The 1996 MLS All-Star game. The 2009 MLS Cup in Seattle. Dallas versus Chicago in a Playoff match at the Cotton Bowl.
What do those three occasions have in common?
The answer: They are the three most memorable matches in the career of PRO’s Kevin Stott, who recently refereed his 300th MLS game having worked in the league since its inception in 1996.
“The All-Stars in 1996 at Giants Stadium is on the list because it was the first All-Star game for the league,” Stott said, reflecting on the match which attracted a crowd of 78,416.
“The second match would be the 2009 MLS Cup in Seattle because it was the first Cup to go to penalty kicks, and because my wife was there in the stands enjoying the moment.
“The third match was a Playoff between Chicago and Dallas at the Cotton Bowl when it was a best of three series – the match was memorable because of the intensity between the two teams.”
What about number 300? That was LA Galaxy versus Chicago Fire in Week 10 of this season.
Stott, who is the longest-serving active referee in MLS, took to the field at StubHub Center alongside experienced AR Craig Lowry; Eduardo Mariscal and Alex Chilowicz, but kept his personal milestone to himself, ensuring the focus was on the task of refereeing the match successfully.
Image: Kevin and his wife Melanie holding the jersey which was presented to him by LA Galaxy
After the game, the Galaxy presented the official with a special jersey to mark his achievement, and PRO assessor Arturo Angeles was on hand to present the game ball.
“I wanted to keep the fact it was my 300th game low profile because it fits my personality and the way I have approached my refereeing,” Stott, who was the 2010 Referee of the Year, added.
“I was very appreciative for what the LA Galaxy did for me. It showed the level of professionalism that embodies the teams of MLS. It was a simple gesture but more importantly they took the time to honor the game.
“It was more personal because my wife was able to be a part of the moment. Since we have two small boys, it’s not easy for her to attend games when I travel. The fact I was able to do this game in Los Angeles made it that much more special.”
From the first season in 1996 to now, Stott – who is based in Chino, California – has seen the league expand and evolve, and he has shared the field with thousands of players and hundreds of fellow officials.
And it’s the bond shared by referees, which goes above and beyond what happens on the grass in front of the TV cameras, which Stott enjoys.
“Refereeing has allowed me to make a connection with a group of fellow officials who have something in common that few others can share.
“As a group we attempt to go out every week to be the best that we can be at our decision-making so that at the end of the day no one remembers who we were.
“The nervousness, excitement, preparation, and determination that goes with each match cannot be understood except for those who have gone through it. And, for this reason, I have the utmost respect for each of the referees in the league.”
Image: Kevin Stott speaking to David Beckham during MLS action
One of those fellow referees is Terry Vaughn. A representative of U.S. Soccer from 1987 to 2012, Vaughn officiated in MLS alongside Stott before he retired five years ago.
His reason for retiring was to spend time with his family, as he learned that he had the gene that causes Huntington’s Disease when he was 30. Vaughn has lost his father, both of his uncles and his grandmother to HD, and currently has two cousins that will be or are symptomatic.
During the month of May, PRO’s officials, including Stott, are supporting Vaughn and helping raise awareness of Huntington’s Disease by wearing blue HD wristbands.
“Terry Vaughn is a friend who dedicated his life to soccer but, more importantly, a man who loves his family,” Stott said with fondness.
“I was honored when he invited me to speak to his annual gathering of referees in Iowa – a memory that I will always remember. It was amazing how referees spoke of Terry’s refereeing but more so when they talked about how Terry would help them with their desire to be better referees.
“I am impressed with this concept of promoting HD Awareness this month; it has become a personal issue for so many referees who know Terry or have known about him.
“I will wear my blue wrist bands with honor during this month as a way to raise awareness for HD and a way to pay tribute to Terry, his wife, and their children.”
Image: Kevin Stott wearing his blue HD wristbands during his 300th MLS game