The international presence of U.S. Soccer’s referees only started to gain some traction in the mid- to late-1980s. Even then, the program’s impact was still very much in its infancy.
One referee who helped gain international attention during that decade and into the next was Italian-American Vincent Mauro. He moved into the officiating realm in 1975, and 15 years later he was best remembered for being a head official during the 1990 FIFA World Cup.
Coincidentally, the Pratola Serra, Italy, native earned the chance-of-a-lifetime moment back in his home country.
“It was already an honor just to go to the World Cup,” Mauro said. “The first game at San Siro Stadium in Milan, you saw all these people and you couldn’t believe yourself. I thought I was dreaming.”
Mauro’s big moment arrived on June 12 when he was the head referee during Belgium’s 2-0 victory against Korea Republic at Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi in Verona.
“When you walk on the field, you don’t see people, but you hear the music, we received flowers and you of course see the players,” Mauro said. “I actually don’t remember parts of the game, but I do remember Belgium’s goalkeeper Michel Preudhomme, who had a contract with a sunglasses company and was promised $10,000 if he tried to put them on while the match was going on. FIFA took them away.”
Mauro also was an assistant referee for Cameroon’s 1-0 win against Argentina on June 8 in front of 73,780 spectators (the first match of the event) and the assistant referee for England’s 3-2 overtime victory against Cameroon in the quarterfinals on July 1. Additionally, Mauro’s linesman duties for West Germany’s 2-1 win against the Netherlands on June 24 featured a 25-year-old Jurgen Klinsmann, who scored the game’s first goal in the 51st minute.
The event certainly was a climactic moment for Mauro, who in the mid-1970s was searching for a new chapter following his playing days. Mauro called Arlington, Mass., his new home when he moved to the U.S. in 1964, and in the soccer realm he regularly crossed paths with longtime referee Angelo Bratsis. Bratsis helped in Mauro’s idea to pursue refereeing.
“Angelo Bratsis served as a mentor for me,” Mauro said. “I had played against Angelo when he was with a Greek team in Boston. We had some good games. One day he says to me, ‘Why don’t you take the U.S. Soccer referee course?’ So I took the course and went on from there. I have always felt that when you think you have reached a peak with something, you try to climb up another peak.”
Like many who have made this transition, Mauro admits that officiating was far from second nature like playing the game was.
“When we play soccer, we don’t know all the rules of the game, so it didn’t came naturally,” Mauro said. “I used to be the worst critic, and then I noticed how much it helped me after I took the course and became a referee. I noticed that my knowledge of the laws and rules were almost 40 percent off.”
Along with the 1990 FIFA World Cup, Mauro was appointed to events such as the 1987 FIFA U-20 World Championship and the 1988 Olympics in Seoul. Following his officiating days, Mauro was hired by U.S. Soccer as the first director of officials in 1991 and served in that capacity for most of the 1990s.
“We created a lot for the Federation – pamphlets, a monthly newsletter and Fair Play magazine among others,” Mauro said. “Over the years things have been much easier to communicate with the other referees and they were better educated.”
Mauro also has served as an instructor and assessor for FIFA, including the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. His previous assessment work included the 1995 Pan-American Games in Argentina, the 2001 FIFA World Youth Championship in Argentina and the 2003 FIFA U-17 World Championship in Finland.
In the grand scheme of things, Mauro has always had the flair for managing the sport both on the field and off.
“When you referee a game, it should not feel like you’re a dictator – that’s the wrong thing,” Mauro said. “To me, you should be an orchestra conductor. You tell them the rules, how not to play, and if they hit a wrong note, you let them know they just played the wrong note. That’s the philosophy I always had from the start.”