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3 MLS Refs Done for Season

Three veteran referees, including 2008 MLS referee of the year Jair Marrufo, will not be assigned to any more MLS matches this season, the Insider has learned.

Marrufo was removed from the assignment rotation for "poor performances" over the course of the season, according to the U.S. Soccer Federation, which oversees officiating in American leagues. Meantime, Michael Kennedy and Abbey Okulaja have been sidelined for failing midseason fitness tests that involve sprints and long-distance running. Kennedy and Okulaja cannot work in any competitions the rest of the year. Marrufo, a FIFA referee, remains eligible for other events.

According to Insider research, Marrufo has not worked an MLS match since June 24. Okulaja has been out since July 18 and Kennedy since July 25. Kennedy was a finalist for MLS referee of the year in 2006 and '08. Marrufo won last year and was a finalist the year before. Okulaja won in 2004 and was runner-up in '05.

This year Kennedy was the referee in 11 games and the fourth official in four; Okulaja seven in each role; and Marrufo seven as the referee.

Kennedy and Okulaja will not have the opportunity to be tested again until before next season. Marrufo's status as a full-time referee employed by the USSF -- Ricardo Salazar, Baldomero Toledo and Terry Vaughn are the others -- will be evaluated.

Earlier this year, Marrufo was suspended two matches by the USSF for accepting Chicago star Cuauhtemoc Blanco's jersey after a game. In June, he was cited for stopping a game in Houston to administer a water break, and in March he was criticized for allowing play to continue after two D.C. United players suffered head injuries in a collision.

By Steve Goff  |  September 1, 2009; 8:33 PM ET
Categories:  MLS , USSF  
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Next: Wednesday Kickaround

Comments

LOL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted by: NattyBo1985 | September 1, 2009 8:42 PM | Report abuse

Well, good.

Posted by: JacobfromAtlanta-ish | September 1, 2009 8:42 PM | Report abuse

Long past time for Marrufo and Okulaja to be gone. I have a lot of respect for the job - it's extremely difficult. But there's no way those guys should be on MLS games.

Posted by: Pedalada | September 1, 2009 8:43 PM | Report abuse

Ding Dong, the witch is dead!

Posted by: alan19 | September 1, 2009 9:10 PM | Report abuse

Can we identify the linesmen who have all blown offsides calls that have cost DC this year so far and fire them too?

Posted by: freeholdsouth | September 1, 2009 9:10 PM | Report abuse

That is big news. Okulaja has been awful from day 1. I never understood how he won referee of the year. Kennedy has been around an awfully long time, maybe it is time to retire for him from these higher level leagues. Not sorry to see Marrufo go either.

For sure it is not an easy job though and it is largely thankless.

Posted by: fedssocr | September 1, 2009 9:22 PM | Report abuse

That's one of the first good refereeing decisions all seasons.

Posted by: sec133row5 | September 1, 2009 9:25 PM | Report abuse

Fascinating. Good that the league is trying to raise the bar and make a statement. How about a human interest story on one (or a few) of these guys - not necessarily the ones who got canned... What kind of money do MLS refs make? Are they full-time for the league? Do you have to be a wack-job to want to be a professional soccer ref, or is it not all that wretched a career after all? Is there any legitimate reason some of these guys can't pass basic fitness tests? Inquiring minds want to know....

Posted by: speculation | September 1, 2009 9:38 PM | Report abuse

Didn't Marrufo also royally F United with an awful pk call?

Posted by: redskinsux | September 1, 2009 9:38 PM | Report abuse

"Earlier this year, Marrufo was suspended two matches by the USSF for accepting Chicago star Cuauhtemoc Blanco's jersey after a game. In June, he was cited for stopping a game in Houston to administer a water break, and in March he was criticized for allowing play to continue after two D.C. United players suffered head injuries in a collision."

Wow. That paragraph speaks volumes. Talk about poor judgment. The Blanco fiasco alone should have cost Marrufo his job. Then the inexplicable and opposing decisions to give water breaks and leave players on field bleeding from their skulls is mind numbing.

I'm with everyone above in saying that officiating a professional soccer match is an extremely difficult job. But the fact that a soccer referee is given SO much authority on the field demands that the bar be high for anyone who accepts that responsibility.

