The most noteworthy change for MLS referees in 2017 is scheduled to come in the form of video replay during the second half of the season.
But that won’t be the lone modification.
In a teleconference with the media Friday afternoon, Peter Walton, the general manager for the Professional Referee Organization (PRO), outlined four areas of emphasis for officials this year — cracking down on holding and pushing in the penalty box, disciplining acts of visual dissent, punishing the intentional delay of restarts and carding persistent infringement.
“Those four initiatives will advance the game itself,” Walton said. “I think it will add some flavor to the game, make the game much slicker and hopefully reduce the amount of stoppages.”
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In a separate phone interview with The Star on Friday, Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes applauded all four points of emphasis.
Let’s delve into them one by one...
Walton said that not every foul in the penalty box will result in a penalty kick, but he added that “referees have been shown numerous videos” of blatant instances of holding and pushing without a whistle. No longer, he says.
“The overt holding and pushing that happens where the defender or attacking (player) doesn’t have eyes for the ball, those are the ones we want to detect and punish,” Walton said.
The discipline of acts of visual dissent is rather self-explanatory, with Walton hoping to eliminate demonstrative reactions from players and coaches. Such actions will now be carded.
The delay of restarts has long been a bone of contention for Vermes. With Sporting Kansas City’s possession-oriented style of play, opponents have often kicked the ball away after a foul is called or stood over the ball to prevent a quick free kick.
“I’ve been talking about this for years,” Vermes said. “It keeps the game moving, for one. The second thing is it leads to more goal-scoring opportunities because now when a player goes to grab the ball and wants to play it really quickly, he’s not going to have a guy on the other team kick it away and disrupt that action going forward. That has to change.
“I’ll be really interested to see how it plays as the season goes on.”
The persistent infringement — essentially repeat offenders — represents an increased awareness of a rule already in place. But Walton says the rule won’t only apply to individuals but rather also to teams who seem to be targeting a specific player. Vermes offered an example from Sporting Kansas City’s preseason match earlier this week in which winger Latif Blessing was fouled several times in the opening half.
“He’s so fast that it was their tactic to stop him,” Vermes said. “If you drop a card quickly, that won’t happen.
“I think they’re all very good initiates. They’re going to help with the way we see the game. You want to watch the best possible product.”