U.S. Soccer
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Forward Alex Morgan Wins CONCACAF Female Player of the Year

CHICAGO (Dec. 17, 2017) –The Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) announced today that U.S. Women’s National Team forward Alex Morgan is the 2017 CONCACAF Female Player of the Year.

The award was announced tonight at the fourth addition of the Premios Univision Deportes which was held at the Univision Studios in Miami.

In an equally-weighted vote among Men’s and Women’s National Team coaches and captains of all the Member Association, media and fans, Morgan captured the award for the third time. She also won last year and in 2013 when it was given out for the first time. A U.S. player has won the CONCACAF Female Player of the Year award every year since its inception. Abby Wambach won it in 2014 and Carli Lloyd won in 2015.

Morgan spent the first part of 2017 in France playing with European power Olympique Lyon and helped the club to an historic treble, winning the League, French Cup and Champions League titles. She became just the third American to win a UEFA Champions League. Morgan played in 15 matches during her stint in France, seven in the league (5 goals), three in the Cup (7 goals) and five in Champions League. She started the Champions League Final against rival Paris Saint-Germain but was forced to leave in the 23rd minute when she aggravated a hamstring injury.

That injury kept her out of the USA’s June friendlies in Europe, but she returned for the Tournament of Nations and scored in the finale against Japan, starting a streak of seven goals in her final seven WNT games of the year. She scored in both year-ending games against Canada. Those seven scores led the team in 2017 and moved her into sole possession of seventh place on the USA’s all-time goals list with 80 career goals.

She also ended her 2017 NWSL season on a hot streak, scoring nine goals in her last 12 games for the Orlando Pride and finished tied for fifth in the league in goals while helping the Pride to its first playoff berth. She also had four assists in her 13 regular season games and was named to the NWSL Second XI.

The CONCACAF Male Player of the Year winner was goalkeeper Keylor Navas of Real Madrid and Costa Rica. The other CONCACAF Awards will be announced next week.

The CONCACAF Awards are designed to honor the year’s outstanding performers and achievements in confederation-sanctioned competitions involving national teams at all levels and age categories, including FIFA World Cup matches and qualifying for both genders. Performances eligible for recognition also included those achieved in professional club leagues within the CONCACAF Member Associations.

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WNT Dec 17, 2017

Esse Baharmast: It’s All About the Players

Few names ring out in the world of American refereeing like Esse Baharmast’s. The first American referee to take charge of more than one FIFA World Cup game, he’s a trailblazer by any measure. Now a FIFA instructor, retired from the high passions and hard decisions out on the pitch, the 63-year-old gave ussoccer.com an exclusive interview from the sidelines of the 2018 National Referee Camp in Chula Vista, California.

Between classroom sessions, where Baharmast shared wisdom and experience with top young American referees, he took time to chat about some of his favorite topics. Up for discussion were his firmly held belief that soccer is “all about the players,” why “you have to know when to walk away from an angry player,” and that call in the 1998 World Cup game between Norway and Brazil when he “saw something 16 cameras missed.”  

ussoccer.com: A lot of your work now is teaching young referees. What’s the first priority you try to instill in them?
Esse Baharmast:
This game is all about the players. This is not our game. I say this all the time. We are out there to facilitate a beautiful game. The real actors and creators of this game are the players. It’s like a group of musicians – they are the ones who create the beautiful music. We’re like the conductor of the orchestra. We make sure that someone doesn’t play out of tune. But people go to the symphony to enjoy the music; they don’t go there to watch the conductor. If we know our role, and if we take satisfaction in what we’re doing, which is being part of a beautiful game played with artistry and creativity, then we’re doing our job correctly.

