As part of our continuing effort to service and educate our membership, each Thursday U.S. Soccer will provide an informative article from one of its departments. Once a week, we will bring you an article/paper/essay that will hopefully enhance your enjoyment and knowledge of the game of soccer - on and off the field.
U.S. Soccer referee Kari Seitz has been a FIFA official since 1999 and worked the Women's World Cup in the U.S. that year. Last month, Seitz - 2002 WUSA Referee of the Year - worked the inaugural FIFA Under-19 Women's World Championship in Canada. What follows is Seitz's description of that historic event in Canada.
The 2002 FIFA Under-19 Women's World Championship
by Kari Seitz
When the final decision was made to stage the inaugural Under-19 Women’s World Championship, I had many questions in my mind, including, “What level of soccer will we see on the field?”
After officiating in the Under-19 Women’s CONCACAF qualifying tournament in Trinidad & Tobago, I learned very quickly that these Under-19 Women’s teams had the same drive to win as did the players in the 1999 Women’s World Cup. The games were very competitive, fast-paced, dynamic and hard-fought. Of course, I was not assigned to the group in which the United States team was playing. The group I was assigned to included Mexico, Panama, Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica, and the teams were very evenly matched and produced some great games.
I have been fortunate to officiate all levels of men’s and women’s soccer in the U.S., and I knew the type of skill the U.S. Under-19s were capable of exhibiting. What I was not fully aware of prior to the qualifying tournament, despite watching some game tapes, was the skill level in the newly formed team from Panama or the type of improvements Jamaica had made in the last few years. With so much on the line for these players it was clear that a high level officiating skill would be needed for the World Championship in Canada.
When FIFA referees travel from around the world to a FIFA tournament, the referees typically start with a clinic to set the expectation for what is expected on the field, followed by at fitness test. Right away you could see the level of preparation was high among the officials in Canada, with everyone successfully completing the fitness test. It appeared that the average scores had improved from previous tournaments I have attended, including the Women’s World Cup in ’99 (which was the first major tournament to feature all women referees and assistant referees).
As with my games in the qualifying round, it was clear that these games would be very competitive. Being assigned to Vancouver where Germany, Brazil, France and Mexico were playing, I had the difficult task of officiating games featuring teams that favored different styles of play. My first game as a referee was Germany vs. Brazil. These two countries obviously favored two very different styles of play, as was evident in the World Cup Final just a couple months ago.
It was no different here, with the straight-forward, physical attacking Germans and the rhythm and movement of the Brazilian “beautiful game”. There was some incredible skill displayed by both teams, and I think more than one player on each team could play alongside members of their senior teams. Though there was a lot of work required managing the players and a lot of running to compensate for Brazil’s quick counterattacks, the game was an absolute pleasure to be a part of. I always love to be in the middle of a well played, hard-fought, challenging game, and I got that opportunity again in my following game just two days later with Brazil vs. France, two teams who also had very different styles of play.
There was no question in anyone’s mind after watching these games or seeing the USA team play that the Under-19 Women are a very skillful group of players who can produce wonderful displays of soccer. I am proud of the U.S. Under-19 Women’s National Team and their success in this historic event. They many not be aware of it, but their success has opened a lot of doors for referees from the United States, giving us more opportunities to officiate high levels of soccer. Additionally, they have also helped women referees from around the world by proving that women’s soccer can be exciting and well played.
Not only did this tournament benefit the players, it also provided a stage for up-and-coming referees from around the world to showcase their talents – exposing them to higher and higher levels of soccer. I was proud to be selected to referee at this world championship, and I was honored to be a part of history.