US Crest

Referee Week In Review

Week 13 – ending June 22, 2008


This past week was very active, not only referees but for assistant referees (ARs).  Despite temperatures on the field averaging 87 degrees for Saturday’s and Sunday’s matches, referee teams were called upon to be more involved in the games. The foul count was up slightly to an average of 27.1 whistled per game.  ARs were also required to make more offside decisions. During Week 13, ARs raised their flag an average of 4.4 times per game for offside. There were eight offside decisions in one game and seven in another. Although temperatures on the field are on the rise, the game intensity is not decreasing as illustrated by the increase in fouls and the large number of offside decisions.

Week 13 saw three referees work their first MLS regular season game.  These officials had their first taste of the speed in MLS, as well as the speed and frequency of decisions that accompany the top professional game.  As a consequence, the adjustment and transition to this level is not easy, and referees struggle if they are not mentally and physically prepared and do not demonstrate a “feel” for the MLS game.  This was the case in one of the matches.  The referee struggled to reach the intensity level (in terms of speed of play, frequency of decision making and clearness of thought) and he struggled to demonstrate a “feel” for on-the-field challenges. Officials who fail to meet these challenges will be tracked in other top level games until they can consistently exhibit the qualities needed to succeed at the MLS level.  Referees are accountable for their performances at all levels of competition.

  • 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.”


Tackles From Behind

A week ago, there were seven cautions issued for tackles from behind as compared to four from the week just concluded.  For the most part, referees took preventative measures early in the game by setting the tone through personality and communication with players to explain reckless tackles from behind that could endanger the safety of the opponent would not be tolerated. The following clips are examples of where the referee failed to recognize the nature of the tackle from behind and, therefore, failed to sanction the player with an appropriate yellow card.

Video Clip 1:  New York at New England (2:07)

As this clip begins, note the time – only 2:07 into the game.  Ask yourself, “What is going through the referee’s mind at this early stage of the game?”  It is the opening moments of the game but this should not deter the referee from taking appropriate action.  In prior “Weeks In Review,” the message was clearly sent that players should not feel that the first foul of the game is “free.”  In other words, just because the game is in the early stages, the referee must not hesitate to deal with fouls that are 100 percent misconduct.  This tackle from behind is such a foul and must be dealt with as such by the referee. 

The foul is directly from behind and committed in a reckless manner.  Additionally, there is no chance for the defender to play the ball as he must go through the attacker’s legs and body to even attempt to make contact with the ball.  This is the perfect opportunity for the referee to set an early tone and put earn control of the game.

As a general comment, referees need to set the tone early in the game.  Setting the tone does not have to be with a caution – it can be done by imparting personality early on.  Consider the following strategy:  Make the first hard (non-cautionable) foul seem larger than it really is.  In other words, make your presence known in a visual and verbal manner that positively communicates to all participants that the referee will be directing today’s orchestra.

Video Clip 2:  Columbus at Galaxy (31:22)

This is a tackle that is complicated by the fact that the player executing the tackle is one caution away from a MLS-enforced one game suspension for the accumulation of too many yellow cards.  Prior to the game, the referee is aware of this situation and, unfortunately, allows this knowledge to influence his decision not to issue a yellow card for a tackle from behind that is also tactical in nature.  This foul is not a borderline cautionable offense where the referee can use discretion.  The foul must be cautioned as unsporting behavior.

As you view the clip, ask yourself the following two questions:

1.      Is the foul reckless?

      The foul is committed in total disregard to the player’s safety and it is made after the ball has passed the defender, thereby making it impossible for the defender to cleanly make a play on the ball.

2.      Is the foul tactical?

      “Week In Review 7” provided characteristics officials can apply when evaluating a foul to determine if it is tactical and, thus, should be cautioned for unsporting behavior.  (Click on this link to access “Week In Review 7” for a detailed list of tactical foul characteristics)  As the play progresses, the defending player’s intent is obvious: prevent the ball and the attacker from advancing because he is beat and the result will be an attacking opportunity at goal.

Due to the fact that the foul is both reckless and tactical, the referee has no choice but to caution the defender for unsporting behavior.  Knowing that the player is one caution away from suspension should not factor into the referee’s responsibility to the game.


Red Card Offenses

The following clips provide examples of two forms of red cards: violent conduct and serious foul play.  In each case, the referee identified the violent and serious nature of the player’s actions and took appropriate action by sending the player off. 

Video Clip 3:  San Jose at DC (37:05 – second half)

Clip 3 provides a clear example of the referee applying the criteria that has been established to determine whether a foul is merely “reckless” (due to its aggressive nature) and requires a yellow card or “using excessive force” (exceeding the necessary use of force and in danger of injuring the opponent) and requires a red card. 

