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Since working his first professional match in 2013, Nick Uranga has worked his way to the top and has just completed his first season as an MLS Assistant Referee. In that time, he has worked 5 playoff matches in the NASL & USL, including the NASL Soccer Bowl this past weekend between the San Francisco Deltas and the New York Cosmos. 

Having gotten the inspiration to be a referee from his father, Nick worked his way up through the youth soccer ranks, attending both USYSA Youth tournaments and Development Academy events along the way. After receiving a handful of Division 2 assignments in 2013 & 2014, the Atlanta-area native has continued to work more and more assignments each year – a product of his hard work and humility.

We recently caught up with Nick and got his thoughts on his first full year in MLS and the path that brought him to where he is now…

Q: You had two MLS games in 2016 and you have completed your first full season this year. For you, what has been consistent throughout these first games, and what has evolved with you as you get more games under your belt?

My first two games in 2016 were some of the most exciting moments as were the first few games of the 2017 season. Nothing will match the atmosphere and excitement of your first round of MLS matches. One of the more consistent things I’ve noticed as a dramatic difference in my first full season is the tactful & technical approach as opposed to what I was used to seeing in the lower divisions. Every player on the pitch has a specific element that I’ll make sure to be aware of going into the match. As the season evolves, players start to remember you – what you called/didn’t call in the match before. Building a line of trusted communication; a relationship with players you see often goes a long way.

Q: What was your pre-MLS background? The normal US Youth Soccer / Youth Regionals / Development Academy / D2 leagues progression? How old were you when you started?

I started my officiating “career” when I was just 11 years old. My dad used to officiate our local Sunday amateur league. Instead of just watching the matches, I would grab a tree branch to use as my flag and mirror his outstanding AR skills. I started getting used to the movements, sticking with the 2nd to last defender, etc. Every now and then, an AR wouldn’t show up and I could step in. I was one excited 11 year old. I then started to attend my local Youth State Cup tournament and really fell in love with the idea that refereeing isn’t just for fun – it can be taken seriously. From there, I started to attend Youth Regionals and Development Academy events, and progressively moved up every year to my first D2 match in 2013.

October 11, 2015: The OKC Energy FC plays the LA Galaxy II in the USL Western Conference Finals at Taft Stadium in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

Q: What mentors along the way provided valuable guidance as you moved up?

I can’t possibly list out every mentor along the way, but I’ve had so many people involved – from assignors giving me the opportunities I needed to progress to other refs who helped with advice. There’s no way I would be here without their help.

Q: Any tips you can pass along to the referees coming right behind you regarding the transition from working with peers at events, to then working with referees who have been in MLS for 10, 15, or 20 years in some cases?

One of the biggest attributes that can help anyone is humility & approaching each game with the mentality of a sponge – soak up as much as possible from those with more experience than you. MLS has a huge range of experience that no one can ever replicate. Working with the veteran referees will help you as you continue to mold into an experienced professional referee.

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Q: Off the field, what do you do for work and what hobbies do you enjoy?

I currently work for Ciox Health, a health information management company, as a Talent Acquisition Manager. I’m lucky enough to have my entire team supporting my officiating ambitions. Hobbies include traveling, playing soccer casually, and being with my family.

Q: Lastly, is there anything that you wish you had done differently as you progressed through the ranks, or is there something that you maybe put too much value in, in hindsight?

Honestly, I wouldn’t do too much differently. I’m very happy with my journey to get here. The most important thing; probably the hardest thing is to remember the balance between work, soccer, and relationships. If one is too focused, the others will struggle. I would always try and recommend a good balance.

Photo courtesy FIFA

For  more than 15 years, Chico Grajeda has been one of the most prominent referees across all levels of soccer in the U.S. A mainstay in the professional and collegiate games, Chico has been a part of 10 NCAA Division 1 College Cups and 3 MLS Cup crews, and arguably has one of the broadest resumes in the business.

Beneath a seemingly gruff exterior lies a mild-mannered, soft-spoken, slightly superstitious referee who happened to find his stride on the field a little later in life than some of his peers. After spending 10 years in the Navy, Chico worked as a nurse manager until becoming a Full-Time Referee with the Professional Referee Organization a few years ago. He began working in MLS in 2002 as a 4th official, but worked only 16 total games as a Referee from 2004 through 2008. Conversely, he’s worked nearly 20 games in the middle each year since, the lone exception being 2015, when he missed most of the season recovering from an injury.

This past weekend in San Jose, Chico worked his 150th regular season game as a Referee in MLS. When you add in his 7 matches as Referee in the MLS Cup playoffs (including the 2013 MLS Cup), 121 regular season games as a 4th official, and 7 assignments as 4th Official in the playoffs (including MLS Cup 2011 & 2012), he will cross the 300 game threshold in the near future.

We caught up with Chico recently and got his thoughts on his Video Assistant Referee (VAR) role in MLS, life off the field, and how his fitness routine has evolved through the years.

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Let’s start with life off the field – give us a bit about your gym business, your hobbies, and anything you still want to accomplish down the road.

G.A.C. Fitness is a 25,000 sq ft facility that my wife and I own. This space consists of a main gym, a field/turf room, a multipurpose room, child care, and a large boxing area. We offer group classes, sports-specific athletic performance training, SilverSneakers (a national fitness program for those 65+), personal training, and nutrition support. My “time off” from refereeing consists of training my athletes, preparing them for fitness tests, and increasing their reaction time, power, speed, and agility. We discuss the mental and physical challenges of the game, as well.

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You’re a couple months shy of being the oldest current Referee in MLS. What fitness adjustments have you made through the years that have helped, and is there anything you would have done differently?

Well, I love fitness, I still don’t cut any corners when it comes to my fitness. The biggest adjustment in 2017 is my “Physiological Recovery”: nutrition, sleep, weekly massages, and dry needling. I’m very in tune with my body – I pay attention to all of the little aches and pains and I don’t ignore them.

 

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Photos courtesy FIFA and IFAB

You’re literally the cover guy for VAR around the world, and you’ve been instrumental in the early stages of implementing this process in MLS. Are you excited for the debut of VAR, and what do you think the average fan will think about VAR?

I’m extremely excited to be part of history. I love that Major League Soccer has taken a leadership role in this project. I anticipate that the average fan will be very receptive to VAR. In my opinion, the hardcore fans may be a tougher sell, because the game won’t be quite as “clean” or “flawless,” because VAR will address only the big, game-changing decisions – goals, penalty kicks, sendoffs, and mistaken identity.

You’ve been a long-time NCAA referee. What is exciting, or different, about the college game? Are there professional players now who remember you from when you worked their college games?

Ah…the college game! Having been part of 10 NCAA Division 1 finals, the collegiate game will always have a special place in my heart. The biggest difference is that these are student-athletes – they still play the game for the love of their school colors and school pride. One of my biggest satisfactions in MLS is when a former student-athlete goes out of his way to shake my hand – they always come up and ask about their old school or ask if I’ve seen a certain coach recently. I hope they always remember me as a fair and honest referee and person.

What’s left for you to accomplish, and what are your goals for the next few years?

I think in general, there’s alway something to accomplish. For me, I still want to learn. I still want to improve my skills. I still want to be part of this elite group of PRO referees. I’m enjoying each game as if it was my last game, and I’m taking time to look around the stadium and enjoy the moment. I will make a decision about next season or the following sometime during the winter break. In the meantime, I’m going to do what I love, because I love what I do!

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The Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA) is initiating a RESPECT campaign.  Our members are wearing RESPECT buttons on their uniforms in response to recent incidents and the grave mishandling of those by Major League Soccer (MLS) and the Professional Referee Organization (PRO).

MLS CHANGES A CASE OF REFEREE ASSAULT TO DISSENT

In week 11 of the MLS season, a player intentionally bumped the referee while blasting foul language.  The match report describes the referee assault in detail.

U.S. Soccer policy (202(1)(H)-2) states referee assault carries a minimum punishment of 6 matches.  Without consulting the referee, MLS unilaterally decided to disregard the match report and downgrade Mr. Acosta’s behavior to “excessive dissent” and issue an “undisclosed fine.”

The PSRA condemns MLS and PRO for the willful disregard of a USSF policy meant to stop referee assault and abuse.

MLS TEAM’S SUPPORTERS’ GROUP RELEASES REFEREE DETAILS TO INCITE HARM

Two weeks ago, the President of an MLS Team’s Supporters’ Group posted the personal information of a MLS referee on social media in a manner meant to incite harassment of that official. Later, the official account of the Supporters’ Group retweeted the information.

