Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Look Inside the Lines

Since the 2009 Spring Showcase began this week, some of the referees have been keeping some notes on what it's like to be an official during this hectic but exciting weekend. Over the next few days, we'll share their thoughts and experiences to give you a better idea of the challenge all referees face in keeping matches clean, fair and safe.

Travel Day and Day 1 of the Development Academy

On Thursday, I arrived in Bradenton, Fla., along with 124 referees from all over the United States to work the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Showcase games, marking the second year that I have refereed in at an Academy Showcase. The Showcase started for the referees on Thursday night at 8 p.m. with a meeting. As I sat in the room full of US Soccer staff and peers I felt the excitement of what was to come. The meeting opened with the tournament director’s announcements and expectations for the week. There was a bit of instruction and video clips from the Development Academy Finals Week from last year, and before we received our assignments for the next day, the director introduced us to the assessors and FIFA referees that would be watching and mentoring us over the next several days. After we received our assignments, we went out to the lobby to socialize and meet new referees we would be working with the next day.

The Showcase is taking place at the Sarasota Polo fields, and as I looked out across the 20 soccer fields, every one of them looked pristine. Each referee had at least two to three games on the first day. I was part of three matches on the first day — two Under-15/16 and one Under-17/18 match. The teams I watched were very disciplined and responded with professionalism.

Impressed at the level of play, I felt anticipation for my game in the middle. The athletes on both teams seemed to want an open game and I did my best to let the play continue as much as possible. Overall, the teams in this tournament possess great technical ability and speed, and I was looking forward to my games on Saturday.


Day 2

My first game started at 9 a.m. and was between the Under-17/18 Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls. I knew the match would be good. The officiating team did our pre-game and checked the players in.

The match began and it was off to the races we went. The first half included four fouls and two goals. The players seemed to be happy with the level at which we were calling the game.

During the second half, we had two cautions for unsporting behavior. I was amazed at some of the spot kicks the players took. Watch out, Beckham! You have some competition coming up behind you! I saw a shot that barely passed over the wall and hit the top right corner of the net. Awesome! The guys moved the ball so well. The game ended with a 4-0 score.

An assessor evaluates the referees after each match and we talk about the situations in the games. This is the developmental part of our “game” as referees. Here we have a chance to take constructive criticism and use it to better ourselves as professionals. We talked about what happened in the game and how we should work on improving our split-second responses. Experiences that happen in the game allow us to be better prepared to react the next time a similar situation happens. It’s a good learning experience for the referees. That’s what helps the referee improve. This tournament has been helpful because we are getting feedback on the decisions we are making from minds that have been there and know this incredible game.

After assessments it is nice to go out and watch other referees call their games. There is so much talent here! Any information you can obtain by watching or talking to any of the U.S. Soccer family is priceless.

-M.J.