“Week In Review 8” laid out several criteria that officials can reference when making a determination as to whether a tackle merits a red or yellow card. (Click on the link to access “Week In Review 8”)  So, as the tackle unfolds in the clip, apply the following criteria keeping in mind that the referee must possess the capability to make the assessment in a split second and without the aid of video replay:

  • Speed of play and the tackle

The speed at which the attacker and the defender are running at the time and the force of the tackle.  The faster the tackler is moving, the greater the force.

  • Intent

Is the tackler’s intent to take the player out and “send a message?”

  • Aggressive nature of the tackle

Lunging, distance from ball/opponent when the tackle was initiated, cleats exposed.

  • Position of the tackler

In particular, the legs of the attacker and the direction from which the tackle was initiated – from behind, straight on.

  • Opportunity to play the ball

Given the factors above, does the tackler have a chance to play the ball?  Where is the position of the ball relative to the timing of the tackle?

  • Atmosphere of the game

Consider the overall spirit in which the match has been played.  Look at the “big picture” and determine how your decision will impact the way the remaining game time is played.

The aggressive nature of the defender’s tackle, by itself, should send a message to the referee that the tackle was committed using excessive force.  Look at the distance from which the tackle is initiated and the manner in which the defender lunges, straight on with cleats exposed.  Additionally, there is no opportunity for the defender to control his tackle or play the ball since he initiates his tackle from such a long distance.  Notice how contact is made, with the defender’s cleats to the ankle of the attacker after the ball has been passed.

Given the factors noted above, the referee’s decision to show the red card to the defender for serious foul play should be applauded.

Video Clip 4:  Kansas City at Toronto (91:57 – additional time)

The prior clip demonstrated a referee understands of serious foul play.  Clip 4 will show another form of a red card – violent conduct.  As defined in the U.S. Soccer publication “Advise to Referees on the Laws of the Game,” violent conduct occurs when the following is present:

  • A player (or substitute) is guilty of aggression towards an opponent or towards any other person (a teammate, the referee, an assistant referee, a spectator, etc.).
  • The player(s) are not contesting for the ball (the ball is not within playing distance).


  • The ball can be in or out of play.
  • The aggression can occur either on or off the field of play.

As this clip illustrates, the defending player strikes the back of the opponent’s head with his arm.  Despite the fact the ball is in play, neither the defender nor the attacker are playing the ball (the defender is not contesting for the ball).  Consequently, the referee correctly red cards the defender for violent conduct.  Referees must act quickly and decisively in such cases for the safety of the players and to maintain the Spirit of the Game. 

Notice that the referee’s decision to send the player off was not influenced by the time of the match (only minutes left) nor the score (0-0).  The defender’s action was a 100 percent send-off offense and the referee did not hesitate to issue the red card.

It is important to note the referee’s position on this decision.  He is close to play in his corner quadrant.  It is as though he is anticipating the act.  The referee also exhibits keen skills in that he does not follow the ball as it is played out of the back by the attacking team.  The referee keeps the “after play” in view so he can detect any potential acts that would normally be out of view of the referee if he turned his back to the play too soon.

Offside Decisions

Week 13 provided two offside decisions that are not easy for ARs.  In both cases, concentration, focus and proper positioning are necessary to ensure the correct decision is made.  In addition, the AR must possess the ability to process lots of information within a moment’s time.

Video Clip 5:  Kansas City at Toronto (90:56 – additional time)

From a free kick, approximately 30 yards from goal, the attacking team places five players in the penalty area.  Just prior to the ball being serviced, they make a break toward goal to get a step on the defense.  Through good peripheral vision, the AR must be able to clearly identify their position as well as visually see the touch of the ball by the player taking the free kick.  As the ball is being played, the AR must then take a snapshot of the positions of the defenders and attackers in the target zone (center of the penalty area).  In this case, there are three attackers who have the ability to play the ball.  However, only one of the three attackers is in an offside position at the time the ball is played by his teammate.  The AR shows patience by keeping the flag down so that he can observe which of these three players actually play/touch the ball.  By utilizing the “wait and see” principle, the AR can correctly identify the offside player as participating or interfering in play and, therefore, raise the flag to indicate offside.  If the ball would have been played by any other attacking player, there would have been no offside (at the moment the free kick was taken, they were in an onside position).  The AR correctly disallows the goal for offside.

Video Clip 6:  San Jose at RSL (77:55)

This is a complicated offside situation in which clear communication must occur between the referee and the AR.  The clip must be watched carefully to understand the points of emphasis.  The mechanics used to make the correct decision are critical to the success of the referee team.

