AUSTIN — From competitions around the world to MLS All-Star games, Ismail Elfath had made a name for himself as a soccer referee.

“What attracted me to it is the competitive nature of it," said the 40-year-old Elfath. "Refereeing has huge competition in terms of moving up the ladder and getting into the next grade.”

Elfath was selected for Major League Soccer in 2012. After hundreds of matches, and thousands of hours working on his craft, Elfath is now at the top of his profession: he was one of 36 referees selected for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar.

"Immediately some names and some faces flashed between my eyes," Elfath said. "People that helped me with that first appointment, with that first how to put on your badge, with that first where to go shopping for referee uniforms, where to put your cards. Things as small as that.”

Elfath had a much different title in 2001: American immigrant. He'd won a lottery to come to America from his home country of Morocco. 

“They don't tell you where to go, they don't choose anything for you. You have to look at a place to land," said Elfath, who had distant relatives in Austin and Indianapolis at the time. "I got on my dial up internet and tried to load up weather and pictures and a little bit of research. Austin kept checking boxes."

Elfath pursued a mechanical engineering degree at the University of Texas. He started refereeing youth soccer for some extra cash. 

“The enjoyment part was instantaneous," Elfath said. "You feel like you're part of something that you love, and you see the passion and joy in the players.”

Seventeen years later, after his first gig, Elfath is preparing for soccer's biggest stage. With the World Cup selection comes a specific training regimen monitored by FIFA.

“Through electronic GPS units that track many parts of our physical training," Elfath said. "Monitor the load, monitor the distances, the speeds, the change of direction.”

Elfath will become just the eighth American to referee a World Cup. He was also recently named the 2022 MLS Referee of the Year. 

"He doesn't get frazzled on the field," said PRO referee director of senior match officials Mark Geiger. "He's stern. He's confident, but he also is very approachable, and I think that's a quality and a trait that the players truly appreciate."

Geiger is the only American in history that's refereed two World Cups. 

“This is the pinnacle of soccer," Geiger said. "To get selected for a World Cup is the very highest honor that you can achieve."

And now that he's standing out on a global level through the beautiful game, Elfath hopes his story resonates with others. 

“Maybe I'll try his path. Maybe I'll try his method. Maybe I'll try his approach to things," said Elfath about his journey. "For me, that's a big privilege and opportunity but also a responsibility to continue and not quit.”

A man creating a legacy far away from home, in his new home. The American dream on full display.

"You come in, you put in the work, and the opportunity is there. It’s not gonna be easy. Yes, there are stereotypes. Yes, people move up faster than others because of circumstances they can't control," Elfath said. "But that's known. So what? What are you doing about it? Don't worry, go put into work. Make it hard for people to say no to you.”