Image: The 2016 NWSL Championship crew
The Western New York Flash were the winners, taking it 3-2 on penalty kicks following a thrilling 2-2 draw after 120 minutes of play, but they weren’t the only team pleased with their work at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Step forward referee Matthew Franz, assistant referees Alicia Messer and Nick Uranga, fourth official Margaret Domka and reserve AR Francisco Bermudez.
“The hours our team put into preparing for the game paid off,” Championship center official Franz told proreferees.com.
“After two exciting semifinals, our team was ready for an entertaining match and the Championship delivered.
“The preparation that Alicia, Nick, Margaret and Francisco put into the game and their commitment to making our team successful is what puts them among the best referees in the country.
“Having this group as our team motivated me throughout the game and it was their contribution that made our performance successful. Our team was focused from the start and met the demands of a dramatic and tense game.
“It was a fitting end to a great season for the NWSL and I was proud to have been a part of it.”
PRO’s Sandra Serafini added: “We at PRO are very proud of the entire crew that worked the NWSL Championship.
“When we look at assigning a crew to the post-season, our staff review performances of all the officials over the course of the season as well as their engagement with continuing education and professionalism, both on and off the field.
“The performances of this crew over the 2016 season are what speak the loudest, and their hard work is what placed them in a position to be selected for the final.
“We all want the story to be about the players and an entertaining product on the field, but we also recognize how crucial the officials are in facilitating the event so the spotlight is always on the players themselves.
“The crew did an outstanding job being in the forefront when they needed to be and stepping into the background outside of those times to keep the primary focus on the game itself.
“The PRO staff work very hard to support the officials in their preparations, just as any coaching staff does with their team, but in the end they are out there for the game’s duration to step up and deliver.
We can say, with no hesitation, that this crew took care of business, rose to the occasion, and did PRO tremendously proud.”
Blowing the whistle for 31 fouls across the 120 minutes, showing only two yellow cards, Franz believes he adapted to the occasion well.
Like other referees, he is quick to praise those around him, and there was a special moment on Sunday which allowed him to reflect on the input of family and friends.
“The day of the final felt special from the start,” the 32-year-old, who began officiating when he was 13, added.
“Between our pre-game meetings and preparation at the stadium, it was a whirlwind day and it felt good to get on the field.
“The staff from PRO, NWSL and in Houston were willing to help us anyway they could and it was their support that put me in a position to succeed. I can’t thank them enough for making the final a day I’ll never forget.
“As I walked out I saw my wife in the stands and thought of the sacrifices that she and my family made that allowed me to be there.
“It’s a privilege to be on the field with some of the best players in the world in the top league in the world for any game, let alone the final, so I enjoyed every moment.
The celebrations will still be continuing for the Flash, but Franz’s attentions are already on 2017.
The experience of the NWSL Championship has made him hungrier for more, and the hard work starts now.
“Officiating the final was an unexpected end to my 2016 NWSL season. It’s been great to savor the moment with the family, friends and colleagues whose support helped me get there, but I’m back to training this week getting ready for 2017.
“There is always so much to learn and improve on that, even after a successful season, I can’t wait to get back on the field.”