U.S. Soccer

MLS referee under investigation for allegedly receiving gift from player

Jair Marrufo (ISIphotos.com) 

                                                                         Photo by ISIphotos.com

MLS referee Jair Marrufo has made his share of controversial calls during his time as an official, but it is a decision he is alleged to have made off the field that has officials investigating him.

Marrufo is under investigation for allegedly accepting a jersey from Chicago Fire star Cuauhtemoc Blanco after the Fire's recent 2-2 tie vs. the Columbus Crew, a match Marrufo presided over. The Columbus Dispatch secured statements from both U.S. Soccer and MLS, which are both looking into the accusation.

The allegations are even more damning considering a controversial decision Marrufo made during the Fire/Crew match. Marrufo issued a highly-questionable red card to Crew defender Gino Padula for a challenge on Blanco, a call that helped spark a two-goal comeback by the Fire, and a red card Columbus is now protesting. Now witnesses are saying that Blanco visited the referee's locker room after the match and gave somebody a signed jersey of his.

What do you think of this development? Think Marrufo acted improperly if he, in fact, received a gift from Blanco? Think this is just sour grapes from Columbus Crew officials/fans after Saturday's blown lead and subsequent tie following Marrufo's suspect red card on Padula?

Share your thoughts below.

  • vasco

    someone shows up and leaves something for you. what can you do, put it in the garbage.

    or do you take it home and give it to your kid, and say look what dad got today.

    as long as it isn’t happening every week, who really gives a crap


  • Jacob A.

    When I saw the headline without picture on my blackberry, I thought “That Maruufo or whatever guy?” Granted, I know none of the others by name, but if it hadn’t been for his “handball” in the DC-LA game, I wouldn’t have even known him.


  • jeb

    While accepting an autographed jersey from a player is a clear no-no, this is minor compared to the regular incompetence displayed by about half of the refs in this league. Never thought much of Marrufo but if I could eighty-six one MLS referee it would have to be Okulaja.


  • TFC Gooner

    MLS should create a designated referee category, instead of designated player category, and bring in some decent refs from other countries…. Pierluigi Collina for head referee!


  • C-note

    Ok, I’m a Fire fan. The ref should not take the jersey, Blanco should not give it. Blanco should stop diving. The MLS should review and reprimand as needed. As frame of reference, NBA stars get calls so MLS is bound to have some of the same dynamic. No “fan” in any arena should throw things (except streamers). I have to point out that I have seen empty beer bottles fly from Section 8 at the opposing keeper. Taunting is one thing, but the physical aspects of the game should only be between the players. There’s a lot of blame and need for improvement for all these issues.


  • vreleven

    I’m certain this is nothing more than two guys-one old and one young- who’ve known each other for quite a while.

    Jair knows Blanco since he was a kid.

    Jair’s dad was a FIFA referee for Mexico a few years ago. I do not know Jair personally, but I do know his dad, he would visit and talk at our local league, and he would tell us how over the years he developed a relationship (usually good) with the players. He was well liked off the field by most for being consistent (both ways).
    I’m willing to bet that there’s nothing going on in this case. Jair’s performances have been consistent in regards to Blanco. I don’t believe a referee of Marrufo’s pedigree would risk his reputation, however small/bad it maybe, for an autographed jersey


  • BK

    Wasn’t this the same terrible ref from the NYRB-Dynamo game?

    Posted by: Chase | April 28, 2009 at 06:30 PM

    And the same ref from the LA-DCU game that cost United the game with a phantom handball called for a Galaxy PK. He’s absolutely shocking. I’ve asked a million times on this blog:

    What is MLS doing to hold referees accountable for horrible performances?


  • dabull

    “Blanco was seen chatting with Marrufo before the game and witnesses said he later yelled at the referee and his crew outside the locker rooms at halftime.”

    So Blanco was yelling at him during halftime. Sounds like they’re great friends. Never knew it was against the rules to talk to players before the game.

    People are arguing over a $30 jersey that wasn’t even game worn. Nothing will come of this.


