- About PRO
Feb 21, 2014
One man in North American soccer has seen and experienced more than most since the inauguration of Major League Soccer in 1996.
And as the league prepares for its 19th edition with the imminent 2014 season, that man is back, as the Professional Referee Organization’s Match Officials Development Manager after leaving his post as CONCACAF Referee Manager.
Brian Hall, four-time MLS Referee of the Year, is one of the most iconic names when it comes to growing the sport and he’s relishing his return.
“I’m really excited to be back in the soccer scheme for the US and Canada, and PRO is giving me the chance to get back into working at the grass roots level,” he told proreferees.com.
“I’m here to help identify and develop the next core of MLS referees, as we continue to push from the bottom-up and bring more talented officials through to the top level.”
Hall held his position as a FIFA referee for 15 years from 1992 to the mandatory retirement age of 45 in 2007 and, when he retired from the game for good, he became a Manager of Assessment and Training for Referees at US Soccer before his CONCACAF post.
The 52-year-old from Northern California blew the whistle at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan, but he reflects on less glamorous times.
“I remember refereeing amateur games in California and learning more about survival skills than soccer.
“Then I became a NASL linesman at 19 and we used to go to these big NFL stadiums to referee soccer matches and around 6,000 fans would be there. You’d look up at the stands and it was like looking at ants.
“There was no atmosphere then, but now it’s incredible. The indication of the improvement in the States can be judged by the fact that there are so many soccer-specific stadia.
“When I went to the World Cup, the MLS still didn’t have the profile compared to some of the top leagues in the world.
“I felt I had to prove that soccer in the States and Canada was just as good as anywhere else, not just on the field but also the refereeing. I felt responsible for the sport’s profile over here and I was representing all 120,000 registered officials, plus the fans, the players and the clubs.”
In 1999, Columbus Crew were the first MLS franchise to construct a soccer-specific stadium, but attendances in the league have dramatically increased in the time since.
MLS crowd numbers now regularly eclipse both the National Hockey League and National Basketball Association, and sit comfortably in the top 10 for highest attended soccer leagues in the world.
Hall - considered one of the pioneers for North American professional soccer - is now looking forward to helping the sport’s growth as part of PRO.
“Neither of my parents were sporty, and I used to be a short, fat kid. I was playing baseball and knew little about soccer.
“People ask me how I became successful in the sport with that influence, but I lived in a neighbourhood with Italians, Germans, and Irish people around me, and they told me to get involved in soccer.
“I became a goalkeeper, was roped into refereeing when someone failed to show up one match and enjoyed it so much, initially just earning money for the movies on the weekend.
“But I had support structures in place to help me succeed. I want to now offer that support to young people coming through. I want to see US and Canadian officials have the same experiences, the same opportunities, if not more, than I had.
“It’s an honor to be viewed as someone who has contributed positively to soccer, and thank you to everyone for that, but with it comes that responsibility to continue the level of professionalism that got me to where I’m at. That is what, in time, I should be judged at.
“PRO is doing a fantastic job at helping officials cope with on-field and off-field pressures - you have to have passion, commitment and dedication and we want to continue developing these principles to create the best officials in the world for US Soccer, PRO and the North American professional leagues.”