U.S. Soccer and the referee program in the U.S. would not be where they are today without the dedication and commitment of individuals like Roger Schott.
He refereed 22 international matches in his career, and was part of every North American Soccer League Championship from 1968-1976. He is most credited for developing the assessment program for the U.S. Soccer Federation.
After getting the U.S. Soccer Referee Program off the ground in the early 70s, he admittedly has been inducted into every referee Hall of Fame he could think of, but considers his greatest honor to be an award he got in remembrance of one of his closest friends, Eddie Pearson.
Pearson died in a car accident in 1978, and the award was first given out a year later to a referee who “has distinguished himself through outstanding contributions to soccer refereeing in the United States.” Scott was given the award in 1980.
He was appointed chairman of the U.S. Soccer Federation Referee Committee in 1984, and a year later was appointed to the CONCACAF Referee Committee.
Before 1970, there was no program to develop referees in the U.S., and it was up to the state administrations to develop their own.
“That’s how I got on the map,” Schott said. “Because Eastern Pennsylvania at that time had one of the best programs, and we pretty much indoctrinated referees to what we had and the experience we had. That was basically the foundation of the program in the 70s.”
The added bonus of having Schott at the center of the program was his international background, and the U.S. Soccer Federation sent him on a training trip to Europe.
He was born in France and immigrated to the U.S. in 1954. His close proximity to the FIFA headquarters in Switzerland, growing up in Strasbourg, France, and his knowledge of the European referee system proved to be a valuable resource when helping develop a program in the U.S.
“I went to France and Germany and became an international referee,” said Schott. “I became a technical adviser to FIFA because I was pretty close to Sepp (Blatter), the president of FIFA. I met him on several occasions, so we had his support and he helped us out with developing a program as well.”
With big names like Pele and Franz Beckenbauer making their way to the U.S. in the late 70s and early 80s, Schott said his initiative to increase the quality of refereeing was backed with vigor by Werner Fricker, who was in the administration of the U.S. Soccer Federation from 1975-1990, and started in the same Eastern Pennsylvania region as Schott.
“The initial idea was to develop a competent instructional staff, and then an assessment program. When (Fricker) was president, we lived very close together and worked next door, and that was key for the development of the referee program, because he certainly realized we needed to elevate the refereeing because the play in the leagues became more competitive and more refined.”
One of the biggest advancements in the referee assessment program was the 1999 Women’s World Cup.
Schott said the American referees in the tournament on home soil had an outstanding performance, and it was easy to see the program was headed in the right direction.
“That was at a higher level,” he said. “It’s at those occasions that you can measure yourself internationally to see the progress. I think we’ve come a very long way, and we’ve sent some of our FIFA referees to some international assignments.”
When it comes to assessing referees today, Schott said it’s hard for him because he’s not exposed as much to a game that has changed a lot since he was involved.
Still, he said the places to look at the major growth of American referees are in amateur tournaments and other national tournaments such as the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
The program that is in place today would not be what it is without the hard work and dedication of those like Schott, and to him, the demand for quality refereeing is even more critical in today’s game.
“We need to change how people look at today’s game, and not yesterday’s game,” Schott said. “The assessment pool is an important part because it’s not what you do in the classroom, it’s what you do on the field. You’re only as good as your program and the people who evaluate the referees.”