We have lots to cover in this discussion, so let’s get right to it.
The introduction of Official Reviews (use of Instant Replay) in Major League Soccer is long overdue, and I fully support a roll out as soon as 2016… assuming U.S. Soccer and Sunil Gulati can somehow obtain the blessings of FIFA (lame duck) President Sepp Blatter.
At the risk of potentially “dehumanizing” the world’s most emotional sport… why should MLS use video replays? Let me count the ways… and allow me to begin by stating for the record that not every idea shared in this article is my own, but you’ll soon see that my position is a bit more extreme than others.
Every year or two, we read with great interest about the arrival of a new referee in Major League Soccer, and it’s usually all about reaching the pinnacle of a career after a journey of 12+ years of dedication, determination and incredibly hard work. Mental anguish, battling burnout, overcoming the taunts of abusive parents (yes, the antics of spectators at a U10 game)… so many of our MLS referees were tried-and-tested first at the competitive youth level, and were then thrown into the deep fryer of ethnic amateur games for several years, where survival instincts advance the best and bravest to the next level.
And it certainly helps if the ball takes a favorable bounce or two along the way.
The predominant unwritten rule (or at least the prevailing trend) suggests that officiating talent must be “discovered” before age 25 and continuously refined over ten or so years, so that we can herald the arrival of the next Brian Hall, Kevin Stott or Mark Geiger before the referee turns 35.
Of course, there are notable exceptions to nearly every rule, and that’s a very good thing.
Making up for lost time, Robert Sibiga, all of 41 years young, has arrived on the scene in Major League Soccer, and deservedly so after dedicating the last seven years of his life to studying, growing and advancing with the World’s Game. To say he made up for lost time is an understatement, and if his first two MLS performances are a true indication of the man’s talent, we’re probably going to see a lot more of him.
If the third time’s a charm, what is the fourth time?
For the US Open Cup, the Fourth Round of competition (the Round of 32 teams and 16 games) signaled the anticipated debut of the 17 U.S.-based MLS teams. And while only two matches saw MLS teams fall to lower division opponents (one each from the NASL and USL), three other MLS sides squeaked by via penalty tiebreakers.
Speaking of fours – before the Orlando City/Charleston Battery game was ultimately decided by 10 rounds of tiebreaker kicks from the mark, referee Rubiel Vazquez whistled and pointed to the spot no less than four times. Orlando City’s Carlos Rivas bagged his first career hat trick by converting all three penalty kicks awarded to the Lions. Interesting stuff indeed.
Nostalgia time. I remember my first Major League Soccer assignment like it was yesterday: Old Mile High Stadium in Denver… April 14, 2001. This rookie was going to be the Junior Assistant Referee for Kevin Stott in the Colorado Rapids’ home opener against the MetroStars. In hindsight, I probably should have informed Kevin more than 30 minutes prior to kick-off that this would be my first career MLS game.
No worries. Mr. Stott has an amazing sense of humor. And an even more amazing presence on the field.
Our 140,000+ registered soccer referees here in the United States are extremely fortunate to have professional peers from which to learn. While cheering on their favorite or hometown teams, aspiring referees can tune into Major League Soccer games for nine months out of the year and study how referees recognize foul play, take risks to maximize game flow, manage player behaviors, and apply the Laws of the Game. Television coverage of pro soccer has grown by leaps and bounds over MLS’ first two decades.
Just one request: Please don’t emulate the pro referees’ mechanics when they issue yellow cards. What works for them might not work as well for you…
When it comes to issuing cautions, our aspiring officials – especially Grade 7 referees working adult games at the amateur level (AGAL) and in particular those who fly solo (without assistant referees) – must consistently get it right, as their success in managing the game absolutely depends on it.
The next time someone stops the car to admire my holiday lights, I am going to ask for a small donation. There is so much I hope to see accomplished over the next year… lots of influence to be had, yet my budget remains miniscule, and I’ve yet to receive my electric bill from the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power.
OK, I will put down the eggnog long enough to complete my wish list for the next twelve months. Here goes nothing, except perhaps my reputation… please stop laughing and read on as I share emerging stories I am anxiously following and headlines I would like to read in 2015.
Americans steal the show in Canada: Assuming they are not actually devoured by their Group of Death, the U.S. Women’s National Team should advance and could again reach the Final of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup CanadaTM… and I certainly hope that they do. But should they falter in their quest to raise the Cup, then my Plan B calls for American referee Margaret Domka and her crew to be assigned to officiate the Final, earning Ms. Domka a place in American soccer history alongside Sandra Hunt and Kari Seitz. Maybe my hope is one quadrennial cycle premature… then again, Mark Geiger seized his opportunity in Brazil before coming up one “Serious Foul Play” short of running the table.
I love autumn. The leaves are turning color. The air has become crisp (last night’s temp dropped to 52F). My Clippers and Kings are off to a solid (if not entirely promising) start. And so many Facebook friends are posting photos of their NCAA, NJCAA and NAIA playoff matches… some in short sleeves, others in long sleeves… and then there’s the occasional parka!
