Arturo Angeles refereed the Olympics in Barcelona, the Copa America in Ecuador, World Cup qualifiers and games that featured legendary clubs like Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich – but none of those are his crowning achievement.
Angeles was the only American referee during the 1994 FIFA World Cup, one of the biggest steps in the growth of U.S. Soccer.
“That’s the ultimate accomplishment for a referee in his or her career, especially having it in your own country,” Angeles said. “I was part of all that commotion. It was a good show for the world to demonstrate that the U.S. was ready to have a team that could compete.”
The U.S. made it out of the group stage following a draw against Switzerland and a win against Columbia, but narrowly lost to eventual champions Brazil in the Round of 16.
Angeles said there was a large amount of responsibility on his shoulders, because public opinion was that America wasn’t ready to host such a worldwide event.
“It was a chance to show that we play the game (well),” he said. “For me, it was a great satisfaction in knowing that I was the only U.S. referee there.”
Angeles’ journey to the World Cup started much earlier, back when he played in local amateur leagues in Southern California. He also liked refereeing, and joined the U.S. Soccer Federation Referee Program in 1975, kicking off his refereeing career.
Angeles was in charge of games in the North American Soccer League when the likes of Franz Beckenbauer and Gerd Muller were on the field, and was still active when Major League Soccer began in 1996.
After retiring five years ago, he has transitioned into an education role, and considers it his generation’s responsibility to teach the next group of young referees.
“I consider myself from a generation that is training the referees now,” Angeles said. “Now we have referees that help with training the professional referees and learn about the professional game that knows what it takes to get there. The training structure is doing very well.”
After refereeing a pair of games between Brazil and Germany, he stressed the need for referees to be in good shape, as it seemed like he was running for the entire game without stopping. But because he is proud of how well he kept up his fitness, those were two of his favorite games of his career.
Angeles said that with the rapid growth of MLS, it’s not a secret that referees are growing with it, and it has allowed the U.S. to focus resources on the identification of quality referees rather than wait for them to show up.
“Now we’re scouting,” he said. “Now we go around the country to select the top referees, and that’s very precious. Right now we are at a stage where the professional league and the environment for referees is getting stronger. U.S. Soccer puts all this stuff together and gets better referees.”
Angeles has seen the U.S. Soccer Referee Program come a long way, and is still involved by assisting at local tournaments and with the referee development program, but he knows that to be equal with Brazil, Germany and Spain, there’s still a long way to go.
“We have a great program,” Angeles said. “Our referees are like any other referees in the world. They get invited to tournaments and they perform very well. I see the program getting stronger with even stronger and better referees.”