Baltimore-area official, goalie follow D.C. United to Cup final League's top referee, Chicago Fire keeper vets of high school league


October 25, 1998|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

Major League Soccer's third annual championship game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., this afternoon has a strong Middle Atlantic flavor.

The game itself pits two-time defending champion D.C. United trying for its third straight MLS Cup against the Chicago Fire, a tough, defensive expansion team that won 24 of 36 games.

Plus, two starters in the internationally televised match, being played for the first time on the West Coast, call greater Baltimore home.

One will be an official, Monkton's Paul Tamberino. He flew to Los Angeles late Friday knowing he'd be working today's game but unsure -- by league policy -- whether he'd be the usually visible man with the whistle in the middle or less obvious with a flag on one sideline.

The other will be Edgewood's Zach Thornton, the first-year Chi- Thornton cago Fire goalkeeper, who not only posted the best overall numbers of any MLS keeper this season, but also was the reason bona fide World Cup star Jorge Campos went back to Mexico early.

Tamberino and Thornton -- who have known each other since Thornton, now 25, played in high school games that Tamberino refereed -- are sure to return home with indelible memories of the game and, especially, this season.

Tamberino was chosen MLS Referee of the Year and Thornton was named the league's Goalkeeper of the Year last week.

Like good refs everywhere, Tamberino has received much less publicity than would an outstanding player.

But the league's coaches and general managers cast the ballots for his award, a measure of esteem he appreciates.

At 44, Tamberino has been in the league since its start, having gotten into pro ball first with the old American Professional Soccer League, as well as the indoor National Professional Soccer League.

He is one of just eight Americans who are FIFA referees, meaning certified to work international games. Because FIFA, soccer's world-governing body, will not allow officials older than 45 to work international games, Tamberino has reached his highest possible level, qualifying him to work lines in such matches.

"I've had good teachers and mentors," said the former Archbishop Curley and University of Maryland midfielder, who began officiating at 22 after being red-carded during a game in Herring Run Park.

"I objected to a call, and the referee threw me out," said Tamberino, who later worked games with the same man. "He told me if I could do better, I ought to become a ref. So I took the test exactly a month later."

Wearing the black (and sometimes fuchsia, yellow, or turquoise) uniform of a soccer official has sent Tamberino to South Korea, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, parts of Canada and much of the United States.

He and last year's MLS Referee of the Year, Esse Barhamast, known for his loudly debated but correct call that cost Brazil an early round loss to Norway in this summer's World Cup, were on the first U.S. crew ever assigned a World Cup qualifier abroad.

That was a South Korea-Japan 2-2 draw last year in Seoul before 80,000 -- an outstanding memory, Tamberino said. He also recalls marveling at famed German striker Juergen Klinsmann "twisting like a pretzel" to head in a goal against Brazil in a U.S. Cup match at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., in 1993. That was Tamberino's first international match.

Barhamast, who retired after the World Cup to head up American officiating for the U.S. Soccer Federation, calls Tamberino "truly a players' referee, one who played the game at a high level and understands what players go through."

No prima donna, the affable Tamberino regularly works college games in the Middle Atlantic, including the Atlantic Coast Conference, as well A-League, D3 Pro League and some sandlot games, time permitting.

All while working for Winner Distributing Co., a Canton beer distributor, his flexible, full-time employer of 19 years.

Thornton, playing for his first pro title after two years as an MLS bench-warmer in New York, thanks Chicago coach Bob Bradley "for giving me the chance to perform." Bradley picked the John Carroll and Loyola College graduate -- to back up Mexican star Campos -- in the expansion draft.

Though clearly pleased, Thornton played down his individual honor "because I'm much more interested in what the team does." He gave his defensive teammates much of the credit for his league-best 1.17 goals-against average this season.

The personable Campos, whom Bradley eventually benched in favor of the taller, more rugged Thornton, "is a great guy and a great player who treated me like a peer," Thornton said. "We got to be friends and played golf together, maybe 10 times."

MLS Cup '98

Who: D.C. United vs. Chicago Fire

When: Today, 3: 30 p.m.

Where: Rose Bowl, Pasadena, Calif.

TV: Chs. 2, 7

Pub Date: 10/25/98

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