I don't think it's a stretch to say that Major League Soccer has a problem with its referees at the moment.

It is not just a Major League Soccer problem, of course. Referees in this country are trained by the United States Soccer Federation - and let's make that very clear, because if you get upset over a bad call, that's where you should aim your fire.

And it's certainly not just a problem in America, either. There isn't a soccer league on the planet in which a week goes by without a coach, a player or a fan base expressing outrage over a call or non-call they didn't like. It happens at every level of the game too, from youth soccer to professional clubs to the World Cup.

But the issue has been especially pronounced in MLS in recent weeks. The league is perceived as being "physical," and some people think this is a bad thing. Others do not. The variance in perceptions does not break down evenly across groups of people either - you will find fans, coaches, players and members of the media with opinions of all different kinds on the matter.

Don Garber, the league's commissioner, has quite directly expressed a desire that the league should promote a brand of soccer that is creative and attractive to watch. As with the perception of physicality in the league, you will get a range of opinions from a range of people about the merits of Garber's position.

(I am being polite here. It won't last, but let me go this way for now.)

The people who are charged with manifesting Garber's vision are in three camps: coaches, players and referees. The coaches draw up tactics and choose which players to put on the field; the players execute that vision in a way that is based on their skill sets; and the referees tell the players when their actions have violated the sport's rules.

That last clause is what has caused most of the problems in MLS over the last two weeks. The rules of soccer are simple, but are also open to some interpretation by the officials. Not every referee has the same view of whether a given foul is worth just a free kick, a yellow card or a red card.

There is a sliding scale somewhere here. In the last few weeks, MLS referees have moved rather clearly towards the end of the scale that produces more whistles and more cards. Again, you may or may not like this turn of events, depending on how you think soccer should be played.

But it has happened, and now MLS' referees are in the spotlight more than ever. The spotlight became even brighter in late April, when in the span of barely 24 hours MLS lost two of its most creative players - Seattle's Steve Zakuani and FC Dallas' David Ferreira - to potentially season-ending injuries.

Since then. MLS referees have seemed to be a lot quicker to call fouls and assess cards. We saw this first-hand on Saturday at PPL Park, when Mark Geiger gave out four yellow cards and one red in the first 60 minutes of the game.

Here is the official misconduct summary from MLS' game recap:

PHI -- Amobi Okugo (caution; Reckless Foul) 27
PHI -- Faryd Mondragón (caution; Unsporting Behavior) 31
SJ -- Brandon McDonald (caution; Unsporting Behavior) 32
PHI -- Jordan Harvey (ejection; Violent Conduct) 41
SJ -- Bobby Convey (caution; Delaying a Restart) 60


Okugo's yellow card was for an elbow to the head of Steven Lenhart as the two players went up for the ball. The simultaneous cards to Mondragón and McDonald were for their roles in a ruckus that erupted after Mondragón and Chris Wondolowski collided with each other chasing a loose ball in the six-yard box.

The game got quite testy after that. Geiger was tasked with what is known in soccer parlance as "taking control of the match" - getting the players to stop fouling each other. Most referees do this by calling more fouls and assessing cards. That is what Geiger did, but the manner in which he did so deserves serious scrutiny.

In the 41st minute, San Jose's Chris Leitch slid under Jordan Harvey as the pair converged on a loose ball. Harvey's legs got caught between Leitch's legs. In order to get untangled, Harvey pushed off of Leitch's chest with his left foot. As Harvey did so, Leitch swung his left foot high and tried to kick Harvey in the backside.

Geiger blew his whistle and immediately ran towards the pair. He sent Harvey off with a straight red, but did nothing at all to Leitch. The fans at PPL Park howled in anger.