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2009 Referee Week in Review - Week 25

The Referee Week in Review is designed to address the issues facing referees at all levels by using video highlights from professional games as well as the U.S. National Teams. Written by U.S. Soccer Director of Referee Development Paul Tamberino and U.S. Soccer Manager of Assessment and Training Brian Hall, the Referee Week in Review will highlight specific areas of focus and current U.S. Soccer initiatives designed to improve performance and aid in the development of officials across the country.

Week In Review
Week 25 – ending September 6, 2009
There were only three MLS games on the docket due to World Cup qualification matches. As a consequence, it was a great week for match officials to rest, revitalize and prepare for the stretch run. Despite only three games and a low average foul count per game (18.33), there were 10 cautions issued and four red cards handed out. Overall, two of the four red cards did not fit the criteria established by U.S. Soccer for red card tackles or denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity. This “Week In Review” will examine and analyze each of these red cards to educate and provide guidance to officials.

In addition to the regular review of professional games, a brief revisit of U.S. Soccer’s 2009 Referee Program Directive entitled, “Game Management Model” will be provided as there have been a few clarifications relative to terminology.


Game Management Model – Foul Selection and Recognition: 2009 Directive
In order to reflect terminology understood at all levels of the game and foster a more uniform understanding, the 2009 U.S. Soccer Referee Program Directive entitled, “Game Management Model – Foul Selection and Recognition” was updated by replacing the term “risk taking” with “foul selection/recognition.” Game Management ModelIn general, the concepts are the same but the terms “foul selection” and “foul recognition” are more easily understood at all levels of the game. All other words and concepts remain the same.

“Foul selection/recognition” deals with the referee’s ability to identify the types of small/minor challenges that the players will accept and that are appropriate for the game at that moment. Foul selection should consider the following factors:

  • The location of the event on the field of play.
  • The type of challenge committed.
  • The opportunity for a successful result from the application of “flow.” Remember: “Flow” is the ability of the referee to manage the game so that the ball is in play by eliminating unnecessary stoppages by correctly differentiating the trifling/minor/soft challenges from the careless/reckless fouls thereby ensuring the game has more rhythm.
  • The eventual impact on game control given the “big picture” of the match.

Deciding whether a small/minor challenge is a foul or not involves analyzing the factors above and doing a cost-benefit analysis. In other words, when deciding whether to whistle a foul, a match official must ask themselves:

  • Will there be more benefits to the team, the player and the game if I call the foul or if I don’t call the foul?
    Referees should tend to give priority in their decision making to the option that provides the most positive benefits without negatively affecting game control.
  • Do the costs (negative impact on game control and player management) of allowing play to continue outweigh the benefits of awarding a free kick?
    In most instances, if the costs outweigh the benefits, then the game benefits by calling the foul.

The 2009 Directive concerning the “Game Management Model” has been updated to reflect this change. In addition, an instructional presentation covering all aspects of the “Game Management Model” has been included as part of the link to U.S. Soccer’s directives. This presentation will be helpful as it provides in-depth analysis of the “model” for instructors, assessors and referees.

Denying an Obvious Goal Scoring Opportunity: Law 12
Five prior “Week In Reviews” have examined the issue of denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity (DOGSO).

The Laws of the Game empower the referee to send off a player for “denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player’s goal by an offence punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick.” To assist officials with correctly interpreting and applying this law, U.S. Soccer has established the “4 D Criteria” that follows:

  • Distance to goal
  • Distance to ball
  • Defender position/location and number
  • Direction to goal

A key term in the Law is “obvious.” The “4 D Criteria” are intended to assist officials with determining whether an “obvious” opportunity existed. Remember, “obvious” relates to clear, evident, observable and effective opportunities to score, not to just get a shot on goal but to actually possess the ability to score from the opportunity that would have existed if it were not for the foul. This is why the 4 D’s are so important.

Video Clip 1: D.C. United at Dallas (55:48)
Note: The focus of this clip is the potential DOGSO event and not whether a foul actual exists. Hence, when viewing the clip, assume that the defending team has committed a foul.

Using the “4 D Criteria” and the understanding of “obvious,” this clip does not fit the red card criteria for DOGSO. Which of the “4 D Criteria” or factors preclude this from being a DOGSO event?

