US Crest

Referee Week In Review

Week 11 – ending June 8, 2008


Week 11 was a busy one for referees and assistant referees (ARs).  Seven red cards were handed out.  Like the weather, the games and intensity level of the players are heating up.  The result was a number of highly competitive games with many critical decisions to be made on the part of refereeing teams.  Statistically, last week’s games presented the following numbers:

  • Seven red cards

Four of the red cards were for violent conduct – specifically actions of two opponents against each other.  One send off was for serious foul play while two were for receiving a second caution in the same match.  ALL DECISIONS STAND UP TO REVIEW.

  • 4.43 yellow cards per game

There was an increase in the number of cautions issued from 4.43 to May’s average of 3.47.  The number of yellow cards displayed by the referee ranged from two (two games) to seven (two games).

  • 25 fouls called per game

Despite the high number of cautions and send offs, the foul count remained at a consistently low level.

As we will see below, ARs and fourth officials were called upon to provide information to the referee who was unable to see in some critical situations.  There were many outstanding examples of team work leading to officials making decisions that sent the message that player safety is paramount and violence will not be tolerated.

There were two other very positive notes this past week relating to referee development and identification.  First, U.S. Soccer held its first “Professional Referee Development Camp” in conjunction with the Development Academy and the USA vs. Argentina match in Newark, NJ.  Over a three day period, eight identified National Referees and Candidates refereed U.S. Soccer Development Academy games and went through extensive training relative to the requirements of the pro game.

Secondly, a National Referee who was identified during the recent U.S. Soccer Development Academy Showcase in Rockford, IL received his first professional game assignment refereeing the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup match between the Kansas City Wizards and the Colorado Rapids.  As a result of his performance in this game, this official will undoubtedly receive future opportunities to prove his abilities and his next assignment will be as a fourth official on a regular season MLS game.

Finally, this past weekend marked the opening of Euro 2008 hosted jointly by Austria and Switzerland.  Like most tournaments and championships, the games are filled with exciting moments and moments of controversy.  Below, we will examine one of the moments of controversy relating to an offside decision in the Italy – Holland match.

  • On the web page, you can listen to weekly podcasts highlighting the main issues from the “Referee Week in Review” document.  On the homepage, look mid page for the tab that says “Podcasts.”


Mass Confrontation and Persistent Infringement Against a Specific Opponent

Although mass confrontation was not an issue this week, referees did recognize and deal with the trend of persistent infringement.  Two cautions were given for persistent infringement.  On a related note, on two occasions referees did not back away from sending a player off for a second cautionable offense.  As discussed last week, referees were able to pull information they stored in their mental databank to correctly identify persistent infringers and recall players that had previously been cautioned in the match.  This stored information gave the referees the confidence to make the correct decision.


Assistant Referee Involvement:  Fouls and Misconduct

There were two excellent examples of ARs involving themselves at the appropriate time in critical game situations.  In both instances, the AR had a clear line of vision to the incident, was positioned correctly, and determined that the referee could not see the infraction as well as the associated misconduct.

In “Referee Week In Review 8,” (Click on the link to access) the subject of AR involvement was discussed in detail.  It takes a skilled AR to make the determination as to whether his participation or input is required at that moment in the game – especially when the participation or input will lead to misconduct or a penalty kick.  For this reason, the AR must be secure in his decision and have the conviction to provide the appropriate information to the referee following the prescribed mechanics.

The following questions were introduced in the “Referee Week In Review 8” as a guide to assist ARs with the decision making process related to raising the flag:

  • Does the referee have a clear view of the incident?

Was the infraction such that the referee can clearly see the play and make the decision?  Where is the referee positioned?  Is he close enough to the play to make the decision on his own?  If you answer, “no, the referee did not see it” then you can consider the next question.

  • Did I clearly see the infraction?

If there is any doubt as to what you saw, leave the decision to the referee unless the referee looks to you for assistance because he also senses there is an issue.  If this is the case, then you need to balance your participation based upon your “gut” feeling and how committed you are to the other questions you must answer.

Simply put, ask yourself:  “If I raise the flag, do I interfere with the referee, and if I don’t raise the flag, do I fail the game?”


As you review the two video clips that follow, ask yourself the questions provided above and then decide if the AR answered the question appropriately and, thus, if their participation was justified.

Video Clip 1:  San Jose at Columbus (65:35)

After the referee awards a free kick, the attacking team takes a quick free kick and serves the ball to the near post.  As the forward runs on to the ball, he realizes that the only way he can get to the ball is by cheating; hence, he sticks his left hand out and subtly redirects the ball into the goal using his hand. This is a difficult decision for the referee as the attacker’s body disguises the handling of the ball.  However, the AR has an unimpeded view.  Although the clip does not show it, the AR raises his flag to inform the referee of the attacker’s handling of the ball.  The referee, having sensed the infraction, stops play and correctly disallows the goal.  If the AR failed to raise the flag on this decision, he would have “failed the game.”  Following the bullet points above, the AR determined that the referee did not see the foul yet he (the AR) clearly saw the infraction.  Consequently, the referee team got the decision correct.  Notice that the referee also cautions the supposed goal scorer for unsporting behavior – his attempt to cheat the game, deceive the referee, and score a goal with his hand.