According to reports, two days later, the club contacted the President of the Supporters’ Group who posted the original tweet.  The original tweet was removed, the club took no further action, and furthermore, the club stated that MLS was taking no further action.

To date, MLS and PRO have neither condemned this behavior nor taken any notable action.  That such a blatant act has neither been punished nor even acknowledged by MLS and PRO is unacceptable.

MLS and PRO have set a disgraceful standard via the tolerance of this act.  In leagues around the world, referee abuse such as this would result in a stadium ban.

PRO PRIVATELY PRAISES REFEREE FOR SENDING OFF, THEN CHANGES MIND PUBLICLY

In week 14 of the MLS season, a player was sent off for Serious Foul Play. After congratulating the referee crew for the correct call, PRO, in their role on the Independent Review Panel, voted to rescind the red card that was issued on the field.

At subsequent Referee and Assistant Referee training camps, PRO has instructed this play was a correct send off and that players who make this type of tackle in the future should be sent off. Specific details surrounding this incident are in a previous release from June 9th.

The PSRA condemns PRO for not standing by its word and its employees.

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The PSRA shares the belief that referees everywhere deserve respect for their tireless contribution to the world’s game.  A higher standard of behavior must be exemplified by all who love the beautiful game.  The PSRA wishes to convey a message of solidarity to all referees and emphasize their integral and respected role in soccer.  Referee abuse in all its forms will not be tolerated.

 

The Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA) is the certified labor union representing Officials employed by PRO, and is an independent fraternal association of referees licensed to officiate the game of soccer by the Canadian Soccer Association (CSA) or the United States Soccer Federation (USSF). PSRA officials referee matches in Major League Soccer (MLS), and other professional soccer leagues within Canada and the United States.

www.refereeassociation.net

 

 

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The PSRA is very concerned by the actions of PRO and the MLS Independent Review Panel following the events of the Orlando City SC vs. Chicago Fire match on June 4.   PRO privately supported our officials for taking the proper, and courageous, red card action on the field and then publicly condemned the decision days later via the unanimous Independent Panel, which voted to rescind the red card fine and suspension to Orlando City SC defender Rafael Ramos.

In response to various recent events, the Professional Soccer Referees Association would like to use the aforementioned match as a backdrop to explain the decisions our officials are asked to make on the field, the protocols that follow an MLS game, and the post-game assessment process that is conducted by the Professional Referee Organization.

Background:

This past Sunday, in an MLS match in Orlando, Rafael Ramos of Orlando City SC was sent off for Serious Foul Play. Mr. Ramos made a tackle that endangered the safety of an opponent, and did so by using his studs to make contact with the right knee of his opponent, Brandon Vincent of the Chicago Fire. Mr. Ramos was sent-off for a “studs exposed tackle that endangered the safety of the opponent,” per the MLS Referee Match Report.

Issues Surrounding the Pool Reporter:

Shortly after the match, questions were submitted by Mike Gramajo, a correspondent with the Orlando Sentinel. He stated that he was the MLS Pool Reporter for the match. The Referee Liaison took his questions to the referee crew, and the crew re-checked the official game notice that was posted in the Referee Locker Room, only to confirm that the club had not listed a Pool Reporter for the match. Per well-established PRO policies, the Pool Reporter’s information must be listed 30 minutes prior to kickoff. PRO’s policy is as follows:

The pool reporter shall be a member of the working media who is designated 30 minutes prior to the Match. The name of the pool reporter and the alternates will be displayed in the locker rooms at each venue.

In the Referee Match Report sent to MLS, PRO, and the involved Clubs, the crew made note of this issue, in an effort to help alleviate confusion and controversy:

“There was no pool reporter name posted anywhere in the referee locker room. Two questions were submitted to the referees by a media reporter after the match. The referee crew declined to answer the questions since there was no pool reporter designated / listed in the referee locker room.”

Mr. Gramajo originally tweeted “From referee liaison: Ted Unkel and referee staff declines to comment on red cards issued to Rafael Ramos & Antonio Nocerino.” In a subsequent tweet, he clarified that “It turns out the club did not have my name on the referees [sic] locker room hence why officials denied [sic] to comment.” This mistake by Orlando City SC is what prohibited the referee crew from explaining the reasons behind both the red card to Rafael Ramos and to Antonio Nocerino.

Assessment Review and Protocol:

As part of the normal review process, each match is assessed by a PRO Assessor and each major decision is notated as a Key Match Incident (KMI). The assessor for this match reviewed the match and made detailed notes regarding the performance of the referee crew. Per the Collective Bargaining Agreement, PSRA receives a copy of each assessment.  

With respect to the two red cards that were issued to Orlando City SC, the assessor deemed the decisions correct and marked them both as KMIs, which would be normal for major decisions in a game. As a result, those plays were put under further scrutiny by PRO’s KMI Review Panel, which pursuant to the PSRA-PRO collective bargaining agreement, is comprised of PRO’s General Manager, Training & Development Manager, and Referee Manager. The KMI Review Panel discusses the plays and reaches a determination whether the referee decisions on the field were correct or not. Both the red card issued to Mr. Ramos and the red card issued to Mr. Nocerino were deemed “correct” by the Assessor and were deemed “correct” by the KMI Review Panel.

Furthermore, the PRO Assessor deemed the referee decision on the tackle made by Mr. Ramos as “Expected”, which means that it is expected that a professional referee gets that decision correct. Upon review by the PRO KMI Review Panel, the decision was upgraded two levels, to be a “Difficult” decision, which means that it is unlikely a professional referee can successfully make this correct call on the field. There are very few decisions per year in MLS that result in a “Difficult” rating. It is PSRA’s opinion that upgrading the difficulty rating of this decision indicates that when the members of the PRO KMI Review Panel discussed this play, they agreed that this was a case of extraordinary refereeing.

Instruction from PRO to Its Officials:

One of the many initiatives implemented by MLS and PRO has been a renewed effort to crack down on and eliminate tackles that endanger the safety of a player. Too many players have had careers cut short by unnecessary tackles, and the PSRA joins MLS and PRO in sharing the opinion that player safety is of paramount importance. As part of the training PRO provides to referees, many incidents are taught that a red card would be the appropriate punishment on a given play. Just recently, in the PRO Play of the Week from week 13, two such plays were highlighted as Serious Foul Play:

http://www.proreferees.com/news-play-of-the-week-2017-week-13.php

In the incident regarding Mr. Ramos, the Referee correctly identified that Mr. Ramos made forceful contact with the knee of Mr. Vincent, and that the contact involved the exposed studs on Mr. Ramos’ shoe – an impact point that can cause additional injury to an opponent.

Independent Review Panel (IRP):

One of the rights held by MLS teams is that they may appeal a send-off if they feel it was an incorrect decision on the field. The appeal is heard by an “independent three (3) member panel comprised of one (1) member of US Soccer, one (1) member of the Canadian Soccer Association and one (1) member of PRO.”

https://www.mlssoccer.com/league/official-rules/send-off-review-procedure

Any vote to rescind a red card must be unanimous; this reinforces the message that only clear errors should be reversed.

When an IRP review of a play is conducted, the referees involved are not contacted as part of the review process. The referee crew in this match was not contacted.

Consistency Going Forward:

At a bi-weekly PRO training camp that just concluded today, June 9th, PRO General Manager, Peter Walton was asked by the referees in attendance about the inconsistency surrounding PRO instruction and the PRO vote on this issue. Walton said the PRO representative on the IRP “has to take off their PRO hat and understand the standard is different from how the KMI panel views a situation and how the review panel views a situation.” This is new information to the referees working in MLS, and PSRA is concerned that while the referees are being instructed to enforce the Laws of the Game, the Independent Review Panel has no such mandate, and, in our opinion, potentially operate outside of the Laws. This lack of transparency and inherent inconsistency should be of concern to everyone – especially given that the Referees involved are not contacted as part of the IRP “review.”

Despite PRO internally deeming the red card to Mr. Ramos to be correct, PRO voted, as part of the IRP, to rescind the red card that was issued. This sends a confusing message to fans, players, coaches, and referees. Consistent refereeing decisions can help create a higher-quality on-field product for the fans and can allow players to exhibit their skills at a higher level.  

