Last year, 20 Chinese referees traveled from Shanghai to officiate at Schwan’s USA CUP, the first time referees from the country officiated in the tournament’s 30-year history. This year, that number has doubled and nearly 40 are making the trip; however, two of them had to take a very important detour before arriving in Minnesota.
Fang Yan sprints to stay in position as an assistant referee in a U17 boys' game. Fan Yang also officiated a U16 boys' game and a U19 boys' game Friday.
In June, Fang Yan and Qin Liang left China for Canada, where the pair officiated two matches at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the first of which being one of the most memorable games of the entire tournament. Qin Liang served as the game’s center official in Colombia’s surprising 2-0 win against France in the group stage with Fang Yan as one of the two assistant referees. The pair also helped call France’s 5-0 win over Mexico with Fang Yan again serving as an assistant referee while Qin Liang moved over to the fourth official’s spot.
After officiating those two games at the World Cup, Qin Liang and Fang Yan traveled directly from Canada to Minnesota, where they are now excited to referee a global tournament of a different kind.
“I’m very honored to come here because (refereeing in 2015) is a very important time (for me) because I realized my dream in the Women’s World Cup,” Fang Yan said. “As a player, USA CUP is the beginning of the dream … as a young referee … it’s also the starting point.”
Yet, even after refereeing at the game’s highest level Yan and Liang are both intent on coming to USA CUP to improve their already excellent officiating skills.
“USA CUP is very high quality. Last year, I (refereed) a boys’ match, and the match quality (was) very nice,” Yan, who refereed in the U16, U17 and U19 boys divisions on her first day at this year’s tournament, said. “It’s very important for woman referee to improve our movement, decisions, everything.”
Linesman Cheng Zhang waits for play to resume in a U17 boys' game. Zhang is one of about 40 Chinese referees at this year's USA CUP, more than double last year's number.
Liang, who refereed at the girls U14, U17 and U19 divisions on her first day of this year’s USA CUP, said the speed of the game at the older divisions helps her improve her instincts as a referee.
“You need to have very good and very correct understanding of football, otherwise you cannot make the right decision,” Liang said. “If your condition is very good, that can help you to keep your calm and keep a clear mind during a very fast match, and it’ll help you to make the right decision.”
But USA CUP isn’t all business for Yan and Liang. They’re also here to experience more of the global culture of soccer and to give back to the youth soccer programs that have helped the game around the world for boys and girls.
“USA CUP, it’s a big holiday for the players, referees and everybody who likes football,” Yan said. “Different countries’ teams, different countries’ referees, we need to cooperation between each other. Football is a family … I need to take this chance to enjoy this family.”
For Liang, who was one of the few girls around the world lucky enough to enjoy soccer at a young age, she’s especially excited to help grow the game at the youth level.
“Before I was referee, I was a player … so I am very happy to see now in the world more girls can play football,” Liang said.
In fact, after seeing the growth of women’s soccer around the world, Liang’s experience as a World Cup official has made her more committed to youth soccer, where players begin their journey toward becoming the next generation of world champions.
“We can see the players and the teams, they had a lot of improvement from before. If you compare it to the one or two (previous) World Cups, you can see that. They are faster, their skill (is) better, their tactics are better,” Liang said. “I attribute this remarkable improvement to the foundation of women’s football … otherwise, in the top tournaments, we cannot see this remarkable performance.”
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