U.S. Soccer, MLS create Professional Referee Organization to manage nation’s soccer officials
Confirming an initial report by Inside Minnesota Soccer News earlier this month, the U.S. Soccer Federation and Major League Soccer announced on Tuesday the formation of the Professional Referee Organization (PRO), an organization that will be responsible for managing the referee program in professional soccer leagues in the United States and Canada.
The creation of PRO is designed to increase the quality of officiating in U.S. and Canadian professional leagues, develop more professional quality officials at a younger age and develop officials who will represent the United States and Canada in FIFA competitions.
Veteran English referee Peter Walton has been named General Manager of PRO. All current U.S. Soccer professional referee staff positions will transition to PRO and report to Walton, who begins full-time on April 2 and will be based in New York City through the conclusion of the MLS season.
U.S. Soccer and MLS will govern and fund the organization, with ongoing collaborative support from the Canadian Soccer Association and other professional leagues. Beginning this year, PRO will manage officials in the MLS and MLS Reserve games, the North American Soccer League, USL PRO and the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
“We’ve always understood that the development of referees is an important aspect to the growth of the game in the United States,” said U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati. “PRO is another step toward the improvement and professionalization of our top referees. With the additional resources and funding provided by the formation of PRO, we will continue to build upon the progress we’ve already made.”
“Thanks to collaborative work with U.S. Soccer and the Canadian Soccer Association, officiating in MLS made significant strides forward in the past year,” said MLS Commissioner Don Garber. “The overall level of MLS refereeing is good, and the creation of the Professional Referee Organization is the logical next stage of development. MLS and U.S. Soccer proudly welcome PRO General Manager Peter Walton, who will utilize his exceptional experience as a referee and as an administrator, along with substantia
l resources, to help MLS achieve its vision of setting the worldwide standard in officiating.”
Walton has been involved with professional football since he joined the Football League as an assistant referee in 1993. Walton, 52, advanced to the FIFA panel of Assistants in 1996 and then onto the Referees panel of the Football League in 1998. Walton accepted a full-time position as a referee on the English Premier League in 2003. He has refereed close to 200 EPL matches, including the 2008 Community Shield between Manchester United and Portsmouth. In 2007, Walton completed the Advanced Course for Referee Instructors hosted by CONMEBOL and FIFA in Ecuador.
“I’m looking forward to the next stage of my career as the general manager of the Professional Referee Organization,” said Walton. “The formation of PRO by U.S. Soccer and MLS provides a great opportunity to increase the development of referees and improve the overall quality of refereeing in the U.S. professional leagues. It’s a worthy challenge and I’m excited to get started.”
The PRO model allows for more funding toward the referee program, hiring of more experienced technical staff, increased training opportunities for officials, additional identification and training opportunities for up-and-coming officials and increased investment toward sports science.
The number of full-time referees is expected to increase as a result of this transition. With a more robust training program and full-time duties in place, the referee program’s professionalization will increase, whereas in previous years some officials have had to juggle their referee duties with an additional full-time occupation.
U.S. Soccer and MLS took significant steps in 2011 to create a U.S. Soccer professional referee department and relocate to New York. Seven new rookie referees were introduced to MLS last year, participating in almost 20 percent of the league’s regular season games.
The use of quantitative analysis and video also were substantial last year as referees were evaluated in real time at the newly constructed command center in New York. Former players and coaches served as in-stadium professional match evaluators, providing a more complete evaluation of the referees.
U.S. Soccer recently transitioned Herb Silva to the new role of Director of Referee Identification and Training in December of 2011. Silva, who had served as U.S. Soccer’s Director of Professional Referees, will work with a panel of former FIFA and professional officials to attend events around the country to identify and train the most promising young officials and provide them with additional training to accelerate their development. Silva will work closely with PRO to look for similar types of officials and make sure the training reinforces the officiating philosophy.
Approximately 45,000 new referees enter the officiating ranks every year, and U.S. Soccer will continue its efforts to put more online educational resources at their disposal. A PRO Advisory Board also will be established as Walton, Silva and other members will meet regularly to make sure satisfactory progress is being achieved.