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From Jacksonville to Rio – Sean Hurd’s World Cup journey

July 22, 2014

Assistant referee Sean Hurd at the 2014 FIFA World Cup

There are big moments in everyone’s life; unforgettable dates, distinctive incidents, occasions that are imprinted in the mind.

For PRO assistant referee Sean Hurd, the first of those is a sunny, summer afternoon in the early 1980s in Jacksonville, Florida – playing his first ever soccer game, by his own admission not to a good standard. 

The next came several years later when he took up refereeing alongside playing. 

However, Hurd would wait considerably longer for the next milestone, negotiating hundreds of amateur and professional games, miles of fitness tests and hours of classroom seminars along the way.

It finally arrived, when on Wednesday, January 15 2014 he was confirmed as an AR for the FIFA World Cup in Brazil, alongside fellow assistant Joe Fletcher and referee Mark Geiger.

Five and a half months later, the remarkable journey was complete. Following his previous World Cup assignments, Hurd stepped out onto the field in Brasilia as one third of the first North American crew to officiate a knockout game at soccer’s biggest tournament. 

“My father was a soccer coach and I started playing when I was nine or 10 in elementary school,” Hurd reflected to

“I remember playing on pitches that were more sand and less grass. If we had nets in the goals they’d most likely have holes. There wasn’t a legacy for soccer, it was more to keep people occupied and out of trouble.

“When I was about 15 and I started driving and dating, I decided to earn more cash by refereeing possibly four or five games after having played earlier in the day.

“Although I was certainly competitive and always striving for the next level, I was completely content in my local leagues. I had met FIFA officials but never thought I would have the same opportunity to referee at their level.

“It’s been a long journey, but then came that day in January of this year when I woke up to hundreds of messages on my phone. I honestly thought something tragic had happened, something terrible, but it was unbelievable to realize I’d been selected and read messages of support.”

That announcement led to what Hurd described as a couple of “extraordinary days”, providing an alternative to a normal week of working full-time as an operations manager for a broker dealer firm, in addition to his responsibilities as a father, husband and PRO AR.

But from his flight to South America on May 31 to his return following the World Cup final on July 13, that routine has been replaced by six weeks of Brazil.

Not that it was a holiday. 

Joe Fletcher, Mark Geiger and Sean Hurd before at the Estadio Mineirao

For two weeks before the tournament, the officials were training for a few hours in the classroom and undergoing fitness tests and exercises too, catching a break in the evening to watch a game. 

His rise from the sandy pitches of Jacksonville to the sand of the Copacabana was complete on the penultimate night, when watching the third place play-off game from the beach. 

Attending the final at the Maracana then followed the next day, capping an unforgettable experience for a family-man with three generations of soccer in his blood.

“During a normal week, I’d get up, work nine or 10 hours, get home and have dinner. One daughter is at college, but my 13-year-old daughter plays soccer, so sometimes I take her to and from practice. Once that’s all done, I’ll get my training done for PRO, which is normally four to six times a week.

“If I have an assignment that weekend, I’ll fly out on Friday for a Saturday match and return on Sunday. It requires a flexible employer and a dedicated, understanding family. 

“For all that commitment to produce three assignments at the World Cup, it gives me goosebumps. We were told about the first assignment after a classroom seminar one day, and gave each other quick fist pumps before beginning our preparations.

“Getting the Spain versus Chile game was then even more special because of the significance of the game in terms of advancing to the next round. To then be told ‘here’s a knockout game’, the three of us were just overjoyed. 

“To be picked for that was the defining moment for me because of what it meant in terms of a knockout game, it really is difficult to put into words.”

Joe Fletcher, Peter Walton, Mark Geiger and Sean Hurd at the World Cup in Brazil

The 2014 Brazil World Cup will go down as one of the best ever but four years will soon pass and the USMNT will have the chance to go one better than the Round of 16 and Germany will have the opportunity to defend their trophy in Russia.

They’ll do so with different rosters, of course, as will the North American refereeing crew, should they be selected. Geiger and Fletcher will both be eligible for the next World Cup but if selected for the tournament it'll be without Hurd, barring any age-restriction changes from FIFA.

The now 42-year-old would be 46 in June 2018, making him over the age limit of 45 for FIFA officials.

“If you had asked me a couple of months ago what I would have considered to be a success, I would have said doing one match and doing it well. That would be a piece of my legacy.

“But the way it ended, being part of the five-man crew for a World Cup semi-final, plus the three games with Mark and Joe and another in the groups as a reserve AR, it truly was a wonderful experience.

“Not many people get to experience that in the world, and I’m completely delighted with our representation of the league and federation. I get to go out on a positive note, and we don’t always get to leave at the top."

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