5. REFEREES: U.S. Soccer launches full-time pro ref program

There will still be school teachers, accountants and truck drivers refereeing MLS and international games in the USA, but now there will also be full-time professional referees in the middle.

U.S. Soccer has launched a program to employ refs full-time, which exists in only a few nations, including England, France, the Netherlands, Italy and Spain.

"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," said U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati.

The program begins with the hiring of four refs: Jair Marrufo, Ricardo Salazar, Baldomero Toledo and Terry Vaughn.

"The implementation of this program and the hiring of these four professional referees is an important first step," added Gulati. "Moving forward, I expect this program to continue to grow alongside the rest of the sport in the United States."

In 2006, U.S. Soccer referees worked 126 international matches in the United States alone, as well as officiating in numerous international tournaments outside of the country. Additionally, 23 U.S. Soccer referees worked 182 MLS games last year.

"This is a wonderful progression for our referee program," said Esse Baharmast, U.S. Soccer's Director of Advanced & International Referee Development. "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."

U.S. Soccer's first four full-time pro refs:
Jair Marrufo
Age: 29
U.S. Soccer ref since 1996 and MLS ref since 2002. Son of former FIFA referee Antonio Marrufo of Mexico. Grew up in Texas. Reffed 2006 MLS Cup. Previously worked as a product specialist with Sherwin-Williams.

Ricardo Salazar
Age: 34
FIFA ref since 2005 and MLS ref since 2000. Illinois product. First international match was a friendly between South Korea and Mexico in front of almost 70,000 fans at the Los Angeles Coliseum in February of 2006. Prior to joining U.S. Soccer full time, worked as an insurance agent. Resides in Elgin, Ill

Baldomero Toledo
Age: 36
FIFA ref since 2006 and MLS ref since 2003. Completed his schooling in Mexico. Previously an assistant production manager at a Le Chef bakery plant. Lives in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif

Terry Vaughn
Age: 32
Iowa-native has been U.S. Soccer since 1987 and a FIFA referee since 2004. First international assignment was Jamaica-Guatemala in 2004. Reffed several 2006 FIFA World Cup qualifying matches. Was the Director of Referees for Iowa Soccer and also worked in security.
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