Robert Sibiga refereeing an NYCFC-Seattle Sounders matc at Yankee Stadium. (Photo courtesy of MLS)
Nearly a decade ago, Robert Sibiga was confronted with the prospect of not being able to play soccer anymore at a high level after tearing both his ACL and knee meniscus.
“So I decided to try staying on the field at a different capacity and became a certified high school referee,” Sibiga said.
A big break for the Carmel, N.Y. resident came when senior referee administrator Enrico Romano spotted him officiating high school games in 2009. Romano e realized Sibiga’s potential and encouraged him to also referee under the U.S. Soccer umbrella.
Sibiga, 43, quickly climbed up the officiating ladder, which included starting out refereeing games in the East Hudson Youth Soccer League and Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association, then U.S. Youth Soccer’s national championships in 2010 and 2011. He received the Jose Vargas Award as the top referee in Eastern New York four years ago.
“I have been working extremely hard and went to every possible tournament in the United States to gain experience,” Sibiga said. “It worked for me but the sacrifice was great, much bigger than people would imagine.”
Sibiga made it to the big show of Major League Soccer in 2014, becoming the third MLS referee to hail from the Polish youth club Stal Stalowa Wola, following in the footsteps of Janusz Weselak and Alex Prus. He has had many memorable moments on the soccer field.
“First Development Academy finals in 2011 in Milwaukee, first NCAA Final Four in 2013 in San Antonio, first MLS game as a fourth official in Dallas in 2014, first MLS middle in 2015 in Columbus and first MLS playoff match last year in Montreal,” he said.
“Each achievement brings special moments. I also love meeting players at the youth and college levels who then become professional stars. Meeting and becoming friends with guys like Matt Miazga when he was 15 at the DA Finals in Houston in 2012, who today is under contract with Chelsea. Being on the pitch with the likes of Villa, Pirlo, Kaka, Giovinco, Bradley and Altidore makes you feel proud of the privilege to ref in MLS.”
Sibiga has eclipsed his tally of MLS games from last season. After three ref assignments in 2015 and 19 last season, he has surpassed 20 MLS games this year and was given a full-time referee contract Aug. 1. So, he will put aside his real estate career for now.
“It is virtually impossible to find time for another job once you become a full-time official,” Sibiga said. “Every day training, three-day camps twice a week, games every weekend and the travel associated with it. It is very much thanks to my supportive wife Magda and kids that I am able to follow my dreams of working in MLS as a full-time PRO official. Without the support at home, there is no way to make it and to maintain this extremely demanding and time-consuming profession. My family is the foundation my career is built on and my anchor to stay humble and appreciate every day.”
Though there are many demands on his time, Sigiba has tried to help any way he can in mentoring young officials by arranging meetings, answering phone calls, texts, etc. Just as was done for him nearly a decade ago by Romano, who said, “”Robert is the best! When I think of him, I think of humility, integrity and a sense of responsibility plus he is very involved in the training of our referees. Eastern New York and the Hudson Valley Soccer Referees Association are very fortunate to have him.”
State Referee Administrator Klaus Mueller, in charge of all referees in Eastern New York, echoed those sentiments.
“Robert made it to PRO as a referee through hard work and never giving up,” he said. “He has always been there to help any referee who asked for or needed assistance.”