US Crest

MLS Week In Review

Week 3 – ending April 13, 2008


The referee teams provided for safe and entertaining games.  There were many fantastic goals and, for the most part, games were played in a competitive environment that was orchestrated by the team of officials.  There were 3 penalty kicks that were deservedly awarded and converted.  In addition, we saw another advantage result in a goal!

Our Office still has a concern over offside decisions.  Once again, there were several instances of players being called offside who were onside when the ball was played.  This included instances where 2 players are moving for the ball but the onside player actually plays the ball.  Clips highlighting this area of work are noted below.  We cannot stress enough:  HOLD YOUR FLAG UNTIL YOU ARE CERTAIN WHO WILL PLAY THE BALL and KEEP THE FLAG DOWN IN SITUATIONS WHERE OFFSIDE POSITION IS NOT CLEAR CUT!  THERE HAVE NOT BEEN ANY INSTANCES OF DISPUTED GOALS FROM NOT CALLING OFFSIDE.

Week 3 Focus

Referees using personality to “PREVENT THE NEXT FOUL.”  Referees must use personality (not just blowing the whistle or waving “play on”) to deal with borderline fouls.  The referee’s actions must be visual and send a message.

Result:  There were a few visual examples of this.  However, there were many more instances in which the referee had the opportunity to use his personality to manage the game and put his mark on the game.  In reviewing the games, it is possible that up to 5 yellow cards were a bit harsh and that misconduct could have been managed by addressing the player, face-to-face, and keeping the card in the pocket.  REMEMBER, calculated risk taking.  Have confidence in your ability and personality.  If the game is under control and the players are responding, find alternative, creative means versus cards.  That’s not to say you can use personality as an excuse for failing to deal with a cardable situation.

  • Video Clip 1:  New England at Kansas City (43:55).  The referee calls 2 players over to talk with each after they had words.  This type of communication is not always easy but it diffuses and sends a positive message.  Ensure that, as referee, you isolate the players and look them in the eye.  Note, the referee needs to get to the foul sooner.  Look at the score, anticipate that the winning team will attempt to slow the restart.
  • Video Clip 2:  Chicago at San Jose (1:00).  This is the first foul of the game.  See how the referee sprints to the spot and makes the foul seem “larger than it really is.”  The referee then calls the San Jose player over to have a word.  This is the type of management skills that the game needs more of.  It sets the tone and sets it early.

Weekly Commentary

  • Offside Decisions:  There were many close decisions in which the Assistant Referee (AR) kept the flag down or waited until the offside player “played the ball.”  These type of decisions are critical to (as MLS puts it): “free flowing, attacking soccer.”
  • Video Clip 3:  Chicago at San Jose (86:25).  AR2 holds the flag on a situation in-close to goal.  Two attackers (one onside position and one offside) have the opportunity to play the ball.  You can see in the video that the AR exhibits patience and HOLDS the flag until the offside positioned player actually plays the ball.  Great job showing RESTRAINT.
  • Video Clip 4:  Colorado at New England (26:40).  Two attacking players are moving for the ball.  However, the onside player actually plays the ball while the player positioned offside pulls away and, therefore, does NOT gain an advantage by being in the offside position.  A quick flag is NOT needed.  When more than one player has the opportunity to play a ball and that player is onside at the time his teammate plays the ball, the AR must show patience and await the outcome – unless a potential collision may occur.  The following is from the AR’s self-evaluation which was very well written:
    Mansally is in the offside position and I am even with the 2nd last defender when the ball is played and start shuffling down the field to be even with the ball. I see Cristman heading towards the ball as well.  As the ball lands I saw it touch Mansally.  After reviewing the situation from the angle of the TV it does not touch him and I should have left the flag down and let it go. I have to have better concentration on this situation and closely look at where the ball lands and the position of the player it is landing near as well as the distance to his teammate. The defender hesitates as he sees it landing as well.  But that should not matter. I should have left it down.
  • Video Clip 5:  NY at Dallas (65:40).  Dallas gets a breakaway on a close offside.  Keeping the flag down results in a GOAL.  This was not an easy call as the attacker is running diagonally and there are several defenders spread-out across the field.  Patience pays dividends and AR2 should be applauded for allowing play to continue.
  • Video Clip 6:  Chivas at Columbus (56:25).  The attacker is flagged for being offside but the replay shows that the situation is close enough to warrant keeping the flag down.  If it is not CLEARLY OFFSIDE, give the benefit to attacking soccer.
  • Video Clip 7:  Toronto at Galaxy (36:30).  There are 2 players who have the potential to play the ball.  This is an important indication for the AR – restraint is needed when more than 1 player can get the ball.  Look at the actions of the offside attacker.  Knowing he is offside, he stops his run and the onside attacker runs through.  ARs must have a wide peripheral perspective and know that there is the possibility of another player becoming involved.  In this case, the AR is square to the field so he should have the wider view.  Patience.  Sometimes the obvious is not so obvious.
  • AR Involvement and Teamwork:  Last week, the topic of “over-involvement by ARs” was addressed.  Keys were:
  • Does the referee have a clear view of the offense?
  • Does the referee need me?
  • Give the referee first crack at the foul.
  • If the referee team does not call it, will game control be impacted negatively?
  • Will a team gain an unfair advantage if we don’t make the call?

