Major League Soccer and U.S. Soccer Create Professional Referee Organization

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Well we have all said that something needed to be done to improve the overall quality of officiating in MLS, and this seems like it might be the first step in the right direction. Here is the official info from MLS and US Soccer:

NEW YORK (Tuesday, March 6, 2012) - Today Major League Soccer and the U.S. Soccer Federation announced the formation of the Professional Referee Organization (PRO), an organization that will be responsible for managing the referee program in professional soccer leagues in the United States and Canada.

The creation of PRO is designed to increase the quality of officiating in U.S. and Canadian professional leagues, develop more professional quality officials at a younger age and develop officials who will represent the United States and Canada in FIFA competitions.

Veteran English referee Peter Walton has been named General Manager of PRO. All current U.S. Soccer professional referee staff positions will transition to PRO and report to Walton, who begins his full-time work for PRO on April 2 and will be based in New York City through the conclusion of the MLS season.

U.S. Soccer and MLS will govern and fund the organization, with ongoing collaborative support from the Canadian Soccer Association and other professional leagues. Beginning this year, PRO will manage officials in the MLS and MLS Reserve games, the North American Soccer League, USL PRO and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.

The rest of the press release after the jump:

"Thanks to collaborative work with U.S. Soccer and the Canadian Soccer Association, officiating in MLS made significant strides forward in the past year," said MLS Commissioner Don Garber. "The overall level of MLS refereeing is good, and the creation of the Professional Referee Organization is the logical next stage of development. MLS and U.S. Soccer proudly welcome PRO General Manager Peter Walton, who will utilize his exceptional experience as a referee and as an administrator, along with substantial resources, to help MLS achieve its vision of setting the worldwide standard in officiating."

"We've always understood that the development of referees is an important aspect to the growth of the game in the United States," said U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati. "PRO is another step towards the improvement and professionalization of our top referees. With the additional resources and funding provided by the formation of PRO, we will continue to build upon the progress we've already made."

Walton has been involved with professional soccer since he joined the Football League as an assistant referee in 1993. Walton, 52, advanced to the FIFA panel of Assistants in 1996 and then onto the Referees panel of the Football League in 1998. Walton accepted a full-time position as a referee on the English Premier League in 2003. He has refereed close to 200 EPL matches, including the 2008 Community Shield between Manchester United and Portsmouth. In 2007, Walton completed the Advanced Course for Referee Instructors hosted by CONMEBOL and FIFA in Ecuador.

"I'm looking forward to the next stage of my career as the general manager of the Professional Referee Organization," said Walton. "The formation of PRO by U.S. Soccer and MLS provides a great opportunity to increase the development of referees and improve the overall quality of refereeing in the U.S. professional leagues. It's a worthy challenge and I'm excited to get started."

The PRO model allows for more funding toward the referee program, hiring of more experienced technical staff, increased training opportunities for officials, additional identification and training opportunities for up-and-coming officials and increased investment toward sports science.

The number of full-time referees is expected increase as a result of this transition. With a more robust training program and full-time duties in place, the referee program's professionalization will increase, whereas in previous years some officials have had to juggle their referee duties with an additional full-time occupation.

U.S. Soccer and MLS took significant steps in 2011 to create a U.S. Soccer professional referee department and relocate to New York. Seven new rookie referees were introduced to MLS last year, participating in almost 20 percent of the league's regular season games.

The use of quantitative analysis and video also were substantial last year as referees were evaluated in real time at the newly constructed command center in New York. Former players and coaches served as in-stadium professional match evaluators, providing a more complete evaluation of the referees.

Approximately 45,000 new referees enter the officiating ranks every year, and U.S. Soccer will continue its efforts to put more online educational resources at their disposal. A PRO Advisory Board also will be established and meet regularly to make sure satisfactory progress is being achieved.

Listen this isn't a silver bullet, we have seen in the preseason that bad calls will still be made, but I believe that this is the type of progress that will get better officials at every level of the professional game. I think when you combine this with the new 'Red Card Challenge" rule that MLS is rumored to be implementing (I am awaiting confirmation and details from MLS & will post them when I get them). It is clear that the league is wanting to try to do the right thing and I think progress is being made, a lot will depend on how these new things do over time, but I for one am a bit more confident about the future of officiating in MLS.

OFF MY SOAPBOX

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