MASL2 referee Drew Klemp makes his MASL debut, but not in the way he expected

Drew Klemp has dreamed for a while now of stepping on the floor as a Major Arena Soccer League referee.

But when he got his chance to do so Sunday, it wasn’t in the way he visualized it happening and he sure didn’t expect to be in the most highly anticipated matchup of the entire MASL season so far this year.

But less than two hours before the start of the Sockers vs Savage showdown, Klemp got the call from the league’s head of officials, Ryan Cigich, that he would be on the floor shortly with senior referee Brian Miller to officiate that night’s game.

Even though just 22, he is a “veteran” Major Arena Soccer League 2 floor official, often assigned games in Wichita, Omaha, Dodge City and Cedar Rapids, proving grounds for not just players but referees alike. A resident of the Kansas City area, he regularly is assigned as an off-the-floor official for Comets games, dating back to 2019.

He was in Southern California having worked the floor for an MASL 2 game in Ontario Saturday night, and having worked two M2 games at Pechanga Arena (one on the floor and one in the box) earlier in the day Sunday. Drew was scheduled to be the assistant referee for the Sockers game until the second assigned referee, Samantha Martinez, became unavailable for floor duty prior to kickoff.

“Ryan called  and he said ‘you’re going on the floor.’ I’ve been someone who's been on the bubble for a year and a half now, so I’ve been just kind of waiting my turn ,waiting for the stars to all align. I had no idea it would be then,” he recalled. “The last thing he told me was ‘prepare yourself, get in the right mindset. Just do your job, ref the game. You’re ready.’”

M2’s Head of Officials, Graeme Florance -- now in his eighth season as a MASL referee -- was confident that Klemp was ready for  the assignment.

“As well as being a really strong referee, Drew is a great person. He has an outstanding work ethic,” Florance noted. “He puts in lots of preparation and study to be as prepared as possible for every assignment. He is hungry for knowledge and wants every little piece of advice or criticism that will improve his skills. He has been a joy to work with and will continue to go on to big things in refereeing and in life.”  

Kiemp started officiating as a teenager, in large part because he would regularly be frustrated by those that worked his games.

“The very short story of that is I played soccer, and I thought the referees weren't too good and that I could do better,” he said. “You’ve got to put your money where your mouth is and honestly, I was one of the worst players at yelling at the referees.”

His progression has been organic -- working just the way the MASL pyramid structure is designed to work -- starting with floor assignments for M3 games when Kansas City had a M3 team, Sunflower State. He has also been invited to and attended the MASL referee’s pre-season camps.

His work, despite his relative inexperience, almost immediately caught the attention of many, several of whom took them under their collective officiating wings.

“I’ve had really great mentorship throughout the journey. I’m young, and really like to learn. So our two referees in Kansas City, Ron Cory and Brian Martin, have been awesome. They are fantastic people and excellent referees. They’ve helped me out a lot, but my main mentor is Brian Miller.”

The Cleveland-based Miller, now in his 10th season in the MASL, is in regular contact with Klemp on his climb to the top level of indoor soccer.

“He and I will watch game film from other games, watch game film of my games, and go over them. Weekly we talk about things that happened in games, what could be done better, what would you do in that situation, what was done well,” Klemp said. “So from an education standpoint, a lot of the things that happen out there I’ve already seen it and already talked about it. So I felt prepared.”

Miller is no stranger to helping young officials. Just weeks ago, Miller teamed with Danielle Chesky for her first ever MASL floor assignment in Florida. It was also in Florida where Miller was paired with Sergio Cabrera Acosta who was working his first floor game a couple of seasons ago.

“That’s no coincidence that he’s put in those situations because he’s an excellent official and an excellent teacher,” Klemp believes. Ironically, Miller was a floor official when Klemp worked his first-ever MASL game in the box at Cable Dahmer Arena.

It was a coincidence, however,  that Miller had been assigned as the senior referee for Sunday’s game, making it a serendipitous confluence of events that provided a bit of a security blanket for Klemp, who didn’t have much time to envision what his first MASL game would be like.

“It was a great thing actually, thank God,” Klemp noted. “If I had lots of time to just sit and think about the fact I have two undefeated teams…. I was aware. But it really didn’t fully cross my mind until after the game, I didn’t have time to get nervous which I probably would have had I had more time. The first five minutes were a little surreal, but then you’re like ‘I’ve got a job to do. I’ve been through these situations and motions before.’ So it became a lot easier then.”

And it was also easier because Klemp said he felt he was not alone on the Pechanga Arena field.

“I would have to say that literally half the floor referees in the league all sent me text message or calls to offer a little advice and wish me good luck,” he continued. “Just to have everyone’s encouragement, from the senior referees – the Commissioner Keith Tozer even sent a message – I felt like I had an army of support. And I also felt because of all my mentorships and relationships, all my MASL 2 and MASL 3 games on the floor, from watching all these senior guys for years, I was as ready as I could be despite the massive challenge at hand.”

That camaraderie proved crucial – as did the fact Martinez was able to still serve as the assistant referee in the box --  since he was making his first-ever trip to San Diego or Pechanga Arena.

“If had gotten my first game in Kansas City or St. Louis, there would have been a lot of comfort zone factors. I know the arena, I know the coaches, I know a lot of the players, all the stuff that you don’t stress about,” he recalled. “But on Sunday, everything was different. I was as far out of my comfort zone as I could have possibly been, but what was really grounding for me was the support I had of the MASL community and having my mentor be the senior referee on the game. What a very happy accident it turned out to be.”