ussoccer.com: There seems to be a true camaraderie here at the National Referee Camp among the referees and referee coaches…
Esse Baharmast:
For me this is a family. But it’s not just the Referee Family - for me this is the Soccer Family. The coaches are my family. The players are my family. Without the players, we don’t have anything. We’re not even here without them. Coaches are my colleagues. We work together for the betterment of the game. I might see something different than you, but through communication and dialogue we can find a compromise. Sometimes we can even change the laws of the game if we work together. We need to be a part of making things better, with the players and the coaches.

ussoccer.com: What drew you to refereeing?
Esse Baharmast:
I came to it totally by accident. I was a player and I broke my tibia and fibula in college. When I was recovering, a professor of mine at the University of Missouri who was a referee, asked me to help out with some youth leagues. They needed referees. This man knew I had played and coached. He knew I knew the game. He offered me the chance to start refereeing.

(Referee Coaches pose for a photo at the 2018 National Referee Camp.)

ussoccer.com: How long did it take to adjust from being a player to being a ref?
Esse Baharmast:
I loved it right away and my progress was quick. I went up the ladder very, very fast. Before I knew it, I was doing college matches and then professional games. After that, I was doing international games and finally, after all that, I reached to the top and was able to referee at the World Cup [1998 in France].

ussoccer.com: Do you have to leave something behind from your playing days to become an effective ref?
Esse Baharmast:
Being a player really helped me. I could feel what the players felt during a game. I had empathy for them. I felt their pain. When a tackle went into the Achilles tendon, like was done to me, I remembered what that was like. I really felt the intensity of the match. I could talk to coaches and players because I came from the same family. This gives you a way to communicate with players and coaches – to read the back and forth.

ussoccer.com: Sometimes in the heat of a game, coaches can be a handful for a ref…
Esse Baharmast:
Sure. Sometimes you have to agree to disagree. Sometimes I saw something in a different way from my angle on the field. My angle usually happened to be a lot closer to a play than the coach who is maybe 40 or 50 yards away. And he probably doesn’t have the angle I have. In the end, we can have a conversation about it – that’s no problem. As long as it stays civil, we won’t have a problem. We can disagree and move on from there.

ussoccer.com: It can’t always be easy to deal with an unruly player. Passions run high on the pitch…
Esse Baharmast
: I understand the emotions of the game. Sometimes there are outbursts when a player’s not happy with something. Sometimes they get frustrated and you can see it and feel it. A good referee knows when to walk away from a player and when to have a quiet word with him. Sometimes you have to say ‘there’s no room for this’ and show a card for dissent or maybe even send them off for using foul and abusive language. Sometimes you have to. But a good referee can recognize the different emotions of the game, and how a player approaches the referee matters.

ussoccer.com: You speak often of an ‘Orange Card’ – something imagined between yellow and red. Can you talk about the power of this for a ref?
Esse Baharmast:
It’s important to use common sense. There are some fouls that are clearly red. No ifs or buts – the red card has to be shown because the safety of a player has been compromised. But there are also actions that are right on the bubble. You’re not sure if they’re a red card or close to it. And if the player has been a clean player throughout the game and it’s just a one-off, you can have that conversation. You can tell him, ‘my friend you need to settle down’. You can’t come into a tackle like that’. You can cut him a break as long as he understands it’s not going to be tolerated. What we’re looking for is game control. So, if that so-called Orange Card works, and the player behaves for the rest of the match, then it’s no problem.

(Esse Baharmast guides young minds through the fine arts of refereeing.)

ussoccer.com: You’ve seen it all and done it all –  refereed at the World Cup, in MLS Cup finals, Open Cup finals. The list goes on and on. What moment stands out for you?
Esse Baharmast:
It’s Norway-Brazil in the World Cup [France 1998]. For sure, this was a defining moment – now it’s almost 20 years ago. I saw something that 16 cameras could not produce – the cameras could not see it. I was vilified for 36 hours because of it [calling a penalty in the last minute of the group game for a shirt-pull that led to Norway beating Brazil]. Everyone told me I was crazy. No one but me had seen it. But I knew what I knew and I knew what I saw. People were cutting me down because I was an American referee. They thought I didn’t know the game. They didn’t know of my background as a player and a coach. But I was vindicated at the end. I made the right call. There’s a lot of good things about the VAR [Video Assistant Referee] system, but in this game in France I was better than the VAR because I had the decision correct and 16 cameras didn’t. You see? The coin has two sides.

