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Officially Improving

This little item flew under the radar when it was announced a few weeks ago but is worthy of a closer look considering the level of criticism heaped on officiating in this country.

For the first time the U.S. Soccer Federation, which supplies game officials to MLS, will employ full-time referees. Only a handful of countries has taken such a step and, if you've watched MLS games closely the last 11 years, you know that this move was badly needed here. Kudos to USSF Prez Sunil Gulati for making it happen.

What it means is that Jair Marrufo, Ricardo Salazar, Baldomero Toledo and Terry Vaughn -- who have been working MLS games and other competitions on a part-time basis over the years -- will be able to leave their regular jobs and focus squarely on soccer. They will be under the supervision of the USSF's Esse Baharmast, who refereed in the 1998 World Cup and served as the lead referee instructor at the 2006 Cup in Germany.

Marrufo, 29, from El Paso, is the son of a former FIFA referee from Mexico, and has been a product specialist for Sherwin-Williams. Salazar, 34, from Elgin, Ill., was an insurance agent. Toledo, 36, from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., has been an assistant production manager at a Le Chef bakery plant. And Vaughn, 33, was director of referees for Iowa Soccer and also worked in security.

"We have made great strides as a soccer country through the years and a program like this will allow the elite professionals in this country to focus on the craft of being a referee," Baharmast said.

Will this initiative solve all MLS officiating problems? Of course not, but it's certainly a step in the right direction.


By Steve Goff  |  March 8, 2007; 8:12 AM ET
Categories:  MLS  
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If this means less games reffed by Abbey Okulaja, then I'm doing a mental happy dance right now.

I never realized Terry Vaughn was so young. He looks 50.

Posted by: Logan Circle | March 8, 2007 8:46 AM | Report abuse

Great news.
If we want to hold them to the highest standards then we have to give them time and tools to do their job right.

Posted by: jgildea8 | March 8, 2007 8:53 AM | Report abuse

Great move. Hope they use the extra time on training and review/feedback on their performance.

Posted by: 12th man | March 8, 2007 9:02 AM | Report abuse

Nice. They announced at the MLS Cup Supporters' Summit that they were going to do this...and they did.

Posted by: seahawkdad | March 8, 2007 9:09 AM | Report abuse

I really like this idea, too. It's important to have a core group of people, in any profession, that the other "employees" will look up to and try to emulate. If these 4 pro refs are the backbone, then all US refereeing will hopefully improve. (Oh, and fire Abby).

Posted by: Beaker | March 8, 2007 9:15 AM | Report abuse

How much was Esse Baharmast invovled with MLS refs during the past seasons? Will this mark a significant increase in time spent reviewing games/calls or did they do a fair amount of review already?

Posted by: mosler | March 8, 2007 9:27 AM | Report abuse

If they're now full-time refs, I hope this might also mean more opportunities to referee in international friendlies and tournaments - even more experience, and international experience at that, to help raise their game.

Posted by: soccer nerd | March 8, 2007 9:44 AM | Report abuse

In regard to Soccer Nerd's comments -senior US refs already work a fair number of international games away from MLS.

Recently on Spanish language cable games / highlights I've seen MLS refs doing the Mexico-Venezuela friendly in San Diego and the U-17 World Cup qualifiers in Mexico. They've always been a part of CONCACAF's international reffing pool.

But this move should improve their professionalism and hopefully produce more high level refs.

Posted by: garbaggio | March 8, 2007 9:58 AM | Report abuse

The NFL doesn't even do this. Nice.

Posted by: RK | March 8, 2007 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Not good.

Esse is overseeing the development?

He was the lead instructor for WC 2006?

Did everyone forget what a fiasco the officiating was during the WC? Why are you all doing the happy dance?

Posted by: Ray | March 8, 2007 10:55 AM | Report abuse

No one will catch up with me in terms of how to call a great game.

But, a couple of other things to note. One, if US reffing is so bad, how is it that Esse was in charge of the whole reffing group in 2006? That says something about how hightly American refs are thought of around the world.

You are seeing the top level of American refs in a lot of internationals. I've seen U.S. refs on the lines in Galatasary games.

