In the offices of D.C.’s Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, 27-year-old litigation associate Kenneth Kaplan is no doubt accustomed to taking orders. On the soccer field, however, Kaplan, a registered referee with the U.S. Soccer Federation since 1987, is in command and not about to take any guff. “It’s the only time I’m in charge,” Kaplan says.

Kaplan is not shy about trading barbs with mouthy players or asserting his authority when the situation so demands. He estimates that each season, from early March through December, he officiates at 50 to 75 games-from youth soccer all the way up to the major league level. And although he strives not to inject himself into the flow of a game, when the time comes to issue a warning to a disorderly player, he knows what pocket holds his laminated yellow card. “On the field, I’m not an activist judge, but, then again, everyone’s guilty until proven otherwise,” he explains, perhaps only half in jest.

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