ussoccer.com: Was there ever a moment in a game where you simply didn’t know what call to make? It must happen…
Esse Baharmast:If I can’t see it, I don’t call it. I have to have a good angle. If I miss it, I’ll tell the player: ‘listen I didn’t see it. Bear with me and allow me to get where I need to be to see the play.’ I tell him: ‘if a player’s is holding you somewhere I can’t see, let me know. I’ll get there and try to get it right.’ But sometimes, yes, I did miss a call. There’s no question.

ussoccer.com: Referees are usually outnumbered, but here at U.S. Soccer’s National Referee Camp everyone is a ref. What is it like to have young and old officials come together like this?
Esse Baharmast:
It is essential to do this. This is about being a team – a part of a team. Teams have training camps together. We, the refs, are a team in the same way. It’s no different from a team that goes to the World Cup or the Olympics. We need to be working together, practicing together. This is our team. We look at mistakes the same way a coach would. We go over mistakes to make sure they don’t happen again. We learn from them and accentuate the positive. We give support to make sure the young referees do more of what makes them successful and less of what causes them trouble.

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Dec 17, 2017

National Referee Camp: A Family Reunion

The referee cuts a lonely figure on a soccer field. They’re often blamed, rarely thanked and always outnumbered. But that’s certainly not the case at the National Referee Camp in California, where a group of the best young refs in the country are gathered to learn lessons in the never-ending pursuit of excellence. For one weekend at least, in among the natural splendor of SoCal, everyone’s a referee.

“This is a place where refs can come together and admit their mistakes and be encouraged to learn from them,” said Rick Eddy, a Major League Soccer (MLS) ref for a full decade and now Director of Referee Development at U.S. Soccer. “Here they can learn and grow as one. There’s a camaraderie and bonding, a feeling that we’re all in it together and we can be honest and get better in an environment that’s non-threatening. You can say ‘hey I made a mistake in this game. How do I get better?’ We support each other here.”

(On-field tactical sessions are a big part of the National Referee Camp)

A hand-picked group of 94 male and female referees and assistant referees were invited to the Chula Vista Camp at the Elite Athlete Training Center to be put through a battery of rigorous physical testing and classroom work. If they come out clean on the other side, the officials become (or re-certify as) National Referees, and can officiate Major League Soccer (MLS) games, USL, NASL and NWSL too. Also in attendance are 120 Referee Coaches, most former National or FIFA Referees, whose job it is to pass on their knowledge and experience.

All eyes on the Master

Everyone sat in rapt attention under the arched wooden ceiling of the Easton Archery Centre of Excellence when a man was invited to the podium. Among American refs, Essie Baharmast needs no introduction. He’s often referred to, simply, as The Master. A trailblazer for American referees, he took to the fields of the World Cup in France in 1998. It’s safe to say he’s as close to a rock-star at this Camp full of humble refs and ex-refs.

(Esse Baharmast, former FIFA World Cup referee, works through scenarios)

“Who’s here for the first time, the first year?” Baharmast asked the crowd of eager young officials looking to soak up his wisdom earned on thousands of soccer fields through the years. They all sat on folding chairs in the archery target area-turned classroom. A few hands went up furtively and Baharmast insisted on a hearty round of applause for the new ones, welcoming them to “the Family, the Referee Family.”

When he asked the first-year referees a tough question, some of them turn timid. Public speaking isn’t everyone’s forte. Opinions aren’t always treated gently. But Baharmast chastised them with the kind of care a father might. “If you can’t stand up and talk to your Family openly, how are you going to stand up and face 100,000 fans in the stadium?” he asked the crowd. After that, no one’s shy. Hands go up, conversations are had. Scenarios are dissected in search of the right call for the right situation. Agreement is reached.  

