Benefield: Young referee on the rise keeps a cool head, helps others do the same
In an avocation that is increasingly marred by adults behaving badly, 18-year-old soccer referee Adofo Membrila is quickly learning tricks to ease on-field tensions. When addressing an upset coach, Membrila, a recent El Molino High grad, uses their name and doesn’t simply call them “Coach.” When speaking with players, he doesn’t gesticulate and makes sure his hands remain within the square of his chest. He reminds himself to smile.
And sometimes, he just flat-out buys time to let heads cool.
Once, when reffing a men’s under-19 game, things were getting out of hand. At one point, Membrila sounded his whistle and called for a noticeably aggressive player to come to him. Instead of pulling a yellow caution card from his pocket, which might have incited even more aggression, Membrila positioned himself side-by-side the player, pulled out a notebook and began to write. Or so it seemed.
“I was just pretending I was writing,” he said. What he was really doing was pushing the pause button to let all 22 players on the field, as well as everyone on the sidelines, take it down a notch. As he “wrote,” he talked to the player who seemed at the center of some particularly questionable tackles.
“You have to be calm,” he said. “You have to sympathize with them. I say, ‘Let’s keep playing, yeah? I don’t want to send you off. Let’s keep playing.’”
“The body language that I used was side-to-side,” he said. “Talking side-to-side, you talk as colleagues. If you talk to a person like you are confronting them, they get pissed.”
Membrila has the on-field officiating strategies of a seasoned pro, but the enthusiasm of a relative newbie. Despite his youth, he’s getting noticed by soccer officials who are keen to pull him up the ladder to more high-profile games and showcases.
Since spring, he’s been summoned to Idaho and Colorado, and on Wednesday, he and Windsor High School student and ref Oscar Gullen, 15, left for a top-tier Elite Club National League tournament in San Diego. He officiates games, he gets assessed and he goes through extensive training and debriefings.
“I was just in Idaho for national championships for youth soccer. I was assessed by four FIFA referees and it went really well,” he said.
He’s played soccer his whole life, but he took up officiating games when he was 12. He immediately got the bug. And according to Ezequiel Molina, a national-rated referee who assigns referees for Santa Rosa United and works as a mentor for Molina and other young, aspiring officials, Membrila has made huge strides in the nuances of the job.
“He has improved so much,” Molina said. “He always listens. He was willing to learn.”
And some strides are literal. Membrila is fast. And he’s also got a natural feel for the game. And he finds a way to combine the two.
“That captured my attention,” Molina said.
“As a referee it’s not about running fast, it’s not about running a distance — it’s about finding the right angle,” he said.
At this level, there is not Video Assistant Referee (thank God), so a ref has to see it to call it. And that takes an understanding of the game — how it flows and where players are likely to move themselves and the ball.