FIFA in no rush to make officiating changes to soccer

Associated Press
Associated Press
Posted: May 06, 2011

Keeping the human element, you have to expect human error.

It's the mantra that FIFA, soccer's world governing body, lives by. But far too many times has this ideal proved the detriment of a player, coach, team or major competition.

Referees. Held to a higher regard and made to answer to no one simply because bylaws in FIFA's rule book says so.

Cross one? Get a card. Question one? Get fined.

Here's an example: Serving last year as a pool reporter at Union matches, a perk of the position was the right to speak to an official after the game if the situation arose. It finally did midway through the season during a home game at PPL against Colorado. Sebastien Le Toux, draped by a Rapids defender, was brought down in the 18-yard box, but no penalty was called. Postgame review, courtesy of Union video coordinator Carl Mandell, clearly showed Le Toux's shirt being pulled and his knee being taken out on a bump in the box. I was allowed to ask the referee in charge that day just three questions about the decision, two of which he provided no comment and the latter arrived with a carbon response on the role of an official.

How long can that smug approach mandated by the geriatric suits at FIFA HQ in Switzerland continue to pass as status quo in an ever-changing sports culture? One where the soccer has grown immensely in popularity, specifically in North America with the advent of Major League Soccer?

Now there are MLS officials who do a solid job week in and week out and have rarely been the subject of speculation. But that group is a small minority to the greater majority that has shown an inconsistency in controlling the flow of the game and has made questionable calls that publicly they don't have to provide any answers for.

"There have been a lot of things in the past 6, 7 weeks where teams have been facing a lot of decisions that team managers, the coaches, the general managers can't do anything about," said Union boss Peter Nowak, still miffed over defender Jordan Harvey's ejection in the 42nd minute in a 1-0 win over San Jose. "I think it would be a good time to look at [technology] again. Look, I am not saying there needs to be a review of every play, that would be nonsense, but crucial plays like [Harvey's infraction] there should be an official that can look at the tape and make an assessment based on what he sees."

Considering professional soccer has truly become 90 percent athletics and 10 percent theatrics, how can a first-glance assessment be the final decision in "crucial" cases?

Through a joint effort between U.S. Soccer and the Canadian Soccer Association, referees are trained and assigned to Major League Soccer. The only design of its kind in North America, where an outside governing body controls the officials for its various leagues (same goes for Women's Professional Soccer). To U.S. Soccer's credit, since 2007, the organization has used its developmental academy not only to groom players but also referees. Additionally, there are officials who watch games in real time on monitors at MLS' New York headquarters and, on Sunday nights, referees, their assessors and other department heads meet via conference call and webinar to discuss league matches at which time each referee is given a grade based on performance.

One of the key components U.S. Soccer utilizes to train, monitor and assess officials? Video review.

"We don't have direct contact with the officials, per se," said MLS executive vice president of competition and game operations Nelson Rodriguez. Rodriguez also serves as chairman of the competition department that reviews all games for overall quality - including officiating. "We channel all of our input to the federations and rely on the federations to utilize that information as they see fit. With that said, there is an impact then to any new initiative that [we at MLS] may want to consider. It would have to be done through the federations and, ultimately, the approval of FIFA."

Funny how it all comes down to FIFA, which is in no rush to modify the game. On Wednesday, FIFA recognized the need for goal-line technology and announced it would hold a two-stage testing process for companies to show why their design would make the most sense for soccer. But the first stage won't take place until September through December in which companies must show at least a 90 percent success rate to be invited back for additional testing beginning in March 2012, when systems have to prove 100 percent effective.

Mind you, that's only on goal-line improvements, no mention of video replay, and that means another year will go by without additional technology beyond headsets and digital stoppage timers.

In the era of high-definition imaging and super slow-motion capturing? Preposterous.

Does it make sense to add officials to MLS matches? It's currently being tested in European leagues, but, so far, it has been just more eyes getting calls wrong - at additional financial expense to various federations.

"In the [UEFA] Europa League and in the Champions League they have added goal-line officials," said Rodriguez. "Positive step? We'll see, it's only been in practice for a little over a year and you need time to analyze the results and make judgments."

As for MLS' current on-field count of officials?

"We have four officials and everybody knows that the fourth official [on the sideline] is basically there to be a shrink for the two coaches," joked Nowak. "Why can't he be the guy looking at a monitor when it comes to some of these serious calls?"

"It's difficult to imagine a day in the future where technology won't have a place in soccer," said Rodriguez. "I envision a day where there is an official off the field with a bank of monitors and a communication system that he can contribute to the officiating or to the match."

To soccer traditionalists, that approach might as well be considered blasphemy, but explain how solely relying on the human element in a technologically advanced sports landscape makes any sense.


 Upcoming game:

Union (4-1-1, 13 points) at Portland (3-3-1, 10 points)

When: Tonight, 10 o'clock

Where: Jeld-Wen Field, Portland

TV: Fox Soccer Channel

On the web: Free streaming video on and streaming webcast on

For kicks: Portland started off slow, but has found renewed life at Jeld-Wen, where the club is undefeated (3-0-0). The stadium's narrow turf pitch plays to the advantage of the Timbers, one that Union boss Peter Nowak prepared his troops for this week by training on turf at YSC Sports in Wayne. Said Nowak: "I am worried about the pitch, it's a little bit too small, and when you watch the games there it's like pinball" . . . The Union will have to keep Timbers forward Kenny Cooper (three goals) and his rocket left foot under wraps in addition to keeping a close eye on playmaker Kalif Alhassan, who leads the team with four assists . . . Union defender Jordan Harvey will miss tonight's match due to his ejection in last Saturday's 1-0 win over San Jose. To take his place, Nowak noted that either of the two Farfan brothers, Michael or Gabriel - a natural left back - could fill-in, it's simply a matter of who won the battle this week. "I think Michael came in last week and gave us a lot of good things both offensively and defensively. His brother plays that position so there is a good competition going on right now. They're both ready to play and will travel, so we'll see."

INJURY REPORT (as of Tuesday)

Out for the Union: Thorne Holder, GK (concussion)

Probable: Gabriel Farfan, MF (right toe dislocation); Stefani Miglioranzi, MF (right groin strain); Danny Califf, DF (illness); Keon Daniel, MF (right foot contusion).

Out for Portland: Bright Dike, FW (right Achilles' rupture); Eddie Johnson, FW (right Achilles' tendinitis); Brian Umony, FW (right knee MCL sprain).

Probable: Adin Brown, GK (hamstring strain); David Horst, DF (right ankle sprain); Jake Gleeson, GK (left elbow sprain); Peter Lowry, MF (right knee MCL strain).


Tonight's match will be the debut of "Soccer Night in America" on Fox Soccer Channel. Local Union play-by-play man JP Dellacamera will be joined by analyst Kyle Martino and ex-MLS defender Brian Dunseth will serve as sideline reporter.

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