Elijio Arreguin puts the Red (Card) in Redwood

Counselor by weekday, referee by weekend

Jordan Kimball

Elijio Arreguin may be a school counselor on the weekdays, but by the time the weekend rolls around, he is traveling around the country to be one of the few referees in a game for four professional soccer leagues, including Major League Soccer (MLS), the National Women’s Soccer League, the United Soccer League and MLS Next Pro.

Making a call, Elijio Arreguin referees a United Soccer League game in 2018. (Photo courtesy of Elijio Arreguin)

Arreguin grew up in Fort Bragg, a small town on the Mendocino Coast. When he was young, he always had a love for soccer, but his environment didn’t offer many playing opportunities. Even with limited options, Arreguin always found a way to be involved with the sport, whether it was playing with friends or watching older kids play. While Arreguin loved playing soccer, he also found a passion for refereeing the sport starting at a very young age.

“I started refereeing with a friend of mine at age 12. We would referee for the local youth recreational leagues, and I started to realize how [refereeing] was a whole different side to soccer,” Arreguin said. “Being a referee, you aren’t in the game, but instead thinking more on the technical side and making the important decisions.”

As Arreguin grew up, he realized he had found a real passion. Immediately after graduating from the University of San Francisco in 2013, Arreguin decided to look for higher refereeing opportunities with the goal of refereeing the best soccer players in the world.

“I started focusing on trying to advance in refereeing by seeking out tournaments where I could be seen by people in positions of power in the refereeing world,” Arreguin said. “Along the way, you gain more experience. If you make the right connections, you can get invited to the right events. As long as you perform well in terms of decision-making, professionalism and fitness, then you have the opportunity to keep advancing.”

As Arreguin pursued his dreams, he occasionally faced issues. 

“Refereeing is extremely time-consuming and tough, and you need to be up for the challenge to get to the professional level,” Arreguin said.

Posing alongside his colleagues and players Zlatan Ibrahimović and Nicolás Lodeiro, Elijio Arreguin (third from left) prepares to referee a game between the Seattle Sounders and the LA Galaxy during the 2019 MLS season. (Photo courtesy of Elijio Arreguin)

Now a professional soccer referee, Arreguin spends a lot of time on the job. As a referee for many leagues, he is occasionally forced to miss school days during the MLS season, which lasts from March to November. Arreguin leaves on Fridays, referees on Saturdays and returns home on Sundays.

While Arreguin’s schedule is tiring, he has had some memorable experiences that make it worth his while. 

“One of my coolest experiences was definitely refereeing the [Los Angeles] Galaxy and one of their stars, Zlatan Ibrahimović. Getting to see a player of his caliber was truly amazing,” Arreguin said.

As Arreguin continues his refereeing ventures, he has noticed that being a counselor and a referee are very similar in surprising ways.

“With both jobs, you are interacting with someone in an emotionally volatile situation; you’re trying to help them manage conflict and cope with frustration,” Arreguin said. “It’s essential to be calm and composed. Ensure the player knows outright that even if you can’t do what they’re asking for, you hear their concern and frustration.”

With the World Cup coming up in the United States in 2026, Arreguin would love the opportunity to referee a game, but for now, he is staying in the present and focusing on 2023.

“My plan is just to keep doing the best work I can on the opportunities I’m given and see where that takes me,” Arreguin said.