Referees Participate in U.S. Soccer’s Largest Academy;
Three Officials Selected to Work MLS Combine in January
CHICAGO (Dec. 9, 2004) – When the shrill sound of the referee’s whistle signaled the start of the U.S. Under-17 Men’s National team match versus the Australia U-17 Men’s National team on Saturday (Dec. 4), the butterflies in referee Jeffrey Mellen’s stomach stopped fluttering.
“The first game (I was assigned) was, I believe, a team from Dallas and one from New York, and I had refereed at that level before,” Mellen said. “When I found out I was assigned the USA vs. Australia game, that’s when I got butterflies that went away as soon as the first whistle blew. Then all my training and instincts took over.”
Mellen was one of 28 referees and four assistant referees who participated in the Premier Referee Academy in Bradenton, Fla., from Dec. 2-5, which coincided with the 2004 Nike Friendlies. The 32 officials took part in the Friendlies that included more than 60 teams in more than 120 games over the course of the four-day event, which included two international friendlies that matched up two U.S. U-17 teams against the Australian U-17 squad.
U.S. Soccer’s Premier Referee Academies are meant to train, as well as test, young referees who show potential to referee at higher levels. The academies are also used to select referees to participate in the Major League Soccer Combine in January at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. From there, a referee or assistant referee may be asked to officiate during the MLS preseason and perhaps even the MLS regular season. Three referees from the Premier Referee Academy at the 2004 Nike Friendlies, including Mellen, were invited to the MLS combine.
Referees are invited to attend the Premier Referee Academy at the Nike Friendlies based on his or her performance at the state level and at previous Referee Academies. Only National Referees or National Referee candidates are eligible for selection to the Academy.
“I was excited,” said Mellen about receiving his Nike Friendlies invitation in August. “I’ve heard about the previous tournaments from the past three years and I knew there was an Academy and they look at referees. I was lucky enough to be assigned a good game and I had a good game. This is a good opportunity for us to learn and showcase our skills in front of our bosses.”
At this particular academy, the 32 participants officiated two games a day for four days, receiving feedback from FIFA assessors and instructors, including U.S. Soccer Director of Advanced and International Referee Development, Esse Baharmast. It was the highest number of referees ever invited to a Nike Friendlies Premier Referee Academy, due largely to the record number of teams participating.
“You could definitely see the improvement from the first day to the next day and on from there,” said Baharmast, who was a referee in the 1998 FIFA World Cup in France. “When we brought them in most of them were traveling and some of them were coming from the West Coast so they had to get acclimated, but by the end of the first day and the second day they were pretty much in good shape and ready to go.”
According to Mellen, the improvement was based largely on the feedback given by those with more experience. About 10 assessors and mentors attended the academy, meeting with the referees every night to review their performance and provide criticism and tips for improvement.
“I feel that throughout the weekend I became a much better referee because of the training from our mentors,” said the 33-year-old Mellen, who has been a referee since 1990. “I think I stepped up a level because of that…There were a couple (of mentors) there that recently worked World Cups in ’98 and ’99 and I was able to get feedback from them. Everybody got the feedback and I think everybody became better referees because of it.”
It is that improvement and confidence that the U.S. Soccer Referee Department is looking to develop in young referees in order to improve the quality of soccer in the United States, as much in the game itself as in refereeing. Baharmast considered the Premier Referee Academy at the Nike Friendlies successful because, not only was U.S. Soccer able to select referees to participate in the MLS combine, the referee department was also able to see what is in store for U.S. Soccer referees in the future.
“We are going to take three (referees) to the next combine,” Baharmast said. “There are some of (the other referees) that showed promise for the future but at this point it’s too early for them so we’re going to be keeping an eye on them as well. Just bringing this number (of referees) to work with the number of teams that we had was very good. We’re looking to also bring the quality up. A lot of coaches told us what a great job the refs did, but we’re never satisfied. We always want to make it a little better than before. I would say it was a success.”
Mellen agreed with Baharmast about the success of the Referee Academy, as the Nike Friendlies presented him with a chance to officiate in front of, and learn from, top level instructors, as well as participate in his first international match.
“It’s not two clubs teams,” Mellen said of the USA vs. Australia match he officiated. “So far, it’s been my World Cup.”
* invited to participate in the MLS Combine