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Why did the referee not shake Christian Pulisic’s hand after USMNT defeat to Uruguay?




Questions are being asked after the United States Men’s National Team failed to progress from the 2024 Copa América group stage. Defeat against Uruguay on Monday night ended any lingering hopes of making it to the knockout phase of a home tournament that some thought could bring glory to the nation. But the damage had been done earlier.

Christian Pulisic desparate for the win.
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Christian Pulisic desparate for the win.MICHAEL REAVESAFP

Where it went wrong for the USMNT

Yes, confidence was high among the players and fans when the draw placed them in a group with Bolivia and Panama, along with the much more difficult side managed by Marcelo Bielsa. The top two teams would qualify and when captain Christian Pulisic scored early in the opener against Bolivia, a comfortable 2-0 win set them on their way. Then came the Panama disaster and coach Greg Berhalter’s future was already in doubt even before Mathias Olivera’s second-half goal put the nail in the Stars and Stripes coffin.

“We brought a lot of energy but, at the end of the day, not enough quality,” Pulisic said after the Game. “I don’t want to talk too much about the ref but it was frustrating.”

Frustration | Christian Pulisic
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Frustration | Christian PulisicJay BiggerstaffUSA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

What did Pulisic say to referee Ortega?

And there was clearly no love lost between the soccer’s Captain America and referee Kevin Ortega, leading to the Peruvian refusing to shake Pulisic’s hand after the final whistle. But why? Even in high-tempered Games across the globe, this rarely happens.

The reason is not 100% clear as neither Ortega, nor any other official, has yet spoken out about it. But there were signs throughout the match that these two men would not be sending each other Christmas cards come December. As can be seen in the photos, the rage of Pulisic’s aforementioned frustration was clear.

Uruguay's Luis Suárez and Mathias Olivera greet Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie after Copa América clash.
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Uruguay's Luis Suárez and Mathias Olivera greet Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie after Copa América clash.Jay BiggerstaffUSA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con

Another likely compounding factor was what happened just before the handshake refusal. As the US star made his way from congratulating his winning opponents to the officials, he appeared to beckon Ortega to go celebrate with Uruguay, hinting at that was the result he had wanted, and helped to achieve. If there’s one thing that can rile a referee, it’s any suggestion of unprofessionalism or bias.