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As NWSL fines Spirit coach Kris Ward, officiating remains a sticking point

(Andy Mead/USA TODAY Sports)

Both coach Kris Ward and the Washington Spirit were fined by the NWSL on Tuesday for comments made by Ward and by the team’s social media account about the league’s refereeing. The amount of the fines is unknown.

Following the Spirit’s game on May 18, Ward called out the officiating in that game, saying the referees deserved “a failing grade in every sense of the word tonight.” He also criticized the officiating in the league as a whole this season, pointing to a perceived lack of safety for players.

The Professional Soccer Referees Association is negotiating a collective bargaining agreement for the NWSL’s referees, which work for the Professional Referee Organization, according to a recent ESPN report.

Under the current system, NWSL officials receive less pay and less training than MLS officials. PRO places the NWSL at the same level as the men’s lower-division United Soccer League, and officials who do well in those leagues could get called up to the MLS.

Most, if not all, of the 88 referees in PRO’s NWSL and USL pool also maintain other jobs in addition to their officiating assignments. While there has been work to find solutions, there’s a referee shortage at the youth level which affects the number of referees available to progress through the system.

Meanwhile, coaches continue to criticize officiating standards in the NWSL. The criticism has increased this season, most recently with Ward.

“The leagues want improved quality of officiating on the field,” PSRA executive director Steve Taylor told ESPN. “Our people want to deliver that, and the way to deliver that — one very obvious way to deliver that — is to increase the amount of training that is offered by PRO. That’s the very purpose of PRO as a company, to train high-level officials. That’s something that costs money.”