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Officiating: Are Red and Yellow Cards on the Rise in MLS?

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Does it only seem like there are more fouls, bookings and players sent off in Major League Soccer this season or are the numbers on the rise?

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

It was more of the same for Orlando City Saturday night, as the team once again ran into issues with the officiating in the Lions' 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls. OCSC's Cyle Larin was sent off with a red card in the 32nd minute. It was the third consecutive game Orlando City has played with a man down, as Luke Boden and Kaká received red cards in previous games.

The call itself has been another example of inconsistent officiating that has affected not only Orlando City, but MLS in general. With questionable tackling calls providing goal-scoring opportunities in games via PKs, and rough play at other times ignored, it has led to the league getting attention for a group on the pitch that aren't the players.

Maybe it's the the news cycle, the internet or the general cynicism of many sports fans that is the cause for so much scrutiny of the referees as there has been this year. In 2015, we now not only know the names of the officials, but we are able to look up their history of calls made on the pitch.

As much scrutiny as the officials have been under this year, it could lead one to think that there is an increase in the amount of fouls being called throughout the games. The numbers of the past and present may suggest such.

Looking at yellow and red cards called this year, the numbers initially don't appear too alarming when compared to the last five years. As of Sunday morning, Orlando City is second in the league with six red cards this season. It is the same number of red cards as league leaders Sporting Kansas City and Columbus had all year in the 2012 season.

Since 2010, the numbers of fouls being called have actually stayed fairly consistent. In 2010, the Sounders led MLS in yellow cards with 57, while Toronto FC led the league in red cards with eight. In 2011, D.C. United had an MLS-high 65 yellow cards, while the New York Red Bulls had nine red cards. While Sporting Kansas City and Columbus led the league in red cards in 2012, Philadelphia had 70 yellow cards. In 2013, Chivas USA led the league with 66 yellow cards and Vancouver had a league-high 11 red cards. Last year, Houston led the league with 70 yellow cards and tied Sporting Kansas City with the most red cards, with nine.

Vancouver currently is leading the league in yellow cards, with 50, averaging 2.4 yellow cards per game. At this point, they are on pace to have approximately 82 yellow cards, which would be the highest out of the last six seasons. Real Salt Lake, which leads the league with seven red cards, is also on pace to have one of the highest red card totals in league history.

The officiating will continue to be a point of contention throughout the season and will be something Major League Soccer will need to examine in the off-season. While the previous five seasons have been consistent, the slight increase in numbers— and perceived inconsistencies— are something the league will have to take note of.