Now, just to torment everyone:

OFFSIDES!!!!

Posted by: joedoc1 | September 1, 2009 9:48 PM | Report abuse

Glad to see that there is some sort of significant accountability for the refs. I agree it is a hard job, but they need to be accountable. It sounds like Marrufo's issues were more than just bad calls -- moreso true violations of policy. Glad to see they will suspend a former MLS Ref of the Year when necessary. Kudos to the USSF for taking action.

Posted by: UnitedFanInTX | September 1, 2009 9:55 PM | Report abuse

The law needs to be changed on the offside rule. How can a referee be looking at two places at once? (he needs to look at where the ball is kicked when the ball is kicked, and look at the players to determine they are offside).

Posted by: Barracudas | September 1, 2009 9:57 PM | Report abuse

Does that mean we're gonna be stuck with Marrufo tomorrow night? It's not an MLS match.

Posted by: GiannicolusJones | September 1, 2009 10:07 PM | Report abuse

I invite everyone who trashed the suspended referees to step forward, gain your certification, pass the fitness test and show us how well you would officiate an MLS match. Put up or shut up.

Posted by: SilverSpring8 | September 1, 2009 10:07 PM | Report abuse

Been there. Done that. Those refs are terrible. That is all.

Posted by: BelovedCartoonMouse | September 1, 2009 10:09 PM | Report abuse

Didn't Marrufo also royally F United with an awful pk call?

In the first game of the season he called that phantom handball on either Simms or Wallace. Can't remember if that was before or after the collision of heads.

Speaking of heads rolling, next up on the chopping block should be Baltimore Toledo.

Steve- any word on the Jamaican linesman who blew 4 offside calls in the DC-Toluca game last week. I expect we won't see him in the Champions League for quite a while.

Thx,

Jay!

Posted by: jayrockers | September 1, 2009 10:09 PM | Report abuse

ASilverSpring8: you don't think accepting a player's jersey is a horrible failure of ethics?

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | September 1, 2009 10:17 PM | Report abuse

Steve- any word on the Jamaican linesman who blew 4 offside calls in the DC-Toluca game last week. I expect we won't see him in the Champions League for quite a while.

Posted by: jayrockers | September 1, 2009 10:09 PM

Oh man, those were not even close! Not sure how that guy is a ref at any level. It's one thing to miss close calls, but those were clear cut.

Posted by: Pedalada | September 1, 2009 10:22 PM | Report abuse

I weep for our game anytime I see Balde Toledo with the whistle.

Posted by: DetroitTFC | September 1, 2009 10:38 PM | Report abuse

Good Riddance Trash.
The Blanco Jersey thing was disgusting, for many reasons.

Posted by: DadRyan | September 1, 2009 10:54 PM | Report abuse

The law needs to be changed on the offside rule. How can a referee be looking at two places at once? (he needs to look at where the ball is kicked when the ball is kicked, and look at the players to determine they are offside).

===

I hear this suggestion all the time but my response is always the same: Change it to what? How do you make that change to the Laws or their enforcement without seriously changing the nature of the game?

Posted by: mason08 | September 1, 2009 11:21 PM | Report abuse

Wow.

Don't credit MLS for their removal. They're USSF officials not MLS officials. MLS is just one of the larger platforms for their incompetence to be seen. It's amazing that Kennedy and Abbey O couldn't stay fit in the middle of the primary high level season. It's depressing that Okulaja may still officiate this year for FIFA events.

Posted by: sitruc | September 1, 2009 11:26 PM | Report abuse

Actually, I *do* think accepting a player jersey is unethical. I didn't defend the suspended referees or question the decision to suspend them. But to those who took obvious delight in the situation, I would take equal delight in watching them attempt to do the job. Don't dance on somebody's grave unless you can do better.

One of the few intelligent posts was the one suggesting a human interest story in what motivates these guys to do a thankless job.

Posted by: SilverSpring8 | September 1, 2009 11:30 PM | Report abuse

I'm glad to see the powers that be taking some action at long last.

Posted by: BmoreDave | September 1, 2009 11:35 PM | Report abuse

redskinsux:

Marrufo called a handball on Wallace in the season opener after the ball hit the back of his thigh (with hands in the air). Wallace was about 2 yards from the endline, while Marrufo was no more than 2 yards outside the box, jogging towards the play, meaning that he was within 18 yards of the play, with a clear line of sight, and still fell for Chris Klein's appeal. It has to be one of the top 3 worst penalties given against DC in club history.

