Referee Week: An introduction to the 2013 edition of MLSsoccer's exclusive series

Eleven men a side. One ball. And one man in the middle who decides what’s within the rules. And what isn’t.

Soccer referees have more influence over the game they’re calling than the officials in any other sport. From banishing players to the stands, to deciding who gets a penalty – roughly 75 percent conversion rate in MLS history, by the way – to exactly how long the game itself lasts, the men in the middle of every soccer match act as prosecutors, judges, and juries for the perpetrators of the good, the bad, and the ugly our sport offers up.

At least, they don't act as executioners – that's left to the players who take the penalty kicks and the league authorities who decide the disciplinary rules.

A Look Back: Referee Week, 2011 Style

The vagaries and nuances of officiating are part of what makes soccer great. Almost invariably, referees play a role in the action, sometimes merely as members of the chorus, sometimes as central figures in the play.

This week on, refs are not merely supporting actors: they play the lead. They are the protagonists.

It’s Ref Week here at, a special series examining the many facets of officiating today. We take a behind-the-scenes look at the people with the whistles and flags, what they do, and how MLS and the US and Canadian federations are working together to develop them. 

Ref Week starts on Monday, with a mix of think pieces and fun features, including:

  • a one-year examination of the Professional Referees Organization (PRO)
  • an inside look at the work of the Disciplinary Committee
  • three ways to improve officiating immediately
  • a series of “You make the call” videos
  • and more…

The hope is that, by the end of the week, the fans feel a new respect for what the typical ref does in 90 minutes on the pitch, why the game is called as it is, and exactly how it feels to be the one guy on the field that nobody is rooting for.