which I thought was a clearly dangerous foul, regardless of Acosta's lack of intent or referee Kevin Stott playing advantage before sending the Dallas man off) were all over the map, though surprisingly in this case, the most split "Always a red/Never a red" opinions were kind of across partisan lines, probably helped in part by Kasey Keller's equivocation about Acosta's intent on the play on Seattle's broadcast.
But the point stands. Of course there are going to be differences of opinion regarding officials. They have a subjective job and are human. As far as I'm aware, soccer fans are also subjective in their opinions and human. I tend to believe that mistakes are more the rule than bias, something frequently charged by supporters.
I remember speaking with a few Chivas USA fans over the years who said they were turning their backs on MLS because they were tired of poor officiating. I've heard fans of other teams threaten to do the same. As a principled stand, I think that's pretty impressive, though it makes me wonder why one likes soccer in the first place. Show me a league that has consistently outstanding officiating by consensus and I'll tell you about this prime real estate I'm selling in Florida.
And if you turn your back on a league (or a sport) because of your perception officiating is so poor it's worth walking away entirely, what's your threshold for good enough to return? Perfection? Because I'm pretty sure we're never going to get to that point.
A pretty interesting article I read over the weekend comes from SB Nation's Orlando City SC blog, The Mane Land. The piece chronicles the perceived poor decisions or non-calls that went against Orlando in the first four games of their MLS existence. And I have to admit, I agree with the writer regarding nearly all of the calls that seemed to go against OCSC one way or another, so there's probably some merit to complaining.
But the article also wonders if there's a campaign of "hazing" going against Orlando regarding the rocky officiating, which is straight-up hilarious. I simply don't believe there's a targeted strategy to make Orlando's road more difficult every week by screwing them as a way of saying "Welcome to MLS!" That's crazy talk.
Do match officials mess up during games? Absolutely. Do teams and their fans have cause to be upset by poor calls or legitimate calls never made? At times, of course.
But if every team thinks the ref is out to get them, then no team is facing a campaign against them and they're all in the same boat. I believe that in general, good calls and bad calls even out. Please don't chronicle the many, many wrongs done to your club one by one over this season, the last year, the last decade, because I'll just introduce you to other folks who are embittered by the wrongs done to their team -- and hey, sometimes you'll see the same incident in totally different ways! Also, it saps a lot of the joy out of the sport, frankly.
There are going to be unjust moments, and in a sport like soccer, where margins are so thin, it will impact outcomes at times. But preoccupying yourself with the a supposed pattern of incompetence, or worse, the malevolence of referees will cause mental anguish for no real payoff. It's ok to be upset with a call now and then, but if referee rage seems to be your default, take a page out of this neutral's book, and take a walk outside, clear your head a bit. It may just help you learn to love the beautiful game again.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!