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2009 Referee Week in Review - Week 32

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 32 – ending October 25, 2009
Thirty-two weeks and 225 league games later, the MLS season is complete and the top eight teams have been seeded for the playoffs. Over the last weekend, match officials had solid performances that allowed the teams to decide their fate while still ensuring the spirit of the Laws of the Game was observed.

With the first round of playoffs upon us, continued focus and concentration will be necessary to continue the transition into the most intense and significant part of the year. As we learned in last week’s “Week In Review 31,” preparation (both mental and physical) will play a critical role in the success of match officials throughout the remaining 10 playoff games as well as MLS Cup.

U.S. Soccer has recently made all prior “Week In Review” clips available for download for instructional purposes. At the conclusion of each month, the clips will be archived and available for use by “Week In Review” readers. Remember, each clip has a specific instructional message that has accompanied it in the “Week In Review.” The integrity of the message and the corresponding clip should be paramount as this will enable the soccer community to drive toward consistency in interpretation and application of the Laws of the Game.


“Making Yourself Bigger” and DOGSO: Law 12
Match officials need to possess the courage and presence of mind to make difficult decisions in the waning minutes of a game especially when the decision may impact the outcome. These decisions require precise positioning (which leads to a clear line of vision) and a clear mind which results from proper preparation.

It is highly probable, given the game scenario, that two key concepts that have been examined in prior “Week In Reviews” can play a vital role in one decision. This is where clarity of mind on the part of the referee is critical in ensuring both or multiple concepts are applied and applied correctly. Denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity (DOGSO) is often a concept that occurs in conjunction with another decision – the penalty kick. At the same time, there are two forms of DOGSO. DOGSO occurs in cases where a player:

  1. Denies the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal scoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball (this does not apply to a goalkeeper within his own penalty area)
    • This does not require any particular alignment of players for either team but simply the occurrence of a handling offense under circumstances in which, in the opinion of the referee, the ball would likely have gone directly into the goal but for the handling.
    • A red card for denying a goal for handling cannot be given if the attempt is unsuccessful. In other words, if the ball goes into the goal despite the illegal contact. In the case a goal is scored, the referee should caution the player for unsporting behavior prior to restarting with the kickoff.
  2. Denies the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal scoring opportunity by an offence punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick.
    • This requires that the “4-Ds” be present: position of Defenders, Distance to goal, Distance to ball and Direction of play.
    • If any element is missing and/or they are not “obvious,” then a red card for DOGSO cannot be issued.

A second concept that has been reviewed in multiple prior “Week In Reviews” is that of handling. Several criteria have been developed to assist officials with a clearer interpretation of the handling offense. These criteria are formally presented in the U.S. Soccer 2009 Referee Program Directive, “Handling the Ball.” 

One of the more referenced criteria regarding handling the ball is “making yourself bigger.” The placement of the defending player’s hand/arm prior to the ball being kicked should be considered if the hand/arm was used:

  • To take away space and passing lanes
  • As a barrier
  • To occupy more space by extending the player’s reach and, thus, the player benefits from the extension

In determining a DOGSO offense by handling the ball, the referee should consider the handling criteria when making the decision as well as whether the ball was prevented from entering the goal.

Video Clip 1: D.C. United at Kansas City (89:56)
Just as the game edges into “additional time,” the referee is faced with a DOGSO by handling decision. A defender, on the goal line, “makes himself bigger” by extending his reach with his right arm/elbow. Because the defender is on the goal line, his handling clearly prevents the ball from entering the goal. As a result, the referee must red card the defender for “denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal scoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball.” In addition, the referee must award a penalty kick as the handling and DOGSO offenses occur within the penalty area.

The referee is able to make the correct decision on this subtle handling offense because he is well positioned at the top of the penalty area and has a clear line of vision to the action and to the players positioned on the goal line.

The last replay provided in the video clip shows the defender not only “making himself bigger” but moving his elbow/arm to the ball (readjusting his body to block the ball thereby causing the ball to play his elbow/arm). This “elbow/arm to ball” motion is a clear indication of the defender initiating contact with the ball.

