Perusing the official game notes when Sporting KC sends them out is a regular task. The first thing to check is injury updates, then take a glance at records between the teams and check who will be the referee. Normally it is rather mundane and boring but for the Sporting Kansas City at FC Dallas match, the referee's name jumped out.
When Sporting KC and Dallas kick off Wednesday evening, it will be just a week shy of three years since Jair Marrufo last officiated a Kansas City match. Nearly 100 games and 1089 days since one of the senior referees in MLS was the referee for a Sporting KC game.
Why is that significant? That last match was on October 6th, 2018. The LA Galaxy came into Kansas City and left with a 1-1 draw that could have had major playoff implications as SKC was fighting for first place in the Western Conference and the Galaxy were trying to make the playoffs where they hoped Zlatan could work some magic.
There were a few questionable calls but two of the decisions Marrufo and his crew made were “highlight” worthy.
In the 23rd minute Ola Kamara was on the end of a cross into the box as Matt Besler trailed him and Tim Melia came sliding out. It was close, but it appeared that neither Besler or Melia made any contact with Kamara, but he went flying as if he had been tripped. Marrufo points to the spot and Zlatan scores.
The question then and now was why no review? The VAR official did not call for one and Marrufo did not ask for one since he was very self-sure in his call.
The other really questionable call was in stoppage time when SKC striker Diego Rubio was struck in the head by LA keeper David Bingham. Rubio had timed the ball well in the rain and headed the ball already when Bingham got there late and hit Rubio in the head.
No foul… no VAR check… and of course no penalty for SKC to potentially take the lead.
Marrufo was already not well liked by Kansas City fans from previous games, and he was definitely not liked by Peter Vermes after this match. The SKC manager was fined for his post-game comments.
SKC history with Marrufo
At the time of that game, Sporting KC had a worse record when Marrufo officiated than when any other referee was on the field. SKC has been a mostly successful team since Vermes took over, making the playoffs every year except one. Usually at or near the top of their conference and a winning record overall.
But not when Marrufo was the referee, SKC was not very successful with him at center at all. Using 2018 numbers since that was the last time Marrufo influenced a Kansas City game, SKC was 2-7-6 and average just .8 points per game with him in control. When looking at all the officials that had refereed five or more SKC games between 2011 and 2018, he was the only one that SKC could not average at least a point a game. Twenty-one different referees in that time with five or more games and SKC fared the worst under Marrufo. Another fun fact was in that time, only one other referee officiated more SKC games. While also not a fan favorite but with Baldomero Toledo on the field, SKC’s record was 10-8-4 with 1.55 points per game.
After that game and the attention that it drew with the questionable calls and Marrufo being highlighted on Instant Replay and all the comments on social media attention, Sporting KC did not draw him again until now.
The big question is what changed?
Fast forward almost three years and perhaps the referee assigners at Pro forgot about that relationship between Sporting KC and Marrufo.
Vermes has usually not shied away from commenting questionable referee decisions, especially when they do not clamp down on time wasting. In early September Vermes said he was not commenting on referees anymore and has stuck to his word. No recent post-game soliloquies on how the officials could manage the game better.
Did someone take note and decide to test Vermes with the one referee SKC probably least wanted to see grace the field in their presence again?
Maybe it was just random chance...
Three bonus facts
1. The two assistant referees from the October 6th game against the Galaxy in 2018 will also be the assistant referees for the Dallas game. Adam Garner and Jose da Silva will be on the sideline for Marrufo just as they were in 2018.
2. Marrufo has handed out 29 cards to Sporting KC in that 2011-2018 period while giving 14 to the opposition.
3. As pointed out above, SKC had the worst record with Marrufo at center. The referee with the next worst record for SKC was Sorin Stoica with a much smaller sample size. SKC was 1-2-2 with 1 point per game. He was the fourth official in the 2018 LA game.
The moment that Rubio was struck in the head. Not at all obvious.