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2010 Referee Week In Review Week 5


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 2010
Week 5 – Ending April 25, 2010
After five weeks of MLS competition, games continue to offer many challenges to match officials. Offside decisions, reckless challenges in front of the technical areas and contact above the shoulder continue to be areas of focus. Each of these topics are a regular occurrence in MLS, WPS and USSF D-2 Professional League games. Referees, assistant referees (ARs) and fourth officials must anticipate and read the warning signs associated with offside, reckless or excessive force challenges and contact above the shoulder. The focal point of this “Week In Review” will be a discussion of warning signs and how they can potentially assist match officials with preventing problems or preventing the escalation of volatile situations.

Week In Review Podcast: For each “Week In Review,” U.S. Soccer produces a related podcast that covers the topics of the week.


Referee Positioning: Anticipate the “Next Phase of Play”

The next phase of play is a common theme in the “Week In Review.” The concept of next phase of play can help officials anticipate the next move(s) of a player or team. Referees must “read” the players and understand the tactical requirements of the game to anticipate the next phase of play. In other words, match officials must possess the ability to think one, two or more steps (touches or passes) ahead. Referees who have tunnel vision will often miss the tactical cues and will fail in reading the play and putting themselves in the correct position for the next phase of play.

Note: Referees can aid their ability to anticipate the next phase of play by scanning the field and not focusing attention solely on the ball. Referees must think like a player and evaluate the options facing a player and/or team and determine the next phase of play. An understanding of team tactics and the technical ability of a player or players is vital to this evaluation.

Video Clip 1: Seattle at Toronto (56:52)
The focus of this clip is taking an optimal position through reading play and identifying the options facing an attacker with the ball.. Because the referee does not recognize the warning signs associated with the attacker’s possession of the ball, the referee gets hit by a pass (cross into the penalty area) on the edge of the penalty area. The deflection off the referee may then contribute to the game’s first goal (the ball goes to a defender who misplays it). Referees must understand the options facing players with the ball and take a position that permits them to have an optimal line of vision to play without taking away the options of a player or team.

In this case, the referee runs into the attacker’s passing lane instead of reading the warning signs that should influence the referee’s understanding of the next phase of play (the options facing the player with the ball). The referee needs to read the options facing the attacker based upon the fact that two defenders are in close proximity to the attacker with the ball and the fact that these defenders are stationed between the attacker and his potential progress. The potential options facing the attacker are:

  • Take on the defenders by dribbling around them.
  • Pass the ball back to the attacker’s supporting wide player.
  • Cut the ball back and cross it to teammates inside the penalty area.

Diagram 1Given his reading of the options and play, the referee should not take a position in one of the passing lanes of the attacker with the ball. The referee’s movement, in this clip, puts him directly in the crossing lane of the attacker and, consequently, the referee is struck by the ball. The approximate correct position for the referee is shown in Diagram 1. This position takes the referee out of the passing lane while providing him with a good line of vision to any potential challenge as well as placing the referee in a solid position for the next phase of play whether it be the cross, the pass back to the supporting teammate or the dribble to beat the two defenders.

Referees must anticipate the next phase of play by reading play and players as well as by understanding the technical and tactical options available to players based upon factors like skill level. This will lead to optimal positioning and optimal decision making.

Reading the Warning Signs: Referee Urgency

Referees must impart their persona on the game which allows them to use their “command presence” to manage players and communicate their decisions through verbal or visual dialogue. The visual dialogue is communicated by the referee’s actions, body language, movement and hand gestures. Match officials can communicate the severity of a foul, challenge or situation through urgency in movement. Quick or urgent movement, with positive energy, to get to the spot can not only be felt by the players/coaches and can be observed by players/coaches, spectators and media. Urgency sends a visual message and it expands a match official’s persona or aura.

There are many situations that may arise in a game that require urgency on the part of the referee. Urgency in getting to the spot of a foul (as the situation dictates) can often be a preventative tool as players “feel” the referee’s presence or even see the referee and, as a result, have second thoughts about their actions.

Situations, like the following, are warning signs that the referee needs urgency in action:

  • Challenges and confrontations in front of the technical areas.
  • A player on the ground with an opponent hovering over the top of him (usually the ball is near the players).
  • Players near or running toward sign boards or solid structures like walls.
  • After goals in which the attacking team runs in to gather the ball.
  • Late or hard challenges on the goalkeeper.
  • Protective positioning late in the game in the area near the referee’s corner flag.

