Consistent inexperienced referee selection for MLS, RSL matches raises questions

Douglas C. Pizac-USA TODAY Sport

After last night's 2-1 loss to Sporting Kansas City, Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis took umbrage with the referee selection for the match. With the referee for the match in question having only 16 MLS matches under his belt, and with the two teams in question at the top of the league, with one known for a generally physical approach, there was some sense that Kreis had valid complaints.

For posterity, here's Kreis on the refereeing from his post-match press conference: The level of consistency was the lowest I've seen from a referee in MLS. And again, I don't want to belabor the point about the referee being poor. He is going to be poor. It's his 14th match of his entire career. The referee in a sold out stadium, in a first place versus second place matchup - it's the wrong game for him to make his 14th MLS game." (Note: Kreis was mistaken about it being his 14th — it was his 17th MLS game, but it's a moot point.)

It's not the first time Kreis has had this specific complaint, so looking at some facts is a wise plan. Before we jump in, some notes on these numbers. Match counts are for all professional competitions refereed in as the head referee, and they come from transfermrkt.com.

Without further ado, the numbers:

By team, average number of matches officiated by head official

Team Average Median
Real Salt Lake 48.24 34.00
Columbus Crew 54.05 26.50
Vancouver Whitecaps 54.75 25.00
Colorado Rapids 60.10 26.00
New England Revolution 62.37 34.00
Chicago Fire 62.89 36.00
Philadelphia Union 73.43 34.00
D.C. United 74.55 26.00
Toronto FC 75.30 30.50
Houston Dynamo 75.84 51.00
FC Dallas 78.29 34.00
Montreal Impact 79.11 51.00
Chivas USA 83.35 61.00
LA Galaxy 92.81 71.00
San Jose Earthquakes 93.19 98.00
Sporting Kansas City 95.29 71.00
Portland Timbers 96.25 90.00
New York Red Bulls 106.00 98.00
Seattle Sounders FC 106.61 98.00

Non-national TV

When match is not on national TV: By home team, average number of matches officiated by head official

Average Median
Colorado Rapids 40 22
Vancouver Whitecaps 44 24
Chicago Fire 51 36
FC Dallas 53 34
Real Salt Lake 58 36
Houston Dynamo 60 43
Columbus Crew 64 26
New England Revolution 65 23
San Jose Earthquakes 68 22
Toronto FC 70 39
Montreal Impact 73 51
Chivas USA 79 38
New York Red Bulls 81 63
Philadelphia Union 86 90
Sporting Kansas City 92 36
LA Galaxy 99 51
Seattle Sounders FC 101 94
D.C. United 106 109
Portland Timbers 135 139

When match is not on national TV: By away team, average number of matches officiated by head official

Average Median
D.C. United 22 22
Real Salt Lake 36 24
Philadelphia Union 48 21
LA Galaxy 51 24
Columbus Crew 51 34
New England Revolution 60 43
Vancouver Whitecaps 60 29
Portland Timbers 61 30
Chicago Fire 65 44
Houston Dynamo 72 39
Toronto FC 81 29
Colorado Rapids 82 36
Sporting Kansas City 85 61
Chivas USA 88 81
Montreal Impact 92 90
FC Dallas 92 67
Seattle Sounders FC 103 105
San Jose Earthquakes 105 109
New York Red Bulls 115 119

National TV

An interesting pattern emerges, but first let's note the difference between referees selected for national TV matches and those selected for non-national TV matches.

Average Median
Non-national match 72 34
National match 103 98

When match is on national TV: By home team, average number of matches officiated by head official

Home Team Average Median
Columbus Crew 21 21
Montreal Impact 22 22
New England Revolution 22 22
Colorado Rapids 51 51
Sporting Kansas City 56 56
D.C. United 62 62
Chicago Fire 85 62
Vancouver Whitecaps 98 98
Seattle Sounders FC 102 102
New York Red Bulls 108 94
Philadelphia Union 110 110
Portland Timbers 118 98
LA Galaxy 135 187
FC Dallas 190 190
Houston Dynamo 193 193
San Jose Earthquakes 193 193

When match is on national TV: By away team, average number of matches officated by head official

Away Team Average Median
FC Dallas 24 24
Columbus Crew 26 26
Real Salt Lake 51 51
Colorado Rapids 56 56
Chicago Fire 56 56
Philadelphia Union 70 90
Houston Dynamo 83 62
New England Revolution 98 98
San Jose Earthquakes 98 98
New York Red Bulls 124 187
LA Galaxy 125 142
Seattle Sounders FC 146 146
D.C. United 173 173
Portland Timbers 182 182
Sporting Kansas City 190 190

Without regard to national TV: By home team, number of matches officiated by head official

AVERAGE of Matches refereed MEDIAN of Matches refereed
Colorado Rapids 41 22
Vancouver Whitecaps 49 25
Real Salt Lake 58 36
Columbus Crew 60 25
New England Revolution 61 23
Chicago Fire 63 36
Montreal Impact 68 43
Toronto FC 70 39
Houston Dynamo 75 51
FC Dallas 78 34
Chivas USA 79 38
San Jose Earthquakes 81 23
Sporting Kansas City 85 36
Philadelphia Union 91 90
New York Red Bulls 92 94
D.C. United 97 98
Seattle Sounders FC 101 94
LA Galaxy 110 117
Portland Timbers 126 98

Without regard to national TV: By away team, number of matches officiated by head official

Average Median
Real Salt Lake 38 25
Columbus Crew 49 31
D.C. United 52 23
Philadelphia Union 55 24
Vancouver Whitecaps 60 29
Chicago Fire 63 44
New England Revolution 64 51
Portland Timbers 72 34
Houston Dynamo 77 39
Colorado Rapids 77 36
LA Galaxy 78 71
FC Dallas 78 31
Toronto FC 81 29
Chivas USA 88 81
Montreal Impact 92 90
San Jose Earthquakes 104 98
Sporting Kansas City 106 112
Seattle Sounders FC 111 109
New York Red Bulls 119 119

Do your own analysis of these numbers, but from a Real Salt Lake perspective, here are some interesting patterns that emerge.

  • Head officials in Real Salt Lake matches have, on average, officiated over the fewest matches when compared to all teams in MLS. The median offers a different perspective — Real Salt Lake is 9th-lowest when sorted by median.
  • When the match is not on national television and Real Salt Lake are the home team, they are well in the bottom half in both average and median matches officiated by head official.
  • As above, when they are the away team, the head official has officiated even fewer matches.
  • Real Salt Lake have had no home matches and have had only a smattering of away matches on national TV, so we'll skip that thought for now.
Draw your own conclusions, but the implications are wrought with questions that should rightfully be asked.
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