US Crest

MLS Week In Review

Week 4 – ending April 20, 2008


Solid performances, for the most part.  Referees maintained the integrity of the game and provided an avenue for the players to exhibit skill and entertain the fans.  Biggest area of concern involves items under the control of the officiating team and items that have been reviewed previously:  bench control, added time, and game flow.  This past weekend, there were a few instances in which we lost focus on these initiatives or misinterpreted them.  Remember, you have direct control on the conduct in the technical area and ensuring how much added time is given and then ensuring all that time is played.

WEEK 4 FOCUS (last week)

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.

Result:  Fantastic work!  Assistant referees (AR) did a great job of keeping the flag down.  In fact, there were several instances in which the AR held the flag long enough so that the second runner (on-side) could get the ball.  The focus and concentration on this topic is now paying dividends.  REFEREES, take note:   there may be the need to have a quick second look at the AR as some flags are coming a bit delayed as total concentration is on showing restraint raising the flag until they are 100% certain the player has played the ball (interfered with play) or gained an advantage.  Referee teams should discuss this in their pregame to determine how the delayed flag should be handled.


Bench Behavior

On several occasions this past week, there were visual instances of coaches being too demonstrative on the sidelines.  REMEMBER, this is a 2008 Point of Emphasis and the message has not only been delivered to you by U.S. Soccer but it has been delivered to the teams by MLS and U.S. Soccer.  If need be, please refer to the March 22, 2006, U.S. Soccer position paper entitled, “Management of Behavior in the Technical Area.”  (Click on the link to access the position paper) REFEREES MUST TAKE ACTION. 

  • Referees and 4th Officials must use common sense in dealing with this but we cannot allow coaches/team officials to bang on the signage boards, stand-up and have extended negative commentary directed at the officials nor leave the technical area under the guise of asking the 4th official questions.
  • Players situated in the bench area are also not permitted to jump up in protest of decisions.
  • The visual and loud verbal impact of these actions reflect negatively on the referee crew and on the game.  This is why MLS has asked U.S. Soccer to enforce a more rigid (but common sense) approach to dealing with behavior in the bench area.
  • There were instances this week of 4th officials standing calmly as the coach is berating the referee for an extended period.  There is a difference between bench personnel “blowing of steam” in a quick and professional manner that is not loud and does not use “offensive, or insulting or abusive language” AND between team officials/bench personnel who utilize loud, abusive language for an extended period of time.
  • Consider the following:

The language used.  Is it offensive, or insulting or abusive language?

Who can hear it and how it is said.  The volume and tone.

The combination of the verbal and the visual.  Who can see it?

On how many previous occasions have I spoken with the individual(s) regarding their behavior?

The length/duration of the tirade.

  • Depending upon the severity of the offense, the referee does not have to send the coach off but the referee MUST deal with it and issue a stern warning.  At the first stoppage of play, convey a strong message to those in the technical area, then hold them accountable because you will be held accountable.  If an individual “crosses the line,” you are empowered to take official action (dismissal).
  • Discuss the referee team’s tactical approach in the pregame.  Is there a signal the 4th official or AR can make to the referee to indicate there is borderline behavior in the technical area.  This is preventative.

Additional Time

Last week the topic of “added time” or “additional time” was addressed.  Unfortunately, another instance of the referee indicating a specified time and then playing less than the time indicated arose.  REMEMBER, the referee is making a PUBLIC statement of the MINIMUM amount of time that will be added at the end of a half.  When something becomes PUBLIC, it becomes a matter of record, it becomes an expectation (an expectation of coaches and players as well as the public and the press).

Video Clip 1:  RSL at Toronto (90:00)
In this clip, you can see that the referee/4th official has indicated 3 minutes of additional time.  However, as the tape progresses, the referee ends the game at 91:57.  One team was denied at least 1:03 of playing time.

Video Clip 2:  RSL at Toronto (45:00) 
The referee fails to play the indicated amount of additional time by 17 seconds while the attacking team has the ball in the forward half of the field.  Between the first and second halves of this game, the losing team was denied 1:20 of total playing time.  This is significant and should not occur.

    • It is simple; if you indicate “3 minutes of additional time” then you MUST play at least 3 minutes – 2 minutes and 50 seconds is not acceptable.
    • Due to circumstances that occur during the indicated “additional time,” you are permitted to extend the time to accommodate time lost for substitutions, assessment of injuries, removal of players from the field of play for treatment, time wasting and any other cause. If you decide to play a significant amount of time over the originally indicated amount, the referee should make every effort (given game situations) to communicate the additional time to both teams.
    • You must know your watch.  You cannot mistake 2:30 for 3:30 and so on.  If needed, you should have two watches:  running time and stoppage time.
    • Link to position paper: “Allowance for Time Lost.

Game Flow and Taking Risks

The overall effort to improve the flow of games without putting player’s safety at risk has been very good so far this year.  The fruits of your efforts are evident in the reduction in the number of fouls called thus far this season.  We want continued efforts to produce an entertaining game but we do not want referees to use flow, risk taking, and personality as a reason/excuse for not calling a foul that is needed for the game or for the player.  Officials MUST call fouls and/or issue cautions when the foul and situation requires it.  There are certain fouls given the environment of the game that require the referee to slow down play, stop the game.  There are also certain fouls that require the referee do more than stop the game and have a word with the player.  These are the situations requiring a caution be issued.  The referee must feel/read the MESSAGES IN THE GAME!

