Image: Chris Penso leads out the teams for the 2016 MLS All-Star Game.
“I was trying to comprehend everything that had just happened, and everything that was about to happen.”
That’s what was running through Chris Penso’s mind last month, when he took his seat on the plane ready to jet off on a flight to San Jose.
What was about to happen was the biggest assignment of the referee’s career to date, with Penso heading to California to take charge of the MLS All-Star game. What had just happened was another landmark in the life of the PRO official, this one away from the pitch, rather than on it.
Earlier that morning, he watched his wife give birth to their second child, sparking the start of a memorable few days in Penso’s life. Tori, his wife, is an official herself, and therefore understands the demands of refereeing. But just how did the new father get away with leaving his wife and new daughter so soon after the birth?
“She was a week late, born on the Tuesday morning at 9.08 after we scheduled a midnight induction. I spent a few hours with the family and caught an evening flight out to San Jose, so Tuesday was quite a day.
“I’m very fortunate Tori understands the demands of the schedule and knows how much certain games mean. However, she actually made the comment, ‘you do realise any other game but this and I’d probably kill you!’
“Childbirth is such an amazing event and such a blessing. To be able to watch my wife give birth to our daughter and take that all in, and then to be refereeing the All-Star game less than 48 hours later, is quite a feeling. What a week, what a lucky man.”
Upon his arrival at the Avaya Stadium for the visit of Arsenal, it was back to business. With the support of fellow crew members Frank Anderson, Matthew Nelson, Juan Guzman and Chris Strickland, the PRO officials ensured the story of the game was all about the players.
Arsenal ran out 2-1 winners over the All-Stars, helped on their way by an 11th-minute penalty, but there was no question over the decision. It was a job well done by Penso et al, giving him the opportunity to reflect on yet another fantastic occasion.
The assignment was just reward for a fine season so far, and it’s no secret that the 34-year-old is targeting plenty more on the grand stage as he bids to make more memories, for himself and his family.
“The last thing you want, even more so in a higher-profile assignment, for the game to be about you. You don’t want to be the headline. The one big decision was pretty clear, so for us to be able to walk off the field with no controversy was great.
“Walking out on the pitch with the teams, the stadium full, listening to the anthem, watching the fly-over, it’s pretty surreal just to be able to look around, take it in and realise what an experience it is.
“I feel blessed with the number of games I’ve had over the last year and a half. Obviously I’d like to work well into the Playoffs and be considered for the MLS Cup again.
“I just want to keep working hard and keep my form. Hopefully the assignments keep coming, and hopefully we’ll get a bit more sleep at home in a few weeks!”