Soccer’s Silent Heroes: How Much Does An MLS Referee Make?

Andrew Kovacs

The compensation of referees in Major League Soccer (MLS) is a topic of interest for many soccer enthusiasts and aspiring officials. 

As the guardians of fair play and the upholders of the laws of the game, referees play a crucial role in the success of every match. 

Understanding the financial aspect of their profession provides valuable insight into the level of dedication and expertise required to officiate at the highest level of North American soccer. 

In this exploration, we delve into how much an MLS referee makes. By shedding light on the intricacies of MLS referee compensation, we gain a deeper appreciation for the commitment and dedication these officials bring to the pitch.

How Much Does An MLS Referee Make?

It’s important to note that my knowledge has a cutoff date of September 2021, and salaries for MLS referees might have changed since then. 

As of that time, here are the key points regarding MLS referee salaries:

Compensation Structure

MLS referees’ salaries are structured differently from players and coaches. Referees are considered part-time employees, meaning they don’t have full-time contracts with the league. Instead, they are paid per game they officiate.

Per Match Fees

The per-match fees for MLS referees can vary based on their experience and the importance of the game. 

In general, senior referees with more experience and higher officiating grades tend to earn higher per-match fees.

Development and Advancement

Referees in MLS can progress through different officiating levels, with higher grades offering increased pay rates. 

Achieving higher grades usually comes with experience and successful performance in officiating higher-level games.

Additional Earnings

Some MLS referees might have opportunities to officiate in other competitions, such as international matches or tournaments, which can provide additional income beyond their regular MLS assignments.


MLS, like most professional sports leagues, tends to keep specific salary information confidential. Therefore, exact figures for MLS referee salaries are not publicly disclosed.

It’s worth noting that the salary structure for MLS referees might be influenced by collective bargaining agreements or negotiations between the Professional Referee Organization (PRO), which oversees officiating in MLS, and the referees’ union. 

As with any profession, referee salaries can vary based on experience, level of competition, and the overall demand for their services.

Who Is The Highest-Paid Referee In MLS? 

Who Is The Highest-Paid Referee In MLS

Source: soccerfeed

MLS, like many other professional sports leagues, tends to keep salary information confidential. As a result, there is no publicly available data to definitively identify the highest-paid referee in MLS.

MLS referees are generally considered part-time employees, and their compensation structure typically involves per-match fees. 

The amount of pay for each match can vary based on the referee’s experience, officiating grade, and the significance of the game.

It’s important to note that salaries for MLS referees might change over time due to factors such as collective bargaining agreements, changes in league policies, or individual referee performances. 

Therefore, any information regarding the highest-paid referee in MLS would require updates from more recent sources or official announcements from the league or the Professional Referee Organization (PRO), which oversees officiating in MLS.

How Long Does It Take To Become an MLS Referee?

How Long Does It Take To Become an MLS Referee

Source: si

Becoming an MLS referee is a process that requires dedication, training, and experience. 

While the exact timeline can vary depending on individual circumstances, here are the key steps involved in becoming an MLS referee:

Grassroots Officiating

The journey typically begins at the grassroots level, where aspiring referees start by officiating youth and amateur matches. 

This stage is crucial for gaining practical experience, understanding the rules of the game, and developing basic officiating skills.

Entry-Level Courses

Aspiring referees need to attend entry-level referee courses conducted by their local soccer governing bodies or referee associations. 

These courses cover the laws of the game, match management, and positioning on the field. Successful completion of the course earns participants a certification to officiate at the amateur level.

Advancing through Levels

To progress to higher levels of officiating, referees need to accumulate experience and complete additional training and assessments. 

The process involves officiating matches at increasingly competitive levels, gaining recognition from local referee authorities, and achieving higher officiating grades.

Professional Referee Development

As referees gain experience and demonstrate consistent high-level performances, they may catch the attention of MLS officials. 

The Professional Referee Organization (PRO), responsible for overseeing officiating in MLS, identifies and develops talented referees for professional competitions.

MLS Referee Assessment

The final step to becoming an MLS referee involves further evaluation and assessment by the PRO. Referees are evaluated based on their on-field performances, decision-making, and overall fitness levels. 

If selected, they may start officiating in lower-tier professional leagues before earning assignments to MLS matches.

The timeline for becoming an MLS referee can vary widely, depending on factors such as individual dedication, officiating opportunities, and the referee’s ability to progress through the ranks.

Some may achieve this milestone in a few years, while for others, it might take longer to reach the highest level of professional officiating in Major League Soccer.

Factors That Affect a Referee’s Salary in MLS

Factors That Affect a Referee's Salary in MLS

Source: mlssoccer

Several factors influence a referee’s salary in Major League Soccer (MLS), and understanding these factors can provide insight into their compensation structure. Here are the key factors that affect a referee’s salary in MLS:

Experience and Officiating Grade

Referees in MLS are classified into different officiating grades based on their experience, performance, and qualifications. 

Senior referees with more years of experience and higher officiating grades tend to earn higher salaries than those in lower grades.

Match Assignments

The number and significance of match assignments can impact a referee’s earnings. MLS referees are paid on a per-match basis, and officiating high-profile matches or playoff games generally results in higher pay compared to regular-season games.

