Twayne Anderson in Men's Premier Division action.
Match officials in Ontario have been taking part in a five-week training program in Toronto as the opening weekend of the 2023 L1O season draws closer.
Between January and mid-March, officials and instructors are meeting twice a month at the York University soccer dome for two hours of classroom-based learning and one hour of on-field training.
Flying the flag for referees at L1O level, and orchestrating the programme, is former referee Tony Camacho who was FIFA-listed during the 1990s. He took charge of six national soccer championships at university level in Canada in addition to the Canadian Professional Soccer League Final in 1999.
Camacho supports officials in their pathway from amateur soccer and through L1O into the professional levels of the game, and his preseason training program has proven very popular.
“We have 150 officials who are part of L1O,” said Camacho. “I can’t bring that amount to one session, so the first 60 people to register would automatically get accepted and if someone has been in twice we swap them out with someone else.
“I released the form and within five minutes I had 75 referees register. That's how hungry the referees are for this type of training; it's good to see that they are eager.
“Canada soccer has developed a number of modules for us to present to our officials, the vast majority of whom all know the laws of the game, so it's just the matter of getting into the right positions to be able to make the right calls.
“We take referees from evaluating clips in the classroom to on the field in small groups where we give them scenarios. After they do repetitions of these training sessions they become muscle memory, so when they recognize that something is happing on the field they automatically know where they need to move.
“A lot of teams, players, and soccer people expect referees to go out there in a game and get better, but on-field training hasn’t happened in Ontario since 2017 because of a variety of reasons. You don’t see the soccer teams practicing on a Zoom call, or in a meeting room, they go on the field and practice, so intuition comes in. Referees are no different.”
Amanda Kwan refereeing in the Women's Premier Division.
Camacho was born on the Portuguese island of Madeira. He came to Canada in the early 1970s and started refereeing, but there was no training programme for officials like the one he is leading today; he had to do everything on his own.
“The dome is an excellent facility; it has lots of space.
“Referees in Windsor are travelling to Toronto to do the training on a Sunday and then go back home on the same day; that shows commitment.
“My goal moving forward is that starting in 2024 we will have at least one more facility somewhere in the west so referees don’t have to travel as much and will be able to do the same training in different areas.”
Filip Dujic is a former L1O referee who took charge of three MLS games last season and, as a result, has been promoted to the Professional Referee Organization’s senior group for the 2023 season. Five Canadian officials have also been selected for this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
With Camacho’s future plans for the L1O referee program, the shift to promotion and relegation, and the FIFA World Cup coming to home soil in 2026, perhaps there has never been a more exciting time to start refereeing.
“Refereeing is for people who love soccer, and League1 Ontario is a steppingstone for every referee who wants to go to the next level.
“I know that I won't have most referees here for life, but for three or four years and then they are going to move to the Canadian Premier League, into Major League Soccer and I'll lose them. But to me that's a win.
“Players need to realize that at some point they are not going to reach the high levels as a player, but they may be able to make it there as an official and still be involved in the game – it’s what made me become a referee.
“If you want to referee, this is the time to get in now because the opportunities are enormous for male and female officials with the number of people needed for L1O and CPL, and MLS is expanding.
“When they work hard the opportunities will come.”
If you want to start refereeing, please click this link to the Ontario Soccer website where you can register for an entry-level course.
Ryan Schwenger taking charge of a Men's Premier Division game.