PSRA is of the opinion that the PRO member on the Independent Review Panel is making a decision that may be based on the amount of public criticism toward the red card decision put forth by fans, input from the MLS Front Office staff, or any other source of information outside of the Laws of the Game. PRO should gather information from their officials and make a consistent, independent determination regarding the validity of a decision.

The over-arching concern of the PSRA and of the professional referees we represent is that the decisions and the instructions given by PRO this week are a continuance of a long line of mixed messages that has been given by PRO to its employees. If MLS is expected to develop into one of the top leagues in the world, the decisions and instructions from the Professional Referee Organization will need to be clear and consistent, and PRO will need to stand firm in the face of the same scrutiny that their officials deal with on the field week in and week out.

 

Respectfully,

The Professional Soccer Referees Association

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To many soccer referees in the United States and Canada, the Professional Soccer Referees Association (PSRA) represents the group of elite match officials who work in Major League Soccer (MLS). But that is just one part of PSRA. Since 2009, the organization has been a pivotal force in raising the respect for soccer officials in North America, while mentoring the next generation of referees and improving the conditions in which they work.

The game of soccer is always evolving and improving, and the same is true with the profession of soccer officiating. The PSRA has made historic strides in recent years, but a lot of work remains. Achieving those goals will take the work of officials at all levels of the game in the US and Canada.

We thought it appropriate to publish a brief history of PSRA, how it came into being and its efforts so far. Our objective is to demystify the organization to some extent and, as you will read below, explain how the PSRA is fighting, has fought, and will continue to fight for respect and high standards for soccer referees at all levels of the game. In the end, you will better understand our motto – “Through Unity, Strength.” If you are an aspiring referee, after reading this article you might consider joining the PSRA.

PSRA President George Vergara (far L) and Vice-President Ricardo Salazar field questions at the 2017 PSRA Annual Meeting.

PSRA President George Vergara (far L) and Vice-President Ricardo Salazar field questions at the 2017 PSRA Annual Meeting.

History Pre-PSRA
Collective action by soccer referees in the United States dates to the days of the original NASL in the 1970s. At that time, the NASL imported referees from other countries to work games. In protest, a small group of top US referees came together and threatened not to work in the league. Unfortunately, other referees refused to stand together, the group broke apart, and no changes were made.

In 1996, when Major League Soccer was founded, match officials were assigned by the United States Soccer Federation (USSF). Referees were selected from the list of USSF National Referees. Some State Referees were used as Assistant Referees and Fourth Officials. None of these officials were full or part-time professionals. Due to the very low match fees, all had primary jobs outside of soccer. In 1996, referees were paid $250 per game, and Assistant Referees received $190.

The system stayed the same for nearly a decade, with the first major change coming at the end of 2005. Eight of the top club teams from Mexico agreed to take part in the Interliga tournament in January 2006. The games would take place in the US, and USSF referees would officiate the matches. However, the selected officials were offered extremely low fees to work these highly attended and very lucrative games.

In response, the top US referees took a dramatic step to force a change in the game fees. Prior to the start of the tournament, the referees turned back all their assignments for the first and second round of games. On behalf of the top officials at the time, FIFA Referee and 2002 World Cup Referee Brian Hall led discussions directly with the USSF to secure higher game fees. After an agreement was reached, the group of officials worked the entire Interliga tournament.

In 2006, experienced MLS officials including Brian Hall, Richard Heron, and Craig Lowry began discussions with US Soccer and MLS about working conditions. They also sought outside legal counsel and advice from other referee organizations, including the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL) in England to assess options for achieving greater representation.

Since the birth of MLS, the USSF and MLS dictated game fees and per diem rates for match officials. Approaches by the MLS referee group to raise fees, rates, and other benefits were repeatedly rebuffed. USSF and MLS simply dictated terms, as they had the power to do so and the officials had no organized means by which to object. Officials had no success in establishing a legally binding contract with USSF and/or MLS to improve working conditions.

In 2007, USSF made an unprecedented move by formally hiring four FIFA referees – Ricardo Salazar, Terry Vaughn, Baldomero Toledo and Jair Marrufo – as full-time USSF employees. These referees became the first full-time professional soccer officials in the United States. They received an annual salary in exchange for working MLS and other USSF-assigned games, as well as attending formal training events. All other professional officials in the US remained independent contractors with no collective bargaining rights.

PSRA Formation
In 2009, MLS soccer officials formed the PSRA to unite all MLS Referees, Assistant Referees and Fourth Officials under one common banner. After organizing, in early 2010 the PSRA approached MLS and USSF to negotiate a new agreement for game fees, per diems and several other non-economic items. The PSRA stood together as a group and achieved moderate increases in pay and working conditions as part of a five-year agreement, or memorandum of understanding.

It is interesting to note that during these discussions, it was the PSRA which suggested to MLS the concept of having a third-party organization to manage the referees – something similar to the PGMOL in the UK. This arrangement would have given MLS greater control over the league’s pool of match officials.

The Arrival of the Professional Referee Organization (PRO)
In early 2012, MLS, USSF, and the Canada Soccer Association (CSA) collaborated to form the Professional Referee Organization. PRO was tasked with hiring and managing professional soccer referees in the USA and Canada. Peter Walton, a former FIFA Assistant Referee and English Premier League Referee, was hired as PRO’s first General Manager.

Directly after the formation of PRO and Mr. Walton’s appointment, the PSRA approached PRO about collaboratively negotiating an agreement on behalf of all PSRA members. In Fall 2012, after inviting PSRA leadership to attend a meeting, George Vergara and our legal team met with PRO in New York. In this short meeting, PRO announced its refusal to discuss a new agreement stating PRO would negotiate with all referees individually.

From PSRA to Collective Bargaining Group
In November 2012, 20 referees were offered formal, employment via individual contracts with PRO, effective January 1, 2013. Again, PRO refused to negotiate collaboratively with the PSRA. With no other options, the PSRA sought legal representation with a firm experienced in representing sports officials including the National Basketball Referees Association (NBRA). As the PSRA took the first steps toward forming a union, PRO took steps to stop it. For instance, in February 2013, PRO held several conference calls with PSRA members advising them not to unionize.

Despite the anti-union lobbying by PRO, MLS and USSF, the PSRA remained united and in April 2013 moved to be recognized as a labor union under United States federal law. In the following weeks, 20 PRO-employed referees and 60 “independent contractor” assistant referees/fourth officials signed union cards seeking union representation by the PSRA.

The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a ruling authorizing the PSRA to hold a unionization vote. The NLRB administered the vote on September 20, 2013. With an overwhelming vote of 55-7, members voted to certify PSRA as a labor union. Because of this vote, the PSRA continues to exist as the association representing professional soccer officials in the US and Canada.

PSRA Secretary Peter Manikowski addresses the membership at the 2017 Annual Meeting

PSRA Secretary Peter Manikowski addresses the membership at the 2017 Annual Meeting

Formation of the First Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA)
PRO was now legally required to negotiate with the newly formed union. Thus began the lengthy, expensive and challenging task of reaching a Collective Bargaining Agreement. PSRA formed a dedicated Negotiating Committee; this selfless, dedicated group of volunteers logged thousands of hours working diligently with PSRA attorneys and other consultants to author from scratch and negotiate a CBA. The Negotiating Committee was also responsible for updating PSRA members regularly, and in great detail, about the pace of negotiations. Committee members were not compensated for any of their efforts. This was a true sacrifice of time and effort which can never be repaid.

The Lockout
The initial CBA negotiations did not take place in a collaborative manner. From the beginning, extensive delay tactics by PRO slowed the process. Meetings were postponed and/or canceled. Incorrect documents were submitted. PRO routinely submitted proposals that were worse than its previous offers. The PSRA went to the NLRB on four occasions to file charges against PRO for failing to negotiate in good faith.

After eight months of negotiations and no agreement, the 2014 MLS regular season was days from kickoff. PRO wanted PSRA to agree not to strike, but PSRA would not commit to such an agreement without a CBA. Therefore, one day prior to the start of the season, PRO decided to “lock out” the PSRA members and prevent them from working. This also meant that the 20 Referees who had been hired by PRO in late 2013 would not be paid. Many of those referees had given up their primary jobs, and their commitment to the union resulted in significant financial hardships.

In planning for “lockout,” PRO spent tens of thousands of dollars recruiting officials not in the union to officiate MLS games. In all, 35 non-professional replacement officials and some foreign officials were used by PRO during the “lockout.” These individuals worked against the PSRA and its attempt for fair and equitable working conditions for current and future referees.

