Nike International Friendlies, Development Academy Winter Showcase Event Catapulting Careers for Officials
Professional Referees Matthew Foerster, Juan Guzman, Sorin Stoica Reflect on Previous Experiences at Nike Friendlies, Development Academy
It goes without saying that the Nike International Friendlies and Development Academy Winter Showcase cater to the growth of youth players, but the annual event has also become an important stepping stone for officials. The same should hold true for the 2012 Nike International Friendlies and Showcase from Nov. 28-Dec. 4 as the Platinum Program referees will be the beneficiaries.
Several referees who have worked the event now have heightened duties at Major League Soccer, and they credit the Friendlies and Showcase toward their progression in the professional ranks.
“It’s a great learning experience both for the referees watching and participating,” said Texas-based referee Matthew Foerster, who worked the center during the U.S. U-17 Men’s National Team’s 3-1 victory against Brazil to win the 2011 Nike International Friendlies. “You never know who’s watching you, and the same goes for players and referees. If the right person is there to see you doing the right things, it can be a springboard to other opportunities. Even though it was the only game I did, it went really well. It’s safe to say that being invited to do that international friendly and handling it successfully was a springboard.”
Foerster worked several games as an MLS fourth official in 2011, but this 2012 season included an increased role with seven games in the center. After several years of various Development Academy games, NASL and other semi-professional matches, Foerster has continued moving up the officiating ladder.
“The Development Academy program as a whole for referees has a professional atmosphere with the elite youth players competing against each other across the country,” Foerster said. “You’re exposed to tactically sophisticated teams and players in a pressure environment, the game is faster and you’re tested as a referee. With the Nike International Friendlies, take the Academy environment and multiply it by another factor, because you have a number of players who are already committed to international contracts and have been scouted for professional teams. In my game at the Friendlies, you had someone like Junior Flores playing, who is now signed by [German Bundesliga champion] Borussia Dortmund. The event definitely gives you a peek into the professional environment.”
Ohio-based referee Sorin Stoica worked the 2010 Nike International Friendlies match between the U.S. U-17 MNT and Turkey in Phoenix.
“At the time I was already a national referee, but I was not doing that many professional games,” Stoica said. “I had some second- or third-division games, college games and Development Academy games. At the Friendlies, I had an assessor who watched me and the crew, told us what we did well and what to improve on. It was a very good experience and gave me a flavor of the international game.”
Stoica went to the Development Academy Finals Week in 2009 and 2010 and worked Academy matches and showcases since its launch in 2007.
“Every referee has a goal to get to the professional level, and I’ve enjoyed my time and experiences,” Stoica said. “Every game is another challenge.”
Referee Juan Guzman of southern California also officiated during the 2010 Nike International Friendlies, and by mid-April of 2011 Guzman was working the center of the field in his first MLS match.
“The Friendlies were a big showcase for me as a referee because you are exposed to teams from other countries and how you should referee them,” Guzman said. “Having the U.S. Soccer staff watching those games and critiquing you help you learn from the experience. It was a big aspect of my career.
“My progression has been pretty fast compared to other people,” he said. “The experience has been very gratifying. It’s been a quick two years.”
Guzman’s 2011 rookie season in MLS included eight center referee assignments. The 2012 season featured 14 center official assignments and three matches as a fourth official.
“After the Friendlies and MLS Training Camp in early February, it was instantaneous,” Guzman said. “The Friendlies were my final step to prove myself and everything went well. I went into the [MLS] pool and am in my second season as a referee. A lot of the Academy showcases also helped me, but the Friendlies were the final step.”
Foerster, Guzman and Stoica will all be part of the Professional Referee Organization (PRO) officiating corps for 2013.