While the US Youth Soccer Region IV Championships are mainly focused on the players and their pursuit of a regional title and ultimately a trip to the US Youth Soccer National Championships, none of these games would happen without the referees. Despite inevitable suggestions coming from players, coaches and parents, these referees day in and day out perform to the best of their abilities and ensure the highest quality of competition possible.
For some teams, the Region Championships are platforms for bigger things like the US Youth Soccer National Championships, collegiate soccer and perhaps eventually professional soccer. For former California South and Region IV referees Jesus Cisneros and Hector Perez, the Region IV Championships were a platform for them to be selected as current referees in Major League Soccer (MLS). In fact, the last time the Region IV Championships were held in Albuquerque, N.M., both Cisneros and Perez were officiating in the tournament. Four years later they are back at the Region IV Championships to help mentor young referees.
“First off we would like to thank the region for calling us and inviting us out here,” Cisneros said. “We have received such a warm welcome. This is a very pro-referee region, and they have been incredibly supportive.”
Instead of officiating this time around, Cisneros and Perez are doing everything from setting up and running workshops and instructional meetings to giving referees rides to the farther fields.
“I think for those referees to see us here gives them the thought that they could be where we are in the future,” Perez said. “Maybe in four years they can be the ones coming back and helping out the younger referees.”
Cisneros explains that while youth tournaments are certainly different than professional games, you still have to deal with colorful coaches and fans everywhere.
“Everyone starts somewhere, and for those who originally start in a place where there isn’t great competition, the Region IV Championships are a place where you get that elite competition,” Cisneros said. “You have to know your stuff as far as the rules, and how to deal with coaches.”
Cisneros and Perez emphasize that for the referees, tournaments with the magnitude of the Region IV Championships serve as a way to mold a product. Part of that is by asking questions to those who have been there before, something Cisneros says, the younger referees have certainly taken advantage of.
“All they have done is ask questions,” Cisneros said with a laugh. “One of our main jobs is to inspire confidence in them. This is a job where you can be brought down by not only your peers, but coaches as well. If we can inspire confidence and give them the knowledge to perform well, then we are doing our job.”
“We are working to help them get better,” Perez said. “We do this so when they are in a difficult or different situation, they will know how to handle it based on these previous experiences.”
As far as the MLS goes, both referees vividly remember their first encounters at the professional level. For Perez it is the first assignment phone call.
“You get that phone call that you never expect to get, and it is such a great feeling,” Perez said. “Once you get that call and you know you are going to work in the MLS, you just think about how many years you have worked to get to this position, and you are just so happy to be there.”
For Cisneros, it is the walk in the tunnel of his first match that will never leave his memory.
“It was one of the bigger games of the year, and that walk down the tunnel was the craziest and one of the greatest experiences of my life,” Cisneros said. “I couldn’t hear anything, and it was like bees were buzzing all around my ears. It was the fastest 90 minute game I have ever had. It went by just like that.”
While both Cisneros and Perez have plenty of experience refereeing, this is one of their first experiences in more of a training and mentoring role, which is something they are still getting used to.
“Our presence proves that anything can happen,” Cisneros said. “Our ride was pretty fast, and we are just trying to help these referees get where they want to go.”
“All of these referees want not just to work at the MLS level, but in the World Cup as well,” Perez said. “So they can start here, and this is a great place for us to help them make the next step.”