Video Clip 2:  Dallas at New England (21:00)

Clip 2 provides another example of AR involvement at the appropriate time.  Early in the match (21st minute) the ball is passed to the far post where an attacker heads the ball to goal and the goalkeeper makes a diving save.  As you watch the clip, focus on the near post runners.  Especially on corner kicks, it is easy for the referee to concentrate too much of his focus on merely where the ball will land instead of having a wider angle of vision.  In this case, the referee is positioned too far to the middle of the penalty area.  Consequently, as the ball comes into the box, he must turn his attention to the far post which is a more narrow view of the overall picture.

U.S. Soccer recommends a wider position.  If the referee were positioned wider at the top of the penalty area and outside of the penalty arc, as the corner kick came in, he would not have to turn his body and sight to the far post.  A wider position gives him the ability to clearly see all the players as they start their runs and as they finish their runs.  Also, a wider start by the referee enables him to see the near post and far post play simultaneously.

Despite the referee’s position, the AR does have a clear view.  There are no players between him and the corner of the goal box where the infraction occurs.  Clearly seeing the foul and noting that the referee has failed to react to the action of the players, the AR makes the correct decision to become involved for the good of the game.  The AR signals a foul by raising the flag and giving it a slight wiggle.  Thereafter, he communicates to the referee that the foul he has called is a penalty kick by holding the flag across his waist in a manner that mimics the substitution signal (note, the signal across the waist could have been quicker).  The new, approved signal for penalty kicks was introduced May 14, 2008 in a memo entitled, “Revised Procedures and Guidelines.” The referee uses good mechanics as he consults with the AR:  facing the field and facing potential hot spots.

The AR clearly communicates what he has observed and the recommended actions:  penalty kick and yellow card.  The process is accomplished quickly with little down time thereby helping to diffuse any potential player conflicts.  This correct decision results in a penalty kick which is ultimately the winning goal.

Violent Conduct:  Initiation and Retaliation

There were two situations, in separate games, involving violent conduct between opposing players.  Normally, violent conduct between two opponents requires a player to initiate the action and, then, a player who responds to the initial action by way of some calculated retaliation.  Often times, the initial action is much more subtle or disguised and, therefore, more difficult to identify.  Retaliation usually comes after some sort of prior commotion where everyone’s attention is already drawn to the players and usually retaliation comes with greater force.  As a result, retaliation is normally more visible and easier for the referee team to identify.  For these reasons, referees, ARs, and fourth officials must be certain to identify and deal with the originator as well as the retaliator.

  • Identification and Prevention

Failure to handout the appropriate misconduct to the individual initiating the actions will result in increased frustration levels among the players and possible further retaliation as the game progresses.  In order to help identify instigators, it is critical that some of the game officials keep their eye on play after the ball has left the area.  Leave the next phase of play and following the ball to the referee and the lead AR.  The trailing AR and fourth official should “cover the referee’s back” by keeping their focus on the action that might occur off the ball.

Video Clip 3:  Colorado at Galaxy (42:50)

Although this clip is shown under the heading of violent conduct, it also is a fantastic exhibit of team work to ensure the call is correct.  Watch as the player on the ground initiates contact with the opponent by kicking him.  The opposing player then retaliates by kicking back at the player on the ground.  The referee immediately indicates a red card for violent conduct to the player who retaliates.  This swift action on the part of referee prevents escalation and further actions by opponents towards the retaliator. 

While the initiator is on the ground injured, the trail AR moves onto the field (this is not pictured).  The trail AR and the referee confer and the referee decides the player on the ground will also be sent off for violent conduct.  However, the referee delays showing the red card to the injured player because he is on the ground and standard practice has been to refrain from cautioning or sending off a player who is injured and on the ground.

In cases, however, where the potential for further escalation and misconduct exists on the part of the players, the referee should consider actions that make it clear that the injured player is also being sent off.  U.S. Soccer recommends either displaying the red card immediately or pulling the red card out and holding it at your side so that there is a visible signal that the injured player is also being dealt with.  Depending upon the referee’s read of the game, the referee may consider showing the red card in the air and indicating that the injured player has been sent off.  This procedure should be used when the potential for escalation is high and a quick message must be sent that official action is being administered. 

