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Before and After the Call: U.S. Soccer Full Time Referee Jair Marrufo in Chicago for MLS Playoffs

The pregame preparations of players are well documented, but for a different angle in the build up to a big match, last week we talked to MLS Referee of the Year and U.S. Soccer full time referee Jair Marrufo. Marrufo was in Chicago to take charge of the Eastern Conference semifinal playoff between Chicago and New England and we caught up with him at his hotel before the match. Last week's game finished 0-0 in New England and clearly tensions and emotions will be running high tonight. What do you do to get ready for a match like this?
Jair Marrufo: “It starts with watching the first game and making some notes of what happened in the match. We came in a day early and are rested. What I'll do on gameday is just stay inside, watch TV, have lunch with my crew and that's when we start talking about the game. I'll fill them in on things that I noticed in the first game, issues and trends to watch for. Everybody will make suggestions, which is always welcome, and then it's all about getting ready for the game.” We always hear from players the maxim of how the postseason is so much different from the regular season. As an official, do you have to prepare differently knowing all playoff factors, namely that one team will be going home after this game?
JM: “Of course and I think there is an equal amount of pressure on officials – if we don't perform well than our season is over as well. I take a lot of pride in knowing that going into tonight the pressure is on all of my crew to give the teams a good game and a fair game.” These two teams have quite a postseason history and there's been a bit of psychological warfare in the buildup to tonight's game. How do you deal with that?
JM: “You try not to listen too much to what the players and teams are saying about the referees. On the field you always have to pick your battles, there are some players that you can talk to and some that you can't. You never want to get too involved in it and you know to focus mostly on the game.” What type of things will you discuss with your crew?
“Things we've noticed in previous games, offsides and foul recognition. We have to make sure to be patient on our offsides calls. In terms of foul recognition, it's going to be a big game so we need to allow the players to play. But we also have to punish fouls, we can't hold back and if there's a yellow card or a red card incident than we have to deal with it correctly.” Do you think that tonight's game will be a continuation from the high-intensity first leg of this series?
JM: “Last game was a 0-0 draw and this is a new game for anybody's taking. In a sense though, the emotions are still running from the first game so you have to expect that those will continue. Maybe some of the interactions from the first game will continue onto this game, you hope that some of the bad things don't carry over from the first leg but you have to expect the worst.” Any final thoughts?
“I'm expecting a very tough game and I think both teams will be trying everything possible to win the game. We have to be on our toes to expect everything and I think it will be a very tough game tonight.

After the game, which Chicago Fire won 3-0, we caught up with Marrufo. Recovering in the locker room after a tough but ultimately satisfying match, Marrufo fielded our questions about the game that unfolded under his watch. This afternoon you told us that you thought this game was going to be intense and very physical. You said that your whole crew would have to be on its toes. How do you think the game went tonight?
JM: “I think the game went great. I think the performance of the four of us, especially our teamwork, was excellent – we had good eye contact throughout the game and we worked well together.” Before the game we pointed to the more physical qualities of the first leg, but tonight's game was a vastly different affair from the first leg. Was the play maybe cleaner than you expected?
JM: “Perhaps. I think we set the tempo with the first yellow [to Chris Albright in the seventh minute], letting the teams know that we weren't going to let things escalate. The teams came out and played, they had more intentions of playing instead of just getting physical. The bigger field also helps tremendously with that.” On the Referee Week in Review podcast we've spoken throughout the year about the wait-and-see approach. With that in mind, were you pleased with the first goal, which was the result of advantage being played?
JM: “We commented at halftime about the wait-and-see call. There was a foul on Thorrington and I was patient in holding the whistle and gave the advantage. It resulted in a goal and we were all very happy with that call.” There was a bit of a unique situation tonight, with Fire goalkeeper Jon Busch going down for an injury and switching his shoes. Take us through that moment?
JM: “Busch went down saying he had an injury but also knowing that he wanted to change his shoes. We felt he was feigning the injury, so we cautioned him. He knew he was going to get the yellow and he said, 'That's fine.' I guess he really wanted to change his shoes though.” With a three-goal lead, the Fire had wrapped up the game before the final whistle. Does that create a problem for an official?
JM: “You could see the frustration setting in and it came with Albright's tackle [on Cuauhtemoc Blanco]. Luckily it was just a yellow card offense and nothing more. In the end, everything more or less fell into place. We studied both teams and gave a good pregame warmup. My fourth official and my two AR's were great tonight.