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FIFA referees bring high level experience to Schwan’s USA CUP

07/13/2013, 7:45pm CDT
By Ryan Lund

With such a diverse assortment of teams making their way to the National Sports Center for Schwan’s USA CUP, powered by Sport Ngin, the logistics of traveling to and from the tournament can become a challenge.

For FIFA referee Nicola Joseph however, it can be downright complicated.

Nicola is a native of Guyana, and one of just four FIFA referees to hail from the tiny Caribbean nation.  The only female of the group, the FIFA veteran will be heading to Jamaica for World Cup qualifying action immediately following her stint at USA CUP.

“My travel schedule, I went from Guyana, to Trinidad, to Miami and then to Minnesota,” she says, illustrating the tight travel demands associated with her FIFA status.  “Then from Minnesota, to Miami, then Jamaica, then back to Guyana.”

Nicola began her officiating career in 2005, before working her way up to FIFA status working men’s games in Guyana.

“We had another referee, she was one of the top referees in the world,” Nicola said.  “She was a mentor for me.”

The Guyana-native is just one of the many FIFA referees that USA CUP attracts each year, joining FIFA officials from Jamaica, Mexico and England, among others.

With such a wide variety of officials traveling to this year’s tournament, a few communication issues are to be expected, but according to Nicola, the language of soccer has served to break down those barriers.

“It eliminates the barriers of language,” she said.  “The signals are all the same.”

National Sports Center CEO Steve Olson, a former FIFA assistant referee himself, talked about the added benefits that these top-end officials bring.

“That’s an experience that they’re not going to get anywhere else,” he said.

As a member of the United States’ original group of FIFA assistant referees back in the early 90s, Olson has a long history as an international soccer official.

But after working an impressive slate of international tilts, including a stint in MLS during its first few seasons, Olson took a step back to start a family and work closer to home.

 “It got to the point where some conflicts with work, and wanting to start a family, I couldn’t be on the road as much as I was going to have to be,” he said.

But while high-level officiating remains a full-time job, the FIFA staff at USA CUP brings much more than just their trademark FIFA badge to the table.

“I think that when you want to offer real quality as far as the Super Elite competition goes, one of the key ingredients to that is having experienced refs who really understand the game, and mostly have played the game, and you can see that,” said Tom Soehn, the National Sports Center’s Director of Soccer Development.  “The control and charisma that they have in the center is just fantastic.”

Soehn, whose decade-long professional soccer career includes a stint with Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire, and also includes several years spent managing D.C. United and the Vancouver Whitecaps, is emphatic about the impact that these high-level officials have on the tournament.

“Similar to a soccer player, when you want to get better you go and watch the best,” he said, noting that their presence benefits the other officials just as much as it benefits the players.

Both men also appreciate the wide variety of styles that these international refs bring to the table.

“Each of them have their own way of handling the game,” said Soehn.

As a former official himself, Olson has a unique perspective towards the nuances of international officiating.

“Every area of the world has a different style, and there are little micromechanical things that are different,” he said.  “It’s somewhat territorial in who calls what.”

However, for all of the differences in style and culture that they bring, FIFA’s top officials continue to make USA CUP a truly international tournament.

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Tag(s): July 13, 2013