There were some incidents from which we can continue to learn as they relate to ARs participating in game control.  This is a mindset issue and an issue in which ARs must put more trust in the referees, especially the experienced referees.  In the clips below, look who the referee is and ask yourself, “Did the referee and the game need my flag?”

    • Video Clip 8:  NY at Dallas (52:00).  This is an exceptional piece of teamwork.  This is BIG TIME work by the AR, referee, and 4th official.  Watch how the referee, AR, and 4th work as a unit to prevent escalation.  THIS IS REFEREEING! Look also how the referee immediately gets the yellow card out to show everyone he is taking action.  The action on the part of the referee team probably saves the Dallas player from being booked for misconduct also.  Did the referee need the ARs assistance? Yes.  If the referee team does not make the call, will game control be negatively affected? Yes.  So, ARs and 4th officials, be INVOLVED in this one!
    • Video Clip 9:  Chicago at San Jose (32:25).  In this case, the AR flags a foul that is not needed for the game (game is well in control and it is a trifling foul).  The referee is well positioned to see the action and, actually, has waved “play-on.”  The referee is empowered to wave off these type of flags but the best solution is for the AR to leave it to the referee.  ARs must FEEL THE GAME as the referee is feeling the game.
    • Video Clip 10:  Chicago at San Jose (40:05).  The foul decision by the AR is over-ruled by the referee.  The referee has a clear line of vision to the foul and the defender has the inside position.  These type of decisions can lead to player frustration and to eventual yellow cards for dissent.
    • Video Clip 11:  Chicago at San Jose (83:00).  The ARs flag comes up well after the referee’s whistle.  Question: why so long for the flag?  Assistance is good here but it must be timely.  No need for the flag if it comes after the whistle.
  • Penalty Kick Decisions:  There were 2 correctly awarded penalty kicks this past weekend
  • Video Clip 12:  Chivas at Columbus (23:55).  This involves a penalty that is awarded against a defender who initiates the foul (shirt pull) outside the penalty area but continues the foul inside the area.  Pursuant to the direction at National Camp and the April 30, 2007 memorandum (“When Fouls Continue”) this is a correct and courageous decision.  Although the majority of the foul occurs outside the penalty area, the referee must award the decision that is most advantageous to the attacker.  In this case, a penalty kick.  Note the referee had to have excellent position to see this.  ARs should be prepared to provide the inside or outside the area signal to assist the referee.
  • Video Clip 13 and Video Clip 14:  New England at Kansas City (26:18).  Clip 13 shows a clear penalty and the referee is well positioned to see that the foul occurs inside the penalty area.  Optimum would have been for the referee to delay the whistle and await the outcome of the shot on goal.  Due to the short nature of time between the foul and the shot, the referee reserves the right to come back and award the penalty kick should the shot miss.  In this case, the whistle came a bit early.  Use that extra time given to you by the Laws of the Game to your advantage.  Compare this clip to Clip 14.  In the second case, the referee awaits the outcome of the play and seeing that the attacking team will not have an advantage, the referee correctly comes back to the original foul and signals a penalty kick. Excellent use of timing and holding the whistle to see if a positive outcome will occur.  Referee to the “Advantage in the Penalty Area” memo distributed April 11, 2008 from our office.
  • Game Disrepute and Dissent:  Actions by players that bring the game into disrepute and/or show dissent (in particular, visual dissent) must be dealt with.  This is not the family environment we want nor MLS wants exhibited in the games. It is critical to deal with players that make “their presence known” by injecting themselves into situations that they were not originally involved.  Please deal with these type of situations in an appropriate manner based upon the game.
  • Video Clip 15:  Chicago at San Jose (53:40).  In this situation, the referee correctly cautions the player who came from approximately 25 yards to engage with opponents.  This is the type of situation that, if not dealt with appropriately, can lead to future problems in the game.
  • Denying an Obvious Goal Scoring Opportunity (DOGSO):  A foul is a foul regardless of who commits it.  MLS is a fast-paced game with lots of counter attacks.  Consequently, referees and ARs can anticipate many a chance to make decisions relating to DOGSO.  Positioning and fitness levels must be commensurate with this style of play.  Clips will show 2 different opportunities for the referee to deal with DOGSO.  In the second clip, the referee read the play correctly and decided any contact was incidental.  When evaluating the following 2 clips, REMEMBER, every fair challenge, with contact, is not a foul.
