Like a lot of MLS teams, the offseason at PRO has been far from quiet, with Howard Webb promoted to the General Manager’s role at the start of the year, a period of restructuring has been completed, ready for the new campaign.
And just like the MLS, when the action starts, there will be a network of analysts hard at work behind the scenes, collecting data and evaluating performances to allow players to continue to develop.
For professional referees and their assistants, the structure is no different, with a backroom of support staff trying to ensure that the very best standards are being hit for each game week.
The man tasked with leading that process for referees in 2018 is Alan Black, a former international referee who is taking up the role as Referee Manager at PRO.
Originally from Northern Ireland, Black has been the center official at the highest level for UEFA – the European equivalent of CONCACAF – before retiring in 2013.
“The last game I refereed was Liverpool against Scottish club Hearts in a preseason friendly in July 2013, and realized it was time to close the door on this part of my career,” Black told proreferees.com. “I decided to hang up my whistle after coming off the FIFA panel for referees about six months before that, and then moved to the States with my family to start afresh in July 2015.
“I’d been an international referee and also had a career in UK government, so I came across the Atlantic with an administrative background and was employed at a private boarding school in Southern California about six weeks after arriving, working there for more than two years.”
But after a couple of years of working with US Soccer at local levels, and as Black calls it,‘enjoying the easy life in California,’ he never really harbored a return to high level soccer. However, it was a chance meeting that eventually led to him getting involved with PRO about two years ago, and ever since it’s been a progressive journey.
First joining the PRO roster at the beginning of 2017 as a Regional Development Assistant, Black then became fulltime as an Assistant Training Manager for the Development Group and has now been promoted further to Referee Manager for the senior rank of officials.
“I happened to meet Alex Prus [Director of Development Match Officials] in March 2016. He listened and watched some of my work, and was invited to assess professional games and then he approached me about going into coaching.
“My two roles through 2017 were about working with the officials in the development group just beneath MLS and now I’m with the senior guys.
“Ever since I’ve been with PRO my primary function has been to be a coach, an educator, somebody that referees can approach to help solve problems such as schedules or any refereeing issues. I’ve also provided a shoulder for many referees to discuss anything they wanted.
“Now I’ve been give the opportunity to do that with the first team, if you like, educating and helping them, getting to know them individually and seeing them improve.
“Coaching from the refereeing side is no different to professional soccer coaching because we cannot give a general message and expect everyone to respond, we have to work to everyone’s individual needs.
“There are potentially 23 referees between fulltime and part time in MLS and it’s a lot of work, but at the same time it’s very rewarding to watch a referee respond to the coaching and advice and encourage them to come back for more.
“I can tap into my experience, tap into the experience of my coaching colleagues, tap into Howard’s [Webb, PRO General Manager] experience, and really help each individual get to where they need to be during 2018.”