MLS Ref or Comedy Routine: You Be the Judge

As pointed out a week or two back by ever-alert BS blgger MONSTER 2008 MLS Referee of the Year Jair Marrufo has gone from being considered one of MLS's best and brightest to being rated as having about the same level of good judgment as the guy the other day who thought that having a jumbo jet fly low and slow over Lower Manhatten would make a really swell photo.

Marrufo, you'll recall, was the author of one of the worst PK calls in recent memory when, back on March 22, he decided that DC defender Rodney Wallace's thigh looked pretty much like a hand and robbed The District of Columbia of two points:

(Note: MLS, in their infinite wisdom has opted not to give us the slo-mo, three-camera replays of key calls by their officials in their "Quickkicks" highlights this year. I guess they decided that holding their referees up to public ridicule wasn't such a hot idea)

So anyway, after that howler of a match Marrufo didn't work an MLS game for a month. Of course the league doesn't ever say "We've decided to sit this bonehead down for a while to see if he can get his head out of his ass", but Paul Tamberino and Co. do in fact rate each referee's game performance and give out assignments based on how well you graded out relative to everybody else.

So Marrufo's absence from the pitch was certainly, shall we say, suspicious.

However, this past weekend, Marrufo was let out of detention and given the Chicago Fire - Columbus Crew match.

And while he managed to avoid blatantly screwing with the result with an absolutely inexplicable PK call, he did manage to send off Crew defender Gino Padula for - well, for basically bumping into Cootiemac Blanco:

Since, again, I can't give you the super slo-mo, you really don't see the contact, but even from a distance it's hard to even make a case for a caution, let alone a sending off.

And of course we're treated to Mr. White rolling around like he's been shot, which is his wont, but as these things go it isn't even particularly convincing.

It's almost like he really didn't feel it was worth dusting off his "A" performance.

Be that as it may, Padula was sent off and the Crew, already missing Frankie Hejduk with an injury he picked up against T&T, were scraping the bottom of the barrel for defenders and playing a man down and ended up coughing up a two goal lead.

Now, I need to be clear here: bad calls happen. Part of the game and all that. Those are the breaks. (And as a Crew fan I have to be careful about appearing to gripe about the result, which I'm not. In the end it was Chicago who put two goals into the net in the last six minutes and so mote it be. Not gonna whine about it)

On the other hand, when bad calls seem to follow certain guys around like that cloud of dust that clung to PigPen or the grey cloud of misery that hovered over Joe Bftsplk or the stink that emanates from Tim "White Cane" Weyland, well, that's something else altogether.

The Columbus Crew, as one might expect, has appealed the red card suspension to the league and of course the league, in due time, will say "sorry, no" and that would normally be the end of it.

Except this:

Among the "inconsistencies" noted regarding Marrufo's overall dismal performance are some pretty questionable incidents:

Marrufo was seen having a discussion with Blanco before the game. And again at the half.

Of course Marrufo's father was a famous Mexican referee and perhaps they were simply discussing old times. Who knows. Of course, it's against the rules but not prima facie evidence of skulduggery.

But then, at the conclusion of the game, Blanco was seen walking to the room where the officials were changing and tossing Marrufo his game shirt. Some reports are saying that Blanco signed it first.

The Columbus Dispatch's Shawn Mitchell sent an inquiry to the league and got THIS RESPONSE from MLS executive vice president Todd Durbin:

"We are aware of the issue and are working closely with U.S. Soccer and their review of the matter"

Now as these things go, it's highly doubtful that we'll ever hear much of anything beyond the usual "the appeal has been turned down" statement that is SOP in these cases. MLS would need a hell of a lot more than a horrible call and a sweaty shirt to be forced into making a public criticism of one of their officials.

And that's probably the way it has to be.

The only way we'll ever know how USSF and the league really feel about all of this will be in noting how long it takes for Marrufo to get another game.

And however that all works out, one thing is embarrassingly clear:

A couple years ago, in an effort to "improve officiating" MLS hired four guys full time. And two of them - Weyland and Marrufo - have stunk up every field they've been on this year.

Maybe it's time MLS considered, you know, trying a couple other guys.