At the beginning of August, the very best of Major League Soccer came together to face the world’s very best, in the form of La Liga, European Cup and World Club champions Real Madrid.
The Spanish giants arrived in Chicago for what would be the 22nd annual MLS All-Star Game, and leading out the likes of Sergio Ramos, Toni Kroos and Isco, along with Bastian Schweinsteiger, Kaka and David Villa, was referee Allen Chapman.
More than 60,000 supporters were in attendance at Soldier Field for the game, which went all the way to penalties, where Los Blancos triumphed 4-2 following an entertaining 1-1 draw. Big players, a big audience – a big occasion? Maybe, but the official didn’t let any of that enter his thoughts.
“With experience you learn that the field is the same size. I don’t worry about outside distractions, I just focus on what’s between the lines,” Chapman reflected after his officiating duties in the Windy City.
“I’m not worried about what’s going on outside. That could impact on the match if you let it and, for me, blocking that out is important.
“It’s an exciting time, there’s a lot going on and experiencing it was very enjoyable. Usually when we fly in to do games, we don’t get to experience the cities very often, and we definitely had the chance to do that with this game. Having my family there was very nice as well. It’s a great city, Chicago, but for me it’s about refereeing and doing the best job you can do.”
Before turning his attentions to the All-Star game, the Utah-based official had other business to attend to. Making his professional debut in 2012, five years and 99 MLS assignments later, Chapman brought up a personal milestone when refereeing Orlando City’s visit to Atlanta United, for the last game at Bobby Dodd Stadium, at the end of July.
The century is the latest landmark in Chapman’s officiating career. Towards the back end of the 2016 season, Chapman was handed fourth official duties in the MLS Cup, and he was center referee for the NASL Championship Final between New York Cosmos and Indy Eleven.
However, personal accolades will only come with dedication and high performances on and off the field, and Chapman’s focus remains on taking each game as it comes, while working hard at PRO’s regular training camps.
In fact, it was at a recent camp in Salt Lake which gave him the perfect preparation ahead of the big event in Chicago, and Chapman had nothing but praise for the work that the sports science team continue to do for the organization.
“It doesn’t feel like it at the time, but running with less oxygen does help with conditioning,” he added. “You adapt better to higher altitude games, whether that’s in Denver or in Salt Lake, and it also makes it easier when you go to lower elevations.
“Working with Matt Hawkey and his staff is fantastic, and just being around the staff and the other referees at camp is always good. There was congratulations going round the group to me, and it was very humbling to be representing PRO and my colleagues in that All-Star match.
“Michael [Kennedy, referee manager] mentioned when my 100th game would be about two games beforehand. I knew I was in the ballpark, leading up to when I finished 2016.
“I am grateful for all the support I’ve had to reach that mark, but if you’re worried about numbers then you’ve got your mind in the wrong place. I’m focused on the next game and the next decision – that’s my concern.
“You always have to be thinking about your next game and not a game beyond that. It was no different after All-Star; time for the next call.”