As you view the clip, remember the approved mechanics (found in U.S. Soccer’s “Guide to Procedures” manual) that must be utilized when a goal is scored and the AR is not sure whether the player scoring the goal was offside or not:  the AR must stand at attention at the corner flag, with his flag down, and not run up the touchline as he normally would to signal a goal.

From a corner kick, a defender is stationed 10 yards from the ball but off the goal line.  All other defenders and attackers are further up field and further from the goal line than this defender.  Off the service, an attacker heads the ball to goal but, in route, it is touched by another attacker who has advanced toward the goal.  This attacker redirects the ball into the goal.  This raises the question:  Was the attacker, who redirects the ball into goal, in an offside position at the time the ball was headed/played by his teammate?

Freeze frame shows that the attacking player who scores is level with the second to last opponent at the moment his teammate heads the ball.  Consequently, despite his being closer to the goal line at the time he plays/redirects the ball, the AR must take a snapshot of his position at the time of the header and must use this picture as the moment of judgment.  This snapshot would then provide the evidence needed to allow the goal.

As this situation unfolded in the game, the AR was uncertain as to whether the player who redirected the ball into goal actually played the ball or the ball went directly into goal from the header.  The replay shows that neither case should matter as the attacker redirecting the ball was onside at the moment of the header. 

In a case where the AR is unclear as to whether a player in an offside position plays the ball (interfered with play by touching/playing the ball) or interferes with an opponent, the following mechanics should be followed:

  • Stand at attention at the corner flag

When the goal is scored, the AR must not run up the touch line and must remain standing at the corner flag.  This is an indication to the referee that the AR is uncertain over the validity of the goal.

  • Referee makes visual contact with the AR

Prior to awarding a goal, the referee must make eye contact with the AR.  If the AR is running up the touch line, it is an indication that the AR agrees with the goal.  If the AR is standing at the corner flag, it is an indication that the AR has a question relating to the scoring of the goal.

  • Referee consults with the AR

Seeing the ARs position at the corner flag, the referee must approach him and determine why the AR has an issue.  The consultation must be clear and concise.  The AR must clearly communicate what he saw and why he has a question.

  • Make a decision

Based upon the information received from the AR and the referee’s own perception, the referee must make a decision and indicate that decision.

As with any offside decision, the AR should give the benefit of doubt to the attack.  If this principle were applied in this clip, the goal would have been allowed.  The decision is not easy due to the distance between the defender fronting the corner kick and the goal mouth action.  But, ARs must possess the ability to evaluate the situation and position themselves correctly to make the split second judgment.  Another key element to the success of a decision like this is the positioning of the AR.  As soon as the corner kick is struck, the AR must immediately move to the offside position – in this case, in line with the defender who was positioned in front of the corner kick (the second to last defender).  This position provides the ultimate view of the player’s movement in the drop zone of the ball and affords the AR the best chance to get the call correct.

Restart Positions – Throw Ins

A trend has been noticed whereby teams are advancing the ball on throw-ins to obtain a more advanced attacking position or to waste time.  Referees and ARs should work in unison to prevent undue advancement of the ball on throw-ins and to minimize delays caused by such actions.  It is common practice for defenders to run up the field with the ball to gain 10 or more yards and put their team in a more advantageous position.  The practice is also becoming more common in the attacking third of the field as teams have throw-in specialists who can direct the ball into the penalty area as though it were a corner kick.

Referees and ARs need to raise their awareness and take preventative measures to ensure the restart is taken within a yard or so of where it exited the field.  Consider enacting the following preventative steps:

  • Indicate the restart location – early and often

The referee should indicate the position of the restart both visually and verbally.  Verbally ask the players to comply.  Visually show the players the restart location.  The closer to the attacking half, the more important referee intervention becomes.  Additionally, ARs can also indicate the location of the restart; however, this must not be done at the expense of a correct position.

  • Tell the players – use the whistle

If the players are not complying with your consistent requests, use the whistle to indicate the location.

  • Award the throw in to the other team

Once you have asked the players to comply and then warned them with the whistle, you are empowered to call an illegal throw-in if it is taken from the wrong location.

Once again, use preventative measures and, if they fail, you may send a stronger message by awarding the throw-in to the opposition from the location the original throw-in should have taken place.  Remember, it is not an illegal throw-in until the ball is thrown and enters the field of play. 


Sending an early message

Referees should focus on making their presence known early in the game (in a positive manner) by exhibiting a sense of urgency in your communication techniques and in your movement on the field.  Do not go looking for trouble but set the tone through fair, proactive, and positive actions.