Christian Pulisic’s handshake refused by referee, sparks outrage among fans: ‘Classless’

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While Team USA did not make any excuses for how they got knocked out of Copa América with a 1-0 loss to Uruguay, many fans and analysts are throwing some of the blame on referee Kevin Ortega. 

He didn’t help his cause after what he did following the match against Team USA star Christian Pulisic

Pulisic and several other USMNT players were jawing at Ortega, who was labeled an inexperienced referee for a match of this magnitude, throughout the 90-plus minutes on the pitch after questionable fouls and lack of controlling play. 

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Christian Pulisic talks to referees

Christian Pulisic, #10 of the United States, argues with referee Kevin Ortega during the CONMEBOL Copa America 2024 Group C match between the United States and Uruguay at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium on July 1, 2024 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Shaun Clark/Getty Images)

After the match, Pulisic went up to the officials standing on the pitch to shake their hands, and though he did seem to be tossing more words Ortega’s way, the referee refused to shake Pulisic’s hand when he put it out in front of him. 

That led to Pulisic hurling more words his way, lifting his finger in his face before moving down the line to shake the last referee’s hand. 

A separate angle of the video appears to show Pulisic gesturing toward the referees and pointing at the Uruguay players celebrating, insinuating that the officials favored the opponent during the match. 

Pulisic also took the high road when he spoke with Fox Sports’ Jenny Taft after the match, saying he did not want to speak on Ortega’s calls, though he did say it was “frustrating” throughout. 

His teammate, Antonee Robinson, tried to do the same thing, but eventually called Ortega’s officiating “amateur hour,” and the USMNT had good reason to say so. 

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Fans were also enraged by what they witnessed with Ortega after the match. 

“Wow @CONMEBOL this is the man you picked to represent you. Zero class from this ref. Actions do speak louder than words,” one X user commented. 

Another added: “An absolute disgrace.”

Referee Kevin Ortega on field

Referee Kevin Ortega gestures during the CONMEBOL Copa America 2024 Group C match between the United States and Uruguay at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium on July 1, 2024 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Shaun Clark/Getty Images)

From the start of the match, the U.S. was the better team on the pitch, but fouls continuously occurred while they were on the offensive. Fox Sports analyst Stu Holden was heard saying during the broadcast that despite the fouls not seeming severe enough for a yellow card to be pulled out of Ortega’s pocket, he should do it soon because Uruguay was fouling on purpose to prevent a U.S. advantage toward the net. 

Later in the first half, Ortega’s worst officiating move of the night came on a challenge by U.S. defender Chris Richards, who tackled a Uruguay attacker, which was a clear foul. Ortega, though, believed the foul severe enough to take the yellow card out of his pocket. 

However, as that was going on, Uruguay quickly put the ball down and started to play it forward. While it is common for players to resume play quickly after common fouls, the yellow card pulled by Ortega meant a stoppage in play until he blew his whistle. 

However, Ortega let play continue on. U.S. defender Tim Ream had to miraculously stop a cross attempt from Uruguay that could have resulted in a goal, and because Ortega had play continued with a throw in after Ream’s kick was out of bounds, a goal likely would have stood. 

Everyone was furious with Ortega, who issued a yellow card earlier in the half to captain Tyler Adams despite his ankle getting stepped on while charging after the ball, leading to both players hitting the turf. 

There was also Uruguay’s lone goal of the night, when it appeared Matthias Olivera might have been slightly offsides. However, Ortega was not the one viewing the tape when he eventually called for the goal to stand. 

In the second half, the U.S. players were continuously jawing with Ortega, especially Pulisic, while the team was in desperation mode, needing a 2-1 win to advance to the knockout stage of Copa América. 

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In stoppage time, while attempting a shot, a Uruguay player appeared to hit Pulisic’s foot from behind. Though Pulisic did hit the ball first before that happened, he was furious, sprinting over to Ortega after his second chance shot flew over the net. Ortega barked back at Pulisic, who needed to be pushed away by teammate Ricardo Pepi so things did not escalate further. 

In the end, 12 fouls were called against each team, though the U.S. got two yellow cards called against them to Uruguay’s one. 

However, Ortega’s lack of class after the match enraged fans all over social media, who brought up calls for an investigation into whether Ortega was corrupt in the process. 

Ortega, a Peruvian referee, has been listed as an international referee for FIFA since 2019. However, controversy has surrounded him prior to this match, and it was something soccer fans pointed out before the first whistle blew.

Christian Pulisic yells at Kevin Ortega

Christian Pulisic, #10 of the United States, yells at referee Kevin Ortega during the second half against Uruguay at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium on July 1, 2024 in Kansas City, Missouri. (John Dorton/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

During the 2022 Copa Libertadores, he awarded a controversial penalty to Boca Juniors, leading to a victory over Club Always Ready. Bolivian police ended up searching Ortega’s referee booth after the game and found several Boca Junior shirts they had given him before the game. 

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Boca Juniors said that it was customary to give the gifts as a gesture to the referee, while Always Ready accused Ortega of favoring their opponent.

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