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Top Canadian assistant referee Joe Fletcher retires, says time is right

TORONTO — After two World Cups and numerous other marquee soccer matches, Canada's Joe Fletcher is retiring as an assistant referee. The 42-year-old Fletcher, from St. Catharines, Ont., by way of Niagara Falls, says the time is right.

TORONTO — After two World Cups and numerous other marquee soccer matches, Canada's Joe Fletcher is retiring as an assistant referee.

The 42-year-old Fletcher, from St. Catharines, Ont., by way of Niagara Falls, says the time is right.

Fletcher wanted to go out on his own terms, "as opposed to letting time take its toll, slowing down, becoming worse and then having someone tap you on the shoulder and say 'I think it's time you let it go.'"

"I'm also a goal-oriented kind of guy, so I ran out of boxes to tick," he added.

Fletcher also wanted to move aside so someone else could have their chance.

He leaves at the top of his game, having been named MLS assistant referee of the year in 2018. 

"Joe Fletcher has been a leading figure amongst Canada Soccer referees for more than a decade, successfully, and flawlessly accepting appointments each time he’s called on every continent," Isaac Raymond, manager of referees for the Canadian Soccer Association, said in a statement.

"After 25 years, we're proud to work with Joe as he transitions into a mentorship role, bringing his thirst for knowledge and drive to developing the next generation of Canadian referees."

Fletcher is due to work as an instructor at Canada Soccer's national referee camp next month in Bradenton, Fla.

"If you think refereeing's not a glamorous goal, try being a referee instructor," he joked. "It's even less glamorous. No once cares if you're alive.

"But if somebody doesn't help you on your way up, you probably don't make it or you quit."

Fletcher worked the 2014 and 2018 World Cups in Brazil and Russia, respectively. His resume also includes the 2017 Confederations Cup, 2016 Copa America, 2014 and 2016 MLS Cup finals, 2011, 2015 and 2018 Canadian Championship finals, 2013 FIFA Club World Cup, 2012 Olympic Games, 2011 and 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cups, 2008 and 2017 CONCACAF Champions League finals, and 2007 and 2011 U-20 World Cups, plus a long list of pro matches.

Fletcher, who was 15 when he took his first officiating course, earned his national officiating badge in 2005 and joined the FIFA list of assistant referees in 2007.

Had he opted to keep officiating, Fletcher said he would have targeted the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. 

"But to make it there is a lot of days away," he said.

He estimates that might have meant another six months away from home through tournaments, seminars and other responsibilities.

"I couldn't really look my kids in the eye and say 'I really needed to do this,' when they're 12 and nine," said Fletcher.

He will focus on his day job now. Fletcher's a partner at the chartered professional accounting firm of Wormald Masse Keen Lopinski.

His office serves as a reminder of his soccer career, with souvenir balls from tournaments he's worked. His wife is framing his 2018 World Cup jersey, to go along with the 2014 one.

Fletcher's last game was Nov. 29, the second leg of the MLS Western Conference Championship final between Sporting Kansas City and Portland.

He made the decision to retire in October after officiating the Asian Champions League semifinal in South Korea, knowing he has worked games in every FIFA confederation. 

He thought about retiring from international matches and continuing to work MLS games, but realized he would have wanted more.

Fletcher, who worked with the American duo of referee Mark Geiger and assistant Frank Anderson at the 2018 World Cup, was part of a memorable moment away from the field at the 2014 tournament.

Standing in the tunnel with his fellow officials prior to the game between Spain and Chile, he watched as a FIFA official shook hands with Spanish captain Iker Casillas — who was to his immediate left.

Thinking he was next, Fletcher put out his hand — only to have the FIFA official bypass him and move over to shake hands with Chile's captain. Fletcher recovered by running his right hand over his shaved head, getting a laugh and a pat on the shoulder from a sympathetic Casillas.

The moment was caught on TV, becoming part of Fletcher's lore.


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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press