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PRO referee Hilario Grajeda has admitted his assignment to the MLS Cup is finally starting to sink in, now that the all-important match is over.
The Ohio-based official was blowing the whistle for the 24th time this season at Sporting Park, where Sporting Kansas City downed Real Salt Lake 7-6 in a penalty shootout, following a 1-1 draw over 120 minutes.
The match wasn't Grajeda's first taste of the MLS Cup - he has twice been assigned as 4th official, in 2011 and 2012 – but his previous experiences didn't lessen the occasion of being the center official.
Chico told proreferees.com: “I enjoyed it from the first whistle and now, after the match, I'm starting to realize the scale of my achievement - that I refereed the MLS Cup.
“Fewer than 20 people have done it so I’m very fortunate to be one of those.
“Prior to the match, the build-up was great, then I started getting nervous as we prepared to travel to the stadium.
“But, once we got out there, it was a great feeling. When I was blowing the whistle I was looking up to the stands, still thinking that I couldn’t believe I was there, refereeing the MLS Cup.”
Grajeda was kept busy during the 120 minutes of action in front of 21,650 passionate spectators, and handed out a modest five yellow cards, taking his season's tally to 68 – 2.8 per match.
The official insisted he maintained the same principles for the Cup that he has adopted throughout the campaign, including wearing the same short-sleeved shirt he has worn for every game, despite the cold Kansas City conditions.
Reflecting on the inaugural year under PRO, the 46-year-old believes the consistency behind the scenes has helped him have a successful season, but he will continue to take each assignment as it comes.
“The whole year wasn’t a rollercoaster like previous years. It was a steady climb, learning new things along the way.
“Perhaps not every game was great but I learned something from each and every official I worked alongside.
“I make the most of every assignment because I’m getting up there in age, I always think, ‘what if this is my last game?’
“That helped me enjoy every match and I can’t believe I’ve closed it with the MLS Cup.
“I’m going to take a little time off and go on holiday but then it’s back to business. Because I’m very competitive, I will go for a second MLS Cup assignment.”