(Thursday, February 22, 2007) -- One might say Jair Marrufo was destined to be a referee. Son of a world-level ref, Marrufo initially resisted following in his father's footsteps before the Old Man finally wore him down.
Marrufo became a part of United States Soccer Federation history yesterday when he became one of four referees named as the first to serve in a full-time, professional capacity in the organization's 95-year history.
Marrufo is the son of former FIFA referee Antonio Marrufo. "I started refereeing because my dad was an ex-FIFA referee for 11 years in Mexico," Jair said. "Actually, my dad said, 'There's a referee course in El Paso. Would you like to attend?' I said, 'Nah, why would I want to do that?' He kept pursuing, pushing me to join and be a referee. After the third time, I said, 'OK, fine" so he could get off my back. I attended the class, got invited to a youth tournament where a lot of FIFA referees were attending. That's where my eyes were wide open as to how these guys were being treated. I said to myself, 'That's how I want to be treated.' "
Marrufo was joined by Ricardo Salazar, Baldomero Toledo and Terry Vaughn as the first class of professional officials.
"This new program will give our best referees the opportunity to focus all of their energies on enhancing the performance of our elite officials on the field," USSF president Sunil Gulati said in a federation press release. "The size and quality of U.S. Soccer's referee program has garnered worldwide respect from the international soccer community over the years. With an increasing number of (Major League Soccer) and international matches being staged in the United States, there is no doubt that the opportunity to referee on a full-time, professional basis will continue to advance our growth as a soccer nation."
The U.S. becomes one of only a handful of countries with full-time, professional referees. England, France, Italy the Netherlands and Spain are among the others.
"The implementation of this program and the hiring of these four professional referees is an important first step," Gulati said. "Moving forward, I expect this program to continue to grow alongside the rest of the sport in the United States."
| Ricardo Salazar was recruited into officiating, along with his brother, by his father, a referee who needed linesmen and decided to keep it in the family.
-- U.S. Soccer Federation web site photo --
USSF director of advanced and international referee development Esse Baharmast, who refereed in the 1998 FIFA World Cup, will be heavily involved in the training aspects of the program. He recently served as the lead referee instructor at last summer's World Cup in Germany.
"This is a wonderful progression for our referee program," Baharmast said in the USSF release. "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."
Marrufo, 28, recently was appointed a referee for world governing body FIFA and is awaiting his first international assignment. The El Paso, Texas, resident, worked the middle of MLS Cup 2006, as well as the in the 2006 Ballymena International Tournament in Northern Ireland.
My father "was a very famous referee. There were big shoes to fill," Marrufo said. "Very big shoes, a lot of pressure. . . The highlight of my career happened last year refereeing the MLS Cup and also my dad being attending there. That was a great moment for me."
Marrufo has worked in MLS since 2002, doing 59 regular-season and three postseason matches.
Salazar, 34, who lives in Elgin, Ill., first registered with the USSF in 1989 and became a FIFA sanctioned USSF referee in 2005 before being certified as a FIFA international ref a year later.
Officiating games was "basically something that started at a young age." Salazar said. "I was in high school, actually. In '86, there basically weren't enough referees around. You know there was a big soccer boom in the '80s and the league (in which Salazar played) mandated each team send someone to become a referee. And my dad actually took that role. He did it for a year and he figured out he could make (his) two sons go through the course too and (he'd) have (his) own team. . . He wasn't dumb. He figured out here (he'd) have two assistant referees."
| Earning money for dates was why Terry Vaughan started refereeing at age 14.
-- Iowa Soccer Association web site photo --
Since 2001, Salazar has refereed 53 regular-season and two postseason games. "I have goals in the next 10-to-12 months and I have goals in 2010," he said. "Obviously, the goal is to get to the Big Dance (the 2010 World Cup) in South Africa, if that is in fact where it takes place. In the next year, I know I'm going back to the under-17 (Men's World Cup) qualifiers and then my hope is to then go to the (U-17) World Cup in (South) Korea."
Vaughan, 33, from Mount Vernon, Iowa, registered as a referee with the USSF in 1987 and was certified by FIFA in 2004. Working his first international assignment in a match between Jamaica and Guatemala in 2004, he did the 2005 CONCACAF Under-20 Qualifying Tournament and now is in Mexico for the 2007 version of that tournament. He also officiated a CONCACAF Champions Cup semifinal and several World Cup qualifiers.
"Somebody brought it to my attention when I was 14 that you can make some money doing this and my mom was on me about having to get a job to pay for the girlfriend stuff," Vaughan said of his first refereeing experience. "It was either flip burgers or referee some soccer games. It was great because I could play on Saturday and turn around and ref on Sunday. I called it Sunday money."
Vaughan has the most MLS experience of anyone in the new full-time quartet. Since 2001, he has worked 71 regular-season games and nine in the postseason.
| Baldomero Toledo started his officiating career doing games at his schoool when he was 14 in Mexico.
-- U.S. Soccer Federation web site photo --
"Doing World Cup qualifiers, that type of stuff, that kind of environment is just amazing," he said. "Going to Guatemala, two hours before the game, you're arriving at the stadium and you're thinking the fans are there just getting to the game. Then you get inside the stadium and the stadium's already packed. Those people were just there to celebrate on the outside."
Toledo, 36, who lives in lives in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., has been a USSF referee since 1989, worked in MLS since 2003 and was sanctioned by FIFA for international matches last year.
"I started refereeing in school, I was 14-years-old in Mexico," Toledo said. "I was a very young guy, 14-15 years old. I liked it definitely. I enjoyed those moments."
Toledo has worked 32 MLS regular-season games since 2004.. "As a referee, we always have dreams and my dream was to referee MLS because when I see the games on TV, I was always thinking I want to be there," he said. When " I received my first opportunity to do an MLS game, the game was in Kansas City. . . My first card in the league was a red card. It was funny. The first card I pull out, it was red to (K.C. defender) Jose Burciaga for an elbow to the face."
The USSF reports it has more than 140,000 registered referees, the largest organization of officials among the 207 FIFA member nations. In 2006, USSF referees worked 126 international matches in the U.S., while 23 did a total of 182 MLS games.