  • LJ

    This season so far seems like a total downer from last season.

    If not for Gerson Mayen I’d stop watching.

    The Gold Cup, WCQs are going to kill this MLS season. Both our MNT and other CONCACAFs are going to drain it BAD.

    I honestly think they need to figure out a way to bring back FREDDY ADU on loan, like they did with Donovan. People will watch, it will bring back some excitement. Plus he is better than he was at 15, 16, 17


  • Joamiq

    Whether or not something nefarious was afoot, this is incredibly improper. That should be obvious to Marrufo, and if he lacks that basic judgment, he should be out of the league. If he knows this is wrong and did it anyway, then that’s even worse – it suggests that he doesn’t respect MLS enough to take seriously the need to avoid even the appearance of impropriety. He should not be allowed anywhere near an MLS field again.


  • Willardo DuPont

    Marufo has show very poor judgment on multiple occasions this year. I don’t think we’ll see him in the center circle for any World Cup matches. Isn’t he one of the few full time MLS refs? That’s supposed to indicate he’s one of the better refs, right?


  • Leonardo

    reminds me of the *Montero* incident. people like to jump the gun. this ain’t nuthin.

    the quality of refereeing is a diff story. i haven’t seen ’nuff games to see if it’s horrible or ok yet. i think a review panel and full-time refs would be great


  • jayc

    did anything ever get published about the referee for the 2nd Dynamo/NYRB playoff game last year in Houston? before the game, the ref called attention to Kamara about his jewelery right before kick-off. and then the ref killed time with BSing with Angel.

    Before the game even started, the Dynamo were thrown off. Seemed pretty obvious to me that there the ref was delaying for a reason.


  • Gary

    i always knew he was gonna get his, but i assumed it was gonna be “a rope, a tree…” first


  • Positive thinker

    I hope they can find cause to get him out of this league or better yet get him too stop refereeing. Every time i see him i know its going to be a bad game with calls. To me this game (mls) can get better but it starts with the ref’s.


  • gordon

    no one would risk their career/reputation for a signed blanco jersey but that call was TERRIBLE, as is his officiating in general, send marufo off


  • DC Josh

    What does it say in the rule book? Are refs not allowed to receive gifts from players or coaches? I wouldn’t think so. If he willingly accepted the offer, he should be fired. We’d rather have Graham Poll.

    Blanco is as shady as they come. He should be fired too. He should be suspended for the rest of the season just for all the diving he’s done in his career, plus this low-ball move, he should be deported. We don’t need his crippled ass running around the field doing bunny hops and falling over after 50/50 challenges.


  • cammiev

    When everyone hates a ref, he is either doing something incredibly right or really is the worst ref in the league. I think Marrufo is neither, though as a partisan Revs fan, I cringe when I see him listed for a game. If there is a rule about accepting gifts (and a jersey is really not a big deal), he should be punished. But at the very least, accepting it does convince people he has poor judgment.


  • Sean

    I think it would be more of an issue if he received the gift before making the call. At this point, I don’t really see a huge deal. I understand the principle, though. And, perhaps MLS needs to define the rules regarding gifts for referees more clearly if not defined already.


  • andy

    next time there is alleged problems with a ref and it happens to be with acts of a white player….Im gonna blame race as a tie as to solidify that two persons of the same race/ethnicity are always helping they own out.

    in that case, all the black refs should be banned from the NBA…Kobe is always talking to refs between halves and quarters….I remember Jordan gave his bat to an UMP when he played pro baseball.


  • United's Princess

    Marrufo may have been a Olympic (2008) ref from the US but all along I have thought he sucked. He makes questionable calls against all teams, and the fact that I hate Blanco more than Chelsea fans hate Christiano Ronaldo is just icing on my cake. Being “neutral” (not a Columbus or a Chicago fan), I think it was a shady call and I think Blanco is a jerk. But who knows if the two are related? I can’t imagine Blanco suddenly confessing that he knew right from wrong :-)


  • MVK

    “MLS needs to define the rules regarding gifts for referees more clearly if not defined already.”

