TU employee is first woman to referee MLS title match

Photo by Brendan Felch/The Towerlight 
By: Grace Coughlan, Associate Editor

Former Towson University assistant professor, Kathryn Nesbitt,  became the first woman to work a Major League Soccer title game on Aug. 11. The game was part of the MLS is back tournament, the Portland Timbers vs. Orlando City.

Once an assistant chemistry professor, Nesbitt began as an assistant referee for the MLS in 2015, officiating her first MLS match in 2017. She worked the 2018 U-20 World Cup, the 2016 U-17 Women’s World Cup, and attended the 2018 MLS Cup as the reserve assistant referee.

“The fact that she was able to accomplish this momentous achievement while still being a chemistry assistant, a high demanding job, is also so empowering,” said TU student Katherine Marszalek. “It is very impressive that she was able to balance both at one time and seems to be successful in both.” 

Last year, Nesbitt took time away from teaching to focus on working toward the World Cup. She ultimately became one of three female U.S. referees working the 2019 Women’s World Cup, alongside Katja Koroleva and Felisha Mariscal. 

Nesbitt reunites with Mariscal for the MLS is Back Tournament. They are the only women out of the 40 officials working the tournament. 

“For me, seeing other women succeed and break boundaries empowers me and helps me feel like I can do anything I set my mind to, even if others do not,” said Marszalek. 

Nesbitt’s debut to professional refereeing was in the National Women’s Soccer League for FC Kansas City vs. Portland Thorns. In her first two years in the MLS, Nesbitt officiated 10 games throughout the full season. Since 2017, she’s been the assistant referee in 44 MLS games

Nesbitt told AP news more on her experience refereeing the tournament.

“‘I think that the entire referee group here worked incredibly hard to have strong performances and to be named to the final means that you’ve had a strong performance and really shown what you’re worth here,’” Nesbitt said. “‘So it’s honestly a huge honor to have made it this far and to be on the field for that final game.’”

The MLS is Back takes place at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex at Walt Disney World in Florida, where everyone participating in the tournament is housed inside of a bubble due to COVID-19.

“It’s been actually comfortable here. We’ve all felt incredibly safe. I’ve been so grateful to have opportunities to train, to have this while time to work with my colleagues,” Nesbitt said in the article. 

According to an article by Doug McIntyre for YahooSports!, Nesbitt’s position as an assistant referee in the MLS is unique but the role of women in sports is growing. 

“Bibiana Steinhaus became the first to referee in Germany’s top two professional soccer leagues in 2007. Amy Elizabeth Fearn followed in England’s lower divisions three years later.” said McIntyre. “Sian Louise Massey-Ellis has been a Premier League assistant ref since 2011. Last year, Stephanie Frappart was the center ref for the UEFA Super Cup final between Liverpool and Chelsea.” 

As the winners, the Portland Timbers gained a place in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League.

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