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Referee strike ended: Will Charlotte FC face more consistent playcalling?

By Brian Maurer

Photo courtesy Of Cisco's Art/TopBin90

The Professional Referee Organization (PRO) strike has ended, according to initial reports from Pablo Maurer of The Athletic. Charlotte FC fans hope this agreement will lead to more consistent playcalling. The inconsistency and lack of experience of the replacement referees took Charlotte’s match against the Columbus Crew to a new height, with a wild first half that ended after a record 62 minutes. 

After the 2-0 result ended in Charlotte’s favor, the Crew felt hard done by the refs. However, the calls seemed all over the place for both sides. Consistently inconsistent across the board.

More concerning than the results of one game is the amount of calls that were starting to build up over time. This was making the game more difficult for players as they entered every match not knowing what is or is not a foul, and not knowing what to expect.

Two recent incidents in Charlotte matches highlight the inconsistency players were dealing with due to the replacement referees.

First, against Nashville SC, Patrick Agyemang beat his man in the box and was hit in the back by the helping second defender. No penalty was given and the result was a 2-1 loss for The Crown. At the post-match presser, Head Coach Dean Smith stated that he thought the play was a "stonewall penalty."

Against Columbus, a similar play occurred where winger Kerwin Vargas was hit in the back by Yaw Yeboah, and a penalty was called.

The referees' official statement on the play was as follows: 

Yaw Yeboah (#14) of Columbus committed a foul challenge into his opponent's back that prevented his opponent from playing the ball in a fair manner. Yaw Yeboah (#14) was cautioned for stopping a promising attack.

This official statement could have been used to describe the play on Agyemang from the previous week.

Overall, these are just examples from instances that occurred to one team in MLS during recent matches, but they do highlight some of the inconsistencies that players were dealing with during the start of the 2024 season. Tom Bogert, Jeff Reuter, and Felipe Cardenas of The Athletic have also been reporting on disgruntled coaches and players across the league. These inconsistencies were not exclusive to Charlotte.

The MLSPA had also posted a dispute they had with a recent statement from MLS Commissioner Don Garber about the quality of the replacement referees. In their statement, they made it blatantly clear that players in MLS were not satisfied with the replacement referees.

There will always be complaints about the refereeing. This last week's match between Charlotte and FC Cincinnati was no exception as many Cincinnati fans felt hard done by the PRO referees who returned this past weekend. However, it was noticeable how much more in control of the game the referee appeared to be.

Most games are going to have calls that are questioned. That's the nature of being a fan, a player, or a coach of the game. Referees cannot control the reactions that people have to their calls. What they can control is how they manage their decisions and how they manage the game, this stood out with the more experienced PRO referees. Their decisiveness and management of the game was stronger and far more watchable.

This improvement should also benefit the players more often as they will have an easier time knowing what to expect week-to-week. As March rolled on it became clear how valuable the PRO referees are to MLS, and it's good to have them back. Fans will likely feel the same until their team has a PK called against them.