US Referee Connection is pleased to welcome Mr. Ricardo Salazar. He became a referee in 2000 and a FIFA referee in 2005. He is also one of the full-time professional referees in US.
Ricardo, please accept a warm welcome to US Referee Connection.
When did you decide to become a referee, and who were some of the influences on your career?
I became a referee at the young age of 13. Due to the lack of numbers of referees when growing up playing, the league asked each club to designate a parent to become a referee. My dad went to the entry level class and worked one year alone. It was the following year that he sent me and my brother so he would have a referee team, so for a few years he would blow the whistle while my brother and I ran the line for him. Also, he was able to protect us and we got little grief from coaches/spectators. So you can say my dad had an influence in getting me started. The two other people who had an influence as my career began to take off were Viet Troung and Steve Siomos.
What do you think is the most misunderstood aspect of the refereeing profession by coaches, players, fans and the media?
I think that coaches and players understand that referees have an interest in seeing the professional game be successful. What I mean by this is we don’t just show up for a professional game, work and go home. We spend many hours preparing and training for our task. We do everything we can to be successful. What we often see is that fans and media look at the game through rose-colored glasses. This is understandable because they want their team to come out on top. We as referees have to make sure everyone gets a fair shake. This doesn’t mean that we are not going to make mistakes. I will never have a “perfect” game, but I am going to do everything in my power to limit my mistakes and the mistakes by my crew. Over the years, we have had coaches and players attend our fitness testing. They understand what we go through while being tested. It wasn’t until recently where we had a person from the media come out and attempt the fitness test. I think this gives them a better understanding of how we prepare.
From your perspective as a professional referee, what are the best and worst aspects of being a referee and/or assistant?
I cannot answer for the assistants, but I do know they have a very difficult task in judging offside. For me, the best aspect of being a professional referee is being involved with the sport I love at the highest level. I have personally been on the field with the best clubs in the world, not to mention the best players this planet has to offer. The thing I like best about what I do as a referee is that I know when I am in charge of a match I want it to have a certain look (entertaining, attractive, creative, exciting). This doesn’t always happen, but I hope I can add to the entertainment factor in a positive way.
The worst aspect is making a mistake and impacting the match in a negative way. As hard as we try, we are still human and that human error still lingers in the beautiful game. I am asked many times if we should add video replay to eliminate the human errors as much as possible. Believe me, I am open to ways to make the game better and whatever might help me in my performance. The key to adding video replay to a game that has very few stoppages and is free flowing is making sure you don’t take any enjoyment out of the match.
In your opinion, what are the key attributes that a modern-day referee must have to be successful domestically and internationally?
The key attribute that a modern-day referee must possess to be successful is an understanding of our domestic league and its players. Our league (MLS) is made up of so many different nationalities and backgrounds that it makes our working environment difficult at times. In the MLS we are required to player manage more then we do when we go to a FIFA appointment. We see these players week after week and we build relationships with these players, some better than others. The modern-day referee should know what it is like to foul and be fouled. This will help the referee understand both the player and the game much better.
Internationally, although the player management isn’t as big a factor, we still need to exercise this skill as much as possible. At the international level the referee decision making is more black and white. Due to this being an international sport and language is often a barrier, players expect certain responses from the referee. When the referee does not respond in the correct manner he often loses respect from the players. If the referee does not understand this, it will be difficult for him or her to be successful.
Most importantly, the referee must have confidence. The referee has to beam confidence without being cocky. He has to understand he is there for the players and the game. I have seen many referees that lack confidence or are cocky, and both lead to failure. At times my confidence has been very low and it makes it very difficult to perform.
How do you diffuse a volatile situation that you know players are about to explode?
When the game is on edge and tempers are escalating, it is often best to keep the game going. It is when you have stoppages that players are more likely to do silly things. That being said, the referee crew must be aware of his surroundings and feel the game. It is almost a sixth sense to know when something is going to happen or a player is upset. When the opportunity arises, the referee must address the player to find out as much information as possible. This will help both the player and the game from “exploding”. At the least, it will alert the players that you understand something isn’t right.
What are your impressions about the proposal to add additional assistant referees on the field?
Again, as I stated above, I am open to ideas that will make the referee more successful and the game more enjoyable for the spectators. I believe it will take some getting used to but it appears to have a positive impact. I have not seen statistics as to how many decisions they are involved in during a 90- minute match, but presence alone has to count for something.
