Major League Soccer
US Soccer

PRO and NWSL breathe new life into US female officiating

July 11, 2013

Kari Seitz - four World Cups, three Olympic games, and one of the most respected female officials in the world.

The bar is certainly set high for female officials in the United States, but the Professional Referee Organization’s Women’s Coach and NWSL Assignor, Sandra Serafini, is confident the up-and-coming officials have got what it takes to emulate the iconic Seitz.

“What can you say about Kari? She’s one of the elite officials of our generation,” Serafini reflected to 

“Often around the world, the officials tend to parallel the skill level of the teams and the US Women’s team is ranked number one, and the officials have come from that because that’s the level of play they’re exposed to. 

“We’ve had women really pave the way in terms of performing at the highest levels in Sandy Hunt, Jennifer Bennett, Brenda Wright and Kim Oberle.  Kari Seitz and our active assistant referees Marlene Duffy and Veronica Perez recently represented the US in the Women’s World Cup and Olympics. There’s also Christina Unkel, who’s a brand new FIFA referee and is going to get her first opportunity with CONCACAF in July.

“Margaret Domka is doing a great job right now, too - she did the final of the U20 FIFA Women’s World Cup and is on track for the 2015 Women’s World Cup - she’s coming along really well.

“You have to have that high standard, and there’s certainly some big shoes to fill, but we have some good officials in the pipeline and I’m really excited.”

After beginning her own officiating career in volleyball as a 12-year-old, Serafini progressed through the soccer ranks and amassed around 2,000 games in order to pay her rent whilst studying.

That experience paid off when she became a national in 2005 and a FIFA referee a year later, before being forced to hang up the whistle through injury. 

After accepting it was time to move on, the official, who emigrated from Canada in 1993, was appointed by Asher Mendelsohn as a Women’s Professional Coordinator for US Soccer in 2011.

“My appointment with US Soccer was the culmination of some discussions we had about getting a little more clarity in women’s officiating. 

“I was a contact point for people who had promising officials at a local level, and I was able to create some clarity and consistency, set some expectations and really have a place for people to come to when they believed they had a female official with potential.

“I did that with the Women’s Professional Soccer League when it was in its last year in 2011, then 2012 was a transitional year because we didn’t have a league, but I still did a lot of networking and got the officials to places where I could see them.

“Essentially it’s the same responsibilities and the same duties at PRO as I’m assigning again for NWSL, but I also coordinate with Alan Brown [Referee Assignment and Travel Coordinator] on the assignments that he does to ensure the women are getting in on a regular basis in the men’s leagues, and getting a balance of women’s and men’s games, as well as getting themselves seen at some of the higher-level tournaments.”

The inception of PRO and the emergence of the NWSL has breathed new life into female officiating in the US and another crest of high quality referees, assistant referees and fourth officials can be expected.

And Serafini is confident that with the support of PRO General Manager Peter Walton, the opportunities for female officials will increase and thus enable the quality to shine through.

“When Peter Walton stepped on board he said the women are openly invited to all the men’s professional leagues and, on top of that, we have a league again.

“When looking at the history of women officials in this country, it’s fair to say it’s waxed and waned in the number of opportunities that have been there. It started with US soccer and Asher Mendelsohn, supported by Herb Silva - he kept saying we’re just going to clear the path and remove obstacles. PRO has really continued with that in terms of opening up MLS to the women officials who qualify for it. 

“It’s open to the women as much as it is to anyone else. To have the General Manager Peter Walton say that publicly, and support it and execute it, that really sends a huge message to our women officials. 

“When I go around to the tournaments or when I bring the officials into the NWSL, I’m able to say if you do the training, get the qualifications and demonstrate the ability, which they are all capable of, they have the same chance as anybody else. It may seem minor, but it’s really big for this country.”

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