Following another season of progression, experienced official Ted Unkel recently made the journey to China, where he was joined by fellow PRO referees Drew Fischer and Dave Gantar.
The trip, towards the end of October and running into November, saw the three men head to the Far East to assist with the integration of Video Review into the Chinese Super League, meaning spells in the center for a number of CSL games.
Unkel reflected positively on the excursion, praising his PRO colleagues for their support, and all those at the CSL who made the trio feel right at home.
“The experience in China has been fantastic. Drew, Dave and I were originally over there to help with their implementation of Video Review, and that’s a testament to Drew and Dave – who I believe are two of the best we have in PRO in working with Video Review on the field and in the booth – and the training that Howard Webb has led.
“The Chinese have been impressively welcoming, respectful and hospitable. I can’t thank Tiger Liu, Chinese Director of Refereeing, enough for the invitations. Tiger is doing an amazing job and spearheading significant improvement to the country’s refereeing.
“Tiger and the administration have Video Review training set up in the offseason with the goal of implementing in 2018, and are excited to bring it to the CSL and provide their officials with another tool to referee at the highest level.
“There are challenges for domestic referees having international referees come in to officiate some of the most important games of the season, yet my crews were nothing less than professional and put in some high-quality performances.”
For Unkel, however, the trip wasn’t limited to just Video Review training and CSL assignments. The referee, with six years in MLS under his belt, was asked to referee the season showpiece – the Chinese FA Cup Final. The second leg, in Shanghai, featured former Seattle Sounders star Obafemi Martins, alongside the likes of Brazilian internationals Oscar and Hulk.
A crowd of almost 40,000 packed into the stadium as Shanghai SIPG and Shanghai Shenhua played out a memorable encounter. Five goals, a penalty and a red card in a tie ultimately settled on the away goals rule, in favour of Shenhua. Quite the challenge.
It was a game full of quality, and one which highlighted the ever-growing improvement of soccer in China. Unkel is a FIFA-listed referee who has been assigned to MLS Playoff games, the NASL Championship and the US Open Cup Final during a successful career, but for all these achievements, in the eyes of the official, this one is right up there.
“The CSL continues to get better, and the Chinese players no doubt are improving. Owners are committed to putting out a great product, seen in the world-class coaches, international signings and modern facilities. The fan bases are passionate and media coverage is substantial.
“The FA Cup Final was one of the biggest games of my career – another country invited me to travel to the other side of the world to referee their country’s biggest game. That is not lost on me, and it was an honor to get the appointment.
“As with any final, there are pressures that go beyond a normal match and this was no different. Unlike every final, this match lived up to the hype – it was everything you could want.
“The crew was recognized on the field post-game with flowers and a trophy, with the assessor and other dignitaries very pleased with our performance. The trip was definitely an all-round success.”