This month there's a big game happening. You may have heard about it? You also may have heard about the cold weather, which has played a memorable part in the USA-Mexico rivalry in the past. With these things in mind, this month we're asking U.S. Soccer's full-time referees about officiating games in the cold and taking charge of games between heated rivalries. First up, Baldomero Toledo.
Official Take: How is refereeing in the cold different from refereeing a game in warm weather?
Baldomero Toledo: You take a game in the cold with the same responsibility [as one in any weather], and the only thing that changes is your game preparation. In cold weather you have to take into consideration your warm-up time in order to prevent injuries. In warm weather, you just follow your normal routine and always focus on the game but in a cold weather game you must prepare more.
OT: How does an official prepare to referee a game in the cold? Training in cold weather?
BT: As referees we normally have to train in climates similar to where the game will be played in order to get used to the specific environment. If we have the opportunity to find a similar climate in the area that we live in it will help. You can always adjust your training to different times of day, whether it's cooler or hotter, and do your workouts accordingly.
OT: Can you think of an example from a game in the cold where a situation was either new to you or unexpected? How did you react?
BT: I remember a game the last MLS season in the second week of April in Chicago. It was between Chicago and New England. The temperature changed from 55 degrees (the day before the game) to 38 degrees (the day of the game). It was quite windy, which probably made the temperature even colder out on the field. It didn't help that the temperature which I was used to back home was in the low 70’s! I reacted by changing my warm up routine to prevent injuries and I prepared myself mentally to make sure that my decisions in the game wouldn't affect my performance.
OT: What are a few helpful tips or reminders for referees who are going to ref a game in the cold?
BT: Try to train in a similar climate as in the game. Change your warm up routine and make it a little longer to prevent injuries. Also, be mentally prepared to get into the game as soon as possible
OT: What about a "rivalry" game? There are these big derby games all around the world. How does one prepare for a game between the biggest of rivals?
BT: As a referee you need to know the story of both teams, their style of play, results of the games between both teams from last couple of years, and what is at stake in this particular game. You have to know the players of each team. You need to recognize the skillful players and the troublemakers (every team has them!) and how to deal with them on time in order to keep the game under control.
OT: Are there extra factors you have to consider in these cases, especially if it is a World Cup qualifier?
BT: Of course you have to keep in mind that both teams will come to play this game with the mentality to get the result no matter what. In these games, teams will try to put pressure on the referee every time they have the opportunity, sometimes they will try to simulate fouls outside the box to get the chance to score the goal. The referee has to be mentally prepared to deal with those issues that come up in the tough games.
OT: What 'rivalry' games have you done that were unique? What sticks out in your mind about these games between big rivals?
I remember one MLS playoff game two years ago, when Dallas played at Houston. The previous game finished 1-0 in favor of Dallas, and in the second game Houston beat Dallas 3-1, to eliminate Dallas from the playoffs. That was one of the most unforgettable games that I’ve done in my career so far and the atmosphere of Robertson Stadium was amazing. Just a couple of months ago, I did Jamaica against Mexico at the Azteca Stadium. I still remember the atmosphere of the stadium (which had 120,000 spectators) and the commitment of the players. It was an unforgettable game in my career as a referee.