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An Open Letter to Don Garber Concerning Officiating in MLS

Less than two weeks ago Mr. Garber you made the following comment, among others, concerning players being held, clutched or dragged down by defenders inside the penalty box on set pieces.

"This is something that for me personally I really object to. I recall during the World Cup something that in my view there's way too much holding and pushing in the penalty area on set pieces. We're going to try to address that. Verbal warnings without punishment just haven't been working for us. We want to have an instance where plays are held, clutched or dragged down in the box that penalty kicks are going to be called."  -Don Garber, March 11th, 2011

On Saturday evening in Houston one of the exact incidents occurred in clear view of referee Abby Okulaja. He saw the kind of infraction that you yourself want dealt with right in front of him. At best missed it but given his track record, it's certainly possibly he ignored it. I'm sorry to disparage a referee in this letter but I don't think I'm the only MLS fan who cringes anytime he's assigned to our favorite teams' match.


This is not a one time incident or an honest mistake by a usually dependable referee. This is another event in a long long list of continued mistakes and poor decision making by Okulaja and other USSF referees that are assigned to MLS matches. This kind of thing happens all the time and now that you've addressed your distaste for these kinds of fouls, and others, it's time to bring accountability to the referees allowing this kind of foul play to occur.

Mr. Garber you're obviously aware of the chronic problems that your league is dealing with when it come to match referees. You have to see the issues that continue to plague games and frustrate players and fans because referees make the same dumb mistakes and bad choices week in and week out. Referees and linesmen make mistakes, they are humans trying to do an incredibly challenging job, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't be held accountable for their performance.

You don't have to publicly hold referee's feet over the fire, but the fans demand that some kind of action is taken and we are made aware of how referees are being reviewed. It's a regular event in England for a referee to be suspended or demoted to a lower league when they mishandle a situation in a Premier League match. It's not perfect, but it's better than nothing. At least we can see that if a referee makes an egregious mistake, they are dealt with properly.

Here in MLS, the same referees go out every week and make the same mistakes and are seemingly never dealt with other than some kind of secret review process that is obviously not working.

Whether that process is run by USSF or by MLS, IT'S NOT WORKING. Something in the system is broken because either the reviewers are not doing their job or something is being lost in translation. No matter what it is, we're sick of it and while they may not be able to say anything, I'm pretty confident that the players, coaches and team officials are sick of it too.

If you meant what you said on March 11th, you'll do something about this. You'll demand that US Soccer stops blowing smoke and actually makes changes to improve their current referees and improve how they develop officials. You'll demand that MLS has more control over the referees, how they are accessed and how they are dealt with.

We all understand how incredibly difficult it is to officiate soccer at any level and despite our consternation, we are sympathetic to the difficulty of the job. All I'm asking is if these referees are going to be working our top domestic league in America they should be held accountable by either MLS or the USSF, or preferably both. As fans if you ask us to support the league, we have the right to ask that we not be subjected to poor officiating week in and week out.

As I said before, this isn't an isolated event, this is a chronic problem...just ask Los Angeles Galaxy fans after last night's debacle.

Words are no longer enough, it's time to stop giving the problem lip service and actually do something about it. Show us with action that you want MLS to be the best league it can be and receive the best officiating possible. Show us you mean what you said and you really have implemented the measures you discussed just a few days ago.

We're waiting Mr. Garber.