SilverSpring8:

Have you ever seen a movie you didn't like? Did you tell people it was bad?

Well, I hate to inform you, but the directors, producers, writers, cinematographers, actors, etc are all better at those things than you are (assuming you aren't a high-end filmmaker). If you held yourself to that standard, you'd never be allowed to criticize that movie until you went out and made a movie yourself.

Posted by: Chest_Rockwell | September 1, 2009 11:36 PM | Report abuse

Right Chest! So why isn't that mentioned in Goff's post? Just checking...

Posted by: redskinsux | September 1, 2009 11:46 PM | Report abuse

Goffs's not gonna beat a dead horse. Well, unless it's NYRB...;-)

More seriously, or not, this little girl has a special place in my heart:
http://www.behindthebadge.com/2009/09/video-the-final-word.php

Posted by: DadRyan | September 1, 2009 11:50 PM | Report abuse

Right Chest! So why isn't that mentioned in Goff's post? Just checking...

Posted by: redskinsux | September 1, 2009 11:46 PM |
---------------------------------------------------

Because Goff isn't a movie critic....?

Posted by: fischy | September 1, 2009 11:58 PM | Report abuse

As long as we're reveling in Marrufo's comeuppance, I'll take the moment to remind everyone for the last time that Jair's the one who signaled "play on" when Ihemulu broke Mediate's leg. Not a penalty call against DC, but one of the worst non-calls I've ever seen.

Posted by: fischy | September 2, 2009 12:02 AM | Report abuse

lol, DadRyan. Beating the dead horse is what I live for.

Posted by: redskinsux | September 2, 2009 12:08 AM | Report abuse

To be fair, it's common practice in Italy (and I assume most of Europe) for teams to give refs jerseys before the match.

Posted by: alecw81 | September 2, 2009 12:37 AM | Report abuse

The fitness standards for the higher level national caliber referees require them to sprint 50 meters in 7.5 seconds or less, sprint 200 meters in 32 seconds or less, and cover at least 1.67 miles during a 12 minute continuous run. I think the sprinting requirements are the harder to reach, but even the distance requirements demand approximately a 6:30 mile pace over 12 minutes. Not an easy task even when you are what most people would call "fit."

Posted by: chuckgoetz | September 2, 2009 6:09 AM | Report abuse

Yeah, not being able, for whatever reason, to attain the necessary level of fitness renders my opinion on referee quality unintelligent. Whatever, SilverSpring8.

I pay money to see MLS games. I'm entitled to expect a quality product, and to complain about it if I don't get one--especially here, in a forum dedicated to the topic. Telling people to shut up, or that their posts on the issue are unintelligent, is pretty much a rubber/glue sort of thing.

Objectively, Maruffo and Okulaja have been dreadful for years, and not just in games involving DCU. As many points as they've taken from DCU, I've a perfect right to revel in their downfall for incompetence, and in Maruffo's case, for outright misconduct (involving a team and a player I particularly dislike).

Kennedy's a different story. I think he's tough, but consistently so. I cringe when I see him on the field, but only because I know that no one, my club included, will get a break.

And I'd expect anyone to revel in the sight of out-of-shape middle-aged guys trying to meet those kind of fitness standards. To not giggle would be inhuman.

Posted by: Landru | September 2, 2009 6:52 AM | Report abuse

Wow, some serious hostility here at SI. I proceed at my own risk. Personally, I think this is a little harsh for being human. Suspend them for a month but the rest of the season and possibly their career, seems like a bit much to me.

Vamos United!

Posted by: croftonpost | September 2, 2009 7:06 AM | Report abuse

Hey Look! It's Enrico Pallazzo!

Can't think of officiating without thinking of Naked Gun.

Posted by: Southeasterner | September 2, 2009 7:28 AM | Report abuse

I invite everyone who trashed the suspended referees to step forward, gain your certification, pass the fitness test and show us how well you would officiate an MLS match. Put up or shut up.

