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Women's World Cup

Tori Penso reflects on historic selection as first American to referee a World Cup final

Photo: Richard Callis / SPP

In a sold-out stadium at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup Final, Tori Penso stood alone at the monitor. The center referee was called over by VAR to review a possible handball by England in the second half where Spain was already up by a goal.

“The stadium was silent. A pin could drop and I would have heard it. All the eyes were on me, all the cameras were all on me, and two billion people are watching this moment and they’re all anxious to see what’s going to happen,” Penso told The Equalizer

Although Penso has made many decisions over her career, which has spanned USL, NWSL and MLS, this would be unlike any other. Not only was it a World Cup, but she would have to announce her decision to the arena of over 75,000 passionate fans.

After making her decision, Penso took an extra moment at the monitor practicing what she would say, walked back onto the field, took a breath, and announced to the world her decision: PENALTY. 

For Penso, announcing VAR decisions live is a welcomed change which allows referees to provide clarity and improve the in-stadium experience, but she sees another, more intriguing reason to continue to employ the practice.

“It adds a little drama and a little theater. We are in the entertainment business at the end of the day,” Penso said. “Who doesn’t love a little drama?”

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