Poor performances by the replacement officials forced PRO to reach a Collective Bargaining Agreement with PSRA after just two weeks. The CBA was ratified by PSRA members and officially signed by PSRA President George Vergara on March 20, 2014.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement
The CBA between PSRA and PRO was a landmark agreement solidifying the role of Professional Soccer Referees in the US and Canada. The agreement guarantees standards officials worked to achieve for nearly four decades into a legally-binding contract.

The agreement denotes four different types of officials: Full-Time Referees, Part-Time Referees, Assistant Referees and Fourth Officials. There is also a defined structure for salaries and per-diem rates, plus several other benefits including health insurance, worker’s compensation and minimum standards for travel arrangements. This CBA was a watershed moment in how Professional Soccer Officials are treated and respected. Importantly, it set standards of what it means to be a professional soccer official. No longer are referees considered a minimally necessary requirement, but rather a critical component of successful soccer in Canada and the US

Grievances of CBA Violations
As part of any Collective Bargaining Agreement, a process exists by which either party may file a grievance in case the other does not live up to the terms of the contract. Since the ratification of the CBA, the PSRA has been forced to file 43 grievances against PRO. As of December 2016, PRO has filed no grievances. Two major grievances warrant special mention:

In November 2014, PRO terminated the employment of Referee Geoff Gamble. The PSRA filed a grievance against PRO challenging whether the release of Referee Gamble complied with the terms of the CBA.. After an arduous process lasting nearly a year, during which Mr. Gamble was not allowed to officiate PRO-assigned matches, an arbitrator ruled in favor of the PSRA and determined Geoff had been released in violation of the CBA. The arbitrator instructed PRO to reinstate Geoff as a referee for the 2016 season. According to PSRA’s legal representatives, this was the first time a professional sports official in the U.S. had been reinstated to employment through the grievance/arbitration process. It was a landmark case.

In 2016, the PSRA filed a grievance claiming a referee subject to the collective bargaining agreement received additional compensation from PRO outside the terms of the CBA. After a months-long hearing process, an arbitrator determined PRO had wrongly and knowingly overcompensated the referee and instructed PRO and PSRA to come to an agreement; otherwise he would decide the remedy. The PSRA and PRO agreed to a large penalty payment whereby Bargaining Unit officials received this payout.

The Second CBA
The initial CBA expires on January 15, 2019. The PSRA will again represent its members in negotiating the next CBA with PRO. The PSRA believes working collaboratively with PRO will yield a better agreement for all parties involved and improved performance by officials on the field – the ultimate objective. The PSRA understands strong steps may be needed to protect current members and those who follow. The PSRA is also cognizant that standards set at the top filter down to lower levels – even the youth.

Adam Garner (standing), Chair of the Membership Committee, answers a question during the 2017 Annual Meeting

Adam Garner (standing), Chair of the Membership Committee, answers a question during the 2017 Annual Meeting

The Future
As the PSRA looks to the future, it is clear the organization has accomplished an immense amount in a brief period of time. That said, there is more work to do. Today, the PSRA is an established labor union recognized by the National Labor Relations Board. Our focus is continuous improvement of the terms and conditions of employment for Professional Soccer Referees in the United States and Canada. It is important to note that this includes not only MLS, but all other professional divisions as well as international matches.

As we expand, the PSRA is also proud of the mentoring programs and service to the game in which many of our members are involved. PSRA is conscious of its leadership position and will work to promote the growth of Soccer Refereeing across the United States and Canada at all levels.

Benefits of PSRA Membership – The Time to Join is Now!?
Today, PSRA offers membership options for referees at all levels. Whether you are working in the professional leagues, or a weekend warrior at the local park and want to stay involved with what is happening at the top level, membership is open to you. Although the Association is focused primarily on the professional level, its work does filter down and will have a major impact on referees coming up through the ranks. PSRA’s goal is to ensure professional soccer officiating can be a viable career choice for those who pursue this passion. Through your membership, you will reap the benefits of those who came before you as well as pave the way for those who succeed you. We look forward to continuing the journey with you.

If you aspire to become a professional referee, we highly suggest you join the ranks of PSRA today! The registration process is simple and available on the homepage of our website: http://www.refereeassociation.net/.

For questions regarding the content of this post, or other questions regarding the PSRA please email ‘info@refereeassociation.net’.

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Chris Strickland has announced his retirement from officiating, ending a career which included all 21 seasons of MLS to date. Strickland, who was a FIFA Assistant Referee from 2002 through 2011, worked a total of 295 games in MLS, including 22 MLS Cup Playoff games.

Strickland began his professional career prior to MLS, working in the American Professional Soccer League in 1992. His last professional match was on October 30, 2016, when he ran line on the MLS Cup Western Conference Semifinal between Seattle Sounders FC and FC Dallas.

Highlights of Strickland’s career include the 2006 World Cup; the 2004 Olympics; the 2003, 2005, & 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup; the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup; MLS Cup 2005; and the 2006 CONCACAF Champions League Final.

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Strickland, seen here prior to a game at the 2004 Olympics

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(L-R) Strickland, Terry Vaughn, Jose Carlos Rivero, and Greg Barkey

We caught up with Chris recently and got his thoughts on his career, his memories, and what’s next for him:

You’ve experienced all the different eras in MLS – starting up in 1996, contraction in 2002, expansion in 2005, and now the “Designated Player era.” Describe how the refereeing has adapted to the different expectations throughout the history of MLS.

Well, what’s the same? 22 players, 1 ref, 2 ARs and a 4th official, but that’s about it. In ‘96 we received an assignment by mail a couple weeks before the game, and faxed in our acceptance. Back then, only the referee and the FIFA ARs would travel, and even then they tended to stay within a limited geography. Most games were only televised locally, if at all, which made it very difficult to get to know players and understand team tactics. With the large group of referees used the first couple of years, it was even difficult to work as a team and understand what amount of help each referee needed or wanted. That first season, I only knew one of the referees I worked with. There were about 100 [US Soccer] National Referees in 1996, but I think we used something like 300 officials the first two years, which meant many were not national referees and had only received training and instruction at the local or state level, and it was not consistent across the country. Now we have a small group of professional referees that all know each other and train together a couple times a month. We have professional trainers to help us stay healthy and to help us keep up with the faster speed. In terms of play, the first few years we had mostly college level players that had no respect for one another, which resulted in games with many nasty fouls. We were encouraged to manage players if at all possible rather than send them off. MLS was a starting point for many players who would leave to play in Europe’s lower divisions. Now players want to play in in the U.S. Today, MLS has multi-millionaires who could play anywhere in the world.

How did you juggle the demands of refereeing with your family & taking time off work?

I am very lucky. I have a very understanding wife and family, and work for a company willing to work with me. My wife knew this was my dream, and she took many vacations with our children that I missed because I had used all my vacation. But this is part of why it’s time to retire, I need to dedicate more time to her.

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(Referees L-R) George Gansner, Carlos Batres (GUA), Terry Vaughn, and Strickland seen here before Mexico and Costa Rica square off in a quarterfinal match of the 2007 Gold Cup

Internationally & domestically, you have checked off the box for virtually every competition as a referee. What words of wisdom can you pass along to the up-and-coming referees?

First, it has to be fun. We have a few full-time guys, but for the rest of us, this is just a hobby and we can make a little extra money. You can’t stress yourself out worrying about going to all the tournaments, or being concerned someone else got a better assignment. Do the games you are assigned and have fun with those. It could be you didn’t get assigned to the tournament final because everyone already knows what you can do, but they really needed to see someone else. Second, advancing is often more about what you do off the field than on it. We have a lot of great referees and many of them could work at the highest levels. However, if you are the type of person assignors can’t trust off the field, they won’t give you the games.

Can you describe all the work that goes in behind the scenes of the major tournaments?

I have been lucky in that I have been to several tournaments and many different countries, yet we don’t get to experience much of the country. Depending on the tournament we would arrive 5-7 days before the opening game. Day 1 is usually a light workout followed by a classroom session. Day 2 is the fitness test – if you fail, you go home with no tournament pay. The daily routine for the rest of the week leading up to the opening game is split between a morning fitness session plus an hour or two of on-field training, then more classroom work in the afternoon. Assignments usually come out 1-2 days before the games begin. Once the games start, we keep a similar schedule, but the fitness session is broken into 3 groups: Those that had a game the day before, those that have a game the next day, and everyone else. The classroom session is a group debriefing of all the games from the previous day. During the sessions before the games start, we review several points of emphasis. The post-game debriefs pull clips from each game to show where referee crews followed the points of emphasis or where they need to improve. We do usually get a couple days off and FIFA organizes sightseeing, but this is usually on days with no games, as we were either working the games, or were expected to be in the stadium watching.