  • Video Clip 16:  Toronto at Galaxy (69:40).  The Toronto attacker is clearly behind the defense and in possession of the ball.  The Galaxy defender, knowing he is beat, grabs the arm of the attacker.  This foul is made with the hand/arm.  The referee must recognize the tactical nature of the offense and “feel” the speed of play.  Based upon the speed, it does not take much to knock the attacker off the ball.  This is DOGSO and a red card must be issued.  The following is a quote from Galaxy head coach Ruud Gullit:  "I think we were lucky there.  It was the only luck we had the whole game."
  • Video Clip 17:  Chicago at San Jose (52:23).  The attacker is moving to goal with speed and is behind the defense.  However, the defender catches up and the attacker loses possession of the ball on a fair body challenge.  Both players are using their body but not with undo force. It is a matter of the defender’s speed surpassing that of the attacker.  A no foul call is appropriate.  Well done and a good feel for the situation is exhibited by the referee.
  • Wall Management and Delaying the Restart:  There are many talented free kick specialists now playing in MLS.  Hence, the “red zone” becomes even more critical.  Defending teams want to take away any advantage the kicker may have. Get 10 yards and maintain 10 yards.  Additionally, referees must be cognizant of the score and the time in the match.  Teams leading, will “push the envelop” and test the referee to see if they can slow the opposing restarts down.  We must deal with these two scenarios by being active and having a presence around the ball/situation.
  • Video Clip 18:  New England at Kansas City (43:45):  The referee makes a solid foul decision.  New England is ahead 3-1; hence, every second that ticks off the clock is to their advantage.  The referee must be aware of this. Earlier actions by defending players send messages that must resonate with the referee.  Once we are aware, we can then take action to prevent the delay.  The referee should sprint to the spot of the foul and ensure the defender’s opportunity to interpose himself in front of the ball is minimized.  Once New England has delayed, the referee’s use of personality to address the two players is fantastic.
  • Video Clip 19:  Toronto at Galaxy (46:00).  Wall management will become increasingly important and critical since over 30% of goals are scored from restarts.  Referees must reduce the time the ball is out of play, get a FULL 10 yards, and ensure no one advances to block the kick (not permit free kick interference).  If a player advances and makes contact with the ball, the referee is empowered to retake the kick without having to caution the player but allow the team the opportunity that they earned.  Note, in this clip, it takes 1:40 from foul to the taking of the free kick. 
  • Elbow on Restarts:  Over the past several years, there have been increasing incidents of elbows on restart services into the penalty area.  These all have similar characteristics:  (a) They are long services; (b) Attacking players are attempting to move into an advantageous position; and (c) Defenders attempt to disguise the elbow as a forearm to the opponent’s chest as a normal run of play.  Referees, ARs, and 4th officials must be prepared.  On the long services, focus should be on the group of players and not on the ball.  ARs must be given the leeway to intervene.  4th officials should move slightly down the midline to view the collection of players.  Referees need to position themselves so that their main focus is on where the ball will land yet manage the ball with peripheral vision.
  • Video Clip 20:  New England at Kansas City (47:15).  Unfortunate for the referee team, an elbow to the head of the opponent went unnoticed.  Note the referee’s position.  A more advantageous position would be at the top of the penalty are near the arc.  From this vantage point, the referee’s primary focus can be on the players and where the ball will land.  While the ball is in flight, the referee will not have as many players potentially in his line of sight.  Peripheral vision can manage the ball and players surrounding the ball.  The referee’s primary focus should be on the target area for the ball and not on the restart.  The AR should feel obligated to participate in this decision if the AR sees the defender’s actions.
  • Tactical Foul Requiring Yellow Card:  Due to the speed of the MLS game, defending players must find multiple methods to slow attacking play and prevent the progress of not only the ball but also of attacking players who may advance into space behind them, unmarked.  Consequently, fouls like holding off the ball are prevalent and must be addressed by the referee.
  • Video Clip 21:  DC at Real Salt Lake (43:20).  This is a clear case where the defender knows the attacker will get behind him, into the space.  This is a tactical foul intended to destroy attacking play.  Hence, a yellow card must be issued.  Note that the referee seems to be spending more time dealing with the player fouled than the player committing the offense.
  • Stoppage Time:  Announcements are made in each stadium that the time indicated by the 4th official is the MINIMUM amount of extended time.  Consequently, if a referee indicates 3 minutes, no less than 3 minutes can be played.  The referee can use discretion and add more time but this should be managed in way, that if all possible, the teams are made aware of the added time.  Referees should coordinate the appropriate signals with the 4th official prior to the game.

