PRO official Jason White recently formed part of the crew which took to the field for the 2017 US Open Cup, running the line for the Final between Sporting Kansas City and New York Red Bulls.
It was the latest milestone in the assistant referee’s career, and we caught up to him to reflect on the game, the season, and his career as a whole.
Huge congratulations on the assignment to the US Open Cup. What was your reaction at the time — did you have any idea you might be in line?
You never expect to be appointed to a final. These kinds of opportunities don’t grow on trees and, although I’ve had a good season, it was a huge surprise to receive the news. It probably took a week or so before the importance of the match really started to sink in.
Hilario Grajeda, Andrew Bigelow, Jeff Muschik and Ismail Elfath made up the rest of the crew for the Final. Did you enjoy sharing the experience with those guys?
Yes – I’ve known everyone in the crew for many years. Chico, I’ve worked with many times over the years in different types of matches, so I’m familiar with his style and really comfortable running line for him.
Ismail was the referee on my first MLS match, so it was great to share another milestone. Andrew is a fellow Midwesterner, and I’ve known him and Jeff a long time. These are all great guys, and it was special to enjoy the occasion with all of them.
How did you feel the match went from an officiating point of view?
Overall, we were really pleased. It was probably the most intense match I’ve ever officiated. The energy from the players and the coaches was off the charts right from the opening whistle. The game felt like it was right on the edge of boiling over, but it never quite did.
As a fan, that type of exciting atmosphere is what I like to see and as an official, it is what I hope we can deliver. Chico managed the players and the occasion expertly, like he always does, and I’d like to think the rest of us played a small part in that as well.
You’ve surpassed the 50-game milestone in MLS this season — are you pleased with how the year has gone? How much do you feel you’ve progressed over the last couple of years under PRO?
This has been a good season for me so far, but I’m focused on finishing strong and continuing to refine my performances. The perfect officiating performance does not exist; there are always things we can do better. I’m working on improving in subtle areas that many folks may not notice, but which can be important to the overall performance of an AR.
Greg Barkey is doing an outstanding job running the AR program at PRO. The information we get is top-notch, and lots of the little things he’s put into place are helping us to improve our level.
You started your refereeing journey relatively late — talk us through that…
My journey to professional refereeing was not a typical one. I started refereeing at 25, so I didn’t have the advantage of learning and growing as a young referee. In fact, I never attended Youth Regionals! I worked my way up through the ranks of amateur and lower professional leagues, I was on the national list as a referee for eight years and AR for three years before being invited to join PRO in 2014.
By all rights, I probably should have given up on my dreams of officiating in MLS long ago. There were times when I was convinced I’d never make it, but I always felt I was good enough and kept working hard and doing things the right way.
I was fortunate to get some great opportunities along the way at events such as Armed Forces, USASA national events, and USSF DA finals. Feedback and guidance from many great mentors helped me to develop my game.
My family encouraged, supported, and indulged me as I kept fighting to achieve my dreams. My wife Mary Anne and our two daughters Abigail and Emma sacrificed as much or more than me along the way, and I would never have made it without them.
Last but not least, where does the game rank in your career highlights?
It’s definitely one of the biggest moments of my career. The US Open Cup Final is one of the headline fixtures in our country each year, so it’s an honor to be a part of history.
My first MLS assignment was special, as was my first professional match as a referee; both were huge milestones for me. The Open Cup Final was bigger because it wasn’t just a highlight for me personally, but for all of the officials, the players and everyone involved with the match. You have to treat it as if it’s the only one you will ever do; you can’t count on going back.
Some of my best memories are sharing my referee experiences with my family – at the All-Star Game this year, Mary Anne being there with me at the Open Cup, and my family being in LA in 2014 for Landon Donovan’s first match after being left off the USA’s World Cup 2014 roster. These are special moments I’ll always remember.