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Meet Cristian Campo Hernandez: Ex-College Ref Turned Replacement Referee for Lionel Messi & Inter Miami’s MLS 2024 Season Opener

Published 02/21/2024, 8:33 PM EST

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The 2024 MLS season kicks off in its traditional fashion, with Inter Miami taking on Real Salt Lake. But the fixture saw an unconventional change as stand-in referees took charge of officiating the match. This comes after the tussle between the Professional Soccer Referees Association (PRSA) and the Professional Referee Organization (PRO) over the collective bargaining agreement. With curiosity prompted by the question of who would officiate this crucial encounter, enter Cristian Campo Hernandez.

Cristian is a former college referee thrust into the spotlight as a replacement for the evening’s proceedings. He will be officiating tonight’s match between Inter Miami and Real Salt Lake. It might be interesting to know that last year, he oversaw matches in the USL Championship’s second division and had prior experience as an NCAA referee. The Spaniard was also involved in the PRO talent identification program, which PRO employs to spot and nurture future MLS referees.

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Assisting him were Fevzi Demirhan, who officiates in USL League One and MLS Next Pro, and Albert Escovar, who also works in the USL Championship and MLS Next Pro. According to The Athletic, the aforementioned referees are selected from PRO’s pool of 66 replacement officials. Out of this group, 26 are eligible to be assigned as a referee or fourth official, while 29 can serve as assistant referees. Yet, a major question arises. 

Why is the MLS 2024 season opener of Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami being officiated by stand-in referees?

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The collective bargaining agreement between the PSRA and PRO expired on January 15, prompting PRO to present a 5-year contract offer. They proposed a significant increase in overall compensation, estimated at around 25%, covering retainers, game fees, salary hikes, and additional perks such as business class travel for certain events.

However, the core of the disagreement revolves around pay and working conditions. Despite this offer, over 96% of PRSA members voted against the proposed labor agreement, citing insufficient support for officials.

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Consequently, PRO announced that unionized match officials would be prohibited from working until a deal was struck. Since February 18, PSRA officials have been barred from their duties, while PRO has been making arrangements for the opening week of the season without its primary officiating team. Notably, this situation mirrors a similar occurrence in 2014, when MLS utilized substitute officials for the first two weeks until a contract agreement was reached.

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Written by:

Abhishek Mishra

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Abhishek Mishra is a senior Soccer Writer at EssentiallySports. His early exposure to playing soccer earned him many accolades at college divisions, making him a sports enthusiast. While closely following daily updates for over a decade, Abhishek is well-versed in European soccer and now the MLS, as well.
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Edited by:

Daniel D'Cruz