Family is a word you hear a lot around the Training center in Chula Vista this weekend. “It is kind of like that, like a family,” said Lee Suckle, a Referee Coach who still works college-level games around his home in Long Island, NY. “Camaraderie is the word for what you have here. It’s good to see friendly faces and share our experiences. We’re trying to work and help the younger refs coming up. We’re trying to build that camaraderie with them as a Referee coach.” 

(94 male and female referees were invited to Chula Vista, CA for the 2018 National Referee Camp)

It’s not just classroom work at the Camp. The aspiring National Referees (and those aiming to keep their status) are put through rigorous field-work and fitness testing. In the heat of Southern California, dehydration is common. The referees, a team or a family or whatever you want to call them, roar each other in support. They’re not competing against each other. They’re competing with each other. They offer support and a pat on the back, sometimes the kind of jokes and ribbing you might find among siblings. Here in Chula Vista, they’re not alone. They’re deep in their element. Last year, close to twenty percent of the invited National Referee candidates failed the physical tests. This year, only seven candidates out of 94 came up short in the fitness program. The improvement is tangible.

“The refs who are here are some of the best at the State Level, but what they’re aspiring toward is an even higher level,” said Nigerian-born Referee Coach Abiodun Okulaja, 2004's MLS Referee of the Year now based in the Chicago area. “You get to learn a lot from each other when you’re in the same place and working toward the same goal.”

Youth & Experience – a Cycle
“We’re here to support each other,” said Referee Coach Jose Corro. He was born in Veracruz, Mexico before emigrating to the States and becoming a well-known ref in the early days of Major League Soccer. “We’re trying to pass on our experiences and give the younger guys coming up a sense of what we lived when we were referees. I think that reflects in a lot of the newer refs we have – they’re getting that part of the knowledge and experience of the past from the older guys like us.”

(120 Referee Coaches spent the weekend putting their younger counterparts through their paces)

So many of the Referee Coaches here have been to the places that we want to be,” said Tom Felice, 29, a State-level Assistant Referee from Connecticut looking to get his National certification. “These are National Referees and FIFA Referees, they’ve been at World Cups, and we can draw on their knowledge of what happens at that level. We can bring it into our games and incorporate it into what we do and try to reach the heights that they reached.”  

All families are imperfect. Not everything goes smoothly all the time. It’s the same with the Referee Family. There are disagreements and confusions along they way, but everyone in Chula Vista is working toward the same goal. “We’re here to pass on our experiences to the ones coming up,” said Suckle, a small man with a warm manner who got into coaching years and years ago to help make his car payments. “Hopefully they’ll do the same thing with the next group of even younger ones coming up behind them.”

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Dec 16, 2017

Pro Course License Just the Beginning for U.S. Soccer's Latest 17 Graduates

Just one year after a pilot group of 13 candidates completed the first U.S. Soccer Pro License, a new set of 17 graduates received their diplomas, growing a list of some of the greatest Soccer minds in the United States to 30 to have completed the highest level coaching license in North America. The common denominator between the first and second group was ambition and an unquestioned desire for lifelong learning.

READ MORE: Seventeen Coaches from U.S. National Teams and Professional Leagues Complete Second U.S. Soccer Pro Course

From a league representation standpoint, the Pro Course License diploma has now reached the hands of at least one person from each of the country’s top tier leagues: Major League Soccer, North American Soccer League, the National Women’s Soccer League and United Soccer League. In addition to the concentrated effort to improve the highest levels of the game across the top domestic leagues, the Pro Course has also impacted U.S. Soccer’s national team programs with representation from the Men’s and Women’s National Team programs, and the youth National Teams.

