Sophia Smith joins NWSL chorus in calling out league’s referees

(Amy Kontras/USA TODAY Sports)

NWSL officiating continues to come under fire this season, as Portland Thorns star Sophia Smith called out a questionable no-call from the team’s latest match.

Smith had raced to the front of the Kansas City Current goal when she was tackled from behind by a Current player. No foul was called on the play, and the match ended in a 1-1 draw.

“I will be practicing how to shoot the ball when both legs get completely taken out from under me,” wrote Smith, who also stars for the U.S. women’s national team.

“Fouls like this are exactly how I broke my leg in college, that’s why they can’t go unnoticed,” she added in a follow-up tweet.

Her Thorns teammate Kelli Hubly responded to Smith’s original tweet, saying that she too would be “learning how to take a knee and cleat to the ribs without thinking my rib cage is broken.”

NWSL coaches and players have increasingly called out the refereeing, and just last month a pair of officials were penalized for what the Professional Referee Organization, which supplies the league’s officials, called an “egregious officiating error.”

Most of the league’s referees also work other jobs, and they do not have a collective bargaining agreement. That could change, though, as PRO announced in July that it had withdrawn its appeal preventing the Professional Soccer Referees Association’s attempt to unionize.

The NWSL has also taken steps to improve the refereeing, with the league adopting VAR beginning with the 2023 season. The introduction of VAR would mean that no-calls could go under review.

NWSL commissioner Jessica Berman has called VAR the “single most important thing” that the league could do to improve officiating in the league. But the league is taking other steps to improve officiating.

“Really, it’s not only VAR for next season,” Berman said. “We are taking a much more proactive approach in partnering with PRO so that our players, our coaches, our chief soccer officers start to increase their confidence with how this is being implemented and also have an opportunity to have feedback on ways that we can improve.”