US Crest

Referee Week In Review

Week 12 – ending June 15, 2008


The dynamics of soccer, the dynamics of a season and the week to week fluctuations in competition can easily be seen in comparing the past two weekends of MLS games.  Week 11 resulted in seven red cards being issued by referee teams.  Week 12, on the other hand, finished without a red card – seven games void of violent conduct or serious foul play that was recognized by the referee.  Yet, the games were competitive, hard fought, and were filled with many challenging decisions.  This dynamic illustrates the importance of officials preparing themselves to “expect the unexpected.”

As officials, we cannot take ourselves or the games for granted.  An official may be having a great season but it only takes one decision to turn a game into a tailspin.  Whether you are a referee or assistant referee (AR), you must not become complacent or let your guard down.  This dynamic is even more evident within a game.  Often times, referees venture into halftime confident and comfortable because the first 45 minutes were seemingly a “breeze.”  Then, as soon as the second half whistle is blown, that changes.  The dynamics of the teams and the game have changed as has the challenge facing the referee.  For this reason, it is critical that officials constantly adjust their tactics during the game just as teams adjust their tactics.  The referee who fails to adjust to the challenge will face game control and player management issues.

Having said this, officials should be proud of the overall season to date performances.  The product on the field has improved and the contributions of the refereeing team have played a significant factor in the increased entertainment value.  Continued focus on the themes that U.S. Soccer has presented thus far this year as well as a focus on self-improvement will play critical roles as the season progresses and game intensity increases.

  • 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.”


Use of the Ask, Tell, Remove Process

Bench decorum (behavior in the technical area) was very good this past week.  Fourth officials were seen positively engaging coaches utilizing the “Ask” step of the process introduced in last week’s “Referee Week In Review 11.”  Additionally, a position paper was released on June 12, 2008 entitled “2008 Fourth Official Guidelines.”  (Click on the link to access the paper)  As a refresher, the three step process for managing personnel in the technical area is:

  • 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.

These are the recommended steps from U.S. Soccer but they are not necessary if the behavior and conduct of personnel within the technical area requires immediate dismissal.

Fourth officials are taking a more proactive and positive approach to managing the technical areas.  As the intensity and emotion of bench personnel rises, officials are more consistently employing the “ASK” technique to fend off any potential escalation.

Finally, credit must go to officials as efforts to identify and deal with persistent infringement improved.  Increased awareness led to three cautions being issued for persistently infringing the Laws of the Game.  This is laudable as dealing with those players who persistently infringe the Laws of the Game has been a theme throughout the season.


Offside Decisions

Since the first few weeks of the MLS season, assistant referees (ARs) have fine tuned their decision making which has prompted many exciting attacking opportunities.  Utilization of the “WAIT and SEE” technique and giving the benefit of doubt to the attack has had a positive impact on the performance of ARs.  This week, there are two cases of offside decisions that will help refine our application of Law 11 – Offside.  In the first case, the AR provides us with a classic example of the “WAIT and SEE” technique that results in a player being declared offside but only after the player has “gained an advantage by being in that [offside] position.”  The second video clip provides us with the opportunity to observe an AR that should have shown more patience in his decision to declare an attacker offside and, therefore, denies an attacker the opportunity to go to goal.

Video Clip 1:  Chicago at Dallas (20:33 – second half)

This clip provides an excellent example of an AR who follows the guidelines set forth by U.S. Soccer relative to offside.  The AR applies the “WAIT and SEE” principle and exhibits patience in determining “involvement in active play.”  As the pass is made up the right flank, freeze the picture and take a mental snapshot of the position of the furthest attacking players – the players who have an opportunity to play the ball.  This is the same snapshot the AR must take as the ball is played by an attacker some 30 yards away.  Taking this picture is not easy as the AR must use his peripheral vision due to the distance from which the pass is made and the varying location of the two attackers who have the opportunity to play the ball.  Due to the counter attack style of many MLS teams, ARs must always be prepared for the long ball out of the defensive half of the field.

