Image (L-R): Brian Dunn, Jorge Gonzalez, Robert Sibiga and Greg Barkey at MAPFRE Stadium.
On Saturday, June 13, just over two hours later than planned, Robert Sibiga marched out onto the field in Columbus, Ohio to take charge of his first Major League Soccer game as a center referee.
The match at the MAPFRE Stadium between Columbus Crew and Los Angeles Galaxy was delayed due to a lightning storm, but the 21,051 sell-out crowd were undeterred and, once the storm had blown over, Sibiga eventually led the teams out.
However, that extra delay didn’t concern the official one bit – Sibiga believes the late start helped relax him ahead of his MLS debut.
“The delay did not affect our readiness,” he told proreferees.com. “When the time came to start the game we were sharp and ready to go.
“Rain delay is not something that you expect, especially on your debut. We patiently waited in the locker room, tried to refocus and be both physically and mentally ready to go at short notice.”
Sibiga is no stranger to the MLS locker room, having been on fourth official duty eight times during the current season, and that’s something which provided the 41-year-old with vital experience when he took the whistle for the first time.
The match itself finished one goal apiece, with Sebastian Lletget’s early goal for the Galaxy cancelled out by Federico Higuain in the second period.
“Spending time as a fourth official definitely helps. Knowing the stadium, meeting coaches and players, helps to build relationships before and during the game.
“You learn about players’ behaviour and expectations of the coaches; this helps you understand the game better, and feeling the pressure of the result as a fourth official helps you realize how much is at stake in every match.
“I felt confident going into the match, I felt we allowed the players to show their skills and allowed them to perform knowing that they are being protected by the officiating crew.”
Prior to his first MLS assignment in the middle, Sibiga had been refereeing in Europe as one of the officials selected for the Toulon Tournament in France.
The annual competition saw some of the finest young talents in the game lock horns, with USA showing their promise once more to finish third, and the Poland-born referee was, and is, proud to be a part of the nation’s growing reputation in soccer.
“It was an amazing experience. We were assigned three matches, and observers of our games were very pleased with our performance and they praised the US crew for our fitness, work rate and good understanding of the sport and players’ expectations.
“The US team earned high praise for their performance in Toulon. They played very well and we were proud to be part of the US contingent there. The ‘never give up and play with pride’ mentality was very enjoyable to watch.
“A strong performance by the US team coupled with strong refereeing by our crew shows that this sport in the US is coming on leaps and bounds. US soccer culture is rapidly growing; the tradition of playing, refereeing and being a fan of soccer starts to get noticed all over the world.
“The name of Mark Geiger was known by all referees who came to Toulon. U.S. soccer successfully competes with best countries all over the world. As officials, we are happy and proud to play a small part in the process.”
And now Sibiga, who has been refereeing since 2008, can add MLS to his ever-growing resume. It was a proud moment for the official when he was handed his maiden assignment, with years of hard work paying off.
“I decided to move away from playing days and focus on being an official. I decided to attend all tournaments I could get into: DA Showcase in Phoenix, Dallas Cup, Youth Nationals, US Club Soccer in Virginia Beach, Score At The Shore in Florida, and many local tournaments. I got positive feedback and I believed that I could be good at it.
“There was a huge amount of happiness and sense of accomplishment when I was handed the assignment in Columbus. Being patient is an important part of this trade and some referees wait many years before they are offered a chance.
“I received numerous phone calls from PRO referees and staff with support, suggestions and words of encouragement. They all helped me feel confident and ready for the challenge ahead of me.
“When I learned that I would be center referee for the game, I went back and looked at road that got me here, and remembered every referee and mentor that I met along the way. Each one offered me advice that moulded me into the official I am today. This assignment was a big thank you to all of them.”