The MLS All-Star match, a celebration of soccer in North America, arrives in Atlanta this week and heading up the PRO crew will be referee Robert Sibiga.
With the showpiece fixture only taking place once a season, he will join a select group who have officiated in this unique game and 2018 will be the 23rd edition, with Sibiga becoming the 21st referee to have featured. Current PRO officials Baldomero Toledo and Jair Marrufo are the only two referees to have taken to the field for two All-Star games.
Just over three years ago, Sibiga took charge of Columbus Crew’s meeting with LA Galaxy in his first center official role in the MLS. It was a reasonably quiet game as things go – a 1-1 tie with two yellow cards going Galaxy’s way.
This week, he will lead out the team of MLS All-Stars alongside their opponents Juventus in front of a capacity crowd at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but he isn’t letting that prospect distract him.
“It’s a high-profile game and that’s a testament to the league because it’s a great way to promote American soccer around the world,” he explained ahead of the most significant assignment of his career.
“This game will be live everywhere, including Poland [Sibiga’s country of birth]. That’s one perk of the assignment – my old high school friends and my family back home will be able to see it.
“That doesn’t bring pressure; it brings happiness. I’m old enough to not really feel pressure about things like that. I just enjoy the moment; whether it’s 20 people in the stands or 70,000 and more watching on TV, I’m out there to do my job.”
It’s been a rapidly progressive few years for Sibiga so far, having raced away from his first assignment in Ohio to now having 64 regular season MLS games as a referee in little more than three seasons.
“Sometimes I wake up in the morning and have to pinch myself to see if this is really happening,” he revealed. “It happens in a very short period of time – an extensive period, but when you look at the calendar, it’s not very long.
“I don’t set my goals too high because when I look at my career realistically, I’ve already achieved more than I thought would be possible when I started. I’m just riding the wave for as long as I can.
“Last season I had the second most regular games in the MLS with 24, and this season I am already at 18. I enjoy it because it gets me in the rhythm and I know my routine. I appreciate that I’m being used because it means that PRO needs me, and it’s a good feeling to be wanted, to be needed, and for the organization to have faith in you.
“Quality comes with quantity for me. I would not want to have one game a month even if it’s the biggest game. There are some games in the league that are bigger than others, and getting assigned to those is a big reward for the hard work, but I want to have lots of regular games with the big ones thrown in because that prepares you the best.”
The biggest assignment of Sibiga’s career so far is not an occasion he will let pass him by. When he’s on the field he will be focused on the task at hand, but the unique atmosphere surrounding the fixture is something he is looking forward to savoring.
“It’s not all business, this event will be something very different,” he said. “To know people back home will be supporting me, to have my wife and kids with me, it makes me proud.
“Officials who have done these games before have told me to get there a couple of days early, take your family and enjoy the festivities, be part of it. Don’t sit there and wait for the game because it will be over in 90 minutes.
“My wife and I are going to Atlanta three days before the game. I’ll continue preparing, but we’ll enjoy the occasion too because there are numerous attractions, and once the whistle blows on Wednesday my crew and I are going to do the best possible job.”