Everyone knows this is an issue. Don Garber talks about it. Coaches talk about it. Owners talk about it. General Managers talk about it. Players talk about it. Fans talk about it.
The steps to improving things seem to be very slow. One change has been that the old USSF reviewer of referees is now working for MLS, and so the full-time pros are reviewing themselves. That hasn't accomplished much. A few referees have been pulled from duty for fitness, for impropriety and incompetence.
If you've noticed the effect on the game-calling you are a rare beast. Many ideas out there just aren't possible. They haven't been approved by FIFA or the IFAB. And that's the key to both improving the quality of play and better adjudication. Here are some simple things that USSF and all of its pro leagues need to do.
- Expanded Video Review - Currently video review is allowed for both simulation and violent conduct. Until a few weeks ago MLS only reviewed violent conduct, but they did so via fines and suspensions. With Alvaro Sabario's and Charlie Davies' recent suspensions MLS joined Australia, Scotland and Italy in reviewing simulation. That's a great initial step. Take it just a bit further. Instead of fines and suspensions, issue cards. Make them part of the permanent record for that player. Lastly, be even more liberal in the application of these reviews.
- Endline Referees - Though not required by FIFA/IFAB they are allowed. They've been used in tournaments (most recently in the Europa League) and leagues/national associations can choose to implement the use of two more Assistant Referees on the endline focusing on play with in the box. The increased focus on that area on set-peices would reduce aggression in scrum-like situations, handballs (say the James Riley accusation at Sporting KC), and Last Man On Goal situations.
- Hire More Professionals - For every new team added to any pro league (D1, D2, D3 in Canada or the USA) require that the league fund a new full-time referee. Anglo North America (plus Quebec) need more referees who can do this as a profession. They need men who can work two games a week - once as the CR and once as an AR. Their influence on the league can inspire further generations of officials. For national team games, for MLS and the lower leagues Canada and the United States need a larger pool. Averages alone would mean that it is more likely that one is chosen to work the World Cup in the future.
- Bring Back Consultants From Outside - Find a national federation whose style the USSF and CSA desire and bring their full-time referees in as consultants, as 4th officials, and to aid with video reviews. It is imperitive that the style of play is what the Canada and the United States want to be and only that. When USSF/MLS has brought in foreign refs in the past it was a hodge-podge. This time pick just one federation and stick with it.
These won't solve everything quickly, but over time the level of play on the field will improve. It will be gradual. Like most things involving soccer in the United States and Canada there is no magic pill. These steps aren't focused on making just the referees better, but instead finding ways to improve the quality of play on the pitch both through match day officiating and through review.