Collective Bargaining Agreements

The salary structure for MLS referees may be influenced by collective bargaining agreements negotiated between the Professional Referee Organization (PRO) and the referees’ union. 

These agreements can define pay scales, performance-based incentives, and other financial aspects.

Officiating in Other Competitions

Some MLS referees may have the opportunity to officiate in other competitions outside of MLS, such as international matches or tournaments. 

Officiating in additional competitions can provide supplemental income beyond their regular MLS assignments.

Performance and Evaluation

Referees’ performance on the field is closely monitored and evaluated by the PRO. Consistently making accurate decisions, maintaining proper positioning, and effectively managing matches can lead to recognition and potentially higher pay.

Travel and Expenses

Referees are often required to travel extensively to officiate matches, and their expenses, such as travel, accommodation, and meals, are typically covered by the league. The extent of travel and associated expenses can impact a referee’s overall compensation package.

Referee Assignments in Other Leagues

Some MLS referees may officiate matches in other domestic or international leagues, which can contribute to their overall income and professional development.

The combination of these factors determines a referee’s salary in MLS, and it’s important to note that salaries may vary from one referee to another based on their individual experience, achievements, and opportunities within the league.

Role of a Referee in Soccer: Responsibilities & Duties

The role of a referee in soccer is essential to ensure fair play, uphold the laws of the game, and maintain order on the field. 

Referees play a pivotal role in overseeing matches and have several responsibilities and duties to fulfill during gameplay:

Enforcing the Laws of the Game

The primary responsibility of a referee is to enforce the laws of soccer during a match. 

They are responsible for interpreting and applying the rules fairly and consistently to ensure a level playing field for both teams.

Start and Control the Match

The referee is responsible for starting the match, ensuring both teams have the correct number of players on the field, and verifying their equipment. 

Once the match begins, the referee must control the flow of the game, making decisions on fouls, misconduct, and stoppages.

Officiate Fairly and Impartially

Referees must maintain impartiality and officiate the match objectively without favouring any team. 

Their decisions should be based on the rules of the game and the specific situation at hand, free from bias or external influences.

Manage Match Incidents

Referees must manage various match incidents, including fouls, injuries, substitutions, and stoppages. 

They have the authority to stop play when necessary, administer disciplinary actions for misconduct, and ensure player safety.

Communication with Players and Coaches

Effective communication is crucial for a referee to manage the game efficiently. Referees should communicate with players and team officials, explaining their decisions when required and managing player conduct during the match.


The referee is responsible for keeping track of the match time, including stoppage time added for injuries and other delays. They signal the end of each half and the match itself.

Decision Making and Use of VAR

Referees must make quick and accurate decisions in real-time. In some competitions, they may use Video Assistant Referee (VAR) technology to review critical incidents and ensure fair play.

Report Writing

After the match, referees typically complete a match report detailing any significant incidents, misconduct, injuries, and other relevant information. 

These reports are essential for record-keeping and may influence disciplinary actions.

The role of a referee in soccer is multifaceted, involving enforcing the laws of the game, maintaining fair play, controlling the match, and ensuring player safety. 

Effective communication, decision-making, and impartiality are critical attributes for referees to manage matches successfully and contribute to the integrity of the sport.


How much do MLS referees typically earn? 

MLS referee salaries can vary based on several factors, including experience, officiating grade, and match assignments. As part-time employees, referees are typically paid on a per-match basis rather than an annual salary.

Do MLS referees receive compensation for all matches they officiate? 

MLS referees are paid per match they officiate, which means their earnings depend on the number and significance of their assignments. High-profile games or playoff matches may result in higher pay compared to regular-season games.

Are there performance-based incentives for MLS referees? 

Performance-based incentives may be included in the compensation structure for MLS referees. Referees who consistently demonstrate high-quality officiating and receive positive evaluations may be eligible for additional rewards or bonuses.

How do officiating grades impact MLS referee salaries? 

Referees in MLS are categorized into different officiating grades based on their experience and qualifications. Higher officiating grades are typically associated with increased per-match fees, reflecting the referees’ expertise and seniority.

Are MLS referee salaries publicly disclosed? 

MLS, like many other professional sports leagues, tends to keep specific salary information for referees confidential. As a result, exact figures for MLS referee salaries are not publicly disclosed, and individual referee earnings may not be readily available to the public.


The compensation of MLS referees is influenced by various factors, making their earnings a dynamic aspect of their officiating careers. 

Experience, officiating grades, match assignments, and collective bargaining agreements play a significant role in determining the financial rewards for referees in Major League Soccer. 

While the specific details of individual referee salaries remain confidential, it is evident that these officials are valued for their expertise, impartiality, and commitment to upholding the integrity of the game. 

The responsibilities they carry, both on and off the field, highlight the importance of investing in their development, growth, and well-being as they contribute to the success of MLS and the vibrant soccer culture in North America.

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Andrew Kovacs

I am a Head Boys Soccer Coach at Amherst Regional Public Schools in Massachusetts. I have coached for the past five years and I am currently working on my master's degree in Exercise Science. I coach soccer because I love the game and I enjoy being around the kids. It is rewarding to see them develop their skills and grow as individuals. LinkedIn