Development Academy Referees Moving Up the Ladder
In early January, 50 U.S. Soccer Development Academy referees were invited to a four-day preseason camp in Florida. From meetings, to training, to a visit from U.S. MNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, each member of the group is pursuing an opportunity to ultimately officiate in some big games during the developmental process.
Much of January has been fixated on player development, whether it is the athletes making a professional move to Major League Soccer or the U.S. Under-23 Menâ€™s National Team progressing with the hopes of competing in the 2012 London Olympics.
But U.S. Soccer development goes beyond the rosters on the pitch. It also includes the officials who oversee matches throughout the country, from the youth to professional ranks.
Earlier this month, 50 Development Academy referees were invited to the four-day 2012 Professional Referee Preseason Camp in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. All officials â€“ 20 referees and 30 assistant referees â€“Â have worked Development Academy matches since the Academyâ€™s inception in 2007.
â€œI was brought down early for an orientation of what would be expected from us and what it would take to improve our skills so we may be able to referee in MLS,â€ 24-year-old Matthew Nelson said. â€œThere is a physical fitness test thatâ€™s required for anyone, and we were held to the same standard [as MLS referees].â€
â€œThe four days that we were there, we got to see what we can improve on, what U.S. Soccerâ€™s looking for, what MLS is looking for, and we focused on our decision-making process,â€ 26-year-old referee Kevin Terry Jr. said. â€œIn addition to the training and fitness, we had meetings with MLS coaches, and [U.S. Menâ€™s National Team head coach] Jurgen Klinsmann was there and talked to us briefly about the impact of U.S. Soccer.â€
The Academy referees involved in the preseason camp came in at various age levels and with different backgrounds. Nelson was the youngest 2010 Development Academy Finals Week participant, and he is focused on an assistant referee role.
â€œItâ€™s a challenge being an assistant referee, because offside can be a difficult call,â€ Nelson said. â€œFor me, I enjoy the challenge to be quite honest. I know thereâ€™s pressure, and thatâ€™s the fun of it. I love the game and enjoy the game.â€
Nelson, who earned Development Academy Referee of the Week in the first week of April 2011, said he started refereeing back when he was a high school freshman.
â€œI started refereeing in Wisconsin doing local tournaments, and I met with more experienced refs and told them I was interested in it,â€ Nelson said. â€œI got feedback from them, and during the process I met more people and tried to get harder games to officiate.
â€œAt the moment, I travel to tournaments, and I joined the Development Academy recently,â€ Nelson said. â€œIn 2010, I was selected to the [Development Academy Finals Week] in Los Angeles, several youth tournaments in Florida, down in Phoenix, the Nike International Friendlies. And Iâ€™ve done some lower-leg professional games with the USL PRO and PDL.â€
Terryâ€™s move was a natural fit in his family as his dad, Kevin Terry Sr., is a former FIFA referee for U.S. Soccer. Terry Jr. wound up following in his footsteps.
â€œHe started me young, and after I would play games on the weekend, I would ref two or three games on Saturday and two or three games on Sunday,â€ Terry said.
Terry, who also earned a Development Academy Referee of the Week honor in 2011, is around the game of soccer year-round. He is a teacher at Hillsboro High School in Nashville, Tenn., and is also the boysâ€™ soccer varsity team coach. Once school wraps up, Terry hops around the country to officiate.
â€œThatâ€™s why teaching is the best job for this because you get the summer off,â€ Terry said. â€œOnce Memorial Day hits, the tournaments start picking up, and Iâ€™m on the road â€“ Alabama, Milwaukee, North Carolina, Florida.â€
Ultimately, the camp participants eventually want to be involved in at the MLS level of officiating in the coming years.
â€œIâ€™m keeping my fingers crossed,â€ Terry said. â€œI hope in the next couple of years that I get looked at. Iâ€™m only 26 years old right now, but it would be awesome to be selected.â€
â€œAs soon as they tell me Iâ€™m ready,â€ Nelson said. â€œI would like to do it, and Iâ€™ve been told itâ€™s certainly a possibility. So much goes into the selection, so Iâ€™m not a part of it at this point. But Iâ€™m going to events, performing and doing well. Hopefully soon.â€