Posted by: SilverSpring8 | September 1, 2009 10:07 PM
=========================

I think this response -- which is by no stretch the minority opinion in referee circles -- illustrates the problem. Is officiating a game any harder than coaching, or playing, a game? I don't think so. All three are difficult. But we have no problem demanding the firing of a coach or the release of a player we think is not up to the job.

But a referee? Nooooooo! Do not criticize the man in the middle, for if you do, YOU must take his place for a day!

I don't get it. The huge chip on the referee community needs to disappear. Like players, coaches and fans, referees are human. If they consistently underperform at the professional level, they need to be replaced. This isn't a bashing of ALL referees... JUST THAT GUY!

After that rant, I fully expect to be red carded from every game I coach this season...

Posted by: joedoc1 | September 2, 2009 7:34 AM | Report abuse

Well FINALLY. I guess since I was among the most vocal in demanding accountability, I now must say "thank you" and "well done" to the USSF for taking this step. This was the right move and something that has needed to be done for awhile.

Did MLS play any role in this whatsoever?

Posted by: AtlantaMLS | September 2, 2009 7:59 AM | Report abuse

To be fair, it's common practice in Italy (and I assume most of Europe) for teams to give refs jerseys before the match.

Posted by: alecw81 | September 2, 2009 12:37 AM | Report abuse

-----

Riiiiight....and Italian soccer is the beacon of football morality? Just ask Juventus fans.

Posted by: AtlantaMLS | September 2, 2009 8:07 AM | Report abuse

Joe Doc,

You are a coach (presumably of a youth team) and you don't understand why referees are a little defensive? What league do you coach in?

I'm one of those guys who says, pay the $65 and get certified, then go out and try it. I'm not talking about trying to work MLS games, that is ridiculous. Do something simple like U19 boys Suburban "Friendship" League games. No fitness test required - all are welcome!

Search on the internet for news stories or video clips of referees being assaulted - you won't be disappointed. Oh yeah, just because that happens doesn't mean referees aren't paranoid.

As far as the original story, don't bust on the guys for not passing the fitness test - they could just be injured. It happens to everyone. These guys don't look particularly fat or slow to you, do they? Go into RFK early some time and check out what the referees are doing to warm up before the game - the pregame warm ups would wipe me out and I would never make it to kickoff! I won't miss Abby and the other guys, but let's see how well the replacements do. There were plenty of people in Italy who thought Collima sucked.

Posted by: Senor_Funk | September 2, 2009 8:09 AM | Report abuse

Its about time

Posted by: g3impreza | September 2, 2009 8:27 AM | Report abuse

Look at all these posts! Refs--the people all fans love to hate.

Posted by: lovinliberty | September 2, 2009 8:28 AM | Report abuse

To the folks defending the refs for how fit they are or need to be - that isn't the point.

These refs are terrible. It's like sending a gangster to jail on tax evasion, the ussf used the letter of the law to get the job done. Nobody who is celebrating here actually cares about their fitness, it's their inability to make correct calls. So if fitness tests are what ends their season, then that's fine by me.

Posted by: M__N | September 2, 2009 8:30 AM | Report abuse

maybe I missed it, but I didn't see people knocking these guys for not passing the fitness portion (someone mentioned giggling...whatever). I think most are laying into the refs for blow calls or really poor decisions - that shouldn't be made at the professional level. I think that's the gripe, and I don't know why the refs here who are b*tching and moaning would have it any other way.

Posted by: nairbsod | September 2, 2009 8:37 AM | Report abuse

Zamora got called in to T&T, to answer yesterday's question

Posted by: OWNTF | September 2, 2009 8:45 AM | Report abuse

Can we get the bald guy from Italy who looks like The Undertaker to ref here?

Posted by: bs2004 | September 2, 2009 8:50 AM | Report abuse

Frankly, I could never ref. I've told folks for years that I would see a foul, tell the victim, "Dude, that was unlucky," and forget to blow the whistle. I would think like a coach or player, not a ref.

Referees have the difficult task of maintaining the game's integrity. Players and coaches push the limits; it's the referee's job to set, maintain and enforce the limits. A tough task, and I give refs all of the cushion I possibly can.

But I still maintain that, at the professional level, high standards must be met.

