Image: Chris Strickland in MLS action
Twenty-four years. Nearly a quarter of a century. That’s how long Chris Strickland’s professional officiating career lasted, before he announced his retirement from the PRO roster at the end of 2016.
The experienced AR has seen and done it all over the last two decades and more, and is one of six officials to have stepped down from active duty.
It was back in 1992 when Strickland officiated in his first professional game, and four years later he ran the line during the inaugural MLS season.
Between then and now, he has racked up 273 regular season assignments, been part of MLS Cup and All-Star crews, featured in multiple Playoff games, and received international honors. So, how would Strickland sum up such an illustrious career?
“I’m not sure it’s possible to sum everything up in a few sentences,” he said. “I’ve been officiating for as long as I can remember; well over 30 years. It’s been a phenomenal experience that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
“I have been very fortunate to get to travel the world and meet many great people through my involvement in the beautiful game. There were many sacrifices made, but with the support of my family I was able to achieve all of my goals, and I often had to set new ones along the way.
“Being selected to represent the U.S. at the World Cup in Germany is probably the highest honor I have received on the field. When I started as a 12-year-old, I had no idea that one day I could represent my country at the World Cup.”
LA Galaxy versus Kansas City Wizards was Strickland’s first MLS game 20 years ago.
He recalled the first time he met the referee was when he had to pick him up on the way to the game – a far cry from the preparation that goes into matches in the modern day.
Since PRO’s involvement, officials have gone full-time, meetings are held regularly to discuss and review performances, and support staff assist with everything from on-field coaching, through to sports science and nutritional advice. To quote Strickland, “the difference is like night and day”.
And now, with the AR’s retirement, comes the opportunity to give something back, and pass on more than two decades of expertise to the next crop of U.S. Soccer officials.
“PRO has had a big impact [on the development in officiating]. First, allowing the referees to be full-time, and to only have to worry about officiating is huge. For many of us, for numerous years we had to balance family, work and soccer. A bad day at work could easily impact training and, in some cases, on-field performance.
“Second, with regular meetings the officials are able to be more consistent. They are able to review plays, discuss options and why certain decisions were made. While they are not always in 100 per cent agreement, they usually come away pretty close. Finally, officials are getting consistent coaching. They have a training plan, they have nutritional help, and meaningful feedback from every game.
“I’ve just completed the course to become a National Referee Coach, so I am now looking forward to working with the next group of referees and hopefully bringing them into MLS, or helping MLS referees make it to the international panel and have international success.”