Who served as mentors to you, and what lessons did you take away from them?

Some of my earliest mentors were Vin Wholley and Bob Martinez. They really helped me understand how to manage players and the game. As I moved up a little, I received help from Brian Hall who taught me more about management and professionalism. Once I became a national referee, I kept learning about players and game management from people such as Esse Baharmast, Fernando Alvarez, Scott Weyland, Alfred Kleinaitis, and more assessors than I can name. Then there were the other national referees – we talked after every game, and we were always learning, seeing what works for each person and trying some of it in our own games.

Is there a game or an experience that stands out above the others?

The game I most remember was the quarterfinals in the 2004 Olympics between Iraq and Australia. Iraq was in the middle of a war, and two hours before the game, as we were walking the field, in the upper bowl were several hundred Iraq supporters standing and singing. It helped me remember that this is just a game, but it can unite all of us.

What memories are you going to take away from refereeing?

All the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met. Seeing star players when they were just starting, like Landon Donovan at the U-20s and Messi at the U-17s [FIFA U-20 and U-17 World Cups].

What are your plans going forward (in life or soccer)?

Hopefully, I can contribute to the growth of soccer as a National Referee Coach. I’ll still do a few local games, just to run around and have some fun. I’ll spend a lot more time with the family on a few extended vacations…and not the 2-3 day ones I get now.

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Recently, Terry Vaughn has been doing a little better. An addition on the house has given the Vaughns the wheelchair ramp that is now necessary. His new wheelchair is allowing him to venture out more, and perhaps most importantly, Iowa Wrestling has started up again.

Terry Vaughn was an MLS Referee for 15 years. He was a FIFA Referee for 9 years. He worked FIFA and CONCACAF tournaments. He refereed in the CONCACAF Champions League. He worked college games for over 20 years and is in the NISOA Hall of Fame.

Yet he was holding a secret the entire time.

Terry, now 43, was 30 when he tested positive for the gene that causes Huntington’s Disease (HD). Learning this was not the result of a series of long, extensive tests involving a string of specialists, but instead was the result of a DNA test conducted because he and his wife Kim wanted to have a child. Terry’s father had HD and passed away at the age of 49. Terry has lost his father, both of his uncles, and his grandmother to HD, and currently has 2 cousins that will be or are symptomatic.

Huntington’s Disease is not a well-known disease. It doesn’t get its own color, and no one knows its month (May, by the way). It is a hereditary disease that is currently incurable. The symptoms begin to exhibit themselves primarily between the ages of 35 and 45. Huntington’s slowly kills brain cells and eventually causes the brain to decline into dementia.

Vaughn, seen here working a game for the local youth league in Iowa

Vaughn, seen here working a game for the local youth league in Iowa

On the Field

Terry, is best-known as a soccer referee, but long before that, he was a gifted athlete who wrestled all 4 years at the Iowa HS State tournament. He still follows the sport and can be found every winter watching the University of Iowa Wrestling team, where the Vaughns remain season ticket holders.

As a referee, Terry worked a total of 238 games in his MLS career: 167 as Referee, 56 as 4th official, and 15 as Assistant Referee in 1998 & 1999, his first two years in the league. He was nominated to the FIFA Referee panel in 2004 and represented the USA until his retirement in 2012. He refereed at the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2007 & 2009, and was selected for the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2007. Highlights of his MLS career include 22 playoff games, as well as working the 2006 & 2009 MLS All-Star game as a 4th Official.

A genuine and likeable guy, Terry has interacted with referees at youth tournaments across the country. He could regularly be found mentoring at USYSA Regional or National tournaments, at USSF Development Academy events, or back in his home state of Iowa.

Terry knew all along he had a limited window to achieve the success that he did. That’s why he worked so hard in every aspect of life and in soccer along the way. Considering how much of Terry’s time as a referee was used for mentoring, and how many referees benefitted from that instruction, it almost doesn’t seem fair. Kim recalls that mentoring was one of Terry’s favorite things to do, and that he got so much joy out of it. No matter what his role, everyone got to see Terry at his best, because there was no other option for him.

Successful referees typically come from successful soccer areas with good players, good teams, good coaches, and a deep pool of retired referees to mold the referees that follow them. Mount Vernon, Iowa, is no soccer mecca, but Terry realized that residing there would be a crutch only if he let it be. In his earlier refereeing years, Terry’s drive to be a successful referee led him to Chicago, where he gained valuable experience as a referee – frequently in some of the toughest men’s amateur leagues in the country.

With the announcement that the Referee Academy he founded is being named in his honor, Vaughn (left, in green) receives a standing ovation at the 2016 Terry Vaughn Referee Academy. (Photo Courtesy Iowa Referee Committee)

With the announcement that the Referee Academy he founded is being named in his honor, Vaughn (left, in green) receives a standing ovation at the 2016 Terry Vaughn Referee Academy. (Photo Courtesy Iowa Referee Committee)

Terry Vaughn Referee Academy

While Terry was focused on becoming a better referee, he never lost touch with the referees surrounding him.  Each winter since 2002, the Iowa Referee Committee has hosted a referee clinic that Terry started.  It regularly draws 300-500 referees and is widely considered one of the best in the country.  In an effort to keep the academy free for anyone who wanted to attend, Terry worked diligently to find sponsors each year.

“Terry came to us with a plan to reach out to all referees in our state, which was later expanded to anyone who wanted to attend,” said Greg Annexstad, Emeritus Chairman of the Iowa Referee Committee.  “It would involve only top ranking instructors, no cost to the attendees, a free lunch, and arranged transportation for those who did not have it available.”

The academy has had dozens of FIFA referees, National referees, and NISOA referees as instructors in the past – attributable directly to the friendships that Terry has fostered through the years and the hospitality of the Iowa referee community.

In February 2016, the Iowa Referee Committee renamed the academy in his honor. The ceremony included tributes from dozens of veteran referees across the country, as well as video tributes from a long list of friends Terry made throughout his career in MLS, USSF, AYSO, NFHS, and NISOA.

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Terry with friend & former FIFA Referee Ricardo Salazar at the 2016 Terry Vaughn Referee Academy

 

(L-R) Salazar, Vaughn, and retired FIFA Assistant Referee George Gansner at the 2016 Terry Vaughn Referee Academy

(L-R) Salazar, Vaughn, and retired FIFA Assistant Referee George Gansner at the 2016 Terry Vaughn Referee Academy

Effects of Huntington’s Disease

Terry retired from the FIFA Referee panel and from professional refereeing at the end of 2012, at age 39. He continued to referee High School and College, but it soon became too much. Refereeing had long been an escape from Terry’s sentence, but time had finally caught up with him.

Initial HD symptoms are sometimes easy to miss – your mental abilities are not as sharp, your mood changes, and you become unsteady and uncoordinated.  As Huntington’s progresses, random body movements become more apparent and jerky.  HD can be described as having the symptoms of Parkinson’s, ALS, and Alzheimer’s simultaneously.

Knowing the diagnosis as they did, Terry and his wife Kim kept a sharp eye out for these symptoms throughout the years. “I would forget about it during my really good times, but then it would sneak back in if I had a bad game,” he said.  “The question in my mind was, ‘is it because I am starting to become symptomatic?’”

One of the aspects of HD that most frustrates medical professionals and family members is its lack of predictability. Each patient reacts differently to medications, and those small differences can multiply to large knowledge gaps in HD research. The genetic basis for HD was not discovered until 1993, and much more research and funding is needed for a cure.

Vaughn, right, enjoyed mentoring referees and devoted much of his time to helping others follow in his footsteps

Vaughn, right, enjoyed mentoring referees and devoted much of his time to helping others follow in his footsteps

A New Reality

In January 2015, Terry decided it was time to see a HD specialist and was prescribed a drug called Xenazine. “He did wonderfully on the drug – his movements became non-existent for the first time,” said Kim.

