Michael Kennedy Remembers Refereeing the 2010 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final
ussoccer.com: You were the referee for last year’s Final, where Seattle defeated Columbus 2-1. What is it like to referee a Final?
Michael Kennedy: "It is a fantastic honor to be a part of the U.S. Open Cup. Teams from all over our great country compete for one final prize and to be at the Final, have two teams with so much passion and the trophy on the line was fantastic. When you first start out reffing, you look forward to things like this. When the word “final” is involved, it means it's going to be exciting for the refs and, first and foremost, exciting for the players. You have to make sure you bring all your tools to the game.”
ussoccer.com: The 2010 final was in Seattle and it’s there again this year. What do you remember about the electric atmosphere at the stadium?
MK: “The fans in Seattle are tremendous, and having such a big crowd on a beautiful evening was great. It was a spectacular evening to play because the weather was perfect. The fans were boisterous and enthusiastic. It was a magic moment for us as a referee crew.”
ussoccer.com: Regardless of that atmosphere and the big occasion, what do you try to do as a referee to block that stuff out and make sure you’re focusing on officiating the game in a manner you would for any other game?
MK: “You're always trying to stay close to the play, see the foul, see the advantage or try to keep the game manageable and fair for both teams. Even if there's a big crowd, you need to focus on the reality of the game and the small sequence of the game you are in. You don't hear the noise and you just try to make it fair and not miss something. At the end you want to make sure both teams feel they had a fair shake.”
ussoccer.com: Is there a moment that stands out to you from that game as one you will remember?
MK: “I think the specific experience that stands out was the end of the game. When it was done, you got a sense from players that they thought it was fair. They knew they worked hard, they spent all their energy and, when they came off and shook our hands, they believed we had done our job. There were no issues and for us as the referee crew, there's no better feeling than that. We knew we had done all we could to make it fair for everyone.”
ussoccer.com: How is the experience of refereeing a Final different from other games, however prestigious they may be?
MK: “Sometimes when you ref, you see things where you think ‘maybe that's a free kick at the top of the box.’ In a final you know that it has [emphasis his] to be a free kick, because that ball can be turned into a goal, and the final can end 1-0. Every call is critical. You have to be alert: was that simulation, was that a real foul, was that a yellow or red card? Every single decision can be the difference in the game, even in the first minute. All calls are very critical and you have to be sure you are right.”
ussoccer.com: Do you have advice for referees who may be making the step up to a Final or other big occasion for the first time?
MK: “One time I remember Michelle Akers talking about getting through a World Cup game after an injury. She said she just took it 10 minutes at a time. In reffing, sometimes we have to think about it the same way: be really focused and say to ourselves ‘let's knock off the next 10 minutes and not miss a call. When you're a young ref trying to go up the ladder and make sure every game is covered correctly, you have to focus. Say to yourself: ‘I won't miss a call for the next 10 minutes and these next 10 minutes I'll be close to the play.’ Michelle's advice is excellent. That's how I've thought about games over my career and I think it's worked well.
ussoccer.com: Alex Prus is the referee for the 2011 final. He’s an experienced, top-level referee, but what would you say to any referee who is getting ready to participate in a big game like this?
MK: “Alex has been in big games and is a fantastic referee. He knows all that's on the line and knows the conditions of a Final. The advice I would give to any ref is to just throw your heart in there and make sure you give all you have.”