DALLAS – The competition is intense and a place in the Gold Cup is at stake.
Is Honduras squaring off against Costa Rica or Jamaica facing Haiti in a regional qualifying match?
Oh, no. It’s not only national teams that look to book their tickets to CONCACAF’s most important event. The region’s top referees and assistant referees are working hard to do so as well.
One of them is Canada’s Drew Fischer, who has been on the FIFA list since 2015 and was in charge of the CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying Championship final between Mexico and Honduras that same year.
The 37-year-old is currently in Dallas -- with 18 other referees and 29 assistant referees -- for the Gold Cup Referee Candidate Course.
“It’s going great,” Fischer told CONCACAF.com early Saturday morning, before he and the group went into a meeting room for a video test. “We’ve had some really good sessions so far. The fitness test yesterday was a success, which is the stress for the week.’
In order officiate at a Gold Cup, proving one’s physical fitness is essential and passing the fitness test has always been an anxious moment for some.
With that challenge managed, Fischer – and his colleagues -- can continue with the process of preparing for the biennial championship, which opens on July 7 at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.
“All these courses are an evolution of the same thing,” he remarked. “The messaging is the same overall, but every competition has its own specific things that get priority, so those are being focused on. The overall thrust is still the same. It’s about consistency, applying the laws correctly and ensuring that we do all the things that are required of us to make sure that the games go smoothly and that we present an entertaining brand of football for everybody watching.”
The community of elite referees is a small – but welcoming – one. Life on the international road is never easy, but imagine going about your own work in a packed stadium and millions watching at home, all analyzing every decision. A strong support system is valuable.
“Almost all of us have worked together before at tournaments or individual matches,” commented Fischer on the fraternity between referees. “In a lot of ways, it becomes a bit like family. We’re all away from are real families during extended periods, so you develop a strong bond with the guys that are here. You are kind of in the trenches together.”
The goal for referees at this rarified level is to get the call to work an important event. Just like a player craving to perform in the biggest matches, referees also want to test themselves on the grandest stages.
“The Gold Cup is the highest competition in the region,” Fischer finished. “To be given a chance to be part of that pool is obviously something that everybody is striving for, everybody in CONCACAF wants the opportunity to do…hopefully be on the field with the best players in the region.
“It’s something special.”