Copa América: Christian Pulisic, USMNT blast referee after loss to Uruguay, curious 'offside goal'

There were plenty of questionable calls and moments in the U.S. men’s national team’s loss to Uruguay on Monday night

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Christian Pulisic saw things "that, truly, I can't believe." Antonee Robinson called the referee "awful" and "embarrassing." Gregg Berhalter, dumbfounded, shook his head.

"It's not why we lost," Pulisic said after the U.S. men's national team exited the 2024 Copa América in defeat Monday night, beaten 1-0 by Uruguay. "We're not out of this tournament because of officiating."

But USMNT players were furious with referee Kevin Ortega, and Berhalter was left stumped by a contentious video review that concluded, despite some publicly available evidence suggesting otherwise, that Uruguay's lone goal was onside.

Pulisic, the U.S. captain, was the most furious. He seemed to almost taunt Ortega and encourage the head ref to go celebrate with Uruguayan players on the field after the game.

Then, after Pulisic shook an assistant referee's hand, Ortega refused to follow suit. "Yeah, he wouldn't shake my hand," Pulisic confirmed postgame.

He and his teammates fumed about countless calls throughout a physical, full-blooded 90-minute match. But there were two that stood out.

One was the goal. In the 66th minute, Uruguay swung in a free kick. Ronald Araújo headed it toward goal. Matt Turner saved it. Mathías Olivera poked in the rebound. Initial replays seemed to show, though, that Olivera was offside by a few inches or a foot when Araújo met the initial ball — which would have negated the goal.

Berhalter and his staff saw still frames on the bench. "It's pretty crazy, really," he later said. "I don't understand it. I feel like I know the rule pretty well. ... And it's an offside goal. It's disappointing. It really is."

Late Monday night, CONMEBOL, the South American soccer confederation running the Copa América, released audio and video from inside its Video Assistant Referee (VAR) room. The footage provoked more questions than answers.

The VARs used virtual lines to conclude that Olivera's knee (or foot?) was "on the same line" as U.S. defender Chris Richards' left toes.

The process seemed remarkably imprecise — because, by current international soccer standards, it is. There is new semi-automated technology that can quickly and precisely determine whether a player was offside, no matter the margin; but CONMEBOL has not adopted that technology.

CONMEBOL, instead, uses a system that requires VARs to digitally and manually pinpoint the exact point on a player's body from which to draw the virtual lines.

Because those lines can be imprecise, and because it is also difficult to pinpoint the exact moment and frame at which a player kicks — or, in this case, heads — the ball, CONMEBOL gives benefit of the doubt to attacking players. If attacker's virtual line and the defender's line are touching, the attacker is considered level and onside.

So, Uruguay's goal was upheld.

The other moment, which Robinson called "embarrassing," occurred in the first half. Ortega called a foul on Richards — but then, as he pulled out his yellow card, he quickly brought it down and allowed Uruguay to play a quick free kick, which nearly yielded a goal.

Most U.S. players had halted, because yellow cards are supposed to require stoppages, and attacking teams are supposed to require the referee's permission to restart the game. But not in Ortega's book.

"The referee just clearly doesn't have a clue what he's doing, doesn't know how to control the game," Robinson said postgame. "Never seen a referee let a quick free kick go while he's got a yellow card in his hand. It's literally embarrassing. And hope something happens to him from that."

Pulisic was also in disbelief.

"Honestly, I mean, I saw things that I've never seen before, right in front of my eyes today, that truly I can't believe," he said postgame. "I mean ... I don't know what I'm looking at, I don't know what they're calling, he gives no explanation, he's doing things that I just can't — I can't accept."

Pulisic's frustration seemed to boil over in the final moments of the match. He was seen screaming at Ortega and following him around after not getting a call in stoppage time.

Speaking postgame, though, he and others wanted to be clear that refereeing was not the reason for their group-stage flameout.

"The referees and the linesmen, I don't see that as an excuse for us not winning the game," Robinson said. "I don't want to try and palm that off on someone else. On the night, even though we put the effort in, and we competed well, we still weren't good enough."

Christian Pulisc was seen getting into it with official Kevin Ortega repeatedly at Arrowhead Stadium on Monday night.
Christian Pulisc was seen getting into it with official Kevin Ortega repeatedly at Arrowhead Stadium on Monday night. (Shaun Clark/Getty Images)