Life in lockdown has presented many people across the world with the opportunity to take stock and indulge in a period of reflection. A sometimes all too rare luxury in the hustle of everyday life, as we used to know it.
MLS was only in its third day of suspension when PRO official Adam Wienckowski found himself looking back to where he was 13 years prior.
March 15, 2007, marked the assistant referee’s first match on the FIFA Panel, as D.C. United hosted a Concacaf Champions League semi-final against Mexico’s C.D. Guadalajara in almost freezing conditions.
Wienckowski is a proud member of the Class of ‘07, when he and four other PRO officials were first selected for international duty: referees Baldomero Toledo and Jair Marrufo, and fellow ARs Corey Rockwell and CJ Morgante.
They now boast more than 60 years of combined international experience with Wienckowski’s time coming to an end last year.
Despite having traveled to the likes of Fiji, Martinique, El Salvador and Guatemala, one standout moment in the assistant referee’s FIFA career occurred very close to home when European giants Chelsea and AC Milan met in the 2009 World Football Challenge tournament at M&T Bank Stadium.
“Baltimore has been my hometown since I was five years old,” said Wienckowski. “To be on that big game – the first major soccer game in Baltimore in ages – with a full house, was something special.
“A number of friends contacted me who I had not heard from in decades, saying they were up in the crowd that day and that they were pleased to see I was working the game.
“That meant a lot to me; all these people who I never thought would be soccer fans came to this game in Baltimore because it was such a huge occasion.”
Baltimore has been my hometown since I was five years old. To be on that big game – the first major soccer game in Baltimore in ages – with a full house, was something special.
Four years later, Wienckowski was shaking hands with soccer legends Pelé and Eusébio, as their respective countries Brazil and Portugal met in a friendly at a packed Gillette Stadium. This was a special moment for the assistant referee who is, first and foremost, a soccer fanatic.
It is a passion he shares along with developing the Baltimore community through his managerial role at the Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks.
Although his fulltime job responsibilities restricted him to just one overseas tournament in his career, the future of North American soccer might just thank him for helping to grow the generation of tomorrow.
“We have helped to make the area’s love of soccer explode by presenting opportunities for people in the community. Getting kids out and active is something to feel good about.
“I was lucky in some regards that I did so many international games from within the US and didn’t have to go away for weeks at a time. It meant I was able to have more time at home with my family.
“There is no sadness that my time with FIFA is over; I am relishing the opportunity to be able to spend even more time with my family and I am delighted to see that the badge is in safe hands. I have a lot of confidence in Nick Uranga and Logan Brown; they’ve got bright futures ahead of them.”
Now, with 239 regular-season MLS games to his name, the 44-year-old is always looking to share his abundance of experience with referees, both young and old, having had a long career that has seen the weird, as well as the wonderful.
“The MLS Cup Finals I worked were massive,” he said, having officiated the showpiece in 2007 and 2017, as well the 2009 and 2016 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Finals and the 2017 MLS All-Star game.
“The bizarre thing was, I did the [2007 MLS Cup] final with a torn ACL – I don’t actually know when it got torn, it might have been during that year and it just got progressively worse.
“It didn’t inhibit me on the field in running or anything, it just felt odd with certain tasks I’d do around the house.
“I did the game perfectly fine and got the surgery in December , and I’ve had no issues with it since. I want to keep going for as long as I can because I feel like I’m at the top of my game in terms of my decision making and reading the play.
“With 17 years in MLS, everything has clicked together; you don’t have the nerves or hesitancy that you have when you first start out.”
His plans to continue on the touchline are inspired by Darren Cann, who is still running the line in the Premier League at 51 years old. Cann was one of Howard Webb’s assistant referees in the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final and the 2010 UEFA Champions League Final. Wienckowski last met up with Cann in England while visiting his wife’s family at Christmas.
Although keeping his mind and body fresh is harder during this unprecedented time, Wienckowski is maintaining his fitness, watching and playing soccer with his family, and completing theoretical exercises from PRO, while juggling pandemic mandated home-schooling for his son and stepson.
“We all have a passion for the Premier League in our house. They’ve been showing loads of Premier League reruns from other seasons and we are enjoying watching those as it’s amazing how much you learn from watching those games as a referee.
“MLS is catching up with the rest of the world now, and hopefully I’ll get some more opportunities to work with my friends and some of the officials I’ve brought up. Corey Parker [current PRO and FIFA AR] was one of the kids that I taught and mentored in the Baltimore area when he was a young referee coming through the system.
“I’d love to do a big MLS game with him; we’ve done some together in different countries, spending 13 days in Saudi Arabia to officiate the Saudi Professional League. While we were there [in January 2018], Saudi women were allowed into a professional football match for the first time.
“Doing all this with somebody who is a great friend makes it even more meaningful.”
Wienckowski made his final FIFA bow in November as Ecuador and Colombia faced off at the Red Bull Arena with his close family and friends in the crowd – his boys obtaining permission from school to leave early and get the train to Newark, NJ.
This came just two months after running the line for Brazil against Colombia in Miami in a game loaded with world-class talent. Seeing players of this caliber close up for one final time made for an occasion Wienckowski ranks amongst his favorite moments in his FIFA career. A memory he will treasure as much as his early recollections of a remarkable journey that started when he first picked up a whistle 25 years ago.
“One of the best things in my soccer career was when I was able to share these experiences with those most important to me.
“I want to say thanks to so many people for their support, like my mentor Rob Fereday [former FIFA AR], Paul Tamberino [former FIFA AR and MLS Referee], Joe Manfre [former MISL official and college officiating assignor], and my wife and my family.
“Without my family’s patience, support, and willingness to take care of things at home while I was away, I wouldn’t have been able to experience or achieve any of this.”