9.  Fourth Official / Substitution Board:  Many of the games are played in daylight.  The substitution board is for the spectators, television, and players.  Therefore, the 4th official should make certain that the “flip boards” are available and utilized in bright light.  Television, in particular, likes to make a live shot of the board when the 4th official indicates stoppage time.

Week 4 Focus

Assistant referees continuing to exhibit patience in decision making.  Focus on holding the flag and on giving the referee first crack at calls.  Get the offside calls correct, first and foremost.  All other involvement is secondary.


Officials’ hard work over the first few weeks of the season has paid dividends.  Dividends in terms of entertaining and attacking soccer, void of excessive fouling but filled with an abundance of superb goals.  With continued focus on offside decisions and smart game flow, you can continue to make further inroads into improving the product on the field.

Statistics prove your hard work is paying off.  There were an average of 2.86 goals per game this week.  We whistled an average of 25 fouls per game.  This is up from last week’s average of 23 fouls a game but still significantly less that a year ago.

This is from MLS:

Goals Galore in Week 3; Goal Scoring Up Through Third Week of the Season

There were 24 goals scored in Week 3 of the 2008 MLS Season and through 21 games a total of 67 goals have been scored for an average of 3.19 goals per game.  That total is up from 55 goals (2.39 average) at a similar point last year. There has been only one scoreless game in 2008.  Shaky defense or stellar offense?  Three goalkeepers – Jon Busch, Bouna Coundoul and Jon Conway – each have two shutouts on the season, but free flowing, attacking soccer has dominated in the early going.