On December 14, all eyes will turn to Cary, North Carolina and WakeMed Soccer Park in anticipation of the 2014 NCAA Men’s College Cup. A crowd expected to exceed 7,000 will witness the pinnacle of collegiate soccer, contested on a pristine grass pitch inside an impressive complex specifically built to showcase soccer. WakeMed stands as proof (and one of nearly 20 modern examples) of just how far the World’s Game has progressed here in the United States.
In recent blogs, I have shared observations about what makes some of us “more effective” referees than others... such as being “Ready for Anything” or not rushing a call by “Counting to One.” At the end of the day, wisdom and physical fitness are largely wasted if the referee isn’t effective in what he or she does on the field. In sharing my thoughts, I’ve tried (in my own small way) to impart an idea or two that aspiring officials might consider working into their own officiating routine.
No free advice today. And no one made the highlight reel, either.
Today, I would like to challenge every official to take timeout for some important introspection. Think about how you reached your current level of officiating… and if you aspire to reach even higher, what do you need to focus on to achieve further advancement?
John R. Wooden, arguably the most successful collegiate basketball coach of all time, introduced his “Pyramid of Success” to develop UCLA student-athletes. The “Wizard of Westwood” identified 15 key aspects, and then assembled them into a five-tiered pyramid, with the pinnacle being achievement of “Competitive Greatness.”
One of my recurring criticisms of MLS Referee performances this season is that on too many occasions, officials seemed hesitant, intimidated or just not ready – for whatever reason – to assert their authority from Minute One. As the athletes try to get a feel for their opponents’ tactics, officials have demonstrated excessive patience (or just taken too passive an approach) in reacting to fouls that appear reckless and behavior that looks intimidating… just because they occur in the first few minutes.
As our youth and amateur referees grow and advance, their instructors, assessors and mentors stress over and over and over again: like the competing athletes, game officials must be ready to perform from the very first whistle. “Carpe Diem” – Seize the day! Get the game off to a solid start through intense concentration. Set the tone early on. Hustle. Show everyone that you are there to perform. And when the opportunity presents itself, calmly and decisively assert your authority.
The World Cup has been over for a month, but I still can’t get the image of Joe Fletcher’s infamous failed handshake out of my head. But it’s time to move on.
Back in my pre-adidas MLS days (2001 – 2006), everyone’s friend and MLS’ Vice President of Competition Dr. Joe Machnik publicly declared war on player dissent, recognizing that the evil menace could no longer go unchecked (it’s ruining telecasts!)… he often referred to dissent as “a stone in his shoe.” It took several years and some really detailed referee instruction (including one of the ten 2009 U.S. Soccer Referee Program Directives) to finally make a serious dent in it. Remember the P’s we used to evaluate for dissent? I believe they were Public, Personal, Provocative… and Preki. Anyway, good eventually overcame evil, the dissent outbreak was all but eradicated, and Dr. Machnik enjoyed a much more comfortable stroll through MLS stadiums. That was five years ago.
OK, so maybe I am a bit too self-confident when it comes to time management.
Before I jet off to Chicago at the crack of dawn on Friday to attend – of all things – the 25th reunion of my college graduation, I sat down on Thursday evening to share my thoughts and observations of the 2014 Brazil FIFA World Cup.
That’s right. On the 15th anniversary of the United States’ triumph in the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final just down the street in Pasadena, I am at my desk pounding out my 14th career blog on soccerrefereeusa.com. And, although I am filled with excitement for Sunday’s big game, I won’t be pulling off my jersey (or scoring the decisive tiebreaker kick from the penalty mark) any time soon.
Unlike the rest of the United States, I didn’t get to watch either of Monday’s World Cup Round of 16 matches live.
Living in the coolest neighborhood in the USA comes at a price (yes, I have a day job… and since you asked, I have NO IDEA why I was allowed to move into Silver Lake). You might have read that Anthony Gonzalez, lead musician behind M83 (does programmed music have a lead musician?) just bought the home of my neighbor and longtime friend (that I have yet to meet) Mayor Eric (potty mouth Kings fan) Garcetti.
Proof positive: When properly motivated, thirty-somethings like Mr. Gonzalez can attain an amazing level of success.
Leave it to Spain to grab headlines again on the world’s stage. How the mighty have fallen, or as ESPN commentator Ian Darke expressed in the waning moments of today’s match: “The kings of soccer have abdicated.”
GROUP B, Match 19
18 Jun 2014 - 16:00 CET
Estádio do Maracanã, Rio de Janeiro
SPAIN - CHILE
Referee: Mark GEIGER (USA)
Assistant Referee 1: Sean Mark HURD (USA)
Assistant Referee 2: Joe FLETCHER (CAN)
Fourth Official: Nawaf SHUKRALLA (BHR)
Spoiler Alert: Players win games. Coaches lose games. Referees spoil games… but not today. Although it wasn’t always “poetry in motion,” our North American hybrid crew was again effective with their decisions and presence on the pitch.
