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Becks, refs and MLS

Last night, in his first on field appearance at BMO Field in Toronto, David Beckham left his mark in a way only he can.

Despite ringing a free kick off the crossbar, it was his comments off the field, on the shabby state of MLS refereeing, that had everyone talking.
If you haven't seen the video, you can watch it here (captured by the Score's James Sharman) but to quickly summarize:

MLS refs bad. Me want better.

Actually, for a guy who has become known for being a bit of a knuckle dragger over the years, Beckham summed up things pretty well.

To be honest over the last few games I’ve spoken too much about referees – they're becoming the stars of the MLS. And that’s obviously not what the teams and clubs want. You want the players to be playing out there. You want it to be fair. I just don’t think the consistency is there. I think there is bad calls. And we’ve had our majority of bad calls over the last few games. It’s ruining games. It’s ruining our preparation for games. I’ll probably get in trouble but it’s gone on too long now. We want that consistency to be there. And we to keep our players on the field.

He'll probably get hit with a fine. It will be a drop in the bucket compared to what he makes.

In reality, it doesn't matter how many times the media, blogs and fans rail against the horrid inconsistencies of Terry Vaughn or Boldomero Toledo, the only time the league has any incentive to listen is when its brand ambassadors (David Beckham, Thierry Henry and the like) stand up and embarrass the MLS name. And embarrass it they should. For a league that has aspirations to be 'world class' they've done little to work with the USSF to improve the quality of referees available. Their weekly review process is a joke and rarely, if ever, results in some kind of tangible change.

The MLS won't ask the USSF directly for certain referees, that lack of impartiality did in certain Italian teams not long ago, but perhaps it's time they started having more in depth discussions about the state of refereeing in their game. One starting point might be to look at the obvious - the impact of Latin-style refereeing on an English-style league.

That's not discrimination, that's just a simple observation that certain refs don't mesh well with certain leagues. You wouldn't have a 14-year-old girl call a Men's league game - their ability and personality don't match.

So, why continue to have a reffing style that doesn't mesh with MLS? The short answer is there is a lack of professional referees in North America. The long answer is that MLS and USSF haven't been largely motivated to do anything with their problems. Instead, their approach has been to fine coaches and players into silence, hoping to sweep the problem under the rug.

But the problem isn't going away and the voices are only growing more apathetic and resigned to refs essentially stealing games. There is a danger there. MLS is a league that is constantly trying to gain the support of new fans by convincing them they're not a Mickey Mouse league any more. If they're seen to just be sweeping the issues aside, instead of confronting them head on, confidence could easily be lost.

There are not going to be any easy answers when asking what to do about the state of reffing in MLS, but, frankly the league hasn't even started asking the questions.