As you watch the video clip, notice the proper mechanics by the assistant referee (AR) after the referee signals for a penalty kick. The AR swiftly moves to the restart position for the penalty kick that has been awarded: on the goal line and the intersection of the penalty area line. This is the position the AR must take to assist with the monitoring of the penalty kick.

“Wait and See” Offside Tactic by Assistant Referees: Law 11
Due to the speed of the game (the ball and the players) as well as the movement of players, ARs face a difficult task in determining offside. For this reason, U.S. Soccer recommends ARs take a “wait and see” approach to judging offside. ARs should take the appropriate time to assess the components of an offside decision prior to raising the flag. Part of the assessment should include:

  1. Taking a snapshot of which attacking players are in an onside or offside position
  2. The trajectory and direction of the passed/touched ball
  3. The movement of the attacking players toward or away from the ball
  4. The interference of the attacking players on the defenders
  5. Which players actually play or touch the ball that has been passed or touched ball by a teammate
  6. The possibility of any collision or contact with an opponent including the goalkeeper

Additionally, it is important to remember, that an offside player should not be declared offside until such time as he:

  • “Interferes with play” by playing or touching the ball passed/touched by a teammate
  • “Interferes with an opponent” by preventing the opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the opponent’s line of vision or movements or making a gesture or movement which, in the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts an opponent
  • “Gains an advantage by being in that position” by playing a ball that rebounds to him off a goalpost or the crossbar having been in an offside position or playing a ball that rebounds to him off an opponent having been in an offside position

ARs must remember that it often takes time for a play or offside situation to fully develop and, by using the “wait and see” approach, ARs can enhance the accuracy of their decision making.

Video Clip 2: Dallas at Seattle (21:16)
This clip provides a good example of how the “wait and see” approach can ensure the AR makes a correct offside decision that benefits attacking soccer and that fits within the framework of Law 11 – Offside. In this clip, there is an attacking player in a clear offside position in the passing lane of the ball who has the opportunity to “interfere with play.” Concurrently, there is another attacker, in an onside position, who has the opportunity to play/touch the passed ball.

With more than one player possessing the opportunity to play/touch the ball, the AR can use the “wait and see” approach to determine which of the two players (the onside or offside positioned player) actually plays or touches the passes ball. ARs cannot be confused by the proximity of attackers to the passed ball as that is not a criteria in determining offside. The decision must be made based upon who plays or touches the ball. There is an exception, however. If the AR judges that a collision may result between an offside player and an opponent, the AR should make a quicker judgment in order to prevent any possible injury or unnecessary contact.

Image 1Image 1 provides a picture of the “snapshot” the AR should take as the ball is passed. At this moment, the AR can create a mental picture of one attacker in an offside position and another nearby attacker in an onside position. Now, ARs should “wait and see.” Where do the players run? Which player actually touches or plays the ball?

Despite the offside positioned attacker nearer the passing lane of the ball, his movement (indicated by the blue line) shows that he is not participating in the play nor “interfering with play.” On the other hand, the onside positioned attacker makes a run (indicated by the red line) toward the ball. At this point, until one of the two players actually plays/touches the ball, no decision relative to offside should be made. The actual “no offside” decision is made once the onside player (red line) plays the ball. This is the only situation the AR must “wait and see” which player touches the ball first before rendering a decision.

By taking a snapshot of the play and by utilizing the “wait and see” approach, the AR is able to make a quality decision that correctly determines that there is no offside offense.

Looking Forward – Playoff Week 1
Exceeding the intensity level of the game. All match officials need to ensure that the intensity level of the officiating team and their individual intensity level exceeds that of the game/players. Ninety-plus minutes of focus and energy must be displayed. Officials cannot allow the energy levels of the players to surpass their energy level. Officials on the referee team can send reminders throughout the match using visual communication as well as the RefTalk system. The reminders can be positive reinforcement or comments geared at focusing or refocusing. Often times, outside eyes can give a more realistic perspective of intensity level and ensure that fellow teammate’s levels of energy and focus are in-tune with those of the game/players.