Major League Soccer
US Soccer

Ted Unkel thrilled at becoming the man in the MLS middle

Oct 6, 2014

This year has been a significant one for a number of officials on the PRO roster, none more so than Ted Unkel.

That's because the 36-year-old finally achieved his long-standing dream of becoming the man with the whistle in Major League Soccer.

Unkel admitted his promotion to becoming an MLS referee was slightly unexpected, but something he was more than ready for, having targeted it for several years.

He told “I'd been working towards it but I don't know if you ever really expect it because we get caught up in the week-to-week routine with training and matches.

"Funny enough, the call came at an inopportune time. I was travelling to Lisbon and while connecting flights, I got a call from Peter Walton [PRO General Manager]. However, the airport didn't have very good signal so his call went straight to voicemail and I had to call him back.

“All I was expecting was a, 'good luck in Portugal' message, and then he told me I was to become a referee.”

Unkel is no stranger to the whistle having refereed many games since his professional debut in a 2009 Women's Professional Soccer league clash between Chicago Red Stars and Sky Blue FC.

The majority of his MLS assignments to date had been limited to fourth official duties but now he is the center official, and is enjoying every minute of it.  The thrill of his first match as referee in New England last June is not forgotten and only provided more motivation to become a regular.

"Becoming an MLS referee is something I've been striving towards for a long time, so when the official word came it was pretty satisfying.

"There is a transitional period, but the communication has been fantastic and I know where the end goal is. I am just taking every game as it comes and trying to be successful in that particular match.

“For me consistency is my goal. I want to continue to get better and better, and come across as a veteran in the middle of the field.

"It's been a whirlwind period. I've had some amazing experiences already, including in Seattle a few months back with Tottenham Hotspur and 55,000 people in the stands.

“Games like that make you stop and think that what is happening is pretty amazing. It's a soccer game, but there's more to it than that.”

Unkel’s passion for soccer has been there since young age but, like so many other North American officials, his path to becoming a referee was not always clear.

With the promotion to the middle this year, he is now well into his officiating voyage – one in which he shares with his wife Christina, who is a FIFA  referee.

"I used to spend a lot of time with my dad on weekends, and it was an opportunity when I was a 12 or 13-year-old to be around the game.

“I played a little bit, but clearly wasn't that great because I'm not playing anymore. It wasn't until years later that I realized there was a path into refereeing.

“My wife is also a successful official and it's an amazing journey that we're both on. To see the way we support each other and the connection we have, I think is rare in what we do.
“I value her advice and feedback and she is my greatest supporter. I think when she referees I can give my opinion and vice-versa. We're direct and to the point, which is beneficial for us both in striving to be the best we can be on the field."

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