Terry did his best to hide his emotions for a long time after that. He wanted to portray to his wife and daughter that everything was under control; that it would be OK. Life went on as normal for several months. It was likely a mix of pride and denial – feelings most of us would experience. Everything eventually built up and Terry decided one day that he could no longer go to work or help with the family. It was that quick.

Days quickly arrived when Huntington’s made normal, everyday minor issues seem like monumental problems. Someone spilling something on the floor or getting home late from work would cause Terry to get very upset. “Things quickly spiraled out of control to where he wasn’t sleeping and began having very dark thoughts about hurting himself. I naively thought I could still fix this and help him, but unfortunately he was too far into his depression and he was so angry at God,” recalls Kim.

The dark reality of Huntington’s doesn’t exhibit itself in the uncoordinated movements – those can be managed and dealt with. Those are just side effects, relatively. The real tragedy is that HD destroys brain cells. There is no cure. It causes happy-go-lucky people to have fits of rage and seemingly change into a different person.

HD is characterized by movement disorders, cognitive disorders, and behavioral/mood disorders.  Some treatments can relieve certain symptoms of HD, but one of the realities of HD is that there currently is nothing that can be done to stop the disease.  Full-time care is required in the later stages.

As Kim alluded to, there were times in the summer of 2015 when Terry wanted to end his own life. He was becoming angrier and was determined not to be a burden on his family.  It’s unfathomable that the same person whom everyone loved refereeing with would be in a situation like this.  For his family, it was very difficult to see him reach a new level of depression and anger.

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A Cycle of Depression

Kim decided she had to act. The doctors made changes to Terry’s medication, including temporarily removing him from Xenazine. Terry began to level out emotionally. The Xenazine was re-introduced a few weeks later in a lower dose and it worked. Terry went to watch his daughter play soccer, and the family vacationed in South Dakota. In the back of Kim’s mind, she wondered when these better times would end. What would set his HD off? What could set it off? “We certainly had a wonderful time, but it was like walking on eggshells hoping and praying that he wouldn’t erupt over something small,” Kim said. “I look back at our pictures and what most people see is a really fun family vacation, I see a sadness in him. I think in his mind it was the last family vacation he would take.”

By Thanksgiving 2015, Terry’s dementia began to get worse. A medication change to help him physically, hurt him mentally. He began to get angry again, this time much more violent than before. “It is surreal at times to realize this man refereed in Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, in a stadium that holds 100,000 people inside while another 100,000 party outside, but now he can’t control his emotions or realize that his anger isn’t going to change his situation,” Kim said.

Meanwhile, Kim struggled with all the normal emotions and decisions that we all would struggle with, if we’re honest. There have been times of pity, times of strength, times of fear, and times of happiness. Throughout this battle with HD, Kim has drawn herself back to her faith, her family, and her friends.

If faced with a decision to take someone we deeply love to the hospital knowing that he or she may not come home again, would we make the “right” choice? What is the “right” choice? The family has had to decide between short term safety and long term loss several times. Huntington’s turns the most peaceful person into a violent, unrecognizable stranger.

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Vaughn, with his daughter, enjoying another night of University of Iowa Wrestling

Accepting and Adjusting to HD

This past spring, one instruction from the doctors was for the family not to get caught up in Terry’s choice to participate or not participate in something. Going to a soccer game, or a wrestling meet, or a softball game; those needed to be more of an option, as the doctors wanted to see how he progressed under those guidelines.

Terry’s daughter is an active 11-year old who plays softball and soccer, and makes sure to give Terry a full report on the referees from her games that he can’t attend. They still banter about whether the referee was right or wrong. Terry approaches these discussions like he would if he were still mentoring the referees, by offering constructive criticism or advice, but it’s geared toward his daughter now instead of the referees that he spent so many years helping.

There have been plenty of light-hearted moments along the way, as well. Back in 2014, Terry was still active and had gotten down to his lowest weight as an adult. Fast forward to January 2015, and the specialists said he needed to focus on putting on some weight, as they were a bit concerned. The man who was a gazelle on the soccer field and worked incredibly hard on his fitness will pat his pot belly now and gladly say that he’s just following doctor’s orders.

Terry had a string of good friends come by and visit this past May. His mood changed for the better. He was excited to see people he hadn’t seen in some time. Despite his decreasing ability to fully stand or walk on his own, he was determined to venture out at times and see his daughter’s games, which in turn gave the entire family wonderful optimism. At his daughter’s last soccer game of the season, Terry fell in the grass while standing with his walker. Despite it being a soft fall, it served as a final reminder that his pride, and his athletic mentality, needed to take a step back a bit.

The need for a reliable way to move around came to fruition this past summer when Terry decided he needed a wheelchair full-time. According to Kim, “He teased our daughter he was going to get pink and purple so that he could embarrass her…It is very important for an 11 year old not to have the weird parents.” The enthusiasm and motivation he felt enabled him to get out to the county fair and see the calves that his daughter was showing. While this was a highlight of his summer, it also marked the beginning of another decline in his mood and attitude in the coming weeks.

Recently, anxiety began to surface from Terry about an addition to the family’s house. He knew that the wheelchair ramp, the accessible bathroom, and his own bedroom were necessary and welcome, but the HD was again causing anger about both minute details and major construction aspects.  In one moment, he will be concerned about how Kim isn’t sleeping at all due to his movements, and in another he is concerned that someone isn’t by his side at all times, even for a few minutes.

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(L-R) Kim Vaughn, Terry, and their daughter

Moving Forward

Currently, research efforts in London are testing a new drug called ISIS-HTTRx. It targets a toxic protein called mutant huntingtin, which is the root cause of the disease. It is intended for patients who are in the early stages of HD, and while the window for Terry to benefit from the drug has passed, it would delay his symptoms and would possibly help his cousins. The Vaughns are optimistic that the University of Iowa will be an approved testing facility if these experimental drug trials are approved in the US.

Terry has been doing well in recent weeks.  The addition on the house has brought him both comfort and security, his new wheelchair is giving him more freedom, and Iowa Wrestling has started its season well. He will now walk around the house each day with his walker; something he wasn’t willing to do previously. Most importantly for the family, their dining room table was able to be put back in the kitchen, and Terry can sit down with them for a family dinner.

Reflecting on his career and his life, Terry has only one regret: “I wish my family would have traveled more with me so we could have had more time together since I was on the road so much.”

Kim writes in her blog, “[H]ow many of us walk through life working a job which we have no passion for?  He lived his passion.  If there is one thing I can tell my child, my nieces and nephews is to do just that…live your passion and do it without regret.  Live without fear.  It’s all so cliché, but if you can learn anything from this awful disease is live doing what you love with the people who love you.  His regrets only come because he can’t remember all the wonderful times he spent taking care of our daughter.  He can’t remember me rolling my eyes at him because he was racing a cart down a grocery aisle to hear our 3-year old scream in delight.  He only remembers he can’t referee, be a husband or the father who can lift mountains anymore.  If we spent half the time we focus on all the negatives in life focused on gratitude for all the good things, our lives would be so different.”

Terry, front left, seen here with his team at a recent walk to raise money & awareness for Huntington’s Disease

Terry, front left, seen here with his team at a recent walk to raise money & awareness for Huntington’s Disease

[Editor’s note: This is the first in our “Get to Know” series. While we don’t anticipate future articles being this in-depth, the PSRA appreciates the opportunity to share Terry Vaughn’s story and raise awareness for HD.  Terry is a valuable and respected member of the PSRA family, as well as many other soccer organizations.  The PSRA extends its sincere gratitude to the Vaughn family for their willingness to discuss their struggle with Huntington’s Disease.]

For more information on Terry’s ongoing fight with Huntington’s Disease, you can read his wife’s blog here – https://sassymojo10.tumblr.com/]

To find out more about HD, or to make a donation toward HD research, visit www.hdsa.org

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Sean Hurd has announced his retirement from officiating, ending a career which included 11 seasons in MLS, 8 years on the FIFA panel, and a selection to the 2014 FIFA World Cup.  

Hurd, who resides in Jacksonville Beach, Florida, began officiating in MLS as an assistant referee in 2006 and became a FIFA Assistant Referee in 2009. He continued to move through the ranks internationally, working several CONCACAF and FIFA competitions along the way and accomplishing milestones that few referees would dare to imagine. Hurd’s last match as a professional referee was on November 6th, 2016, when he ran line in the 2nd leg of the MLS Western Conference Semifinals between Colorado Rapids and Los Angeles Galaxy.

