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Seattle Sounders vs. 2018: End-of-season referee ratings

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Just like the players, the referees of 2018 brought joy as well as utter dismay.

Once again I rated the referees for each match the Seattle Sounders played, attempting to rate them based on an “MLS Average.” This is a very difficult proposition with the variance in referees over the years, but I tried to follow the same methodology as I do with the players. There is a huge lack of sample size here (most appearances by the same referee was only three) but as we have gone through the years, we can get at least an idea of who is very bad or stands out as particularly competent. I have tried to parse out the most interesting data that illustrates a bit more of the differences in the referees.

Total overall referee average 2018: 5.471 (5.412, 5.294, 5.853 previous years)

Best single game grade: 9 Chris Penso (2-0 win vs. Vancouver Whitecaps)

Worst game grade: 2 Baldomero Toledo (1-1 draw at Atlanta United)

Most appearances: 3 Ted Unkel, Drew Fischer, Penso, Ismael Elfath, Toledo

Highest cumulative rating: 7.00 Hilario Grajeda (in two matches)

Lowest cumulative rating: 3.00 Robert Sibiga (in two matches) Fotis Bazakos (in one match)

The Bad

Robert Sibiga

Realio’s rating: 3.00 in two appearances

Community rating: 4.80

3 (1-0 loss at Portland Timbers), 3 (2-1 win at Vancouver Whitecaps)

This included a May Portland match where his referring style allowed so much contact that multiple players were hurt and others barely missed catastrophic injury by slim margins as he took “let them play” to another, unacceptably rough level. His second match was another road Cascadia affair, and again he allowed far too much physical play that was a danger to all involved. In this match he mixed in some bizarre cards and a massive five minutes of stoppage time in a second half bereft of goals, injuries, or major stoppages.

Fotis Bazakos

Realio’s rating: 3.00 in one appearance

Community rating: 4.60

3 (2-1 win at Colorado Rapids)

In this win for Seattle at Colorado, Bazakos handed out a whopping six cards to the Rapids in the second half alone after 23 fouls called on the home team. (Seattle was called for 10 fouls in the entire match.) “If this ref had correctly called fouls in the first half, he wouldn’t have needed to blow his whistle upwards of 40 times for fouls and cards, and we wouldn’t be debating how many guys should have been sent off. Let’s hope it’s two more years before we see this guy again.” Bozakos only refereed the single game for Seattle this year, and it was a stinker. Sample size also kept him firmly in the worst referee of the year category as a few others had similarly bad matches, but bigger sample sizes and enough improvement to stay out of this spot.

“Special mention really bad referee”

Baldomero Toledo

Realio’s rating: 3.67 in three appearances

Community rating: 3.70

6 (1-0 loss vs. Real Salt Lake), 2 (1-1 draw at Atlanta United), 3 (3-1 win vs. Sporting KC)

Perhaps the worst of them all was Toledo, who managed to really be awful for yet another season. Amazingly, in his first match against RSL he was reasonable, allowed a bit of physical play but controlled the game and gave cards when necessary to earn an MLS average 6 from me. In his next match though, he got the single worst grade of the season for a referee, a paltry 2. “In this match he missed a yellow for LGP for diving, a red for LGP (or second yellow) for sizing up Nico and elbowing then slapping him. Toledo missed Martinez headbutting Marshall for another red card. A blatant handball was missed that should have been a penalty for Seattle, and a bear hug from Kim should have been a PK for Atlanta.”

Given a third chance to ref Seattle, Toledo was inept yet again, red carding Marshall on a VAR that was subsequently voided by the league in a home match versus Sporting Kansas City. He’s so bad. He misses fouls and then gets a chip on his shoulder and cards everyone and changes game states around his attitude. It’s terrible. Every time he referees one of our matches we should prepare for the worst, and he has been in the middle for 14 matches in the last 4 years, most of any referee.

The Good

Hilario Grajeda

Realio’s rating: 7.0 in two appearances

Community rating: 5.45

7 (0-0 draw vs. Columbus Crew), 7 (2-1 win vs. San Jose Earthquakes)

The best referee in games Sounders played this season was Grajeda, who had a stellar 7 rating in each match he reffed for a combination of good calls and combining well with his entire referee squad. He reffed a clean match against Columbus at CenturyLink, correctly using VAR to send off a player in the 12th minute, and played advantage well throughout. His second Seattle match was the last of the regular season, and once again Grajeda was fair and consistent in his application of the rules for both teams, which added to a strong overall match. One exceptional thing that Grejeda did to stand out was consistently use his assistant referees, reffing flowing, safe soccer matches.

Nima Saghafi

Realio’s rating: 6.50 in two appearances

Community rating: 5.05

5 (0-0 draw at New England Revolution), 8 (4-0 win vs. Colorado Rapids)

Even though I would have liked more cards shown, Saghafi did a decent job in the match versus New England, preferring to call fouls instead of throw around a lot of yellows. An 8 reffing a late Colorado match saw improvement with quick and smart cards given and the game was managed quickly and efficiently. This was a good example of how to control a game and he did an excellent job.

Drew Fischer

Realio’s rating: 6.33 in three appearances

Community rating: 5.73

6 (2-2 draw at Sporting KC), 5 (2-1 win at Minnesota United), 8 (4-1 win vs. Houston Dynamo)

Fischer did strongly in his three matches reffed, and his average rating against SKC demonstrated his ability to control a match when a team plays a foul based approach like KC does. I will always hope for more punitive action against the intentional fouling that these teams use as “tactics” but Fischer did well to keep the match under control. Against Minnesota Fischer showed a willingness to use and trust VAR, which I appreciate, but there were a few cards I thought went unshown, and unlike the SKC match, he let too much go, putting a few players in a bit of jeopardy for it. His last Sounders match was his best. A stellar outing in Seattle versus Houston where the referee showed off excellent use of advantage and earned this praise: “His cards were quickly given and made sense. While I thought the PK deserved a VAR look, I appreciated the speed at which he made decisions and trusted his staff to help him out.”

Ted Unkel

Realio’s rating: 6.00 in three appearances

Community rating: 4.77

8 (2-1 win at Toronto FC), 5 (2-1 win at vs. FC Dallas), 5 (2-1 loss at Portland Timbers, playoffs)

Unkel continued to be a highly-rated referee from this column and did so on the back of an 8 in the Toronto match. In this game, Unkel used his assistants well (including VAR) and created a fluid, well controlled match in what was a bit of a drop off from the last time these two teams met, but still a very hard fought game. After this match he earned slightly below average marks for his Dallas job which was lowlighted by a red card dustup late in the match as Seattle tried to kill off the clock with a lead, and the ensuing shenanigans weren’t regulated well. His worst outing of the year was in the playoff match against Portland, where he still got solid marks but could have used some help from his assistants to prevent a few errors. Also, do more to protect guys with head injuries. C’mon.

Goodbye Mark Geiger

With Geiger retiring to take a job upstairs, I thought I would note that he wasn't altogether terrible as a referee for Seattle. He earned a respectable 5.5 (6, 5) this year over two matches. He was absolutely terrible in 2017 and 2016 however, earning 3 and 2.5 respectively for those two seasons. Let’s hope while he is in charge of other refs he continues to emulate the actions that earned him okay marks in 2018 and 2015.

*Shoutout to Sherry Nagel who consistently asked for the referee part of ratings.