What do you thing about the ‘RESPECT” campaign that U.S. Soccer has launched?
I believe U.S. Soccer is on the right track. The “RESPECT” campaign is about allowing all the participants to have the best experience possible, and that begins with treating each other properly. The beauty of soccer is it is global and many different cultures are touches daily by our sport. We should all embrace that.
What’s your pre-match routine?
My pre-match routine varies a little, but usually consists of breakfast, lunch and a pre-game snack. Sometimes I watch a movie on demand, and depending on the time of year college football on game day is always enjoyable. Without question, a game day nap is always in order.
What is your pre-match meal?
My diet doesn’t change much, even on game day. I try to follow a low carb diet but usually on game day I will settle for a grilled chicken sandwich. In the morning, I like to have an egg white veggie omelet and black coffee. I pound the water throughout the day as hydration is very important for me. My pre-game snack is usually a protein bar of some sort and /or yogurt with a cup of coffee while getting ready to leave for the stadium.
We all have bad games. How do you deal with such a match in your mind?
Yes, I will be the first to say I have had bad games and I will have those in the future. This is not something affects my way of thinking. I live by the philosophy that a person cannot be successful if they are feeding themselves negative thoughts. I focus on the good games and the good moments in life to drive me to success. This is the only way I know how to be the best I can be. I learn from my mistakes and the mistakes of others and move on as quickly as possible.
How would you describe your style of officiating?
I believe my style is a player’s style of officiating. I have played this game for many years and was successful at the college level. I have an understanding of what a player wants when attacking and what a defender is doing when trying to intimidate. I don’t always get it right but I think I have a pretty good feel for the players and the game. I believe all players should respect one another and I am there to keep them accountable.
What is your most memorable game moment?
I have many memorable moments. Like I mentioned above, I have been on the pitch with some of the best players this planet has to offer. One moment that will live with me for the rest of my life was Matchday 10 of final round FIFA World Cup qualifying with Honduras playing at El Salvador, two teams with so much history both on and off the field. This was the last match of the qualifying round and El Salvador was already eliminated. Honduras needed to win, and also needed help from the United States who was playing Costa Rica in Washington, D.C. CONCACAF planned for the two important matches kick off simultaneously, but this did not happen. The USA-Costa Rica match was delayed for some reason, and because two coaches from Costa Rica were dismissed in the second half, six minutes of extra time was added. When the game concluded in El Salvador, Honduras had done their part by winning 1-0, but the news was not good for the Hondurans as the score from RFK was not a favorable one. But the game in RFK was not over, and Jonathan Bornstein’s goal in stoppage time put Honduras through to the FIFA World Cup finals in South Africa. They players, grown men, broke down in tears of joy. The grand stands and the pitch erupted in celebration. Even with all the negative history of the two countries, the celebration spilled into the streets on El Salvador and into the night.
FIFA put their trust in me to take charge of such an important match, and I only wish I had the words to describe the feelings of being part of that historic event that took place in 2009.
How often do you train?
This is a tricky question. The truth is it depends on the time of year. During the season, training days are limited due to the busy schedule. In the off season, I am training 5-6 days a week and sometimes twice a day. This consists of, but is not limited to, weight training, interval training, long runs, speed and agility work. During the season, the most important workout is the day following a match. Most of the time it is spent on an airplane, and when I get home I try to go on a “recovery” workout. This could be anything from a 20-30 minute run to a swim in my pool followed by 20 minutes in my hot tub. Massage therapy is also important, and I try to see my therapist weekly. It is important to look after your body because nobody else is going to look out for you.
What are your plans or ambitions as a referee for the near future?
Obviously, I would love to go to a world tournament someday and represent the U.S. But this is not my focus. My focus is right here at home and taking care of the MLS games that I am appointed to take charge of. I believe if I can get these games right someone will take notice and I might have a shot at my ultimate goal of the Olympics or the World Cup someday.
What advice would you give to anyone who desires to become a referee?
I would advise a person who desires to become a referee to GO FOR IT. There are so many opportunities now that were not available when I started refereeing. There wasn’t even a top professional league when I started. Now we have a full time referee program and a league that is very healthy. U.S. Soccer has referee academies throughout the country and instructors that have first-hand knowledge of professional refereeing.
Ricardo Salazar, thank you very much for your kind and insightful contribution to our Referee Community.