But yeah, this is a great move. And if you want to see how the USSF is moving things forward and getting better and better refs, head to any of the big youth soccer tournaments and look at the number of refs from those levels who will be watching 18 to 27 year old younger refs and filling them in.

Posted by: CollinaIsGod | March 8, 2007 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Esse didn't create the controversial officiating guidelines on his own for the WC; FIFA executives did. Geez, give the guy a break...

Posted by: Goff | March 8, 2007 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Ray--the 2006 officiating issues were more a factor of last minute directives by FIFA which led to confusion. Baharmast always did a great job in my book and I"m glad he's involved with MLS on this.

Not all of that group would be my first choice but it's not a bad core to start with. And I echo other's comments--it's a great step to improving the caliber of refereeing in MLS. Personally, I think that by studying games and teams, reviewing games you reffed, that alone would lead to a lot of improvement b/c CCRs will start to pick up on the small stuff (like off the ball fouls and how all teams manage to push the rules). More learning from mistakes and more awareness of the teams/leagues can only lead to better game management. I can tolerate some blown calls. But it's when the game gets out of hand or is haphazard that the quality of play really suffers. This step should only improve those issues.

Posted by: Joe | March 8, 2007 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Other quick question. Unrelated, a bit, to my previous post.

With the DP slots, why not make one for Collina? Sure he's a little old (old enough that he can't ref World Cup games anymore) but no one seriously thinks his fitness will decline.

Why not sign Collina as a DP ref? I know there is a significant following for him.

Everyone should have this T-shirt,17576,_,00.html?productid=275489

Posted by: CollinaIsGod | March 8, 2007 11:04 AM | Report abuse

To step outside of my normal mode for a second and try optimism...

This is great to see and I must tip my hat to MLS for patiently building the league. There have been missteps along the way, but they have been corrected. It appears that MLS is here to stay forever and that's a beautiful thing. Over time it will only get better and better.

Posted by: Shmoo | March 8, 2007 1:03 PM | Report abuse

I will not be happy until they send Abbey Okulaja on a Ref exchange program preferably with Tajikistan

Posted by: Nope | March 8, 2007 1:09 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone see a conflict of interest now though?

ie: Sunil Gulati being both the president of Kraft Soccer (You know, the New England Revolution) AND US Soccer, (you know the guys who are paying the refs now)???!?!

Shouldn't Sunil step down from one of these positions so as to avoid even the appearance of paying refs to make a favorable calls to the Revs?

The first controversial call any of these guys make in the Revs favor will _LOOK_REALLY_BAD_

Posted by: Transparency!? | March 8, 2007 1:16 PM | Report abuse

I guess it will be interesting to see if this really changes anything, but it is worth a try.

It's not like these guys have just been showing up to ref a game then going home and waiting for the next one. They all get assessed by at every game and they review that with the assessor. They all get a tape or DVD of the match right afterwards to review their own performance. And they should all be scouting the teams in their next game as it is now as well. Obviously it is difficult to do all of that and hold down a full time job and have some sort of life. And there is a conference call every week where they go over any issues that have come up or things that need re-emphasis.

Now it just means that these 4 guys can quit their day jobs.

And if they can fire Okulaja somehow along the way that would also be great.

Posted by: Glenn | March 8, 2007 2:46 PM | Report abuse


What about the AR's? Aren't they part of the equation, too?

Posted by: Kim | March 8, 2007 8:33 PM | Report abuse

I wonder if Vaughn has learned anything about Heyjduk diving maneuvers? I hope he can regain his form of about 3.5 years ago, BD (before dive)?

I'm glad the Fed decided to give this a go. Matchnik was saying a few years back that this was not a possibility but was desirable.

I hope they had to pass a personality test that proved they were not the center of the universe.


Posted by: GrillMaster | March 8, 2007 9:23 PM | Report abuse

There are a number of MLS refs that are obviously flawed - they do many games and are often terrible.

Better than making everyone full time would be putting in place a review system with some transparency where people were fired or given more games.

Posted by: RB | March 9, 2007 12:41 AM | Report abuse

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