    If a player gives a ref something, no matter at what time it is given, it has to be against the rules and has to be punished; no if, ands or buts.


  • Felix

    Why would Marrufo risk all this over a signed jersey??? To throw a player out of the game just to get a signed jersey from Blanco thats probably worth $500??? It just doesn’t worth it to me.

    Regardless, he shouldn’t have received the gift, its a dumb move on Marrufo’s part.


  • Matt Johnston

    Joseph said: “This incident will prove whether Don Garber has any real courage, or if he’s nothing but a marketing maven dressed up as the commissioner of a professional league.”

    Garber has no say in referee assignment in MLS matches, the league requests referees and USSF assigns the crews, Garber can whine and complain to USSF (and probably should), but in the end any discipline handed out again Marrufo is in the hand of USSF.

    I don’t know if a jersey is a gift “outside the cultural norms” and we still don’t know if Marrufo accepted the jersey or not. But the exchange of jerseys is quite common.

    But one thing I didn’t see in the comments is whether Blanco is being charged with something. If Marrufo took the jersey and it is something wrong for Marrufo to do, why is it not as much a wrong doing for Blanco.

    Yes, this is Blanco’s last season in MLS, but does that matter? What if Blanco had given Marrufo a jersey at the season? See, the difficulty in this case?

    At a minimum, Marrufo should not be assigned any Chicago or Columbus games for the rest of the season.


  • DC Josh

    No where in the article does it say Marrufo accepted the jersey. It only says Blanco threw the jersey in the locker room. So if anyone is at fault based on this preliminary info it is Blanco. Maybe he is having an affair with one of the linesmen or the 4th official. Now THAT would make for a good headline!


  • JDK

    As for referees talking with players/coaches, especially pre-game, it is almost essential that you break the ice and get to know the players. It helps build rapport and can make the game go smoother. Esse or Brian Hall could back that up.

    Jair is beyond “minor league” officiating. That’s why it says “FIFA” on his badge and not USSF. He is in a class of referees that must always be ready to take a physical fitness test at the drop of a hat. In the US, that means he’s one of the best of the best, whether you care for his officiating or not.

    As for the jersey, perception is reality. It would’ve been a non-issue if it weren’t for the red card situation.


  • United's Princess

    “We don’t need his crippled ass running around the field doing bunny hops and falling over after 50/50 challenges.” LOL DC Josh, if I wasn’t already married to you I would fall for you for our mutual hatred of Blanco. Gotta have someone you love to hate!!


  • Steve

    Rewind a year and a half and the big debate was a shady penalty in the Merseyside Derby when Stevie G. and the ref who was later banned (and since reinstated) for some finanacial issues, “soethingberg” were too chummy on and off field during the game.

    Mark your calndars folks! MLS has arrived! We’ve got the same issues as the Premiership!!

    It is nice for us to talk about on message boards, but there is nothing to this. Maybe it helps Columbus get Padula’s appeal but I doubt it. Fact is he went in spikes bared, waste high on one of the stars of the league who YOU KNOW is going to dive. So he took a risk and lost. End of story.

    And by the way, every ref in the world stinks just go where he works and you’ll see th same complaint so stop worrying it roughly evens out.


  • MVK

    Hold on people call for “facts”, we dont need them, lets just do a figurative fall to the floor and roll around grabbing our ankle and call both parties guility, thats what Blanco does, so it is only fair to do it to him.. Heck lets go farther and say he gave money as well, he would do the same thing to sell the call…


  • Chris May

    Is this really that big of a deal?

    Does anyone think this guy would change how he reffed the game based on getting a Blanco jersey? Come on.


  • MVK

    Chris May- “Does anyone think this guy would change how he reffed the game based on getting a Blanco jersey? Come on.”

    No, but it the principle of the matter; Do you think Pete Rose managed differently because he had money on games? Probably not but it has nothing to do with that, its the principle of the matter… If you turn a blind eye to this you are opening the door to match fixing, its a slippery slope.


