No matter how the United States does in the World Cup, there is at least one American assured of being around on the field for the latter stages of the tournament.
Arturo Angeles is a 40-year-old civil engineer from Temple City who is the only U.S. referee among the 48 referees and linesmen selected to officiate the 52 World Cup matches.
For Angeles, who was born in Mexico City and works for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, it is an honor many believe is well-deserved.
He did not go far as a player, appearing as a goalkeeper for USC, where he earned his engineering degree, and for a club team, Nacional, in the local Abraham Lincoln Soccer League. As a referee, however, he has gone all the way to the top.
Angeles began refereeing games in 1973, gradually working his way up through the youth, high school and college ranks in Southern California until he had earned a reputation as an honest official who knew the rules and applied them fairly.
In 1990, after the World Cup in Italy, he was one of 80 referees from around the world who were placed on a list by FIFA, world soccer’s governing body, and monitored regularly in top-class competition until last August.
The list was pared to 30 and then, after a rigorous series of physical and written tests in Dallas last March, to the 24 referees who will be in charge during World Cup ’94.
For a referee, except for being selected to officiate the World Cup final, it is the highest honor attainable.
“I’m very, very happy (about being chosen),” Angeles said. “That’s every referee’s dream. I feel a great responsibility. I need to work hard and train hard to be ready. I’m very excited about it.”
Living in a country where soccer is not as appreciated as elsewhere--and is therefore not as well covered by the media--Angeles has gone out of his way to make sure he keeps up on the international game.
“I read La Opinion and I buy newspapers from Mexico,”
he said. “And then, of course, I have a satellite dish. The only reason I bought it was so I can see soccer games. I also get videotapes from friends (overseas).”
Ask Angeles when he was awarded his FIFA badge, enabling him to referee any international game in the world, and he can tell you the exact date.
“I got it on Jan. 1, 1988,” he said without hesitation.
Since then, Angeles has traveled widely and officiated some significant matches, obviously catching the eye of FIFA with his performances.
For instance, he was chosen to go to Saudi Arabia to referee at the 1989 World Under-20 championship.
In the 1992 Olympic Games at Barcelona, he was the referee for the South Korea-Morocco match, as well as the prestigious Spain-Qatar game in front of a sellout crowd at Luis Casanova Stadium in Valencia. Spain won, 2-0, and went on to win the gold medal.
In the latter game, Angeles handed out seven yellow cards and ejected one Qatari player. No doubt his strict management of the match was noted by FIFA, which wants its referees to be in unquestioned control.
Last summer was a busy one for Angeles. He was the man in the middle for the extraordinary Germany-Brazil match at U.S. Cup ’93 in Washington. The Brazilians scored three goals in the first half, and the Germans scored three in the second to tie it.
Angeles then traveled to Ecuador to officiate at the Copa America, or South American championship. He was assigned only one game but it was a good one--defending champion Argentina versus Bolivia, both World Cup ’94 teams.
“It was a very rewarding experience (refereeing in the Copa America),” Angeles said, “I learned a lot because the South Americans are a little bit ahead of CONCACAF (the North and Central American and Caribbean region) in terms of playing. They have more skills and technique and tricks and so forth.”
The chance to witness those skills up close and to control the play is what attracted Angeles to refereeing.
“I enjoy the challenge that you have to be right all the time,” he said, “and the idea that you have to allow the players to play in such a way that you are there but yet they don’t know you are there. That’s difficult to do.”
In other words, to officiate in a manner that keeps the game flowing with as little interruption as possible and yet control with a firm hand. It’s a delicate balance, one successfully achieved by only a few top referees.
Now, Arturo Angeles, World Cup referee, can count himself among that number.