Youth soccer player may be charged with homicide by assault

A soccer referee in Utah died because an irate 17-year-old player punched him in the head. Charges are pending. Photo:

LOS ANGELES, May 8, 2013 — In Utah this week, 46-year-old Ricardo Portillo died after being in a coma for a week. Late last month, Portillo, a passionate soccer fan and long-time referee, was doing what he loved most, officiating a soccer game, when he was attacked by an upset player. 

During the game, one of the goalies pushed a forward who was attempting to make a corner kick. Portillo gave the goalie a yellow card. A yellow card in soccer is a warning and tells players that future unsportsmanlike behavior will cause increased consequences. Receiving two yellow cards in a game means that a player is then given a red card and has to leave the field.

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According to reports, the goalie began arguing with Portillo about the yellow card and subsequently punched Portillo in the head. Like with many concussions, Portillo felt fine at first, but then became dizzy. By the time emergency services arrived, he was spitting blood and lying on the ground in a fetal position. He complained of head, neck, and back pain.

A short time after being taken to the hospital, Portillo slipped into a coma due to brain swelling. He never regained consciousness and died a week later.

Both the goalie and poor sportsmanship are clearly the culprits in this tragedy. The player’s unsportsmanlike actions during the game garnered him a yellow card. The player’s continued arguing with Portillo led him to physically attack the official.

Unfortunately, the goalie’s actions are not isolated. Across the country, in all youth and adult sports, there are issues with in-game behavior and attitudes.

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Pedro Lopez, Portillo’s brother-in-law who is also a soccer referee, told Fox News, “It’s not the ignorance of the child; it’s the poor manners of the parents. The yells and insults from the sideline from the parents make kids more violent.”

According to Lopez, this is a disturbing trend he has seen become increasingly problematic in the last few years. Read more:

Both Lopez and Portillo have been victims of game-related violence. According to Portillo’s daughter, Johana Portillo, her father suffered broken ribs and broken legs in the past, all at the hands of angry soccer players.

Though Johana and her sisters begged their father to quit refereeing, he could not give up his passion for the sport. Read more:

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While the Portillo family mourns the loss of their father and brother, Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill is contemplating charges against the teen goalie. His biggest challenge is to determine intent.

For murder charges to be filed, there must be evidence that the player intended to kill Portillo. For manslaughter, the player had to have reasonable knowledge that his actions could cause extreme harm.

Right now, the prosecutor’s office is looking most closely at “Homicide by Assault,” which, if the teen is charged in juvenile court, carries a sentence of less than five years in detention. 

Portillo’s family knows that no charge or sentence will bring their family member back. At a vigil held on Sunday, his family called on athletes, players, and fans around the world to keep their tempers under control so another family doesn’t have to suffer the way they are for a sport, a game that they all love.

CHILL Manager is a concept and company committed to exploring sportsmanship in the real world and helping players, parents, and fans understand the importance of fair play and respect. For more information, go to or contact Jenni McNamara at


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Jenni McNamara

With over ten years’ experience in the youth sports as a parent, coach, administrator, and fan, Jenni McNamara has seen how good sportsmanship can positively affect kids and families, but also how poor sportsmanship can have a devastating impact on their physical and emotional health.

As a volunteer with USLacrosse, first on its Youth Council and now on its Board Development Committee, Jenni has seen a national trend toward integrating sportsmanship into activities at the youngest ages. Her company, CHILL Manager ™, provides tools for organizations looking to enhance their sportsmanship efforts.

She writes a blog on sportsmanship at and her training information can be found on her website:


Contact Jenni McNamara


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