INSIDE INDOOR SOCCER - "I'm doing what I love."

by Michael Lewis

Now, just how perfect is this? 

Two friends some 1,240 miles apart will help the Major Arena Soccer League take an important step forward at the same time on Sunday night

Samantha Martinez and Kelsey Harms will take to the floor of two venues to become the first women to referee a league game this season.

 At the accesso ShoWare Center in Kent, Wash., Harms will work the middle of the Tacoma Stars-St. Louis Ambush match.

Likewise for Martinez, who will officiate the San Diego Sockers-Ontario Fury encounter at the Pechanga Arena San Diego in California. 

Those matches - both kick off at 5 p.m. PT - mean so much to those women in so many ways.

"It's something I've been looking forward to for a while," Martinez said. "It's going be interesting, fun, because these guys aren't used to [women] working on the floor. I'm excited for it. Trust your colleagues that you're working with and have fun out there." 

Added Harms: “It's really exciting, I'm just looking forward to the game. … It's not a thing that is just a novelty anymore.”

They have a number of shared experiences, having worked in the MASL as assistant referees and fourth officials the past few years, National Women's Soccer League, National Independent Soccer Association, and Division I college soccer. They have worked together at college games.

Martinez also has officiated in MASL2, the National Premier Soccer League and USL. She also has international experience, which includes Liga MX matches, Club America, Deportivo Guadalajara and the Barcelona FC women. Harms worked the 2021 NAIA national championships and Western Indoor Soccer League. 

They have faced their share of challenges and adversity. As difficult as refereeing is, a woman officiating men's matches has presented other problems.

"Every nationality is different, especially with many seeing it as a man's pitch. It's not a woman's pitch," Martinez said. "It's gotten better over the years. Women are breaking barriers where now see more women out there and men are getting more used to it. You show up to these games and you have to come in with a little thicker skin and a little tougher because they're not seeing what they usually see."

Martinez has worked the middle of Liga MX matches in a country where women haven’t always been accepted taking traditional men's roles. She said some of those matches "get really intense." 

"In Liga MX, they're not used to females on the pitch," she said. “If you get that high intensity level of professionalism. you have to have thicker skin, especially me being Mexican. They see a Mexican woman ... the machoism plays a part."

As a woman working a man's game, Harms learned communication was key as was dealing with various issues. That included dealing with some hard and coarse language from angry players.

"There are definitely things that people can say in the moment that kind of makes your blood boil a little bit," Harms said. "The personality that I typically tried to project out on the field, I think this is something that might be different from men to women."

Some early mentors told Harms to be a hard-liner.

"Whenever I did that, I would always get really poor responses from players, because the guys didn't want to have this young chick yelling at them and telling them what to do," she said. "It never went over the same way that if there was a guy out there yelling."

After reading books on the communication differences between men and women, Harms changed her style.

"I found out that empathy and just kind of an affirmation," she said. "I don't have to be a [hard-liner]. I need to be firm, and I want to be empathetic. Those kinds of traits come out a little bit better when as a female I'm speaking to men. They listen to me better. They are willing to work with me a lot better. They're going to do what I want."

Several years ago, Harms and her brother Brandon worked a Premier Development League (now USL League Two) national semifinals involving the Kitsap Pumas.

"The coach for the Kitsap Pumas team at the time was like, 'I don't know if that girl can keep up with my boys. This is a big game,' " she said. "It kind of gave a little bit of pushback about having me out there. The administrator was like, 'Nope, we're putting her out there. We want to prove to you that she can do it.' "

She said the game "went great."

"I remember getting a note afterwards from the referee administrator saying, ‘Great job. The coach already called me and he [said] she did great. She's fine. She can come to any game.’ It was one of those moments where it was really like proving that I could be out there and that I could do just as good of a job as the boys."

While both women played soccer at a young age, they took different paths to officiating.

Martinez grew up with a ball at her feet, playing when she was three. She started at AYSO and played with some top-flight teams before attending San Diego Miramar College.

"I was just graduating from there," she said. "One of the assistant coaches, a goalkeeper coach, he's like, 'Why don't you try reffing? It's easy income.' " 

Martinez wasn't certain officiating was in her soccer DNA.

"Are you kidding?" she replied. "I'm the one who always got the yellow cards and the red cards. I'd be the one yelling at the refs. No way." 

