Under different circumstances, the USL League One season would have started this weekend. However, like the rest of the world’s sport, it is currently taking a back seat as the focus switches to the far more critical challenge of tackling COVID-19.
Granted with third division sanctioning in 2018, USL League One is just one year into an exciting future after an inaugural season filled with historic moments from the first kick to the final.
The same could be said for the opportunities that lie ahead for PRO official Jon Freemon, who was assigned to the center for the 2019 USL League One Championship Game between North Texas SC and Greenville Triumph in October.
Having overseen nearly 40 MLS matches from the Video Review booth and a further eight MLS games as fourth official, while also operating as a referee in USL, Freemon was delighted to whistle his maiden final last term.
“It was such an honor to be a part of the first final for USL League One,” Freemon said. “It’s validation for all the work you’ve been putting in and makes you want to push even harder for the next level.
“The day could not have been better. My family made the trip, and having that support in the crowd is a big deal; it gives you that extra oomph when running down the pitch.”
Standing in the middle, blowing the final whistle, provided a brief moment of reflection for the man who spends his time away from the soccer field running a family bookkeeping and tax business.
“I grew up in a suburb of Kansas City, Kansas, and I started from some pretty humble beginnings in recreational soccer when I was 13. Every team was red versus blue – we didn’t have to worry about kits or colors back then.
“I got into it when my whole baseball team went out to referee at the same time to make some extra money, but it stuck for me.
“You get seen in your local league, then your state notices you, and then they start to send you to bigger games, so I’ve been pretty fortunate to be supported by the state of Kansas. I went on to do events throughout the Midwest and once you get regionally noticed, that’s when you get picked up on a national level.
“I’m a kid from a small town in Kansas, so I hope people can realize than anyone can make it if you get your head down and do the work.”
The amount of preparation required at each stage increases as officials progress along the pathway to the professional level. A final will determine the championship and define players’ careers to that point, and there is no more significant occasion for officials either.
“I had a lot more research to do, talking to other referees,” he explained. “I had to become very familiar, very quickly, because we normally have longer notice of an assignment.
“That was the only difference; each game is a process for us, and it’s about going through the same one every time.
“I spoke to my coach, Michael Kennedy, about the players and watched both teams’ semifinals, as well as talking to the referees who had those games.”
With the unpredictable nature of the playoffs, the US official – who mentors young referees of Kansas Youth Soccer and Heartland Soccer Association – had limited time to prepare for such a milestone match at the Toyota Stadium.
“Come playoff time, you don’t know who is going to win or where the games are going to be. There were two weeks left, the semifinals were to be played that weekend, and I received a phone call from Alex Prus congratulating me on the assignment.
“I still had three appointments [in other competitions] to complete before the final, so I celebrated for a few moments with my family, before putting it aside to prepare for the next games.
“I was pleasantly surprised when the final came my way; there are not many of them to go around, so it was a big deal. I’m already looking forward to getting back out there and working hard towards the next one.”