Video Clip 3:  Columbus at DC (29:00)
This is a great example of the referee allowing flow on three occasions.  Each case, taken by itself is a calculated risk that makes sense for the game, at that time.  First game flow situation involves a player that the referee must know has the ability to play out of tight spaces.  The second flow comes when the black team’s defender is held slightly in the penalty area after the goalkeeper’s save.  It would have been easy to call a foul but the referee recognizes the ball is being played (by the fouled defender) to a teammate who is clear of opponents and has an unimpeded opportunity to play the ball forward.  This is a calculated risk, despite being in the defensive third, because if the player is unable to play a clean ball out of the back, the referee can award the original foul.  The final piece of flow comes from the advantage given at midfield.  So, in a span of 30 seconds, the referee allows 3 potential game stoppages to continue WITHOUT jeopardizing the safety of the players involved or control of the game.

Video Clip 4:  Columbus at DC (44:20)

The referee recognizes a “no call” and does not award the attacker for going down in the penalty area.  Any contact is inconsequential thus play should be continued and the game flow maintained.  The referee then exhibits personality by quickly intervening between two players thus preventing escalation of a potentially volatile situation.  Look at the referee’s body language and his facial expressions.  They are controlled yet communicate his displeasure.

Video Clip 5:  SJ at Colorado (2:52)

The game is only 2:52 old when a serious foul occurs.  The referee should be aware that the player fouled is talented, skilled, the team’s play maker, the field general, the “motor of the team.”  However, regardless of skill-level of the player fouled, the foul is a cautionable offense.  This is an example of setting the right tone early and, by making this call, you have given the players the information they need to continue in the match – this type of action will be penalized.  The time of the match should NOT factor into the decision to caution or not.  This is NOT a candidate for flow or only using personality.  This MUST be a CAUTIONABLE offense.  Do NOT confuse this with risk taking.  Set the tone!

Video Clip 6:  SJ at Colorado (66:44)

This is an example of a tactical foul that requires a YELLOW CARD.  Several items cause the referee to miss this cautionable offense.  First, the referee is too far from play.  He is standing and not accelerating as play develops.  Consequently, he is screened and does not see the foul.  The referee must move on the field so as to anticipate play and always have a clear line of vision of the action.  Second, the AR makes the call despite the fact that he is 28 yards away.  Clearly, this is a decision a well-positioned referee would be able to make without AR assistance.  Third, the referee needs to “smell” this tactical offense and take his time to look to the AR for confirmation that the foul was cautionable.  The AR, in turn, must then indicate a yellow card is needed.  Note, the AR should not be making the call here but rather assisting the referee with the decision.

Examples of the flow/personality vs. stop play and potentially caution dichotomy:

  • Early, hard fouls:  The referee must set the standards of conduct for the game.  Hence, the earlier in the game, the less risk you should take and the less flow you may permit. Just like the player who is sending a message with the early tackle, the referee must send a message with a whistle and possibly more.
  • Tackles from behind:  Tackles from behind are not candidates for flow or taking risks.  They endanger the opponent and lead to further game control issues. 
  • Sequential fouls:  Fouls that occur in rapid fashion, normally in a tight space are critical for the referee to recognize.  Sequential fouls can occur one after the other or may be spread out over a minute or so.  But, in either case, they are fouls that get executed because of the intensity of the moment or the game.  In some instances, the fouls may seem minor or trifling but the sequencing of them makes them more significant.

The referee must break up the pattern.

These scenarios occur so fast that often the players are REACTING AND NOT THINKING!  So, the referee MUST MAKE THE PLAYERS THINK. . . blow the whistle and slow the game down.

Do NOT take risks in these situations as the risk is not calculated.

  • Do not talk your way through nasty fouls that are cautionable.  Talking is not a solution for fouls that require the issuance of a yellow card.
  • Feel the heat:  Feel the game and the intensity.  What may have been a good foul for flow at one point of the game may not be a candidate later.  As the game changes, you must adjust your risk taking, flow, and use of personality.
  • Know the player(s):  Preparation is critical.  You must be able to recognize the players that take action into their own hands as well as the players that may be targets.  You must also know the players that don’t like to be fouled and that will find solutions if the referee does not provide the solution for them.

Goalkeeper possession

There have been instances of the goalkeeper keeping possession of the ball, in his hands, for more than six seconds.  While we realize this is a technical offense and seldom called, we are asking officials to be proactive in ensuring the goalkeeper release the ball within the 6 seconds.  A whistle from the referee should not be required if preventative work is done.

  • Referees and ARs must be cognizant of situations in which a goalkeeper may want to hold the ball for extended periods.  When a team is in the lead, the goalkeeper will “push the envelope” so as to reduce the time the ball is in play. 
  • Look at the time and the score.
  • Be proactive.  Move close to the goalkeeper while he has the ball in his hands so a visual message is sent.  Have a verbal exchange as you move to the keeper.
  • Motion to the goalkeeper, with your hands/arm, encouraging him to put the ball in play.
  • The next time the ball goes out near the goalkeeper, have a word with him.
  • Talk with the captain on the team and ask him to speak with the goalkeeper.
  • The AR can also assist by communicating and getting the goalkeeper’s attention and encourage more rapid release of the ball.

Week 5 Focus

(a) Referees MUST work to address bench decorum/behavior and ensure that the appropriate amount of additional time is added and played.

- and -

(b) Risk taking and game flow cannot be utilized when game control/management are jeopardized.


More focus by referee teams on the technical aspects of the game is required.  Major strides have been made on the application-side of the Laws.  Remember, technical issues like additional time, bench behavior, and goalkeeper time wasting are easily addressed with preventative work.  The same focus you have put on game control and flow, need to be placed on additional time, bench behavior and other seemingly minor issues.

Yes, we are asking a lot.  But, you are professional officials and we have CONFIDENCE in your abilities.  Professionalism requires attention to EVERY little detail!


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

This week’s “Week In Review #4” is briefer than past editions due to administrative meetings.