Notice how the wing attacker, as the ball is struck by his teammate, starts his run in his own half of the field (therefore he is not in an offside position).  However, ARs must also read that the center attacker making his diagonal run from an offside position and, if he becomes involved in active play, must be declared offside.  From the time the pass is made to the time the AR raises his flag for offside is approximately four seconds, a long time but an appropriate amount of time given this is the time needed for the AR to determine that the center attacker will:

  • Interfere with play

In other words, play or touch the ball passed by a teammate.  Remember, the pass does not have to be intended for the offside player who eventually plays/touches the ball.

  • Become the only player who has the opportunity to play the ball

Once it becomes clear that the only player who can play the ball is the player in the offside position, the AR will flag for offside even if he has not touched the ball.

Despite the fact that the ARs run and late flag look awkward, as he does in this case, the AR should continue sprinting with play until he is certain the offside player interferes with play.  Then, as soon as the AR determines the offside conditions exist, he should stop his run and raise the flag.  Remember, if there is any potential for a collision with the goalkeeper or other opponent, the AR needs to indicate the offside sooner thereby preventing a dangerous situation from arising.  If the ball were to go directly to the goalkeeper and there was no challenge by an attacker, the AR can keep the flag down and allow play to continue.

Video Clip 2:  Real Salt Lake at Chivas USA (20:03)

Clip 2 shows where giving the benefit of doubt to attacking play was not applied.  Again, there is a common theme:  a quick release from the defensive third or half initiating a counter attack and a long distance between the player in the offside position and the location of the ball.  An additional element is involved in this clip:  an onside attacking teammate “dummies” the ball (lets it run by him but never plays or touches it) prior to the streaking attacker receiving it.  At the time of the “dummy,” the streaking attacker is now in an offside position (but not at the time of the original pass).  The freeze frame view shows that the attacker – who has been declared offside – is actually onside at the time the ball is passed by his teammate from the defensive half of the field.  In cases like this, the AR must read the game and follow the flight of the ball and ask:  “Did the ball change direction as it passes the player who dummies it?”

In this clip, there are two possible officiating outcomes:

  • Doubt on the part of the AR as to whether the ball was “dummied” or touched by the attacking teammate

If the AR is uncertain as to whether the additional attacker “dummies” the ball or touches it, the AR must then determine whether the flight of the ball has changed as a result of contact by the attacker.  If the AR is still uncertain, benefit of the doubt must go to the attack and the AR should continue with play.  In the event a goal is scored directly from this situation, the AR should stand at attention at the corner flag instead of running up field to indicate a goal.  Seeing the AR at attention, the referee would then approach the AR and the AR would advise the referee that he is uncertain as to whether the ball was touched by the attacker.  The referee would then make a decision based upon his perspective.

  • The AR is certain the ball was NOT “dummied” and contact was made by the attacker

After ascertaining whether the ball changed direction in flight, if the AR is still certain that the ball was played/touched by a teammate, then the AR would raise the flag.  The referee would then be required to make a decision as to whether the teammate played/touched the ball which would then initiate a new phase of play.  If the referee feels that the ball was not played/touched, then he would overrule the AR by a quick acknowledgment or “wave down.”  In viewing this clip, the referee is not in an optimal position to see position of the center forward at the time the ball is played nor is he in an optimal position to see whether the ball is actually played/touched but the attacker.  In cases like this, referees should attempt to get a wider position thereby giving them a broader perspective of the play and the associated phases of the play.

Persistent Infringement of the Laws

Sensitivity on the part of referees in identifying players who repeatedly infringe the Laws of the Game can go a long way in promoting flow and ensuring the safety of the players.  As discussed in prior “Week In Reviews,” referees must fill their mental databank with information regarding players who repeatedly commit fouls in a game, the time span between the fouls, and the intended target (the skillful or technical player, the player who manages the tempo and initiates the attack) of the fouls.  Three cautions were issued in week 12 for persistent infringement. Below, we will examine one game in which the referee clearly identified a player’s actions as persistently infringing the Laws of the Game and another case in which the referee’s mental databank should have recognized the repeated fouls committed by a player.

