September 27, 2023, will mark a pivotal moment in the career of Jon Freemon, a referee hailing from Olathe, Kansas, who has been chosen to lead the officiating team in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup final. This will be a high-profile match featuring none other than Lionel Messi, the global soccer superstar. I spoke with Jon Freemon about the pressure and expectations associated with this challenging task.
Officiating a high-stakes final like the US Open Cup is a significant honor for any referee, but this final has a special touch. Freemon, who grew up just a mile away from another notable referee, Kyle Atkins, who worked in the FIFA World Cup final in Qatar in 2022, knows that all eyes will be on him and his officiating crew.
“Whenever you’re considered part of a tournament, it’s a great honor,” said Freemon. “So multiply that by 100 when you’re considered for the final, and multiply it by 1,000 when you’re selected for the final.”
The pressure that comes with officiating a final, especially one as significant as the US Open Cup with Messi’s presence, is undeniable. Every decision will be closely scrutinized, controversial plays will be dissected, and every step by Freemon will be closely watched by spectators, fans, and the media.
“We don’t have many professional finals in our country. Being part of the oldest tournament in our country from a soccer perspective is an incredible honor,” added Freemon. “As you must know, this final may feel a bit different from previous finals, with the amount of attention it’s going to draw. So, we’ll do our best to handle that pressure and manifest it into a really strong performance from the officiating crew.”
But the pressure doesn’t stop there. After all, it’s Lionel Messi who will be on the field. As the captain of Argentina, the current FIFA World Cup champions, and one of the biggest stars in the sport, Messi’s presence elevates the level of scrutiny even further.
“As referees, we definitely feel the pressure, with all the media and all the attention our league is getting now,” said Freemon. “We have a lot more eyes than a year ago. So, to say I don’t feel any pressure would be a lie. I’ve become very good at controlling that pressure and focusing it solely on the performance itself. At the end of the day, it’s another match. The job is pretty much the same. There will be more people watching. We just try to keep it in that perspective.”
Jon Freemon’s journey to this final has been marked by dedication and hard work. He started by officiating recreational games, where “all the games are blue vs. red,” and he only needed a yellow shirt and a whistle. But his love for the sport and his pursuit of excellence propelled him up the officiating hierarchy, from local games to the US Open Cup final.
Soccer in Olathe, Kansas, seems to have produced talented referees, as Jon Freemon shares a special connection with Kyle Atkins, another referee who has reached the international stage. They didn’t know at the time that they grew up a mile apart from each other, but now they share a remarkable journey in officiating.
On Wednesday night, September 27, Jon Freemon will be in the spotlight as he takes another step in his journey as a referee. The game will be a test of nerves and skills, but Freemon is determined to keep his focus on the game itself because, as he puts it, “We want it to be about the players, the game itself, and how exciting it was for the fans to be a part of it.”
The pressure on Jon Freemon is tangible, but his story is a reminder that, at the end of the day, soccer is about passion, dedication, and the pursuit of excellence, not only for the players but also for those who officiate the game. Whatever the result of the 2023 US Open Cup final, Jon Freemon and his officiating crew deserve praise for taking on the challenge of ensuring that the spectacle is fair and thrilling.