Athletics has received the list of umpires’ duties for this weekend Major League Soccer games, which includes officials with different degrees of experience.

While some have been heavily involved in games in the second and third divisions of the US soccer pyramid, others are making the leap from the higher levels of youth soccer. Some of the assistant referees have worked primarily in college games.

MLS has been forced to play games with substitute officials after the Professional Referees Organization (PRO) could not agree with the Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA) on a new collective bargaining agreement. With the season fast approaching, the PRO locked its referees out and assembled a group of officials to replace them. PRO and PSRA are meeting on Wednesday to continue negotiations, according to a source briefed on the situation.

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Athletics it is not identifying the officials by name. PRO has expressed concern that substitute judges may be targeted. On Friday, it declined to comment on the list of officials, but said it would release Saturday and Sunday’s match assignments, in accordance with its policies.

Referees calling professional matches in the United States are subject to licensing by the US Soccer Federation, which has its own criteria for certification at several different levels.

Of the referees assigned to MLS action on Saturday, 24 of them have the federation’s basic “referee” license, while 19 have met the criteria for a regional license, US Soccer’s intermediate license. Seventeen of those involved are USSF-certified “national” umpires, the highest certification available from the federation.

A basic “umpire” license is available to anyone over the age of 13 who meets the certification requirements, which include several hours of online or in-person training and (if over the age of 18) a background check. Some of the officials who have only achieved the basic level of certification have professional experience. The PRO has foreign officials to officiate games that are based in the US, and those officials have achieved the basic level of certification as a requirement to officiate MLS games.

Inter Miami

Substitute referees (left to right) Albert Escovar, Cristian Campo Hernandez, Jonathan Weiner and Fevzi Demirhan before the Inter Miami game on Wednesday (Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

The “regional” license goes to judges who are at least 18 years old and have worked as officials for at least two years. Certification as a regional referee involves completing at least 25 games as a referee and 15 games as an assistant referee at the adult amateur level, along with a number of other training requirements and a fitness test. They also undergo multiple “match assessments”, real-life examinations of their performance at youth amateur and U-18 or U-19 level. Adult amateur games are matches with a central referee and at least two assistant referees.

The highest level of soccer certification in the US is the “national” license. National judges are 21 years of age or older, selected through an application process, and hold regional licenses for at least two consecutive years. They have been part of at least 65 games at the senior amateur level and must complete extensive training in person. They must also meet FIFA’s fitness requirements and have their own more stringent in-person performance assessments.

The increased pressure and stakes for some of these officials are significant. Some of them have recently been involved in college games attended by very few fans. Over the weekend, they will call games in sold-out stadiums and under intense scrutiny.

The 2024 season began earlier this week with Inter Miami’s 2-0 win over Real Salt Lakepeating the return of Lionel Messi AND Luis Suarezthe debut of From the referee’s point of view, Wednesday’s game went largely without incident. A more extensive test will come this weekend when the collection of PRO replacements will call the remaining 14 games of the week.

The center referees officiating this weekend’s matches have varying levels of experience. Many of them have officiated extensively in the USL Championship, USL League One, MLS Next Pro and the now defunct North American Soccer League. Others have experience calling US Open Cup games and a handful have even served in some capacity in MLS and NWSL the matches.

(Photo: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

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