Posted by: joedoc1 | September 2, 2009 9:00 AM | Report abuse

It was definitly time for marufo to be GONE. How did this guy win ref o the year? he is just not good enough to ref at the top level. I feel bad for Kennedy and Abby O. It sucks getting old. A high school team mate of mine is a high level ref. He was the AR for the AC Milan v. America game in ATL,and refs USL, college, and some MLS games. He has a full time job and family but still travels all around his area and beyond to do games. His motivation seems to be that he loves the game and wants to contribute to the development of the game at the highest level he can.

Posted by: jjfooty | September 2, 2009 9:11 AM | Report abuse

@Barracudas - regarding offside. Refs are trained to listen for the ball being kicked and to not be watching the play while judging offside. Not that that makes it any easier to judge...

Posted by: asocrlovr | September 2, 2009 9:55 AM | Report abuse

barracudas wrote: The law needs to be changed on the offside rule. How can a referee be looking at two places at once? (he needs to look at where the ball is kicked when the ball is kicked, and look at the players to determine they are offside).

===

Nobody can look two places at once. When you said "referee," I assume you meant "assistant referee." Any referee who doesn't leave offside calls to the assistant is a fool. The AR, if he/she is doing their job, is lined up with the second-to-last defender. The ref is frequently behind the play and in absolutely no position to make an offside call. (They do make them in youth futball where they don't have ARs. This produces much sideline screaming because single refs, understandably, blow lots of offside calls.)

During play, the AR must concentrate on being in the proper position and keeping track of attackers and their positions relative to the second-to-last defender. He/she must also be aware of what the attacking team is doing with the ball. This requires constant monitoring of the ball and the attacker/defenders positions. He/she must anticipate passes to attackers who may be -- or quickly will be -- offside when the pass is made.

As an AR, you don't watch the pass being made. You listen for it while checking the attacker/defender positioning. If the attacker is offside at the time of the thump, the flag is raised once the attacker gains possession or influences the play.

Listening for the thump of the pass works as long as the AR can hear it. It works at the youth and amateur levels. Does it work in a raucous stadium? I've never heard an AR talk on this point.

TV viewers hear a lot of ball thumps because of the placement of mikes around the field. It would not require rocket science to transmit the field-mike feed into an earpiece worn by the ARs. They could listen for the ball thump and flag accordingly.

This system is not foolproof. It would not work on soft, short passes that create little or no thump. It would not have prevented the AR from mistakingly calling Emilio offside in the last LA match. But it would give the AR a better tool for judging offside on hard passes and long through balls.

If the ARs can now hear ball thumps even in noisy stadiums, then MLS needs better ARs. It took a fine first step by punishing incompetent and/or unfit refs.

Posted by: runningcloud | September 2, 2009 9:59 AM | Report abuse

Suspend them for a month but the rest of the season and possibly their career, seems like a bit much to me.

Posted by: croftonpost | September 2, 2009 7:06 AM
--------------------------------------------------

Suspend someone for a month for being a lousy ref? Why? Is that going to magically make him a better ref? Does he suck because he wasn't trying hard enough?

Posted by: fischy | September 2, 2009 9:59 AM | Report abuse

@SilverSpring8: Got it. You set a difficult standard though. This is the internet and we criticize everything, especially that which we are incapable of doing. When we pay to watch matches, we have a right to be annoyed if our entertainment value is spoiled by underperforming players or erring referees.

@croftonpost. Yeah. It's a but harsh for being less than fit. Give them complete physicals, put them on treadmills, and ask them to cut back on the half-smokes.

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | September 2, 2009 10:03 AM | Report abuse

If the ARs can now hear ball thumps even in noisy stadiums, then MLS needs better ARs.
Posted by: runningcloud
===============

In a little known study, USSF reported that the ARs get the offside calls 100% correct at the Meadowlands, Pizza Hut Park, and Dick's Sporting Goods Park.

Posted by: I-270Exit1 | September 2, 2009 10:28 AM | Report abuse

I'm amazed Toledo's still a referee. I've seen him make at least one horrible call every other MLS game (not necessarily a DCU one).

Posted by: Juan-John | September 2, 2009 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Do something simple like U19 boys Suburban "Friendship" League games.

===

You mean Suburban Fighting League? The level of play is good when they choose to play...

Posted by: mason08 | September 2, 2009 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Mine eyes have seen the glory!!!