Perhaps the most interesting storyline of the 2017 Pro Course was the fact that candidates Brian Schmetzer (Seattle Sounders) and Greg Vanney (Toronto FC) ended up competing for the MLS Cup against each other. With numerous meetings, small groups and an open dialogue constantly setting a precedence throughout the 12-month process, it was to no surprise that the pair’s focus on the course was unchallenged despite the recent faceoff for the top prize in American professional soccer.

“When you talk about Brian Schmetzer, he lost to Greg Vanney last weekend at MLS Cup but both are here,” U.S. Soccer National Coach Educator Wim van Zwam said. “They were respectful to each other, and all of the candidates for that matter were respectful to Brian and Greg.”

If the coaches of the two MLS Cup teams weren’t enough to headline the 2017 class, U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Jill Ellis became the first female to complete the license. With a critical year of World Cup qualifying on the horizon in 2018, the knowledge absorbed from the Pro Course could not have come at a better time.

“I’m very proud to have been a part of this program,” Ellis said. “The course was very comprehensive and yet it really was able to dig down into the details. It looks at all aspects of coaching, from the tactical side to periodization. It really digs into all the facets of what I do. Not only were the instructors very experienced in how they navigated us through this course, but you learn a lot from your peers. Overall, I think it was incredibly valuable and added more in terms of growth and knowledge to who I am as a coach.”

The Pro Course also expanded for the first time to include coaches from NASL, NWSL and USL. Paul Buckle, head coach and Technical Director of Sacramento Republic FC Head Coach, was particularly pleased with the two site visits he received from coach educators, in particular from his mentor, van Zwam.

“Professionally, they showed so much respect to me as a head coach in terms of when Wim came in to analyze me in my working environment twice,” Buckle said. “He would always ask, ‘Can I do this? Do you mind me being here?’ And I opened every door, from the training field, to individual meetings with players, group meetings, pregame, postgame and halftime. Wim was there. So he was brought in as part of the staff. I received invaluable feedback, incredible feedback. The details that U.S. Soccer have put into this license have been phenomenal.”

As the course concluded and candidates officially received their diplomas in Chicago, the greatest commonality was the responsibility that even the best coaches in the United States have to continue to grow and develop in order to raise the level of soccer and develop world class players.

“I think we need to continually use our experiences as we evolve the game. We have another generation coming through of coaches that have played at a high level,” Sporting Kansas City assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin said. “So to take that experience and now pass it on the younger generation, it’s certainly an obligation that I feel strongly about, trying to improve myself and share my experiences with players that we work with today but also to become better ourselves, because at the end of the day coaching is a lot about becoming an effective teacher and communicator. As we try to improve our players, so must we improve ourselves so that we can create an environment where we are all growing together.”

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WNT MNT Dec 16, 2017

Seventeen Coaches from U.S. National Teams and Professional Leagues Complete Second U.S. Soccer Pro Course

CHICAGO (Dec. 16, 2017) — As part of its ongoing effort to develop world class players, coaches, and referees, the second U.S. Soccer Pro License Coaching Course was completed on Friday, Dec. 15 in Chicago. A total of 17 professional coaches from Major League Soccer, North American Soccer League, National Women’s Soccer League, United Soccer League, and the U.S. Men’s and Women’s National Teams completed a 12-month journey that began in January.

2017 Pro Course Graduates:
Paul Buckle (Sacramento Republic, USL)
Colin Clarke (North Carolina FC, USL)
Steven Cooke (Colorado Rapids, MLS)
Jill Ellis (U.S. WNT)
Jim Gabarra (Washington Spirit, NWSL)
Jay Heaps
Dominic Kinnear (Los Angeles Galaxy, MLS)
Jesse Marsch (New York Red Bulls, MLS)
Pat Noonan (U.S. MNT)
Caleb Porter
Darren Powell (San Antonio FC, USL)
Brian Schmetzer (Seattle Sounders, MLS)
Daryl Shore
Mike Sorber
Greg Vanney (Toronto FC, MLS)
Josh Wolff (Columbus Crew, MLS)
Kerry Zavagnin (Sporting KC, MLS)

