Puerto Rican referees held up under unusual pressure

Before we finalize the coverage of last week’s qualification matches between USA and Canada, there is one more aspect that must be captured and remembered: for these important games, the intention had been to bring up two referee couples, one from Brazil and one from Puerto Rico. They would then naturally handle one game each on each day. However, at a late stage, when no other options were available, the Brazilians had to back out, due to a serious health concern in the family of one of them. (We do hope that this situation is being handled with a satisfactory outcome!)

This meant that the Puerto Rican referees had to be put in the unusual situation of doing back-to-back games on both days. This is something that may seem easy and normal at the youth level, but it certainly is not the situation that one wants to put referees on a a high level and in crucial games. We did know that fitness would not be an issue for our Puerto Rican friends Enrique Perez and Jose Guzman, but their experience at the international level is quite limited, and games of this type can be very stressful. Nevertheless, Enrique and Jose graciously acceped this challenge.

Of course, this was without being able to anticipate the dramatic finishes on BOTH the men’s and the women’s side. Perhaps it would have been normal if ONE of the games would have ‘come down to the wire’ with a very close aggregate score in the final minutes. But who could have imagined that the first game, the women, would be decided on ‘away goals’ after a aggregate result of 44-44, and that then the men’s battle would finish with identical score for the home team in both games, so that overtime would be required.

I have rarely felt so sorry for a pair of referees as when the final seconds were ticking away and I could see the inevitability of at least 2×5 minutes overtime…. However, the referees took this extra challenge in strides and kept both themselves and the players under full control. In fact, this final one of their four games was quite probably their best performance. The atmosphere on the court remained very sportsmanlike until the very end. To a large extent, this was the effect of the ability of the referees to maintain concentration and a consistent line throughout the match.

We thank Enrique and Jose for their contributions to a great and exciting event, and we wish them much success in their endeavor to climb the career ladder as international referees!