By Aaron Tomich/NPSL.com
From the recreational fields of Mason, Ohio to the pitch at Banc of California Stadium in Los Angeles, Cory Richardson has seen the sport of soccer through a unique perspective.
Once a NPSL referee, now Professional Referee Organization (PRO) assistant referee in Major League Soccer, Richardson has climbed the ranks over a 15-year career, officiating all different levels of the sport. Following the 2021 regular season, he was awarded the Assistant Referee of the Year honors in MLS, a duly-earned recognition of his hard work and success.
Having accomplished feats, such as being selected to officiate the 2021 MLS All-Star Game, the 2017 NWSL Championship, a friendly match between European super powers Paris Saint Germain and Real Madrid and assisting in the 2020 MLS Cup, Richardson has reached high highs in his profession. But all this experience started from humble beginnings.
“In 2006, my mom had decided that she was going to start a local soccer club in my hometown of Mason, Ohio from scratch and had to head up recruiting of referees for her home soccer matches,” said Richardson. “So myself and my three siblings all signed up to take some reffing classes so we could all help get the club off the ground.”
Spending multiple Saturdays and Sundays at the local parks, Richardson began to recognize his enjoyment and success of refereeing these matches, before being strongly encouraged to continue and see where he could potentially go with that position.
Success is an upward ladder, and Richardson began to climb. From those neighborhood parks, he made his way to officiating larger city tournaments throughout Cincinnati, before refereeing in the state cup. Finding success at the statewide level didn’t limit him, as he began to get invited to assist in regional tournaments, broadening his scope and growing in his skill.
“You’re not going to just jump into NPSL if you were just doing your local stuff or just your state level, it’s a larger, regional and national league,” said Richardson, talking about his next step as a referee.
From 2012 to 2017, Richardson refereed in NPSL matches, having notably officiated in a semifinal match in Detroit – a top memory of his because of the stakes of the game and the overall atmosphere of the match and the fans.
“I’m very happy for Cory’s success,” said NPSL Director of Officials Paul Scott. “I’ve known him a number of years as a colleague and friend. It has been a pleasure watching him grow into one of the top officials in PRO. Being named MLS Assistant Referee of the Year is a well-earned recognition. Being appointed to the FIFA panel places him among the best in the world.”
Richardson credits much of his success and grit as an official to his time spent working NPSL matches. He noted the immense difference between local leagues and NPSL, where it was vital that he began to refine his people management skills in order to achieve any growth.
“The semi-pro league is kind of where you cut your teeth and it’s where you learn a lot about man management,” said Richardson. “At the NPSL level, the players let their emotions be known, which is part of life as a referee in dealing with those emotions. I think that was a lesson that stuck the most.”
Having started MLS matches beginning in 2018, Richardson reached the next chapter of his story in the highest league in the United States. Success certainly followed him there as well. He has made over 70 appearances on assignment in the league, most recently as the assistant referee for the Western Conference Semifinal match between Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake in November.
“Cory is an exceptionally talented and dedicated match official who has made tremendous progress in recent seasons,” said PRO General Manager Howard Webb. “He has consistently delivered quality performances with high levels of accuracy throughout the year, making him a worthy winner of the MLS Assistant Referee of the Year Award for 2021.”
Those that follow the sport of soccer know how truly difficult officiating can be, particularly when it comes to the offside call. Richardson mentioned that it is the most challenging, as the decision is many times made in split seconds and sometimes delayed (per the rule change a few years ago). Following fast-paced, high-energy matches, he said the best feeling was entering the referee’s locker room and collectively recognizing that “we all just went to war together and came out clean on the other side.”
Albeit a difficult, highly-scrutinized job, Richardson’s aspirations to reach the greatest levels of the sport are shown through his mindset. His goal, as it was when he helped his mother start her soccer club, is to continually contribute however he can to see the sport thrive.
“[Referees] are trying to do our best for the game, just as much as the players or the coaches or the fans,” said Richardson. “We, too, want to see the game succeed.”
Photo Credit: Professional Referee Organization