Video Clip 4:  DC United at Chicago (54:00)

Once again, violent conduct on the part of two opponents and teamwork are the theme.  In this case, the fourth official is able to communicate the actions of the two players to the referee in order to enable the referee to take the appropriate action and send the two players off.  In a situation like the one displayed in this clip, the fourth official must be certain of what he observed.  This is especially important given the distance between the fourth official and the actions taking place.

In both situations above, when the referee is seeking information from one of his fellow officials, the official who witnessed the actions should follow the following steps:

  • Get the referee’s attention

At the appropriate moment, get the referee’s attention by either raising your flag (for ARs) and/or by verbally calling for the referee.  The fourth official may need to move toward the nearest AR and ask for assistance in getting the referee’s attention by having the flag raised.  During this time, the AR and the fourth can consult and exchange information about what each has seen.  Note:  the severity of the offense(s) should guide officials in determining how quickly the referee must be notified.  It is recommended that for any intervention requiring a red card the referee be notified immediately and the game be stopped immediately.  In instances in which a yellow card(s) will be issued, depending upon the severity, it may be acceptable to get the referee’s attention at the next stoppage.

  • Face the field and the action

Once the referee approaches the other official, every effort should be made for the two to face the field and the players thereby putting themselves in a position to see any further action on the part of the players.  In some cases, the exchange may take place on the field because one of the officials has had to enter the field to provide game control assistance.

  • Separate from the players

As the officials confer, they should make every attempt to separate themselves from the players and coaches so that an uninterrupted exchange of information can take place.  In other words, find a neutral spot where you are not under the pressure of the players and coaches to make a decision.

  • Provide information

The official(s) who observed the actions should specifically tell the referee what they saw including the player’s number, the player’s team, and the specific actions they observed.  This exchange should be short but distinct.  The official should provide a recommendation to the referee, using the specifics of the Laws of the Game, as to whether a red card or yellow card should be issued.  As information is exchanged, try to refrain from pointing at players.

  • Take action

Based upon the information provided and their own perspective of the situation, the referee should then take action by administering the appropriate form of misconduct.

Offside:  Defender Off the Field

By now, many of you have seen and/or heard about the controversial goal in the Holland vs. Italy match in Euro 2008 this past week.  Despite its controversy, the referee team was correct in allowing the goal and in their interpretation of Law 11, Offside.  Below, we will review the decision and explain why many announcers were doing the game a disservice by providing incorrect information to the fans.

  • The Situation

During a free kick by the Dutch team, the Italian goalkeeperpushes his own defender out of the way and off the field, where the defender and a Dutch attacker are both down.  The Dutch attacker rises quickly and returns to the field.  The Italian defender,remains off the field.  The ball is played away from the goal and is kicked backto a Dutch player who has the Italian goalkeeper between himself and the goal line and the Italian defender lying on the ground outside the field.   The ball is crossed and redirected into the goal by the attacker.

Video Clip 5:  Holland vs. Italy (25:17)

Review the video clip and ensure you clearly see the situation as it develops.  At the end of the clip, there is a better graphical display of the position of the players.  Then, ask yourself the question that follows below.

  • The Question

Should the Dutch attacker who scored the goal have been called offside?  He had only one opponent between himself and the goal line.  There was an opponent lying on the ground just across the goal line.

  • Clarification

If a defending player deliberately steps behind his own goal line in order to place an opponent in an offside position, the referee shall allow play to continue and caution the defender for deliberately leaving the field of play without the referee's permission when the ball is next out of play.  That did not happen in this situation.

However, in this case the defender left the field of play as a result of being pushed aside by his goalkeeper.  Players in either of these situations – whether they left the field during the course of play or stepped off to place an opponent in an offside position – are considered to be part of the game and thus accountable when determining offside position by their opponents.  The only difference is how these players would be treated from a disciplinary point of view (no yellow card was warranted in this case).

  • Summary

There were two Italian defenders to be calculated into the equation, the goalkeeper and the player on the ground just outside the goal line.  The referee's interpretation that the player off the field of play was still involved in the game was correct.

If this interpretation did not exist, then defending players would use the tactic of deliberately stepping off the field of play to put their opponents in an offside position and that is both unacceptable and counter to the Spirit of the Laws of the Game.  Unless a player has the permission of the referee to be off the field (in the case of an injury), they are considered to be on it, involved in active play, and deemed to be part of the game.

The Law was applied correctly and the Dutch attacker was not in an offside position when his teammate passed the ball.  Hence, the referee was correct in allowing the goal to be scored.

The situation above raises many related questions regarding offside and defending players leaving the field.  The following examines a few of these common questions and scenarios.

  • Different Scenarios

1.            The Italian defender left the field deliberately to place the Dutch attacker in an offside position

Play would continue and the defender would be cautioned at the next stoppage of play for leaving the field of play without the referee's permission.

