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"The Highlight of My Career" by Paul Tamberino, USSF Referee and FIFA AR (ret.)


When Paul Tamberino retired from officiating following the 2001 U.S. Open Cup final, it ended the career of one of the finest referees in U.S. Soccer history.  A four-time MLS Referee of the Year, Tamberino’s career includes World Cup qualifiers, Olympic qualifiers, MLS Cups, a FIFA World Championship and much more.  With all of the world-class matches that he has worked, Tamberino calls the “highlight of my career” a memorial match he refereed in Long Island, N.Y. in May.  What follows is Tamberino’s description of what that match meant to him.

“The Highlight of My Career”
by Paul Tamberino, USSF Referee and FIFA AR (ret.)

In my career as a referee, I have had many memorable experiences and have met many people.  Many of those people I consider friends or even family.   These people I have met during my career as a player and a referee have enriched my life greatly.

I began as a player in Baltimore, winning the McGuire Cup, playing at Essex Community College, and then the University of Maryland (College Park).  I then became a referee and in the early years I refereed youth and amateur state cups, before moving up to national cup games, the McGuire Cup Final, and NCAA finals (Division I and II).  I then became a FIFA Assistant Referee and fortunate to work Olympic qualifiers, World Cup qualifiers and the 1999 FIFA Under-17 World Championship in New Zealand.

This career carried on into Major League Soccer, where I started with the League in 1996 and won four MLS Referee of the Year Awards. Having devoted so much of my life to soccer, I dreamed of someday being on the same field as world-class players.  This came true, as I have refereed great players such as Klinnsman, Baresi, Dunga, Effenberg, Taffarel, Valderrama, Harkes, Balboa, Jones, Meola and rising young stars Donovan, Wolff, Mathis, Quaranta, Convey and many more.

Throughout my career it has not been the awards or the recognition that have greatly influenced and enhanced my life, it is the friends I have made along the way.  It is the impact they have had on my life, and the impact that I have had on their lives that means the most to me.

When I retired from refereeing, I thought that I had been blessed with all the rewards of friendship and great experiences that one person deserved in this lifetime.  However, as I used to say in my pre-game talk, “Expect The Unexpected.”  The unexpected was about to happen.

This is about a soccer game on Saturday, May 25, 2002 in Long Island, New York.  This is about a “new family” and people who love the game, play in a league every week, give their heart and soul and enjoy life.  Players like Joe Brosi, Tim Brown, Sean O’Brien, Larry DeJesus, Pete Meehan, Ron Mejia, John Huber and Carlo Marinaccio.

It was also about Sergio Villanueva - a man I never had the privilege of  meeting.  Sergio lost his life on September 11, 2001, in the World Trade Center tragedy.   This special game was held in his memory.  All of these people, my “new family,” represent the FDNY and the NYPD.

Joe Brosi, of the FDNY and Pete Meehan of the NYPD worked tirelessly to make this special day for Sergio Villanueva a day to remember forever. This game will now be an annual event in honor of Sergio. Joe and Pete were also supported by the WUSA’s New York Power, Major League Soccer and other organizations.

I met Joe and Pete at MLS Cup 2001 in Columbus, Ohio, and it was there that our friendship began.  The future soccer game in honor of Sergio was only a thought then, and I told them if they needed a referee for the game I would be honored to be a part of their plans. One year later, I was invited to New York, and I did referee that very special game.

We played and celebrated, and we cried tears for those lost, but never forgotten. Of all the games, awards, and places I have been - this was the highlight of my career. Being on the same field as these brave heroes who put their lives on the line everyday was truly an honor for me. To watch them play the “Beautiful Game”  and show respect for each other is something we all should put into practice.  The time and effort involved in creating this day created a memory that I will never forget.

Besides coordinating the events of the day, a scholarship program in the name of Sergio G. Villanueva was established at Hofstra University.  For more information regarding the scholarship and Sergio’s life you can visit: www.fdnysoccer.com.  I want to thank Joe and Pete, the rest of the players, the FDNY and the NYPD for a most memorable and rewarding experience.

Tamberino retired from officiating following the 2001 U.S. Open Cup and served as the fourth official in the MLS Cup 2001 championship game. A FIFA-accredited linesman, Tamberino was a six-year veteran official of Major League Soccer, officiating 78 regular season matches during the course of the League’s six seasons. A four-time MLS Referee of the Year honoree, his performance was consistently judged as the best in league from 1998-2001.


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