Added to the U.S. Soccer structure of coaching education to complete the pathway from grassroots to professional coaching, the U.S. Soccer Pro Course represents the highest form of soccer licensing offered in North America. One year after the pilot Pro Course was completed, the 2017 graduates went through the course curriculum with the same two primary objectives: to accomplish a custom, individualized plan and for the collective unit to set new standards for the next generation of coaches. Each candidate took on a tailored program based on an assessment of their needs, undergoing multiple group meetings and individual visits, while topics such as leadership and team tactical periodization were highlighted throughout the course.

The group accomplished its course objectives through in-person instruction, club visits, final assessment, expert guest speakers and webinars during the year long program. Guest presenters included Bruce Arena (former head coach – U.S. MNT), Jill Ellis (U.S. WNT Coach / Pro Course Candidate), Frank Ludolph (UEFA Head of Football Education Services), Gautum Mukunda (Harvard Business School), Daniel Coyle (Author of Talent Code), Thomas Schaaf (Manager - Hanover 96, Eintracht Frankfurt, Werder Bremen), Mark Williams (University of Utah Professor of Kinesiology), Cristina Fink (Sports Psychology, Philadelphia Union), Bob Bradley (LAFC, former head coach – U.S. MNT), Wade Gilbert (Coaching Scientist and Performance Professor, Fresno State) and Doug Lemov (Author and Teaching Expert, Uncommon Schools).

Upon completing the course, U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Jill Ellis became the first female to obtain the U.S. Soccer Pro License. Ellis, who also served as a guest speaker for the cohort’s first meeting in January, reflected on what the accomplishment means to aspiring female coaches across the country.

“Certainly I took this course for personal reasons,” Ellis said. “But I think it is important for young females out there, to see role models that commit to this learning process. I would encourage every coach out there to be an advocate for themselves, for their personal growth. To be the first female to complete the License, it’s great. But now I hope that more and more females will want to continue in coaching education.”

For 2017 MLS Coach of the Year and MLS Cup Champion Greg Vanney, one of the highlights of the course was the engagement and interaction with fellow candidates. Through open communication and peer to peer learning, Vanney found the environment to be a safe space for sharing and listening to the challenges professional coaches face every day.

“It’s one of the highlights of this course,” Vanney said. “Coaches around our leagues are willing to share, willing to open up and are trustworthy in that way. To listen to their experiences and to have guys share how they went through things, how they dealt with things, what you find is that a lot of us go through very similar things. There are best principles when it comes to dealing with things and it’s great to hear and talk to guys. Along the way, you find little tidbits you think are valuable that you use within your own setting.”

Alongside three collective meetings and a final presentation, the 17 candidates experienced two week-long club or national team visits from a U.S. Soccer Coach Educator. At each site visit, the Coach Educators observed the candidate within their performance environment structured to lead up to a competition. While on site, instructors observed a variety of coaching variables including the coach’s relationship and interactions with players, staff, assistant coaches, and others involved in the team development process.

Lead instructor Wim van Zwam reflected on what made the cohort a special group to work with and his gladness to see how every coach bought in and challenged themselves and their peers.

“What made this group immediately special was the diversity of coaches,” van Zwam said. “With MLS head coaches and assistant coaches, a USL head coach, a NASL head coach, a NWSL head coach, a U.S. Men’s National assistant coach and our Women’s National Team head coach in Jill Ellis, it made for a very interesting group to work with. From the beginning, this group learned to be very open in sharing information. They bought in to the club visits, an environment where they are not used to someone looking over their shoulder. This group made sacrifices in order to make themselves better and those around them.”

As the only organization able to license coaches domestically under FIFA standards, U.S. Soccer’s Pro License seeks to raise the minimum standard for an individual seeking to become a professional coach in MLS, NASL, USL or the NWSL.

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WNT MNT Dec 16, 2017