Video Clip 6:  Colorado at Kansas City – 2001

This video clip provides a visual example of scenario 1 above in which a defender deliberately attempts to leave the field of play to place an opponent in an offside position.  In this case, the defender would not be cautioned because he is not all the way off the field at the time the ball is played by the attacker.  If he were fully off the field at the time of the initial shot/pass to goal, the referee would be required to caution the defender for leaving the field of play without the referee's permission.  For further explanation of the events in this clip, referee to U.S. Soccer’s August 23, 2001 position paper entitled, “Offside and Misconduct by a Defender.” (Click on the link to access the paper)

2.            The Dutch attacker pushed the Italian defender thereby forcing him off the field of play

Play would be stopped for the foul committed by the Dutch attacker against the Italian defender.  The restart would be a direct free kick for the defending team from the place of the infringement, keeping in mind the special circumstances involving offenses within the goal area.

3.            While off the field of play, the Dutch attacker, as he was getting up after having fallen, held down the Italian defender

Play would be stopped; the Dutch attacker would be cautioned for unsporting behavior and the game would be restarted with a dropped ball at the place where the ball was when play was stopped.

4.            While off the field of play, the Italian defender held down the Dutch attacker

The referee would invoke the advantage and play would continue.  At the next stoppage the referee would caution the Italian attacker for unsporting behavior.

5.            The Italian defender is clearly injured and off the field of play

The referee makes a decision that the defender is seriously injured and cannot return to play by himself.  Once the referee has acknowledged the seriousness of the injury, the player may not participate in the play and must not be considered to be in active play (at this point, he would not be considered in determining offside position and should not be considered in the equation as either the first or second last opponent).  For purposes of Law 11, the defender is considered to be on the goal line for calculating offside position.  This player, however, may not return to play without the referee’s permission.  Remember, the referee is instructed in Law 5 to stop the game only for serious injury.

  • Other References

U.S. Soccer has published “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game.”  Within this publication, refer to sections:  11.8, 11.9, 11.10, and 11.11. 

The Fourth Official and Bench Decorum

Prior “Referee Week In Reviews” have covered the subject of acceptable versus irresponsible behavior in the technical area and U.S. Soccer recommendations regarding proactive and preventative actions on the part of officials have been discussed.  It is highly recommended that the following steps (Ask, Tell, Remove) be incorporated into the interaction with personnel in the technical area:

  • Ask

If a situation arises where there is irresponsible behavior, you are to ASK the person(s) to stop.

  • Tell

If there is another occurrence where there is irresponsible behavior, you are to inform that person that the behavior is not permissible and TELL them to stop.

  • Remove

If the non-accepted actions continue, you must REMOVE that person immediately.

Note:  the above steps do not prohibit a referee from having someone removed immediately if the improper behavior is excessive.  On June 12, 2008, U.S. Soccer issued a position paper, “2008 Fourth Official Guidelines” providing further details of the processes noted here.  (Click on the link to access)  Special thanks go to the Canadian Soccer Association and Joe Guest for their contributions to this document.

Fan Invasion and Obscene Gestures by Players

Due to the close proximity of spectators to the fields, there has been a recent trend of fans invading the field and there also exists the possibility of players reacting to comments made by spectators.  In the case of a spectator entering the field, referees and players must be aware that players may be held accountable for their actions and any acts of violence toward a spectator may be handled as violent conduct and, therefore, result in a red card.  Remember, according to U.S. Soccer’s “Advise to Referees on the Laws of the Game,” violent conduct includes:

 “. . . aggression towards any other person (a teammate, the referee, an assistant referee, a spectator, etc.).  The ball can be in or out of play.  The aggression can occur either on or off the field of play.”

Referees must be able to distinguish between players reasonably protecting themselves versus players who use excessive force, aggression, and extreme measures towards the spectator.

Referees must also be aware of players using obscene gestures towards spectators.  This is particularly an issue as new stadiums place spectators very close to the action on the field.  Consequently, comments by fans can be readily heard by players.  Gestures by players, towards spectators, that are obscene must be dealt with as “using offensive, or insulting or abusive language and/or gestures” and, therefore, as a red card offense.

Hydration, Nutrition, and Fitness

Several weeks ago, the subject of the changing climate was addressed as was the need for officials to ensure their training methods and game preparation (fitness and nutrition) were modified to meet the demands of the summer months.  The need to continue to focus on these factors is evident in performances – especially when the impact of artificial surfaces is taken into consideration.  Begin your nutrition and hydration schedule well in advance of your assignments.


Use of the Ask, Tell, Remove Process

Regarding bench decorum and behavior, referee teams are being asked to continue to focus on the “Ask, Tell, Remove” process noted above and sent to officials working MLS games.  Additionally, as previously directed, utilization of pre game and half time preventative measures is highly recommended.  Remember, in a positive manner, place the burden of proper behavior and behavior modification on the bench personnel in question.