Abbey Okulaja was a former professional soccer player and 10-year MLS Referee, and also a former MLS Referee of the Year.
Currently a Concacaf trainee assessor in addition to his U.S. Soccer National Referee Coach and PRO Assessor credentials, his experience is crucial to his current role in PRO.
“To be successful in assessing at the professional level, the ability to understand the game from both a playing and officiating perspective is a big advantage,” Okulaja said.
“We are already working with top level officials, so feedback provided to them must be carefully thought out and, from an assessor point of view, we need to have an awareness that the smallest tweaks may make a positive difference in their next game.”
While Okulaja was recruited by Alan Black to the Assessor Panel in 2018, he had been working with officials at all levels previously as Illinois Director of Referee Development, and is an Illinois State Hall of Fame Inductee.
Meanwhile, an assessor who has been with PRO since its inception is Steve Olson.
The former US National Referee and FIFA Assistant Referee (refereeing two US Open Cups and working as an Assistant Referee on two MLS Cups) has experience on Concacaf and FIFA Futuro instructor courses, and has a background in sports administration during which time he had responsibility for developing the system for mass fitness testing of U.S. Soccer officials.
When asked about staying successful for so long at the top level, Olson was quite clear: “To be successful as an assessor you need to be of value to the official.
“I believe the collective in PRO is on the same page when it comes to the fundamentals of officiating soccer at the top level. The training sessions have us processing rules, interpretations, and mechanical functions very uniformly.
“Technology has had a huge impact. Video Review ensures every game is broadcast at some level. Video, through Video Review, has become an asset, but scrutiny and the ability to be scrutinized has increased for officials. Fans still have their opinions but now they have video and the internet to spread their opinions.
“The cameras see everything, which is a great tool for the crew through the Video Review and for assessors when used wisely. This technology is also used by referee coaches to analyze referee positions on set plays and breakdowns during dynamic play. For us as assessors, we must continue to stay relevant in these areas with our knowledge.”