- About PRO
July 9, 2014
Hip-hop group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony were top of the charts with ‘Tha Crossroads’, Bill Clinton was three years into his first term of office as the President of the United States, and Major League Soccer had just been introduced to North America.
The year was 1996, the month was May, and a 32-year-old Greg Barkey had just run the line in his first MLS match – Colorado at New England.
Nineteen seasons and almost exactly 18 years later, Barkey - now aged 50 – took to the field for his 300th regular season game as an AR in MLS when he worked FC Dallas versus Colorado Rapids at the start of June.
“I said a couple of years ago that I wanted to aim for 300 because it keeps your mind focused, keeps you going, but it’s also about doing those games well. It’s been a goal for a while and it was a proud moment,” Barkey, pictured below in 1996 with Arthur Reed in Barbados, reflected to proreferees.com.
“The crew I was refereeing with for my 300th game bought me a cookie with ‘300th game’ on it. Other than that, the day was no different from any other, it was about doing the best job.
“Officiating 300 matches is one thing, but I know that each game I have to be better than the last and that’s what really matters. I don’t know how long I’ll keep going for, probably when I can’t keep up any more, but I’m still enjoying it and keep challenging myself to get better all the time.”
PRO General Manager Peter Walton said: “Greg epitomizes the word professional. He has moved with the times and embraced changes in the game. He is an example for all to follow.”
Having been there since the start of MLS, Barkey’s opinion may count for more than most, seeing and experiencing numerous ups and downs along the way.
He remembers “incorrectly calling a goal back”, resulting in his name being in the newspapers the next day in a way that he admits affected him for days, but the experienced official was named MLS AR of the year in 2009, worked the MLS Cup Final four times, in 1997, 2002, 2005 and 2008, and was a FIFA AR for 13 years.
His 300-game milestone comes after running the line over 20 times in each of the past four seasons, more than any of the previous years, plus covering countless other miles on the touchline in the NASL and USL PRO.
That target may now have passed, but the Spanish high school teacher from New Jersey remains as committed as ever to working on his own game in the continual search for improvement, and helping young referees develop.
“When we started all those years back, we weren’t really prepared to be professional officials. One of the problems was that there were too many officials working too few games.
“There could be a month and a half between assignments and it wasn’t enough. You lost track of the league and didn’t feel a part of it. Now, we do NASL, USL PRO and NWSL matches, as well as MLS, and that’s important to keep us fresh and sharp.
“A few years ago, we started spending more time getting ready; watching more videos, training harder, studying. It’s a totally different atmosphere now to back then and I think referees realize that they can’t just turn up on the day.
“Another big difference is that, just like the teams signing young players who have grown up with MLS, the new generation of officials are starting their refereeing careers much younger. We are starting to get 20-somethings who have experience.
“However, my main piece of advice, just like older players would say to the new generation, is that being assigned to MLS isn’t the end. People think they have made it. I know I thought I was at the top, but you can always reach higher and achieve more.
“When you turn professional the game is still the same, but there are more eyes watching and there is more scrutiny. With the rise of social media too, you’ll see your name popping up in a way that you might not like. You have to accept the criticisms, let it affect you positively.
“I think that’s been the key to my longevity, using it as a time to reflect, but always making sure you become better as a result - always improving, always learning.”