Intensity, expectations, emotions. Everything increases when it comes to the MLS Cup Playoffs.
The game is faster, the challenges are harder and the expectations are higher.
Robert Sibiga knew that. When he stepped out at Stade Saputo for the Semifinal first leg between Montreal Impact and New York Red Bulls, he was ready.
It was the referee’s first taste of the MLS Cup Playoffs, in what is only his first full season at the top of North American soccer, but he embraced the occasion and stepped up.
“I was filled with happiness and pride,” Sibiga told proreferees.com, reflecting on the moment he learned of his first Playoff assignment.
“Every official works hard during the season for this and there are many who deserve this honor. It was a long shot considering this is my first full season as a referee, but it shows that the Professional Referee Organization is willing to reward officials who have good performances during the season, regardless of their number of years at the top.”
A tightly-contested affair was played out in Montreal, where the hosts won it 1-0 thanks to Matteo Mancosu’s stunning half-volley just past the hour mark.
Sibiga, who has been refereeing since 2008, called 27 fouls over the 90 minutes, and showed a red card to Red Bulls’ Omer Damari for a challenge on Calum Mallace.
Overall, though, the referee was pleased with the game and praised the experienced crew alongside him, made up of Jeremy Hanson (AR1), Kermit Quisenberry (AR2) and Mark Geiger (4th).
“We worked hard as an officiating crew and I believe we allowed the players to decide the game.
“Having an experienced crew that you can trust is crucial. There is so much going on that you cannot afford second guessing anyone’s decision, everyone needs to be on the same page at all times.
“Our communication and decision-making in the game was flawless, and I believe the game itself benefited from it.
“On the administrative part, having Alex Prus [PRO’s Match Official Development Manager] in the stadium with us was fantastic for me personally. He is my boss but, more importantly, a great friend who I’ve known for years.
“After the match both coaches thanked us for the job well done, which usually is a testament of their appreciation to the hard work we do under difficult conditions.
“No referee will ever say they had the perfect game, there is always something to consider doing differently next time around. But that’s the beauty of refereeing – you never stop learning. My first Playoff match taught me new things; made me a better official. It was an amazing experience.”