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Kermit Quisenberry: Two-time AR of the Year joins PRO coaching ranks after announcing retirement

The year is 1996; Kansas City Wiz head to Columbus Crew.

Major League Soccer is just two months old and more than 16,000 fans inside Ohio Stadium are treated to a thriller, which eventually went in Kansas City’s favor, after penalty kicks.

Thousands more are watching on screens, unaware of the “nervous” rookie assistant referee watching on from the sidelines, who goes by the name of Kermit Quisenberry.

“I only had about two hours sleep that night [before his first game],” Quisenberry fondly recalls.

“I knew I had a three-hour drive ahead of me with a fellow official. I hoped that he wasn’t running late and that we were going to be ok.

“When I woke up I was feeling so nervous and wanted to make sure I was spot on, on everything. It was a nationally televised game so I knew I had a lot of eyes on me.”

Quisenberry impressed suitably enough and now, 22 years later, he has announced that he has taken to the field for the final time, and will join PRO as an AR coach from May.

In that time he’s been handed 271 MLS assignments spanning 21 seasons, with his final game at BC Place, between Vancouver Whitecaps and Seattle Sounders, in the Western Conference Semifinals in 2017.

And the 49-year-old admits the timing for him is right, with soccer in North America having developed considerably since he first stepped out into the middle.

“I feel like some days when I’m talking to people that I’m a relic because so much has changed, even just with offside decisions. 

“Things we would have called offside in 1996 you’re not even thinking about now. We have so many more parts to play into that puzzle as an assistant referee.

“Speed is the biggest thing. These guys are so much faster than they were 20 years ago and even then we thought they were fast.”

Twice MLS Assistant Referee of the Year, he became the first man to win the award for a second time in 2013, a feat equalled by Corey Parker last season.

The first time, in 2008, came after a special year for the Florida man, in which he officiated the MLS Cup and went to China for the Beijing Olympics, lining up alongside fellow PRO official Jair Marrufo for three games, including in the quarterfinals, when Lionel Messi’s Argentina beat the Netherlands 2-1 after extra-time.

“To be one of five people chosen to represent our country, it was a great honor.

“Jair and myself, when we prepared for each match, whether that be in the hotel or on the train, we talked about how we wanted to do things and I still remember that.

“It’s hard to explain and it’s hard to put into words being on a field with those type of players, and it’s a feeling where you’ve got respect for them and you’re not wanting to let them down – which kept us motivated.

“It’s something that gives me goosebumps every time I think about it.”

Despite the thousands of offsides and fouls that Quisenberry has called during those award-winning seasons and international call-ups, a game that stands out in his mind is one that very nearly didn’t take place.

Mark Geiger and Sean Hurd were his fellow PRO crew in a CONCACAF Champions League fixture on that particularly wet day.

“We went to inspect the field that morning,” Quisenberry remembers. “It was underwater.

“We laugh about that, because there was no possible way that they were going to get the field ready for a match on that same night, and they did.

“So that’s another favorite moment of mine, of how you have to prepare regardless. You have to almost know that these things are going to happen and that you’ve got to have a positive attitude that things are going to come out for you.”

Another CONCACAF Champions League fixture lives long in Quisenberry’s memory, too. He recalled officiating the first leg of the 2005 Final between Deportivo Saprissa and UNAM Pumas in San Jose, Costa Rica, alongside Brian Hall, Greg Barkey and Alex Prus.

“I thought the top of the stadium was moving up and down, but it was just the fans and their excitement. It was that and my pre-game jitters, but Greg reassured me that everything would be okay.”

It is not only specific matches that remain prevalent in Quisenberry’s mind, but individual calls too.

Looking back at his commendable career, there is one particular instance that stands out from a 2004 MLS Cup match, the same year that saw him get his first assignment as an assistant referee in the competition.

“I’ll always remember and always come back to it – that decision won’t leave my brain,” Quisenberry explained.

“There were difficulties [bright sunlight] leading up to that particular situation, but I called a handball on the goal-line when the player tried to play a game where he couldn’t be seen, but I was looking right at him with the sun in my eyes.

“I locked in on him and I knew I was spot on, so that’s a career highlight that I always pay attention to. That’s a decision that always sticks with me.”

From now on, though, he will be using those experiences to help the current and future officials on the PRO roster to achieve their potential.

Stepping away from the field is something for which Quisenberry admits he isn’t 100 percent ready, but it is the next step on a journey he’s been gearing towards for the past decade.

“Nobody can ever be fully prepared for not being out there anymore, but I’m looking forward to a new challenge.

“With me stepping into this new role, I can help match officials and bring up the level of officiating even higher than it is right now.

“The mentoring part for me is just another phase and something I’ve been able to do for the last 10 years already. A lot [of the younger guys] have looked at me as a mentor and, when we’ve been at different locations, whether it’s a training centre or other matches, they’ve asked for some help and I’ve given them that.

Frank Anderson is somebody that in the last two years I was a mentor to and, him being selected to go to the FIFA World Cup in Russia, even though I didn’t have a lot to do with him being there, at least I can say some of the things that he and I talked about in different matches has helped him be better prepared for the World Cup.

“With my experience and knowledge of the game, I want to be able to enjoy giving back to match officials.”

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