But she tried it anyway.

"I start off in the middle and I'm like, 'Oh, I like this. This is interesting. I have the power,’ " Martinez said. "Little by little, I did tournaments. Every weekend I was reffing anytime I could, high school during the week. Then I started doing indoor. The more you did it, the more fun and more competitive you will get with yourself. I'm a competitive person."

Then came some traveling and more challenging assignments as the 28-year-old Martinez climbed the officiating ladder.

"I'm doing what I love,” she said. “This is just awesome.”

Harms started playing in a co-ed league with her brother when she was five before working her way up to a premier team in Stanwood, Wash.

When she was 14, Harms' mother signed up herself and children for a referee's course. 

"She just wanted us to do something that had all three of us together because we were always at the soccer fields anyway," she said. "We were at the soccer field almost every weekend. Soccer was year-round for us. She just thought it would be a cool way that we could make some cash in between games."

At the time, Harms didn't have any ambitions to go beyond youth soccer officiating.

"I knew nothing about advancing or higher-level games," she said. "It was never really any of my ambition to do so. I've always been really kind of meticulous. I was always the player that if the referee called the foul … and I thought I fouled somebody, I would back away and give them the ball. If I got a foul called for me and I just tripped over myself, I would kick the ball back to the other team because I'm like, well, that's not fair. I want a fair competition. My coach would yell at me."

When he was a referee administrator, Jeremy Hanson, now an assistant referee in Major League Soccer, gave Harms her first opportunity to work the middle during an Olympic Development Player tournament for Boys Under-14 to U-17 teams.

"I started out terrified to be in the middle," she said. "I ran a lot of lines for Mexican men's league back home. I had no problem running the line."

Hanson felt Harms was ready.

"I cried, almost all night," Harms said. "I told him, 'I can't do it. There's no way. I called my mom said I'm coming home, I quit like I don't want to do this. He's making me jump in the middle and I don't do middles. I'm not good at them.' He said, Kelsey, 'I'm going to be on the sidelines the whole time. And if there's ever a moment in the game where you want out … nod at me, and I will pull you out and we'll replace you.' I started the game, and I loved it."

Harms was a fast learner.

"I figured out how to talk to and manage players and making sure that things were done fairly," she said. "It feels like putting a puzzle together. The bug bit me and I learned about this whole bigger world of where I can go and reffing."

Martinez, who has worked at a Chula Vista, Calif. warehouse, has made officiating her fulltime profession.

"I've dedicated more time to refereeing," she said. "I'm trying to I'm trying to shoot for the stars. I'm trying to get my FIFA badge. I'm trying to go as high as high as I can, take it to the next level. I've dedicated most of everything to refereeing and doing my part of staying fit, knowing the Laws of the Game, practicing." 

In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced Harms to be creative. She and her mother formed a home staging company in Everett, Wash. called Upstaged Designing. She also is a sign language interpreter for the deaf.

"Reffing was always in my life first," Harms said. "Everything that came after that I curated in my life to be able to fit reffing into it. In interpreting, I can choose my own jobs when I want. I can take off to go to tournaments, and then running the business."

Harms, 32 wants to continue officiating as long it is fun.

"I always want reffing to be fun," she said. "It is a job. But I want it to be to be something that I look forward to. The second that reffing starts to become something I'm not looking forward to, a chore, then that's the day that I want to retire."

Her goal is to become a National Referee. "I don't know if I'm getting a little too aged for that," Harms said. "So probably within the next two years I will know … I would like to become a referee coach."

But first things first - Sunday's matches.

Martinez and Harms were asked if they had any advice for each other.

"She's got this," Martinez said. "Go get ‘em. She knows exactly. Very good referee."

Hames: "Like she always does.

"I'm happy for Samantha. I love her, I love working with her. I think she is a brilliant referee. I don't know why she wasn't out there sooner." 

It may be later, but both women will help the league take some important steps on Sunday.

"We're bringing these barriers down," Martinez said. "It's something where women are trying to get on the same pitch and trying to do our part as a referee. I'm just hoping this goes a long way where more females join [us], knowing that we're capable and we can do it. More doors will open."


Michael Lewis, the editor of, can be followed on Twitter at @SoccerWriter. He can be reached via email at His book Alive and Kicking: The incredible, but true story of the Rochester Lancers, will be published soon.