On Monday, Alan Kelly won the MLS Referee of the Year Award for the third time. As custom, he also won the opportunity to referee the MLS Cup Final between Atlanta United and Portland Timbers. Atlanta’s results with Kelly as referee are somewhat of a mixed bag.
Since United’s inception, Kelly has refereed six times for the Five Stripes. In those matches, Atlanta only has one win, a 2-1 victory over Orlando City in May. United drew 1-1 against the Timbers in Portland last season, as well as another draw against Red Bulls last October. Unfortunately, Atlanta has lost three times with Kelly as ref: 2-1 against Montreal Impact and 2-0 against Chicago Fire in 2017, and the infamous 3-2 meltdown against Dallas FC this season.
Discipline awarded by Kelly has been typical, but not without controversy. Over the six games, Kelly has awarded nine yellow cards with a pretty fair balance and consistency among the clubs involved. However, one goal up against Montreal in 2017, Kelly awarded a red card to Leandro Gonzalez Pirez for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity in the box right before halftime. Four days later, an Independent Panel unanimously rescinded Gonzalez Pirez’s red card, disagreeing with Kelly’s in-game decision.
Saturday will be Alan Kelly’s first trip to Mercedes-Benz Stadium. As the MLS’s best referee and a history of being pretty fair with discipline, his assignment should not pose a bad omen for the Five Stripes. But for the first time in his MLS career, if he botches a call, there will be 72,000+ ready to let him know about it.