Video Clip 3:  Chicago at FC Dallas (25:44)

The game is in the 26th minute.  A player commits a hard foul in midfield which the referee calls.  Although the clip does not fully show the referee’s action, he uses personality to call the player over and his player management skills to send an appropriate message to the player that he needs to modify his behavior.  The action, on the part of the referee, “sets the table” for the next foul by the defender (what is not shown is the same player committed a previous foul at 22 minutes). Approximately 1:40 later, the same defender commits another foul that takes away an attacking play by preventing the attacker from getting around the corner and into the penalty area.  Having just warned the defender about his questionable play, the referee now issues a yellow card for persistently infringing the Laws of the Game.  This is excellent execution on the part of the referee because he “drew his line in the sand” on the first foul by positively imposing his personality on the game by warning the defender.  Remember, there is no set number of fouls necessary to define persistent infringement.  In this case, it was the time span between fouls and the severity of the two fouls that led to the yellow card.  The referee used his databank recalling the same player committed fouls at 22 and 26 minutes and a third foul at 28 minutes.  

Video Clip 4:  New England at Houston (53:03)

In this clip, a player enters the match at halftime.  Then, in a span of 34 minutes is involved in three questionable plays – two of which are potentially cautionable on their own.  After the first foul, at 53:05, the referee exhibits his displeasure with the player’s actions.  Approximately six minutes later, the same player goes in for an aerial challenge that the referee determines is fair.  But, remember, the referee’s mental databank needs to register the players involved in hard challenges.  Finally, some 34 minutes after the initial hard challenge, the player commits another careless (even potentially reckless on its own) foul from behind where there is no opportunity to play the ball.  At this point, the referee must be able to recognize that the player is persistently infringing the Laws of the Game and caution him.

100% Misconduct:  Definite Cautionable Offenses

In order to help foster consistency in the application of the Laws, we periodically examine fouls that require that the referee caution or send off a player for misconduct.  This past week provided some excellent examples that should resonate with officials as containing the factors that make the foul a must for a yellow card.

Video Clip 5:  Real Salt Lake at Chivas USA (25:14)

This is a reckless foul where the defender kicks the opponent in the trail leg after the ball is gone.  Keys to identification:  ball is gone, contact with the trail leg/foot, and stops the attacker from progressing into open space (the attacking third of the field) with the ball.

Video Clip 6:  Chicago at Dallas (1:24 – second half)

Another reckless foul committed with complete disregard of the danger to the opponent.  Keys to identification:  the tackle is committed from behind, the only way for the defender to play the ball would be after contact with the attacker, the bent/trail leg is what makes contact with the attacker, the distance of the tackle is short and the lead foot (exposed cleats) is not making contact with the opponent.  Should the lead foot and cleats make contact with the back of the attacker’s leg/foot, the referee would be justified in considering a red card for serious foul play as the challenge would be defined as “using excessive force” because the tackle could now potentially injure the opponent.  Because the player is injured, the referee waits for him to get up and then issues the yellow card.

Video Clip 7:  Colorado at Toronto (28:12)

A caution is required in this situation given, amongst other criteria, the danger facing the attacker.  The defender has no regard for the safety of the opponent as he initiates a reckless upper body challenge.  This challenge is similar to others provided in prior “Referee Week In Reviews” in which cautions were required.  Keys to identification:  the proximity to the sign boards and cement pavement (increases the likelihood of injury), the speed at which the body charge is initiated, the extension of the forearm to make contact, the “lining up” of the player by the defender just prior to the foul and the fact that if the defender does not foul the attacker, the attacker and the ball will be behind him headed to goal.  Hence, a foul and caution is required as the defender’s action has to be considered as breaking down a promising attack.  Note, the AR can also provide assistance to the referee if he has electronic flags and has a good view of the situation as contact is made.  By beeping the referee, the AR would be sending a signal that he has seen a foul.  The AR can also provide a “silent signal” that the foul is worthy of a caution by patting his breast pocket indicating his opinion that the foul involves misconduct.

Cautions and Fouls Not Necessary

Not only do we have 100% cautionable offenses, there are also examples of fouls or cautions in which the game does not need for reasons of flow, the trifling/minor nature of the offense, or just misinterpretation by an official.

