Perhaps suggesting that MLS has reached the same level of foolishness as NFL, the pro soccer season begins Saturday with replacement referees after an impasse between the league’s referee union and its employer, the Professional Referees Organization, forced a lockout.
A lockout by PRO, representing the league, began Friday morning, keeping out members of the Professional Soccer Referees Association.
“Although it is regrettable that the PSRA rejected PRO’s offer to continue with the current referees while negotiations continue, we have great confidence in the plan for replacement referees that PRO has put in place,” said Mark Abbott, MLS president and deputy commissioner.
The sides have been attempting to reach a new collective bargaining agreement since last year, but remain divided on many economic and non-economic issues. The lockout apparently was pre-emptive because the union voted last month 64-1 to authorize its board to call a strike whenever it was needed.
“As chair of the negotiating committee I am deeply saddened by PRO and Major League Soccer’s decision to lockout its officials in advance of the beginning of what could be a historic MLS season,” Steve Taylor, union vice president, wrote via email to the Associated Press.
“PSRA has worked tirelessly to reach an agreement, however we have been met with resistance since the beginning being forced to seek relief from the National Labor Relations Board on charges of bad-faith bargaining and management threats against our officials. Those charges remain pending.”
AP reported that replacement referees come from a group that includes FIFA referees who have moved to North America from overseas, retired MLS referees, and referees from other U.S. pro leagues. In preparation, PRO said that the replacement referees attended a training camp last week.
Different reports say that the sides are between $400,000 and $1 million apart. Some details can be found here.
The start of NFL regular season was compromised in 2012 by a similar decision to lock out experienced, union referees after a labor impasse. Amid widespread complaints from players, coaches and fans, the sides settled the dispute two days after the Seahawks’ 14-12 win on Monday Night Football over the Green Bay Packers when a controversial catch by Golden Tate was ruled a touchdown when many thought the Packers made an end-zone interception.
The “Fail Mary” play became one of the more notorious calls in sports history. With MLS, a league that has often been criticized for the quality of its officiating among those who are now locked out, the prospects of replacements creates a major shudder through the start of the league’s 19th season.
The Sounders host defending champion Kansas City at noon Saturday.