The year-end recap wouldn’t be complete without referee crew ratings at Sounders games. These guys were rated individually, but it’s important to take into account the entire crew, including the center, linesmen, fourth official, and VAR team. It’s difficult to rate the referees when many of the hardest decisions are handled in the review booth, but there were some trends that became clear.
Overall Cumulative Rating: 6.0789
Playoff Cumulative Rating: 7.750
Most Center Referee Appearances: 4 – Saghafi, Penso; 3 – Chapman, Sibiga, Kelly, Toledo
Best Single Match Rating: 9 – Kelly (RSL playoff match); 8 – Chapman (MLS Cup Final), Dickerson (@Chi), Penso (@Columbus), Sibiga (@LAG)
Worst Single Match Rating: 3 – Fischer (POR), Elfath (SKC)
Highest Cumulative-Rated Referees: 8 – Dickerson (1 app); 7 – Penso (4 apps), Marrufo (2), Chapman (3), Stott (2), Villareal (1), Chilowicz (1)
Lowest Cumulative-Rated Referees: 3.5 – Elfath (2 app), Fischer (2); 4.0 – Bazakos (1), Unkel (1)
What I liked: Penso, Marrufo, Chapman, and Stott all reffed multiple games and had high ratings, especially Penso who averaged 7 over four matches. These guys did the best job this year officiating the Sounders games. Furthermore, the best referee teams were assembled for the playoffs. The cumulative rating given to refs in Seattle’s four playoff games was pushing 8, and there were few problematic calls or questionable VAR rulings. Saghafi, Kelly, Marrufo, and Chapman all showed up in the playoffs, and it was hard to find fault with their matches. These groups should be highly commended and used as examples in future referee trainings.
Kelly in the RSL match was especially high quality, earning the highest rating of the year:
Starting in the 3rd minute with letting advantage play before bringing it back for a foul, Kelly was on his game. An instant yellow for a 27th minute tactical foul was given. When Morris slipped, he correctly ignored the crowd’s pleas. This strong, assertive, efficient refereeing went on all match, culminating in an 83rd minute red with zero hesitation.
His ability to consult VAR when needed, keep the safety of the players paramount, and make quick and sensible decisions on advantage and cards led to an excellent all-around match.
What I didn’t like: I rate the referees on their role in keeping the game safe first and foremost, whether their calls make sense, how the game flows, and if they are applying the rules correctly. Some ref groups this year struggled to implement coherent and quick VAR decisions, or randomly red-carded players like Cristian Roldan, etc., and these things have to be cleaned up moving forward. Notably, Fischer and Elfath had multiple chances to ref Seattle and all four of their appearances rated USL-level refereeing or worse!
From Fischer against Portland:
This was bad refereeing, and dangerous. Multiple head injuries were possible, as well as potentially long-term injury on tackles from behind from both teams.
From Elfath against SKC I was even more disgusted:
HE THEN ALLOWED HURTADO TO COMMIT SIX MORE FOULS AND NEVER CARDED HIM, ONE OF WHICH WAS BORDERLINE RED. HOW CAN YOU REFEREE LIKE THIS? I already mentioned the 10 fouls committed by Gerso that directly led to the second goal, but this guy had seven called fouls and you never give him a card? That is absolute insanity.
Special note: In case you hadn’t guessed, Toledo still isn’t a good referee. After a 3.67 cumulative rating last year, he followed it up with a 5 over three matches, and it’s worth repeating:
It’s Toledo. You can argue that he made the by-the-book right call, and I might agree, but I don’t agree that he reffed fairly. Until he stops reffing to the scoreboard and giving leniency to away teams and teams down on the scoreboard, I‘ll keep repeating myself.
Moving forward: It was great to see some high-quality playoff refereeing and very few matches decided by the officiating team. A few guys like Sibiga and Chapman showed improvement compared to 2018 for Seattle, but others like Fischer were worse. If you see Bazakos on the pregame listing for referee, get ready for a mess. He has only refereed twice for Seattle in the last two seasons but is averaging 3.5. Overall, however, I was pleased with the referee ratings averaging out to right around 6. The referees in MLS are fine, Seattle does a decent job of adjusting to their differences, and their team card totals were in line with their 2018 averages.
Be sure to forget everything you know about refereeing prior to CCL in a few weeks.