- About PRO
It's been a busy winter for the Professional Referee Organization in preparation for the 2014 season.
While North American soccer clubs have been involved in player drafts and exhibition matches, the organization has also been working hard over the past few months.
Alongside the recruitment of four-time MLS Referee of the Year Brian Hall, PRO has also signed Alan Kelly - widely regarded as the best referee in the Republic of Ireland – to its roster.
Kelly, who has five times been awarded the Players' Football Association of Ireland's Referee of the Year Award, was added to the PRO support staff as Assistant Training and Development Manager in January 2014.
Having left his home country to help with the continuous growth of soccer in North America, the Irishman believes the sport on this side of the Atlantic has the ability to become as good as the European equivalents.
The 38-year-old told proreferees.com: “The MLS can definitely go on to rival the major soccer leagues in Europe.
“I have been visiting the States and Canada for the past couple of years on a fairly regular basis and in that time the league has grown and grown.
“On the match officials side of things, PRO has only been going for 18 months but is improving all the time.
“We have a talented pool of individuals and hopefully with even more training and development we can go from strength-to-strength in the coming seasons.”
Coming from a rich officiating background, Kelly started refereeing as an 18-year-old in 1994. His father was an international referee and his grandfather was a national-level official.
The third-generation referee was on the FIFA list by 2002 at the tender age of 26, being one of the youngest center officials on their radar, taking charge of four UEFA Champions League matches and multiple UEFA Europa League games during his career.
Kelly also blew the whistle at two FAI Cup Finals but cut short his time on the field by seven years to take up the opportunity with PRO, one he says he “couldn't turn down”.
“The only thing that has really escaped me has been officiating at a World Cup Final and I got to the stage last year when I knew that wasn't really going to happen,” he admitted.
“Although I had a few years left refereeing at a European level, I decided that if a new challenge arose off the field I would think about it.
“After speaking with Peter [Walton, PRO General Manager], I knew I wanted to be involved so I decided to end my international career seven years early, which is an unusual thing to do.
“There is something really good happening with PRO and MLS and I felt that this was a great time to get involved.
“I've experienced the structures that are in place in Europe and how things have developed over there, and the same thing can happen here with assisting officials.”
Kelly's last match was a Champions League tie at German giants Bayern Munich back in October, having refereed the final match in the League of Ireland during the same month.
And, after a couple of months in his new job, he's excited by the challenge of swapping his whistle and cleats for a shirt and tie.
“I'm lucky enough to have officiated in some fantastic competitions and some fantastic stadia with some fantastic players, and I'm hoping to bring every minute of my experience to the guys here.
“I'll be working with Paul Rejer [Training & Development Manager] to assist the PRO officials with training and development, both in a group and on a one-to-one basis.
“This is a great time for soccer in North America and I can't wait to be a part of it.”