  1. Direction to goal
    Although the attacker is close to goal, the attacker is too wide and, as a result, does not have an “obvious” angle to get an effective shot on goal.
  2. Defender position/location
    In this case, the proximity/closeness of the goalkeeper to the attacker and the ball eliminates the “obvious” opportunity to score. If the foul would not have occurred, would the attacker’s shot have presented him with an “obvious” opportunity to score? No, given the nearness of the goalkeeper to the ball and the attacker. The goalkeeper’s position relative to the ball, makes the goal small (very little space to execute an effective shot).

The proximity of the goalkeeper to the ball combined with the acute/sharp, poor angle of the player’s approach to the goal, makes the goal too small for the attacker to have an “obvious” opportunity to score. Visualize: Move the attacker further from the goalkeeper/goal and more to the center of the penalty area and the likelihood for an “obvious” opportunity to score is greatly increased. In this more central angle to goal, the goal would be bigger and the attacker would have a clear, evident and observable opportunity to score.

A red card for DOGSO is not warranted in this situation. When faced with potential DOGSO scenarios in the game, referees should take the appropriate time to evaluate and analyze the situation prior to issuing the red card.

Serious Foul Play and Using Excessive Force: Law 12
U.S. Soccer’s 2009 Directive on “100% Misconduct: Tactical and Red Card Tackles” provides a thorough analysis of the criteria that match officials should utilize when judging whether a tackle is merely a foul or whether it warrants a yellow or red card.

The severity of the challenge is the key factor in determining the referee’s response. FIFAs Laws of the Game require the referee to red card a player if the challenge “uses excessive force:”

“The player has far exceeded the necessary use of force and is in danger of injuring his opponent.”

This means that the opponent is in considerable danger of bodily harm, faces injury and their safety has been endangered. The following criteria (SIAPOA) can be used by referees to judge tackles to determine whether they fall within the “excessive force” definition (the directive further defines each of the listed criteria):

  • Speed of play and the tackle
  • Intent
  • Aggressive nature
  • Position of the tackler
  • Opportunity to play the ball
  • Atmosphere of the game

Red card tackles generally involve combinations of the aforementioned components.

Video Clip 2: Kansas City at New England (21:50)
In this clip, a well positioned referee red cards a player for serious foul play. Unfortunately, the challenge or tackle does not meet the SIAPOA criteria for a red card, nor does it fall under the “excessive force” definition provided by FIFA in the Laws of the Game.

  • Speed of play and the tackle
    The challenge lacks speed or force. There is a clumsy extension of the foot to play a poorly trapped ball that has taken a high bounce off the artificial surface.
  • Intent
    There is no visible intent by the tackler to send a message. The player’s intent is seemingly to play or win the ball in a fair manner.
  • Aggressive nature
    There is no lunging for the ball and the distance between both players is short which leads to a more controlled challenge. The knee is not locked and the player does not jump toward the opponent.
  • Position of the tackler
    Although the player’s leg is high, it is extended in a manner to play the ball. The challenge is not directly into the opponent. If contact is made, it is done with the outside of the shoe.
  • Opportunity to play the ball
    The ball is within playing distance and directly in the line of vision of the opponent.
  • Atmosphere of the game
    The game is less than 22 minutes old. Although not evident to the viewer of the clip, the atmosphere of the game has been positive. There have been no visible signs of frustration or aggression to that point.

Given the fact that the SIAPOA criteria is not evident, the challenge can be determined to be “reckless” which requires the referee to caution the player for unsporting behavior. The Laws of the Game define “reckless” as:

“The player has acted with complete disregard to the danger to, or consequences for, his opponent.”

In other words, the challenge is outside the norm for fair play but the action is not executed using excessive force.

It should be noted that the fourth official does a good job managing a potentially volatile technical area and coaching staff. The fourth official’s presence and calm demeanor diffuses the situation and lends support to the entire officiating team.

Looking Forward – Week 26
Pre-game preparation should be a focal point for all match officials. Referees must enter all games with a thorough understanding of the teams, the players, the game implications and the directives prepared by U.S. Soccer. This information should be analyzed and utilized to better understand the “big picture” that proceeds every game and used in a positive manner to prepare the officiating team for every eventuality and as an aid to implement the “Game Management Model.”