It was an early Saturday morning after a late Friday night for this Blogger (so sue me if I go astray!) After toasting the Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings well into the wee hours of the morning… who am I kidding? I was asleep before 11:30, with my alarm set for 8:00am in great anticipation of the debut of our hybrid North American officiating team in Brazil:
GROUP C, Match 5
14 June 2014, 18:00 CET
Estadio Mineirao, Belo Horizonte
COLOMBIA - GREECE
Referee: Mark GEIGER (USA)
Assistant Referee 1: Sean Mark HURD (USA)
Assistant Referee 2: Joe FLETCHER (CAN)
Fourth Official: Alireza FAGHANI (IRN)
After two match days and four results in the books, we’ve already seen two games stained by officiating controversies (is “controversy” a strong enough word?). So the referees and assistant referees managed to spoil only half of the games… reminding me of Jack Nicholson’s line in the 1996 film “Mars Attacks” after the aliens take out Congress:
The month of May is a blur… and I’m glad it’s in the rearview mirror.
I split my time between willing my Los Angeles Kings into their second Stanley Cup Final in three years (those overtime games were exhausting!), and overseeing the rather complex Clippers transition of power (it’s been damn-near impossible). It’s a good thing I have Commissioner Silver, Donald Sterling, Steve Ballmer, Rochelle Sterling and V Stiviano all on speed dial. We hope to wrap it up soon so that everyone wins: the Sterlings get a check, the Clippers (and their followers) have a future, and V gets her book-and-movie deal.
Spoiler Alert: Sorry, Seattle… you can’t have my Clippers.
Fellow sports enthusiasts, it’s been one euphoric weekend here in Los Angeles… for pretty much everyone except Donald Sterling.
First, my Clippers managed to concentrate on hoops long enough to squeak past Golden State and into the second round of the NBA Playoffs, then my Kings stole the first game of their NHL Playoff Series from a bunch of Ducks, and everyone else (or so it seemed) took time to wish me a Happy Birthday.
Thank you, one and all, for making my birthday a special one indeed (especially Mark Zuckerberg… I couldn’t have done it without you, old buddy). I wonder if Mr. Z is a CD Chivas USA fan… I should give him a call, or send him a Facebook message… or a poke (whatever that is).
In my last two blogs, (fairly or not) I grilled a few of our colleagues… So, who’s performance has put him on “The Chopping Block” this week?
Sorry folks, but this isn’t a cooking show. We’ll leave the chopping to the Food Network, where it takes eight hours or more (a full day of takes, re-takes and more re-takes) to film a 30-minute culinary competition. We all know that, unlike our favorite television programs, competitive soccer gives game officials just one take – only one shot to get key decisions correct.
And when we say correct, we mean consistently making the best decision…
In Major League Soccer, the stakes are extremely high, demanding near perfection on the pitch: Just as coaches expect their athletes to make consistently sound decisions, we EXPECT our professional American and Canadian referees and assistant referees to consistently make the best decisions in every game situation.
As they say, it’s lonely at the top...
Back in 2001 (plus or minus a year), when I was cutting my teeth as a National Referee, we welcomed former U.S. National Team and Kansas City Wizards coach Bob Gansler to our national camp in advance of the MLS season. He was the first of several speakers to drill into our heads the importance of having the right “feel for the game” in order to interpret team tactics and individual players’ decision making – these are critical skills for referees, especially when officiating at a level much higher than you played at years before (and yes, that is the reality for every referee in the room… none of us played in MLS).
Fingerspitzengefühl is a German term, literally translating to "finger tips feeling" and meaning an intuitive flair or instinct, having superior situational awareness, and being able to appropriately and tactfully respond to changing conditions. Mr. Gansler spoke of it eloquently that day (and without accent). Later that day and throughout the next, Alfred Kleinaitis and Esse Baharmast echoed the rather profound message (but with more profound accents). I think even Julie Ilacqua tried to work it into her vocabulary that weekend.
I’ve been away too long, or so I was told.
After trying to help – in my own small way – settle a labor dispute and get PSRA’s dedicated and hard-working officials back on the pitch (some will argue my big mouth helped the cause; others might suggest I nearly killed it), I spent the last two weeks dodging Southern California earthquakes after totaling my over-priced European luxury sedan (you might be surprised how easy it is to total one… I mean how quickly the damage adds up, not how simple it is to rear-end a utility truck).
In fairness, I was reaching for a pen to write down a great idea for my next blog… which wasn’t all that great.
Thank goodness this weekend wasn’t a total loss. Nine games on the docket for MLS Week 4, or as I prefer to call it, MLS Week 2*.
Time, patience and reason have apparently run out.
This morning at 11:00 am Eastern, the management of the Professional Referee Organization (PRO) announced that it has locked out members of the Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA), and that PRO will schedule replacement officials for the eight Major League Soccer matches that will be played this weekend.
After contacting PSRA leadership this morning and informing them of the lockout decision, PRO General Manager Peter Walton informed a gathering of 25 officials in Orlando at 10:30am Eastern. In a somber 20-minute meeting, Walton instructed the referees to alter their flight itineraries and return home, and that their compensation and health insurance benefits had stopped effective immediately. The officials had flown to Orlando for three days of instruction and training in advance of this weekend’s games, and most were scheduled to fly directly to their "game cities" later today.