The Imminent Referees' Strike in MLS Could Shake the Season

Salary Negotiations at Stake, and the Possibility of Foreign Referees Reinforcing MLS Early in the Year
Los Angeles Football Club v Columbus Crew - 2023 MLS Cup
Los Angeles Football Club v Columbus Crew - 2023 MLS Cup / Patrick Smith/GettyImages

Major League Soccer (MLS) faces a tense and potentially detrimental standoff in early 2024 as negotiations between the Professional Referees Organization (PRO) and the Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA) fail to reach a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The threat of an impending strike by referees casts a cloud of uncertainty over the season opener, and the prospect of games without local referees raises concerns.

The central issue of these negotiations is the improvement of referees' working conditions, with a focus on salary issues. While PRO offers an overall increase of 4-5%, PSRA seeks a significant readjustment of up to 90%, proportionate to each referee's compensation. The divergence of interests reflects not only salary differences but also the pursuit of proportional value between head referees and assistants.

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Armando Villarreal
Los Angeles Football Club v Columbus Crew - 2023 MLS Cup / Zach Sanderson/ISI Photos/GettyImages

Facing this dispute, MLS is confronted with the real possibility of starting the season without local referees, being compelled to hire foreign substitutes to take on the crucial role during matches. The presence of international referees may add an extra layer of complexity to the competitive environment, directly impacting the integrity and natural flow of the games.

The current situation recalls a similar episode in 2014 when PRO and PSRA faced difficulties in negotiations, resulting in a temporary halt that affected the start of the season. The prolongation of this dispute could be avoided with the temporary extension of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, but the parties seem far from reaching a consensus.

The hope is that, in the next 10 days, common ground will be found, avoiding a strike that could cast a shadow over the much-anticipated start of the 2024 MLS season.