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Looking to the future

The assignment of Kyle Atkins, Ismail Elfath, Alan Kelly and Corey Parker to 2019 FIFA Club World Cup later this month means that the total number of PRO officials selected for FIFA tournaments in the last two years is 15, with 10 of those selected more than once.

It is a testament to the high-quality coaching and extensive preparation within PRO’s ranks that an increasing number of officials have been invited to oversee games in some of the world’s biggest competitions.

This level of international recognition, alongside the continued expansion of both the MLS and USL competitions, are creating more and more opportunities, but officials can only be successfully integrated if the environment is right – careful planning and well-executed training programs have proven critical to growth.

“Success has become a challenge for us, but it is a challenge that we relish,” explained PRO’s general manager Howard Webb. “Having people at the very top serves as an incentive for others coming up behind, which creates healthy competition and helps to raise the overall standard of the group.

“All of those games that our officials manage in FIFA and CONCACAF tournaments, exposes them to soccer at the highest level and they come back better officials – it’s mutually beneficial.

“It just asserts a challenge to staff some of our games, and that’s why we’ve been working on creating a bigger pool. This year, we brought in nine officials who each started the season with an MLS game count in single-figures.

“Those guys have come through rigorous training in our development groups and received intensive coaching sessions that have been delivered in a way which fixes to the ethos that we are creating in the MLS, and we believe it’s reaping the awards.”

In terms of opportunities, there has never been a better time to be in PRO’s roster. The current program has been built on meeting the demands of expanding competitions, creating more teams and therefore games, and leading on the global introduction of VAR. That level of growth is ahead of what was anticipated when the organization was formed six years ago.

“On average we get together as a group twice a month now, and we discuss honestly and collectively where we are. We can share the experiences from the management team – people who have been there and done that previously – and we have some senior officials in the room that some of the younger guys learn an awful lot from.

“Everyone wants to be a positive influence on the game, so it’s not only about calling the right decision, it’s about selling it as well. We also train physically to make sure officials are in good positions to be credible.

“We have psychology sessions and a range of recovery techniques that we implement at camps, as well as injury prevention sessions. Some work we do is on the field, so we try to mix it up and get outside whenever we can.”

Furthermore, there is now an even greater emphasis on tactical awareness for referees. They are expected to be well-researched on formations, set-piece routines, and be able to anticipate when and where problems could arise.

“One of the best things you can do as a referee is be prepared for what the game is going to throw at you, without closing your mind or pre-judging – there’s a balance to strike.

“All the guys do scouting reports on the two teams they’re going to be officiating – that isn’t unique to here, but we aim to give them relevant information about modern coaching techniques and methods of playing, so they have a holistic view as to what happens on the field.

“Ultimately, they need to know how to be a match official, but having a good tactical awareness is a positive addition to the suite of skills that we’re trying to develop in our officials.

“A lot of work was done before I got here. The success we’ve seen in international football is a combination of US Soccer’s work over the recent past and also the creation of PRO.

“I’m not taking the credit for that, but I’m hoping I can build on it.”

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