As U.S. Soccer’s Centennial year winds down, it is only fitting that Kari Seitz is the focal point both currently and historically in the growth of the U.S. Soccer Referee Program.
After nearly three decades as a referee, Seitz will officially retire following her work in the center for the U.S. Women’s National Team’s match against Australia on Oct. 20 at the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.
Seitz has set the bar high on both the men’s and women’s side of soccer officiating, creating a standard that any promising referee would want to live up to. Since 1985, Seitz has played a significant part in the officiating world, and internationally she would work four FIFA Women’s World Cups, successively from 1999 to 2011, and three Olympic Games (2004, 2008 and 2012).
“It’s one thing to get the white [FIFA] badge – it’s another to be able to do something with it and actually go to a World Cup and an Olympics,” Seitz said. “It’s really about representing my country and all my fellow officials. That’s really special.”
Looking back on those international moments, Seitz admits the butterflies were there for her first FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1999, when women’s soccer took the world by storm capped off by the USA’s thrilling title victory against China.
“When you go to the next level and you’re starting out, it’s like going to high school and you’re a freshman again,” Seitz said of her first World Cup moment. “You’re the king of your school and suddenly you move up and you graduate. You’re in the next phase, you feel really confident and ready to go, and you’re a freshman again.
“My second World Cup [in 2003] is where I really relished the experience,” Seitz said. “I was still nervous, but I felt more confident in my ability, and I could really enjoy the moment, as well as work hard as a referee. Each time I represent our country, it’s a really special moment. To have the ability to walk on the field with that quality of players, every time you get goose bumps and you try not to forget how fortunate you are.”
The 42-year-old Brighton, Mich., native humbly looks back at her start, noting many mentors throughout her career. Seitz credits FIFA referee Fernando Alvarez, who passed away earlier this year, as her “biggest advocate in becoming a FIFA referee.” Then there was Michigan-based referee Ken Burkaw, who Seitz said took plenty of time in her early officiating to provide advice.
“All it takes is somebody to say, ‘Hey, here’s what you need to do to improve,’” Seitz said. “Suddenly you want to stay in the game, you want to challenge yourself, and you feel valuable. I take a lot of pride in trying to give back in that same way, even if it’s just a small comment to help someone.”
While her international achievements are at the forefront, Seitz also stood out domestically in various leagues and worked frequently as an assistant referee during Major League Soccer’s early seasons. On Oct. 6, 1999, Seitz took to the center as the head official of the San Jose Clash’s 1-0 victory against the Kansas City Wizards at Spartan Stadium in San Jose, Calif.
“As a woman referee coming up, sometimes it was difficult to get those matches,” Seitz said. “The domestic leagues and games are really what make you who you are as a referee. Those are competitive matches, so for an assignor to say, ‘I want to give her a chance,’ I had to do my best to get through those challenges. That made me a better referee.”