In his MLS career, Hurd worked 102 regular season matches as well as 8 playoff fixtures.  He was also appointed to his first U.S. Open Cup Final in 2016, his last season as a professional referee.

 

 Hurd, seen here during Chile’s 2-0 victory over Spain on June 18, 2014 at the FIFA World Cup


Hurd, seen here during Chile’s 2-0 victory over Spain on June 18, 2014 at the FIFA World Cup

Representing the USA at the FIFA level, Hurd was chosen for the 2011 FIFA U20 World Cup, 2012 Olympic Games, 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup, 2013 FIFA Club World Cup, and ultimately the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.

Pre-game ceremonies before the France vs. Nigeria match in the Round of 16 at the 2014 FIFA World Cup

Pre-game ceremonies before the France vs. Nigeria match in the Round of 16 at the 2014 FIFA World Cup

Many of those on-field achievements were reached alongside his long-time crew of Mark Geiger and Joe Fletcher. “Sean Hurd is the most underrated AR in the USA in my opinion,” Fletcher noted.  “If people only knew how clinical he was for an entire World Cup Cycle; knocking down incredible decisions in training and more importantly in matches.  With all that being said, Sean is an even better teammate and person.  He’s also one of the few who could handle travelling around Europe with me for that long!  You’ll be missed bro!”

(L-R) Joe Fletcher, Mark Geiger, longtime MLS Referee Liaison Bob Cowhey, and Hurd.

(L-R) Joe Fletcher, Mark Geiger, longtime MLS Referee Liaison Bob Cowhey, and Hurd.

We caught up with Sean recently and asked him to reflect on his influences, his career, and his plans going forward:

Sean, what makes this the right time to retire?

I absolutely love the game and the individuals associated with the game, especially my referee “family”.  While my passion for the game has not diminished, it is an important time in my personal life from a family perspective.  My family has supported years of me being away and I have missed some major milestones in that time.  It was also very important for me to go out on my own terms and while I was at the top of my game, so collectively this was the right time to retire.

Who served as mentors to you, and what lessons did you take away from them?

I have had so many mentors along the way, there is no way I can do all of them justice.  So many different people have had an influence on me as a referee and as a person.  At the local level, several took an interest in me and helped me in a number of ways: Jozsef Michna, Rodney Kenney, Brooks McCormick, and Grant Merrill to name a few.  Across the country and internationally, I was fortunate to receive guidance from the likes of Esse Baharmast, Don Wilbur, Herb Silva, Alfred Kleinaitis, Paul Tamberino, Brian Hall, Rob Fereday, and Steve Taylor.  Many, many others took the time to mentor me and provide me with feedback along the way, but a common thread between all of them is their undeniable passion for the game and for helping referees develop.

Looking back, is there a game or an experience that stands out above the others?

There are so many great memories on and off of the field.  Obviously the 2014 World Cup in Brazil was the pinnacle of my refereeing career, but I think the one that holds a very special place in my mind is the 33 days we spent at the 2011 FIFA U20 World Cup in Colombia.  Our crew (Geiger, Hurd, & Fletcher) was literally put together a few short months prior to the competition and once we got to the tournament, it was clear from the beginning that it would be an uphill battle.  At the time, not many in the international community thought our crew could referee at the highest level, and why would they?  Especially since we were largely unproven internationally at that time.  As the tournament progressed, there were pain points (literally) and obstacles to overcome, yet we never wavered and the chemistry of our crew strengthened with each passing day.  We were determined to represent our countries in the best possible way and let our performance on the field speak for itself.  In the end, we were rewarded with the appointment to the Final between two storied soccer powerhouses, Brazil and Portugal.


How did you juggle the demands of refereeing with your family & taking time off work?

It was difficult at times, but both my family and my employer were extremely flexible and understanding.  From a family perspective, technology was a big help because I was able to connect with my family from most of the locations I visited.  Occasionally the time difference proved challenging, but when you are away for long periods of time you make it work.  I think the key was making sure that when I was home, I focused on my family and tried not to be quite as immersed in soccer the whole time.  From a career perspective, I was able to work remotely, so it was manageable most of the time.  When it was not optimal to work remotely, the wonderful team working for me in Jacksonville pitched in and covered for me.

From 2011 to 2013, you were at FIFA events that represented progressive tryouts for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Referees like to say “just do what got you here.”  What advice would you give, and how does that experience affect your approach to games now?

Interestingly enough, I maintained the same principal approach along the way and continue it today:
1) Preparation – prepare mentally and physically for each match and/or event.  Never stop learning.
2) Execution – preparation will help ensure you are in the best possible position when a big decision is necessary.
3) Confidence (without arrogance) – be confident in your abilities, but be humble at the same time.  Remember, no one is indispensable.
4) Control the controllable – Don’t let outside noise influence you.  Be aware of it, but don’t let it interfere with your performance.

In the 2014 FIFA World Cup, you had a critical game in the group stage – Spain vs. Chile. The game was hugely important, considering that Spain – the defending champions – was at risk of being knocked out, and the world was watching intently. Can you recall that experience for us from your perspective?
Spain vs. Chile was a monumental game and stakes for both teams were high.  The eyes of the world were focused on this game because a loss for Spain meant elimination.  All games have some level of pressure, but big games often come with higher levels of pressure simply because of the significance of the outcome and the teams involved.  This game was no exception, including pre- and post-game drama.  Before the game there was so much tension, not with our crew, but with the players and the atmosphere. It was electric!  As part of our preparation for the game we met with our referee coach, Esse Baharmast, back at base camp to go through team tactics.  Pre-game activities continued in the locker room with a telephone call from the Head of FIFA Refereeing, Massimo Busacca, who offered his own version of words of encouragement.  Then there was Fletcher’s now infamous match commissioner handshake snub in the tunnel as we waited to take the field.  Of course the game itself was spectacular and lived up to the hype.  Post-game, things continued with reports of the pregame handshake going viral and the overly enthusiastic fans who celebrated a little too much by gaining access to the media room.

Hurd, seen here with Greece before their FIFA World Cup match against Colombia on June 14, 2014. This was the crew’s first of three matches at the tournament.

Hurd, seen here with Greece before their FIFA World Cup match against Colombia on June 14, 2014. This was the crew’s first of three matches at the tournament.


We see all the games on TV, but can you describe the daily life & what happens behind the scenes of the major tournaments?

The games are often the easy part of the tournament, comparatively speaking anyway.  The days and nights are long and non-game days often begin at 6:30am with weight control (physical weighing and body composition analysis), followed by breakfast as a group.  Depending on the day, there would be either field training (physical conditioning and/or game simulation activities) or classroom training/game debriefing after breakfast.  We normally ate lunch as a group, then a little down time before either an afternoon field session or classroom training.  Dinner occurs as a group at about 7pm and that is usually the end of organized activities.  In Brazil we had a recreation room where we could unwind with ping pong, foosball, and other games.  On match days when we were not working a match, we would often get together in small groups to watch the matches.  Sometimes we would gather in someone’s room or in one of the private areas set up with TVs.  Depending on the country, travel days were usually 1-2 days prior to match, so the schedule was a little less formal when away from the base hotel.  Usually early in the morning or late in the evening were the times when we could connect with family and friends or get some work in.  They try to give a day off or a “free day” as we like to call it about every 7 days or so where we would make it a point to absorb some of the local culture.

What pieces of advice can you pass along to up-and-coming referees?

Enjoy yourself.  You never know when it will be your last game, so treat each one like it is your last and enjoy the moment.

What memories will you take away from refereeing?

The friendships mostly, many of which will be lifelong.  Also I have been privileged to travel the world and see some truly amazing places.

What are your plans going forward (in life or soccer)?

I plan on catching up on some of the family time I have missed, but I also hope to stay involved with the referee program in some capacity.  Even if nothing materializes within USSF, PRO, CONCACAF, or FIFA, I plan on continuing to mentor young referees in my local area as much as possible.

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As the professional seasons in North America come to a close, the PSRA would like to congratulate all of our members who worked a Championship or Playoff assignment in the various professional leagues in the US & Canada during 2016.

