It seems weekly that one set of MLS fans or another is upset at a referee or the Disciplinary Committee is levying a fine or suspension on a coach for comments or actions during a game. This time it's Crew fans turn.
The situation however obscures a change that is ongoing in American soccer, the state of refereeing is getting better. Sorin Stoica is the proof.
Stoica made several key calls to draw the ire of the visiting team. He awarded two penalties, minutes apart, to the Galaxy in the dying minutes of a vital game for both teams. The Crew had been leading, but Robbie Keane converted both chances and Columbus lost a third straight match.
Beyond the penalties, Stoica was uneven. He struggled on advantage calls and let quite a few rugged challenges go. He yellow carded Dominic Oduro for dissent and let both Robbie Keane and Matias Sanchez go with warnings, even though they showed similar disregard for the ref.
The Pro Referee Organization (PRO), U.S. Soccer, and MLS have been working to expand the referee pool, but it seems like they haven't made progress. Looking closely, the progress is there.
Stoica, a Clevelander, has been an MLS level official since May 2012 and has had seven MLS assignments in 2013, but before last night, his last MLS match was May 19th, managing the Chivas USA v. Real Salt Lake game. After that match, he was assigned to NASL, touring places like Atlanta, San Antonio, and Fort Lauderdale.
There are 16 MLS games this week. PRO gave thirteen referees assignments. Only Allen Chapman, Baldomero Toledo, and Ricardo Salazar were given more that one game this week. PRO had to go spread assignments around, including having Stoica referee his first MLS match since mid May.
Much like a player has to get used to the speed of the game in a new league, the same goes for referees. Stoica seemed fooled, occasionally, by the faster play of MLS after weeks in NASL. He'll be graded again by PRO officials. He currently has an assignment next Saturday, Seattle at San Jose.
It's a very slow process to grow the referee corps. Several referees have less than two years of experience. Sorin Stoica, José Carlos Rivero, Armando Villarreal, and Fotis Bazakos, all debuted in 2012, and will take time to improve. There may be growing pains, missed calls, disputed penalties, and the like, but that's the price of trying to develop referees.