MLS referees, on-field officials locked out day before season begins

03/07/2014 3:51 PM

03/07/2014 3:51 PM

Sporting Kansas City says it’s ready to defend its Major League Soccer championship. The Seattle Sounders are eager to take the field with a much-improved roster.

The referees won’t be joining them.

MLS referees and on-field officials were locked out Friday, a day before the regular season begins. Sporting KC will play in Seattle at 2 p.m. Saturday.

The Professional Referee Organization, which manages game officials for the U.S. Soccer Federation and MLS, said replacement officials will be used for opening weekend. The replacement officials will continue to work games until the PRO reaches a collective bargaining agreement with the Professional Soccer Referees Association. The two sides have been negotiating since July.

“We have made a substantial proposal to the Professional Soccer Referees Association and believe it is very fair and reasonable,” PRO general manager Peter Walton said. “Our proposal represents a significant increase above current compensation for referees and places them above the average for officials around the world.”

Sporting Kansas City declined comment on the situation Friday.

The PSRA has filed unfair labor practice charges, accusing the PRO of bad-faith bargaining and making threats against its members.

“We have requested a plethora of information, including financials, that PRO and MLS have refused to provide, instead demanding we take their pleas of poverty at face value,” said Lukas Middlebrook, a lawyer for the union.

PRO said its replacement officials include former international FIFA officials who have moved to the U.S., along with former MLS officials.

“Although it is regrettable that the Professional Soccer Referees Association rejected PRO’s offer to continue with the current referees while negotiations continue, we have great confidence in the replacement referees that PRO has put in place,” said Mark Abbott, the MLS president and deputy commissioner.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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