  • rednow.red4ever

    I’m a Fire fan, and I actually hope Jair is prevented from officiating Fire games, cuz we just got lucky on the call this time. He is so erratic, it’s too nerve racking having him around. If there is favoritism (which I’m iffy on), then i think it’s specific to Blanco, not the whole team….

    Personally though, I agree the call should have been a yellow.


  • rednow.red4ever

    P.S. While I also agree it’s all still shady in appearance, just to clarify, the reports have been that Blanco was YELLING (in anger) at Marufo at halftime, which makes the whole thing all the more confusing.

    I’m hoping, since Blanco didn’t hand it directly to him, that it was a case of Blanco being a smarta$s after marufo made a call that “finally” went his way.

    But regardless, it’s totally understandable that it must be investigated.


  • usa

    people keep referencing the nba by saying nba players get star treatment so why not mls? the only problem is that is THE worst part of the nba, try watching dwayne wade and paul pierce score 30 a game vs. 20 a game simply because they are bailed out over and over, mls needs to nip this in the bud before it becomes a part of the culture like the nba.


  • Anon

    The Crew have the Cup, and they’ll be there again at the end of the year. They’ve thoroughly outplayed TFC, Colorado, and Chicago and each time they’ve been unlucky to come away with a point. Throw that in with all their injuries and it’s easy to see that this is a quality team going through a tough stretch.

    Marrufo needs to be sent to Mexico. Good luck with the pigs.


  • madmax

    Every official who gives Blanco’s tackler a card should be under investigation shirt or no shirt.

    Watch Blanco take the Sounder’s Alonso out of the game this Saturday with frowns and flops.


  • Bubcha

    uhh i was at that game (i’m a crew fan) that was first time i’ve ever ran across the stadium to go yell at a ref or player. Blanco needs to seriously be penalized as well as the ref. Blanco is is the most “fouled” against play in the MLS… wonder why?!! he throws himself every chance he gets, i guess this is a good alternative to staying in shape and he keep being fat. i saw Padula’s action which would barely even warrant a yellow card. it was a “high kick” that didn’t even make it above his waist line.

    The MLS in general needs to act harder on players who play theatrics such as Blanco. i even see my favorite players embellish their falls and its upsetting. if the MLS is going to make a name for itself in the world we need to start at the top and work down to the players fixing it. (not to mention i’ve heard of Marrufo being a big Blanco fan)



  • Bubba

    MLS Ref of the year is not saying much. He was one of the whopping four refs hired to work full time for MLS a couple years ago.


  • Earthquake fan

    Bubba… you realize that GBS would be penalized just as much as Blanco if you had your way.


  • Jason

    He was horrid the whole game. Missing a tackle on Marhsall in the box (American football style for a PK), a last man foul by Conde on Moreno (should have been red, no call), and a nasty tackle by Eric Brunner also went unpunished.

    The call on Blanco was a joke, and it cost the Crew 2 points, and was a three point swing in terms of Chicago.

    He should be suspended for his abysmal performance, and banished from the league for accepting the gift.


  • twotone

    Marrufo was the referee that pulled a Graham Poll and gave the same player 2 yellow cards in a Dallas Burn game back in the Southlake days of 2003. Both ARs and the 4th referee told him that he made a mistake and he said no to all of them and let the player continue playing. I believe it was Tyrone Marshall, but who know which team he was playing for at the time.

    the next year, Jair had on a FIFA badge and the other 3 refs were suspended for the rest of that season.


  • Joseph D'Hippolito

    Matt Johnston, your points are well taken. Blanco should be suspended, as well. Regardless of whether he meant the jersey as a gift or as a sarcastic message, what business does he have getting access to the officials’ dressing room before the game?

    My points about Garber not only concern Marrufo but also Blanco. But what truly matters is the credibility of the league. If nobody cares about that, then MLS will die in a culture that views professional soccer as a niche sport (i.e, not worht caring about all that much).


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