Image: Alan Kelly, ball in hand, leads out his crew and the players of Seattle and San Jose
Alan Kelly has had a busy few weeks, that’s for sure.
The referee was at BC Place in Vancouver on October 23 to notch up his 23rd MLS regular season game of 2016 on Decision Day.
It was then straight back home to Duxbury, Massachusetts for the Irishman as his wife Laura was heavily pregnant, expecting their third child together. Daughter Quinn duly arrived, to the delight of the Kelly family, before the center official was back in the sky, headed to LA.
StubHub Center was the venue as Kelly made his MLS Cup Playoffs debut when the Galaxy took on Real Salt Lake in the Knockout Round on October 26.
The next stop was home and, a few days later, news of another career milestone arrived for Kelly, after he was voted the MLS Referee of the Year for 2016, taking the honor for the second successive year.
“It’s fair to say that it has been a roller-coaster of emotions!” he reflected.
“It was sheer delirium at Quinn’s arrival; delight and pride at refereeing my first Playoff game, and I’m very honored with the MLS award.
“In the game that we are in, there are plenty of highs and lows. They go hand-in-hand with being a referee. The last few weeks have been hugely enjoyable and incredibly rewarding so, for now, I will enjoy the positives.
“Dashing back and forth across the country wasn’t ideal but everything worked out great in the end and my children Eva and Aaron are thrilled with their baby sister. My wife Laura was incredible throughout so I can’t really be complaining about flying in an airplane for a few hours!”
Kelly was one of three finalists for the league’s top prize, alongside PRO colleagues Jair Marrufo and Baldomero Toledo.
Voted for by media, MLS players and MLS club management, on average he received 62.93% of the votes to come out on top, while Frank Anderson picked up the Assistant Referee of the Year honors.
“That’s one word I will use to describe it,” Kelly said, when asked whether he was surprised to receive the award again. “Honored and privileged are others.
“I said last year that this award is not something that I, as a referee, look to ‘win’. My focus has always been just to referee my games to the best of my ability. If, along the way, recognition for how I go about my work comes in the form of an award, then I am thankful and grateful for that recognition.
“We have an extremely talented and dedicated group of officials within the PRO ranks and some quality young officials coming through, all of which would be deserving winners, such is their dedication and commitment.
“We challenge each other every week to improve and there is an openness in the group that I admire greatly. I share this award with every one of my colleagues.”
From Ireland and the UEFA Champions League, to North America and the MLS Cup Playoffs – Kelly’s career has taken him around the world, in some of the most famous stadiums and competitions.
And he has the accolades to show for his success – he’s a six-time Referee of the Year in his native country, and now a two-time award winner in MLS. But, arguably his biggest accomplishment, in his own words, is simply becoming an established referee in North America.
“It is something that I am very proud of. It’s safe to say that I have faced many challenges since moving my family across the Atlantic close on three years ago, challenges that I believe that I have met head on.
“The adjustment, at times, has not been easy. Throughout that time, I have always remained professional and dedicated to my work.
“One of those challenges has been starting new in a league and a role where I knew nobody. Looking back, that was probably a good thing. Over the past three years I have attempted to maintain and surpass the high standards that I have set myself throughout my career.
“I have always been passionate about refereeing and still continue to learn and develop. This is where I again thank my colleagues for creating an environment which promotes professionalism, learning, competition and camaraderie.”
So, the big question: what’s next?
“That’s a good question,” he joked. “I have learned never to look too far ahead.
“The season is coming to an end in a few weeks so when that time comes I will look forward to rest and recovery and, of course, spending time with my family. Training will continue until then.
“With regard to targets, I do set myself some personal goals as a motivational tool. When it’s time to go again, I’ll be ready and able.”