TAMPA, Fla. – With the 2022 USL Academy Cup around the corner, several supplemental experiences will be on full display as coaches, administrators, scouts and referees will have the ability to fine-tune their skills off the pitch as academy players develop theirs on it.
Refereeing, an often-overlooked, yet incredibly critical aspect of the development of soccer tends to be overshadowed by player and coaching education. The USL Academy Cup will feature referee development sessions designed to help referees gain insight on game management and other aspects of one of the sport’s toughest jobs.Top regional referees will be selected from across the country to officiate games and join a select group of the top Florida-based referees for USL Academy Cup. The referees will meet to review each day’s action and discuss how to improve moving forward. In addition, five referee mentors, including three former FIFA referees, will watch games and provide on-field feedback to target development with all referees.
“Having mentors present to watch referees on the field is extremely valuable for their development,” said Drayden Farci, USL Operations & Compliance Coordinator. “By receiving feedback while the game is fresh in their minds, they can more easily apply what they have learned.”
All referees will attend a pre-event virtual meeting and daily development sessions during the event. The pre-event meeting will establish USL Academy Cup policies and procedures, as well as introduce the National Referee Coaches Brendan Barry and Nami Imaizumi, along with professional referee Ted Unkel, who will all be teaching the development sessions. The sessions will cover various officiating protocols, such as fourth official duties, handling dissent, recent law changes and kicks from the mark procedures.
“The daily development sessions will provide additional procedural lessons that referees can apply in games immediately, allowing mentors to assess practical applications of these procedures each morning,” said Farci. “Dedicating time and resources into developing referees will pay dividends in the immediate future within the youth and pre-professional landscape, but also for professional teams for the foreseeable future.”
Referees will be coached by two National Referee Coaches in Brendan Barry and Nami Imaizumi, professional referee Ted Unkel, and two additional referee mentors throughout the tournament. Following the conclusion of the final match each day, all referees will meet for a development session led by Barry and Imaizumi. The classroom sessions will provide additional learning opportunities to what is provided during their on-field mentoring in between matches and during halftime.
“USL Academy Cup provides a mentoring opportunity that is direct and immediate,” Unkel said. “There is no better way to learn than being on the field. The tournament will provide quality football and a challenging environment for the referees, and I’ll not only be able to see the next group of referees work but also have at least a small positive impact on their capabilities.”
Brendan Barry worked under the Football Association of Ireland from 1975 to 2000. In 1995, he was one of six referees appointed to the Ireland FIFA panel. In 2000, he moved into a mentoring position, providing guidance and assessments of young and experienced referees in Ireland. He moved to the U.S. in 2009 and became a certified State Assessor in 2010 and National Assessor in 2011. He has worked with the Professional Referee Organization as a match assessor in many professional leagues across America. Barry was present at the 2021 USL Academy Cup, acting as a mentor.
“As with players from the academy, referee officials will get the same benefits of working with experienced referee mentors & coaches who will, in turn, talk with officials on how to get to the next level in their referee development,” Barry said. “Education on all aspects of referring will help our officials promote the growth of soccer domestically and internationally.”
A native of Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, Nami Imaizumi was a FIFA Referee on the Japan Football Federation panel from 2008 to 2016. Over her career, she has officiated Asian Football Confederation U-16 and U-19 Women’s Championship Qualifications, the 17th Asian Games, and the FPF Algarve Cup
Ted Unkel is an experienced professional referee, working with PRO to officiate over 120 games in Major League Soccer in the past decade. Unkel recently retired from the FIFA panel, where he served from 2016 to 2021. His previous duties have included the 2014 NASL Championship Final, the 2015 U.S. Open Cup Final, the 2017 Chinese FA Cup Final and 132 MLS regular season and playoff matches over 11 years.
“The game of football—like all sports—is governed by a set of rules in which the game must be played,” Unkel said. “Players, coaches and the like must know the Laws of the Game, but it is the referee that administers them.“Just as the game is played, there are nuances throughout the Laws,” Unkel added. “Some are black and white, but a portion of that book is up to interpretation. With guidance and considerations from the governing bodies and through instructors, mentors and colleagues, referees need to continue to develop as the game does. Referees are integral to a football match, and as the sport grows, we need to as well.”
The 2022 USL Academy Cup will take place at Hillsborough County Tournament SportsPlex in Tampa, Fla. From March 31 to April 3. The nationwide event is designed to bring together top youth prospects from all markets with USL clubs, all centered around identifying and developing players with the potential to reach the professional level. USL Academy Cup grew from two regional events in 2019 into a nationwide competition in 2021. The 2022 USL Academy Cup will continue the success of previous years by widening the age groups participating, increasing player, coach, and referee development initiatives, and bringing in on-site activations from partners to engage attendees.