Video Clip 8:  Galaxy at San Jose (61:54)

The referee issues a caution for unsporting behavior – late charge on the goalkeeper.  The question facing the referee is:  “Is this a foul and, if so, is it careless or reckless?”  When watching the clip, focus your attention on the attacker’s actions and the response of the goalkeeper.  In watching the attacker, he can be seen slowing his run down as he sees the goalkeeper will win the ball.  So, contact is made but at minimal speed.  Second, watch how the attacker attempts to jump over the goalkeeper to avoid contact signaling his intent to avoid the goalkeeper.  Now, watch the goalkeeper and decide if the minimal contact with the attacker results from the goalkeeper extending his body to his left to catch the ball.  In this case, the game nor the player needed a caution.  This foul cannot be considered “reckless” (cautionable) – the attacker would need to act with complete disregard of the danger to, or consequences for, his opponent.  The foul is, at best, “careless” in nature meaning that “the player has shown a lack of attention or consideration when making a challenge or that he acted without precaution.”  Referees must quickly recognize the actions of the player and whether that action can be construed as meeting the criteria for a foul.

Video Clip 9:  Colorado at Toronto (24:05)

This clip presents a case in which a handling is called that will result in a free kick being taken just over 18 yards from goal in the danger zone.  The goalkeeper attempts to gather a ball but mishandles it and it skirts out to the top of the penalty area.  The referee, in this clip, awards the attacking team with a free kick as he judges that the goalkeeper handled the ball outside the penalty area boundary line.  A caution is also issued to the goalkeeper for unsporting behavior.  The foul call then leads to a dangerous free kick and potential encroachment.

In reviewing the tape, it is not clear that there is a handling offense.  It is certainly not clear enough to award a free kick approximately 18 yards from goal.  To make such a call, the referee and/or AR must be certain and positioned so as to have a clear view of the offense (position of the ball relative to the penalty area line at the exact time contact is made with the goalkeeper’s hands).  The resulting yellow card would also have been avoided.

Key learning points:

  • Ball on the line

According to Law 1 – The Field of Play, the “lines belong to the areas of which they are boundaries.”  Given this, the ball will be considered to be inside the penalty area if any part of the ball is crossing the plane of the boundary line.  Consequently, the goalkeeper may legally handle the ball as long as any part of the ball is crossing the penalty area line whether on the ground or in the air.

  • Goalkeeper position

The position of the goalkeeper’s body plays no role in determining the handling offense.  The position of the ball relative to the penalty area markings when it is touched by the goalkeeper’s hands is the determining factor in deciding if a handling offence occurred.  The goalkeeper’s entire body can be outside the penalty area.  A handling offense occurs at the time the goalkeeper’s hand(s) contact the ball while the ball is fully outside the penalty area boundary line.

  • The referee must be better positioned

To make the call, the referee is not strategically positioned to have a clear view of where the ball was when it was touched by the goalkeeper’s hand(s).  A wider and closer view would make the decision more convincing.  Watch at 24:10 on the game clock as the referee stops his run to the penalty area (possibly anticipating that the goalkeeper will cleanly control the ball which does not occur) causing him to be further from the decision.

  • AR involvement

The official best positioned to make a determination as to whether the ball was handled outside the penalty area is the AR.  But, like the referee, the AR must be certain of the handling offense before intervening.  If the AR intervenes it should be with a raised flag with a slight wiggle.

  • The free kick

It is difficult to ascertain whether players break from the wall prior to the first movement of the ball on the free kick.  If the referee is of the opinion the players moved forward and within ten yards of the ball prior to the first pass, the referee would be justified in awarding a retake of the free kick for encroachment.


Tackles From Behind

Referees are being asked to work diligently to prevent and identify tackles from behind.  Week 12 saw seven cautions issued for reckless fouls from behind.  Often times, the fouls result because a quick attacker has beaten a slower defender and the defender is playing “catch up.”  Referees should identify opportunities to positively send a message that tackles from behind will not be permitted in the game.  This should be done early in the match.  Use personality to prevent the next foul and influence outcomes by “drawing your line in the sand” through the actions (visual and verbal) you take to address the tackle from behind.