Week 15 of the 2018 Major League Soccer season will be one that forever lives in the memory of Jose Carlos Rivero. BC Place was the location, Vancouver Whitecaps versus Orlando City was the matchup, and one hundred center official assignments was the milestone.
It was an eventful encounter which included seven goals — six of which came in the second period. There was a dismissal too, with Orlando’s Mohamed El-Munir sent off after the interval, and a penalty was awarded to the hosts following a Video Review.
When Rivero made his MLS debut in the middle six years ago, Video Review was a distant thought in the soccer world, and a century of appearances would have seemed a long way away too. The referee’s inaugural MLS match was also an eventful one, and it’s a game he still remembers well when reflecting on his career to date.
“We had everything in my 100th game, just like my first one — that really was a night to remember,” recalled Rivero, thinking back to taking charge of Chicago Fire against Sporting Kansas City in 2012.
“I remember it was raining and I had everything; there were a lot of goals, I made a sending off to one of the top players at Kansas City, and I even had a 12-player situation – one of the substitutes came in and we were playing for 20 seconds with 12 men. We stopped, we caught it, but everything happened in that game.
“It’s one of those that you’ll never forget. It was unbelievable. After the game both the coaches came in and welcomed me to MLS and said that I did a good job for my first game; they encouraged me to keep working hard and taking each game as it came, and it was a great way to begin the path to 100 games.
“I remember I called my grandfather — who was an international referee — about my first assignment. I told him ‘I’m very nervous, the stadium holds 25,000’ and he told me ‘I believe you’re going to do well. Just remember, I went to Brazil and refereed Pele in front of 145,000 people. If I can do that, then you can do it in front of 25,000 — it’s going to be just fine.’
“When I heard that, I did the game and called him the next day, and he said ‘I told you.’ That was my main achievement.”
Since making his MLS bow, Rivero has gone on to referee MLS Cup Playoffs and major MLS rivalries, as well as being involved in last year’s MLS All-Star Game, when he was the fourth official for Real Madrid’s visit to Chicago.
Now the Peruvian-born official holds no nerves on the big stage; he revels in the atmosphere. Introduced to the world of refereeing early on in his life due to his father, uncle and grandfather, Rivero is intent on following in their footsteps and keeping the family tradition alive.
“I have refereeing inside of me, which I didn’t know when I was young. I was playing as a goalkeeper but, inside of me, I believe that it was there all along. When I started refereeing with my uncle, it felt so natural. In the end, I compared both of them, which one I felt more comfortable doing — playing or refereeing. As soon as I got my first whistle in Peru, I knew this was for me.
“I started having bigger games… better games. I remember wanting to referee the Cali Clasico [LA Galaxy v San Jose Earthquakes], and within a year, I had. It was an unbelievable experience, so was refereeing the New York Derby.
“When the international clubs came across, I refereed Chelsea versus AC Milan at MetLife Stadium in front of 80,000 people. It’s incredible — not only to be refereeing the top players of the United States, but to be on the field with the top soccer players from around the world. You come out of the games with the greatest feeling of achievement.
“I never thought I would be on the field with Messi, Suarez and Neymar; I never thought I would be in the field sharing one game in front of 90,000 people. Those situations are big for any referee. For me, the more people, the better I referee. It pumps you up. The energy in the stadium gets behind you, it’s hard to explain it. It’s something that gives you more energy to run, to get to the spot, to make the game flow.
“Every referee sets a goal, whether it’s to get the all-star game or a play-off game, or be a part of the final, or to get the biggest game of the weekend. My next goal is to become an international referee, to be the third generation of my family.
“I am the last one in the family to be a soccer referee, and my grandfather passed away in December so he didn’t get to see me with the white badge. My goal is to keep working hard to achieve that; to become one, not just for myself, but for the family as well.”