MLS refs have been seemingly invincible once hired, and it is nice to see that people think Marruffo is a complete and utter moron.

This makes me happy.

Posted by: UnitedDemon | September 2, 2009 12:01 PM | Report abuse

Senor_Funk, I have reffed my share of U19 boys games, HS club games, etc. So what. Even if I had never reffed so much as a U-9 girls game I would have known Marrufo and Okulaja to be incompetent. It ain't rocket science.

Posted by: Ron16 | September 2, 2009 12:04 PM | Report abuse

More seriously, or not, this little girl has a special place in my heart:
http://www.nowgoal.com/22.shtml

Posted by: mokreine | September 2, 2009 12:21 PM | Report abuse

How about a post game rating system for match officials? Are there enough objective participants to make it worthwhile? A means of acknowledging the good calls as well as the bad?

Posted by: footballfan9 | September 2, 2009 1:04 PM | Report abuse

[1] How about a post game rating system for match officials? [2] Are there enough objective participants to make it worthwhile? [3] A means of acknowledging the good calls as well as the bad?

===

As has been discussed in this space:
1) MLS officials are evaluated in every match.
2) Yes, there are.
3) Yes, there exists one. (USSF's referee week in review points out not just calls gone wrong, but also contraversial calls gone right.)

Posted by: mason08 | September 2, 2009 1:45 PM | Report abuse

mason08

well aware all of your comments, just want to make a few more bloggers aware, and try to offer more objective discussion on this blog, in lieu of rants

appreciate your comments

Posted by: footballfan9 | September 2, 2009 2:06 PM | Report abuse

Actually, I agree that the refs in the MLS could be improved but I think refs everywhere need to be improved! The standards for enforcing the laws of the game are too subjective and quite often seem to be applied without reason or fairness. How can we justify the seemingly biased or one-sided calls made by the ref during the most recent US-Mexico game? How can FIFA abide or endorse the results of these games? Being a ref is tough but being partial is inexcusable...good for the MLS for trying to improve the level of refereeing but how about getting FIFA to make much needed improvements!

Posted by: bobleme | September 2, 2009 2:12 PM | Report abuse

I invite everyone who trashed the suspended referees to step forward, gain your certification, pass the fitness test and show us how well you would officiate an MLS match. Put up or shut up.

Posted by: SilverSpring8 | September 1, 2009 10:07 PM
=========================

This is a silly argument: by accepting payment and trotting out on the field, these referees are claiming that they're competent. That I wouldn't be competent is totally beside the point. We all have different talents and aptitudes. You are, however, welcome to criticize the software I write, since that's what I'm accepting payment for.

Posted by: kevinwparker | September 2, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse

Obviously meant linesman.

If a tree falls in the Bombonera (or in Maracana or Wembley or etc. etc. etc.) can the AR hear the thump? :-D

The rule should be changed to what it was before, don't have the specific wording, but it was not "at the time the ball is kicked".

Posted by: Barracudas | September 2, 2009 5:45 PM | Report abuse

In all seriousness, I think it's time to explore whether these referees are on the take and from whom. Let's face it: Corruption in international soccer isn't all that unusual, unfortunately. True, the USSF oversees the referees but it's entirely possible that they could be on the take in MLS games and Gulati could look the other way -- especially since he's a major figure in the Revolution's front office.

Posted by: JosephDHippolito | September 2, 2009 11:33 PM | Report abuse

Suspend them for a month but the rest of the season and possibly their career, seems like a bit much to me.

Posted by: croftonpost | September 2, 2009 7:06 AM
--------------------------------------------------

Suspend someone for a month for being a lousy ref? Why? Is that going to magically make him a better ref? Does he suck because he wasn't trying hard enough?

Posted by: fischy | September 2, 2009 9:59 AM | Report abuse

Why? Because everyone deserves a second chance, that's why. If you disagree then we will agree to disagree.

I have officiated myself and it is not as easy as everyone thinks it is as they sit on their a_s watching it on TV or in the stands. Further, I criticize officials as much as the next guy but there needs to be perspective. Everyone in every job makes mistakes with the exception of one notable group, the dishonest.

Posted by: croftonpost | September 3, 2009 1:32 AM | Report abuse

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