Major League Soccer
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Grajeda expresses gratitude ahead of MLS Cup

Dec 6, 2013

Saturday’s MLS Cup between Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake will wrap up quite a year for PRO’s Hilario Grajeda.

The 46-year-old, who was recently named MLS Referee of the Year, is the center official for the match at Sporting Park, which comes just four months after his assignment to the MLS All-Star game at the same venue. 

Despite his successful season, Chico, as he is commonly known, was surprised at his latest honor.

He told “My immediate reaction was one of surprise. 

“There really are so many good referees out there so I didn’t expect I was going to get it because so many are capable.

“The guys at PRO asked me if I could do one more game for them - if I was available to referee the MLS Cup. It was great to hear that, and a really good feeling.”

Saturday’s MLS Cup won’t be the first time Grajeda has tasted the showpiece game of the season. With two back-to-back 4th official assignments in his locker,  from 2011 and 2012, the man from Ohio is looking forward to making the step up. 

He believes the previous experience will help him when he takes the whistle for the 24th time this season, but admits there are still some nerves, which are to be expected.

“The Cup is going to be the biggest game of my career. It will inspire me for the future, too. 

“Other referees have done the MLS Cup multiple times and that is a goal I am setting for myself – not to be a one-hit wonder.

“The unknown nature of being the center referee and what will happen is a bit nerving, but my overall feeling is one of great excitement.

“My fitness goes on as usual in my approach to the game, as does my nutrition. Leading up to the All-Star match I started using a sports psychologist, for a little bit more focus, and that helps.

“I know both Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City well, I’ve done a lot of research. All the data that is out there is useful but on gameday sometimes it doesn’t matter - but I’ll be as prepared as I can be.”

One thing Grajeda won’t need to do in the approach to the match is familiarize himself with the two assigned ARs, Bill Dittmar and Paul Scott. Over the past three years, the trio have formed tight bonds as an officiating crew in the MLS.

The referee believes Dittmar and Scott are one of the main factors behind his highly-productive season, along with PRO.

Grajeda, who is not a FIFA referee himself, insists the Organization is increasing the quality of officiating and will develop more professional officials in the future.

“Bill and Paul have pushed me throughout the year. They know when I’m not on my A-game and they are open to telling me, ‘hey come on, pick it up.’

“Everyone gives me the congratulations but it’s been a team effort from Bill and Paul, along with all the other PRO officials.

“The accountability of PRO and being honest with each other has really helped. It’s a tight group and dissecting our respective performances with our peers is something that has never happened before. 

“Sports Scientist Matt Hawkey brought in a dietician who monitors our intake, and that’s another aspect that has helped. 

“One of the things that has stuck with me since our first PRO meeting in January is something that General Manager Peter Walton said. 

“He said, ‘I don’t care who you are; a FIFA referee; a national referee; a full-time or part-time referee. As long as you work hard, everybody in this room has a chance to do the MLS Cup.’ 

“That was fantastic to hear and those words have stuck with me and inspired me. Words cannot describe 2013. It’s just been fantastic.”

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