PHILADELPHIA – Even an ocean away, Howard Webb could see soccer in the United States was improving every year.
Because of that, the famed British referee also had a feeling that the officiating must improve with it. And in his new role as general manager of the Professional Referee Organization, that’s exactly what Webb plans to do.
“This game’s growing here,” Webb told MLSsoccer.com from the Pennsylvania Convention Center shortly before Friday’s MLS SuperDraft. “It’s gonna get better, it’s gonna get faster, it’s gonna get more demanding, no doubt about it. And the expectations of what our officials deliver will continue to rise. So we have to meet those demands.”
Webb, who was installed as the PRO GM this past Thursday after leading the league’s Video Review efforts since March of last year, said he’s working on a structured plan to “create the best environment” for MLS refs, which includes giving them extra resources and modern training techniques to stay fit.
And like it is for MLS teams, scouting and development will be instrumental to the organization’s long-term health.
“We have to put the right people in place to mentor them, to guide them, and the right structures in place to identify talent,” he said. “We need to work closely with US Soccer to identify the right people to get through to MLS.”
As for Video Review, which was adopted midway through the 2017 season, Webb predicted the league’s officials will become more efficient in terms of recognizing which plays should and should not be reviewed, reiterating that the technology should only be used when a “clear error is made” and that they should try to stay away from getting “heavily involved in things that are subjective, judgement calls.”
But in a lot of ways, making those decisions can only come with more time on the job and the sample size needed to effectively differentiate those situations.
“No matter how experienced our officials are, VAR is something new,” Webb said. “So we’re still really young in the project. People clearly need to have some patience. But overall, in the short space of time we’ve been doing it, I’ve seen big improvements in terms of the consistency.”
The only person to referee the finals of both the UEFA Champions League and FIFA World Cup in the same year (2010), Webb has certainly been in the spotlight before.
Even so, he’s eager to face the challenges his new job presents, calling it an “honor and a privilege” to work in a country where he sees a lot of energy, passion and ambition for a sport on the upswing.
“The future’s pretty bright,” Webb said. “Our officials are getting better and better. That will continue, hopefully, into my stewardship over the next three years.”