League Championship crews:

MLS Cup

R – Alan Kelly

AR – Frank Anderson

AR – Joe Fletcher

4th – Allen Chapman

Reserve AR – Danny Thornberry

 

NWSL Championship

R – Matthew Franz

AR – Alicia Messer

AR – Nick Uranga

Reserve AR – Francisco Bermudez

 

NASL Soccer Bowl

R – Allen Chapman

AR – Kyle Atkins

AR – Cameron Blanchard

4th – Robert Sibiga

Reserve AR – Eric Weisbrod

 

USL Cup Final

R – Armando Villareal

AR – Brian Dunn

AR – Nick Uranga

 

Federation Championship crews:

Amway Canadian Championships

First Leg:

R – Mathieu Bourdeau

AR – Gianni Facchini

4th – Silviu Petrescu

 

Second Leg:

R – Drew Fischer

AR – Daniel Belleau

AR – Oscar Mitchell-Carvalho

4th – Dave Gantar

 

US Open Cup Final

R – Baldomero Toledo

AR – Sean Hurd

AR – Adam Wienckowski

4th – Sorin Stoica

Reserve AR – Kyle Atkins

 

League Playoff Assignments:

 

MLS Cup Playoffs

Ian Anderson

Frank Anderson

Fotis Bazakos

Daniel Belleau

Eric Boria

Allen Chapman

Brian Dunn

Ismail Elfath

Drew Fischer

Joe Fletcher

Adam Garner

Mark Geiger

Chico Grajeda

Juan Guzman

Jeremy Hanson

Jeff Hosking

Sean Hurd

Jonathan Johnson

Alan Kelly

Kevin Klinger

Craig Lowry

Peter Manikowski

Eduardo Mariscal

Jair Marrufo
CJ Morgante

Jeff Muschik

Matt Nelson

Corey Parker

Chris Penso

Silviu Petrescu

Brian Poeschel

Kermit Quisenberry

Jose Carlos Rivero

Corey Rockwell

Mike Rottersman

Ricardo Salazar

Robert Sibiga

Sorin Stoica

Kevin Stott

Chris Strickland

Danny Thornberry

Baldomero Toledo

Ted Unkel

Armando Villareal

Jason White

Adam Wienckowski

 

NWSL Playoffs

Francisco Bermudez

Farhad Dadkho

Matthew Franz

Alicia Messer

Cory Richardson

Nick Uranga

Marco Vega

 

NASL Playoffs

Kyle Atkins

Claudiu Badea

Cameron Blanchard

Logan Brown

Allen Chapman

Oscar Mitchell-Carvalho

Jose Carlos Rivero

Robert Sibiga

Sorin Stoica

Anthony Vasoli

Eric Weisbrod

 

USL Playoffs

Kyle Atkins

Francisco Bermudez

Andrew Bigelow

Ryan Cook

Brian Dunn

Tom Felice

Jon Freemon

Guido Gonzales, Jr

Luis Guardia

Juan Guzman

Mark Kadlecik

Matthew Kreitzer

Rosendo Mendoza

Andrew Musashe

Cory Richardson

Nima Saghafi

Artur Sibiga

Kevin Terry, Jr

Ramy Touchan

Nick Uranga

Armando Villareal

Eric Weisbrod

 

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“It’s all about giving back and paying it forward.”

That’s a common remark you’ll hear from most professional soccer referees. Every referee remembers where they started out and the fellow referees who helped them to get where they wanted to go as an official. That mindset is one of the underlying principles of the PSRA and is one of the reasons why so many PSRA referees can be found passing along their knowledge to referees at tournaments and events throughout the year.

Each summer, United States Youth Soccer teams compete in the National Championship Series in their quest to be crowned National Champions. Along the way, there are four Regional Championships across the country, with each event featuring the best teams those states have to offer. While there are many success stories of prominent players that have competed in these events, the same can be said about the referees involved. Each referee is selected by their state association, which provides the top teams with top referees from their region. As a referee, being invited to “Regionals” is one of the first rites of passage in their career.

In 2001, the Director of Referees for Region III, Bob Wertz, began discussing a more effective way of helping referees during the event with Ryan Cigich & David Lakin, two of the Region III State Referee Administrators. Their efforts helped create a Mentor Program in 2002 that would give some of the referees a small group setting in which to discuss their games. The idea was based on the principle that while an Assessor will grade a referee on a given day, a Mentor would coach the referee over the course of multiple days. One of the things that has remained constant is each state selects a few referees that they feel will benefit from this intensive program. In turn, those referees are expected to bring their new knowledge & experiences back to their home states in order to serve the local referee community.

Chris Penso and his group discuss the week that lies ahead. Penso has managed the Region III Mentor Program for the last 2 years and has been a Mentor in the program since 2011

Chris Penso and his group discuss the week that lies ahead. Penso has managed the Region III Mentor Program for the last 2 years and has been a Mentor in the program since 2011

“Some of our biggest support came from Mike McDaniel, the Region III Director,” said Lakin. “He saw what we were trying to do with the referees and gave us support and the room to grow. Having that support by an administrator was key.”

“The first year was hectic because the Mentors were doing double-duty as assessors”, said PSRA member Jonathan Johnson, one of the original “Mentees,” as they are called. “We were all learning on the fly, but it was great. By the end of the week, all of the referees were really impressed and knew this was something that needed to carry on. It’s wonderful that it’s been happening for so many years now. I’m glad the program is in good hands right now with Chris [Penso].”

For the referees, day one at Regionals involves seeing old friends, meeting new ones, and participating in pre-tournament meetings. For the mentors, meeting your wide-eyed mentees for the week is exciting and humbling. Ideally, each mentor will have around 4-5 mentees in order to provide enough support for each referee through the week. Among other things, the small group will discuss some goals that each referee wants to reach and determine a rough timeline in order to facilitate their small group meetings after games. Cameron Blanchard, a first-time mentor this past year, said “I was humbled to have the pleasure of sharing my knowledge & experiences with a young group of referees who are eager to learn and progress through the ranks.”

Danny Thornberry meets with his Mentees to discuss their goals and determine how he can help them throughout the week.

Danny Thornberry meets with his Mentees to discuss their goals and determine how he can help them throughout the week.

One of the responsibilities of the Mentees is to be willing to discuss the areas they need to work on – anything from man-management techniques, to positioning, or even fine-tuning their skills as an Assistant Referee. At the same time, the Mentors have a responsibility to not only help the Mentees with their known deficiencies, but to also identify other aspects that could be improved upon. A key part of the Mentor-Mentee relationship involves building trust in each other quickly and identifying ways to communicate effectively with someone who might be a stranger prior to the event. “It’s great seeing officials progress as the tournament goes on,” said Mark Kadlecik, a long-time Mentor at Regionals. “It happens every year.”

Oftentimes that newfound trust carries over and develops into a friendship long after the week is over. “I worked with a referee who had a stellar week but failed an assessment in a previous year’s final game”, said Leland Grant. “I continued to work with the referee throughout the year and was thrilled to see her selected for nationals the next year. This was very rewarding for me…I was humbled to be a small part of her accomplishment.”

This past summer marked the 15th year of the Region III Mentor Program. PSRA members Paul Scott & Adam Garner have managed the Mentor Program in recent years.  This past summer, member Chris Penso took the lead role for a 2nd time.

As with past years, this year’s event featured many PSRA referees as Mentors for the week-long event. Participating as Mentors this year were Kadlecik, Danny Thornberry, Jonathan Weiner, Grant, Rubiel Vazquez, Blanchard, and Nima Saghafi. Most notably of those, Weiner, Grant, Vazquez, and Saghafi had all recently participated in the Mentor Program in reverse roles – as Mentees. This cycle is beneficial for everyone, as many who become professional referees look to give back to the next group of referees.

Thornberry, a 5-year Mentee and now a 5-year Mentor, said “a great part of this program is that we have a mix of current national referees and former national referees. The mentees are able to get a mix of referees that are at different levels in their careers. Additionally, another big part of the program is that Region III and Ryan Cigich (Referee Director) totally support our efforts and give us the resources to help the up and coming referees.” According to Weiner, “For me, the best part is being able to give back to the future of soccer referees; it’s the place where I once started from myself. It’s all about giving back and paying it forward.”

Referees have historically found it difficult to succeed without the proper network of mentors that can give you the guidance to help you grow and advance as a referee. The PSRA and its members are proud to be associated with the Region III Mentor Program and similar events across the country that help provide a sustainable structure for the next generation of referees.

(L-R) Cameron Blanchard, Chris Penso, Kermit Quisenberry, Ryan Cigich, and Leland Grant

(L-R) Cameron Blanchard, Chris Penso, Kermit Quisenberry, Ryan Cigich, and Leland Grant

 

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