Women’s World Cup official makes her call from Chula Vista

Chula Vista High School alumnus Felisha Mariscal has carried the family’s soccer tradition all the way to the Women’s World Cup. Courtesy photo

For those in the local television viewing audience of this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup matches, they might have glimpsed a familiar face when the cameras switched to a brief sideline shot: Chula Vistan Felisha Mariscal.

The Chula Vista High School alumnus and current Spanish AP teacher at the school performed duties as a FIFA match official at the month-long event in France that culminated with the United States defeating the Netherlands, 2-0, in the championship game.

It was the fourth Women’s World Cup title for the USA, adding to other championships in 1991, 1999 and 2015.

It was the first Women’s World Cup assignment for Mariscal — one that she definitely savored.

Felisha Mariscal

Growing the game
Mariscal comes from a soccer family. Her three brothers also officiate at the professional and international level.

Upcoming assignments include Major League Soccer games and some national team matches.

It all started in Chula Vista, of course.

After a standout athletic career at Chula Vista High School in three sports, she received an athletic scholarship to compete in cross country and track and field at California State University-San Marcos under the guidance of coach Steve Scott.

She started teaching at Chula Vista High School in 2005 where she also coached cross country, basketball and track and field.

“It feels like home to me,” she said of teaching at her alma mater.

“I don’t coach any more since refereeing professional soccer takes a lot of my time and focus. Also, coaching would take away time of being a mom to my 3-year-old son.”

Getting her kicks
Mariscal’s exposure to the world’s game came at an early age.

“I grew up watching soccer with my family and our local community loved the game,” she said. “I only played soccer competitively in my younger years during middle school. Most of my athletic experience was actually in basketball and then eventually running. I chose basketball because I loved to play, plus my oldest brother Julian was so good at it and he was willing to train me when I asked him.

“I started running competitively during my senior year of high school mainly because my younger brothers wanted to join the cross country team; my mom wouldn’t let them unless I joined, too, so I did and it turned out well. Our team won the league championship banner, and I was in the top 10 runners in the league.

“Following the cross country season I started running track, events such as the 400 meters, 800 meters and 4×400 relay. I was very fortunate to get a college scholarship after only running for one year.”

Mariscal made the most of her time at the west side Chula Vista school. She earned MVP awards in both basketball and track her senior year and received further honors by being named athlete of the year at CVHS.

As an adult her focus has been on officiating rather than competing.

“I played soccer in a women’s adult league for a little bit, and some in a women’s basketball league but not recently since I started officiating professionally and I did not want to risk an injury,” she said.

“My hope throughout that time was to be given an appointment to the Women’s World Cup. Now with the Women’s World Cup over, I’m focusing on hopefully being selected to officiate in the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics.”

Mariscal served as a game official in some capacity for four matches at this summer’s Women’s World Cup: the opening match as an assistant video assistant referee and an assistant referee for the Italy-Australia and France-Nigeria group matches and for the knock-out round match between Sweden and Canada.

As a matter of reference, the correct title for the official with the flag on the sidelines is assistant referee.

Mariscal turned her attention from competing on the field to enforcing rules on the field while in college.

“I started officiating soccer during my first year of college,” she explained. “My mom, a single mother, wanted my brothers and me to get a job to help with household expenses. Our brother Alejandro started as a referee first, then my younger brothers and I followed since we figured we could work on the weekends and focus on school and running during the weekdays.”

She started officiating professional games in 2009 in WPS, an acronym for Women’s Professional Soccer, which constituted the highest level in the United States soccer pyramid for the women’s game. The league was founded in 2007 as a successor league to the pioneering Women’s United Soccer League that grew out of the United States national team’s championship showing at the 1999 Women’s World Cup.

The WPS began play in 2009 but folded following its 2011 season.

“When this women’s league (WPS) was active I used to officiate as a center referee,” she said.

Her hard work paid off when she became a FIFA assistant referee in 2014. That same year she began officiating as an assistant referee in Major League Soccer for the Professional Referee Organization.

She is currently in her sixth year as a game official in MLS, the highest professional men’s league in the United States.

“The MLS games and the international games are a lot more challenging than youth games or any other levels,” she admitted. “It is a lot faster, more challenging, more traveling, much more preparation, higher scrutiny, higher expectations.”

She also cited differences in the officiating nuances of the game itself at its highest levels.

“There is definitely a difference between both positions,” she said. “As a center referee you have the main responsibility since you have the final decision. As an assistant referee the offside decisions can be very difficult and there are crucial decisions for goals in addition to helping with the penalty area decisions and fouls.

“In this last Women’s World Cup, I was able to participate also as an AVAR2 which is the video assistant in charge of offsides.”

She officiated her first game at the international level during the 2014 Algarve Cup FIFA tournament.

“I was excited and a little nervous, but with preparation, more time and experience it got better and easier to be comfortable,” she explained.

She has since served an assistant referee for the 2014 NASL Soccer Bowl, 2018 MLS Western Conference playoff semifinal and CONCACAF Scotiabank Men’s League.

Mariscal said the Women’s World Cup experience tops the list, however.

“Officiating in the Women’s World Cup was definitely more exciting than anything I had ever done prior,” she explained. “The pressure was intense, but my comfort level with identifying the laws of the game has never been stronger. My first game in the WWC was an amazing experience, I felt so much adrenaline; the teams were Italy against Australia — it was a great game.

“I felt a little emotional afterward, our referee crew had done a good job; and then seeing my family — my mom, my husband, my son, my brothers — in the stands was so special. To be able to share this important and special moment in my life with them was immeasurable.”

The rush of memorable moments did not end there.

“It was very special and a nice surprise when they announced I was going to be AVAR2 for the opening ceremony, and that I would be the first ever AVAR2 woman in a World Cup,” she said.

“It was also very special to be chosen to stay throughout the end of the tournament and to have my husband and son in France for most of the tournament and to see them in every game I officiated there.”

Her next career goal is to participate as an official in the upcoming 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“I would also like to officiate in an MLS final match,” she said.

Soccer is perceived by many as a passionate sport, and it’s that passion for the game that has kept her in the game and taken her around the globe while helping grow the game.

“I have a profound respect for the game, its fans and the importance it has on local cultures,” she explained. “Even as an official hearing the roar and pop from the fans after a goal is scored allows me to see how much the team means to them. All my life I have been an athlete. As a soccer referee I have the opportunity to continue participating as an athlete in the highest level.”