MLS referees reach a deal to return to the field this weekend

The lockout of MLS referees is over.

The Professional Referees Organization and the union representing MLS’s match officials, the Professional Soccer Referees Association, have reached a deal on a new collective bargaining agreement that will run until 2030, the sides announced on Tuesday.

That means no more replacement referees for MLS matches; the usual officials will return to the field when the regular season resumes on Saturday with a game between the Philadelphia Union and Minnesota United.

The seven-year pact between PRO and its officials is the longest in league history.

“We look forward to having the PRO match officials return this weekend,” Nelson Rodríguez, MLS’s executive vice president of sporting product  and competition, said in a statement. “We thank MLS players, coaches and clubs for their professionalism, and our fans for their support throughout the opening month of the season.”

MLS locked out its referees and assistants on the eve of the new season after the union’s members overwhelmingly rejected a new proposed CBA. MLS has used replacement officials since the 2024 campaign kicked off on Feb. 21. The games mostly went on as normal in the absence of the regular refs and assistants, though there were a few major, result-altering errors made by the stand-ins, many of whom were elevated from the college and amateur ranks.

CF Montreal coach Laurent Courtois publicly complained about the performance of the officiating crew after his team suffered a 4-3 loss to the Chicago Fire on March 16, citing what he believed were four separate mistakes. “Something was taken away from my guys, and it’s hard to swallow,” said Courtois.

Charlotte FC coach Dean Smith and LA Galaxy captain Maya Yoshida also spoke out. “I hope (the union) makes a deal with the league as soon as possible,” Yoshida said.

Now they have. Terms were not disclosed, but Rodríguez said that MLS officials’ pay and working conditions now “ranks among the highest for any global soccer league.”

“We’re pleased this agreement provides PRO with a strong, long-term partnership to continue to develop and train the referees to make our officiating even better.”

Doug McIntyre is a soccer reporter for FOX Sports. He was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports before joining FOX Sports in 2021, and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at FIFA World Cups on five continents. Follow him @ByDougMcIntyre.

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