There are many more situations that require immediate action and these often result from the temperature or atmosphere of the game or player(s). Match officials must “feel” these situations and respond appropriately, with urgency, or else face losing the opportunity of their presence being a preventative factor.

Note: It is not necessary for officials to run to the spot of every foul. However, referees need to “read” the warning signs and go to the spot of infringements when their presence will be a preventative force.

Two clips will be used, from the same game, to illustrate the concept of urgency and how it could possibly be a deterrent and send a strong message to the participants in a game.

Video Clip 2: Seattle at Dallas (13:57)
It is early in the match and the referee has an opportunity to send a positive message that he is in-control. Through urgency in movement, the referee not only sets the tone for the game but also builds his aura through his “command presence.” Additionally, the referee’s strong and immediate reaction can also prevent or deter retaliation or escalation of the situation.

In this first clip, the referee must read three warning signs:

  1. A challenge in front of the technical areas.
  2. A player on the ground with an opponent standing over him.
  3. There was non-foul contact immediately preceding the foul.

Upon recognizing the warning signs, the referee should sprint to the spot of the foul. The energy exerted by the referee will be not only observed by the players/coaches and this will translate into an acknowledgment of the severity of the pending situation. As the referee sees a potential challenge near the bench area, the referee should be prepared to intervene with a physical presence. Upon calling the foul and recognizing a player is on the ground, the referee should sprint to the spot with the hopes that his actions prevent escalation or, in this case, the retaliation by the player on the ground. As the play develops, focus on the referee. He is too casual in his movement and body language.

The fourth official’s presence and immediate presence assists in ensuring the situation does not escalate. By immediately moving to the infringement, the fourth official takes preventative action. The fourth official’s intervention or his proximity to the situation should not, however, deter the referee from reading the warning signs and urgently moving to the players.

Note: It is permissible for the fourth official to enter the field of play since the situation is directly in front of him. The fourth official must “read” the situation and determine if his immediate presence will act as a deterrent. If so, then lending his presence will be a positive contribution and is encouraged.

The foul called by the referee, committed by the Seattle player (green shirt), is merely careless. If the referee believes the action by the fouled Dallas player (red/white shirt) is reckless in nature, then the referee can caution this player for unsporting behavior.

Video Clip 3: Seattle at Dallas (84:02)
Later in the same game as video clip 2, the referee is faced with another case requiring urgency in action on the part of the referee. Once again, the referee is faced with a situation directly in front of a team’s technical area and additional similar warning signs: player on the ground, opponent standing over him and the ball in playing distance.

The intensity and body language of the referee does not match the pending seriousness of the situation. As the clip is viewed, first focus on the situation and visualize the potential outcome like game disrepute, mass confrontation, technical area involvement and more. Then, view the clip while focusing on the referee’s action and movement. Ask yourself: Does the referee’s action match the severity or potential explosiveness of the situation?

The actual foul is preceded by a good no-call (trifling and normal contact by the Dallas player just on the other side of the halfway line) by the referee.

The referee is not taking preventative action by taking such a casual approach to the infringement. Actions by less disciplined players and/or teams could have caused havoc and resulted in game disrepute, mass confrontation or serious acts of misconduct resulting in yellow or red cards.

Note: Understanding and recognizing potential warning signs and reacting swiftly (with urgency) can defuse and de-escalate situations that have the ability to explode. The referee’s sense of urgency must match or exceed those of the situation, players and/or game. Responses must always be done in a positive and controlled manner.

Contact Above the Shoulder: Could Referee “Urgency” Prevent?

Reading the warning signs and responding rapidly, with strong presence, may act as a preventative measure. Often times, when players feel or see the referee’s presence, they think twice before taking action that can result in misconduct (a red or yellow card). Therefore, it is imperative that referees have a physical and verbal presence during potentially tense situations. Players can “feel” the referee’s energy and urgency. Consequently, presence is a tool of prevention.

At the start of the 2009 professional season, U.S. Soccer published a list of directives to assist match officials in managing critical aspects of the game. One of the directives was “Contact Above the Shoulder.” Aside from the “tool vs. weapon” criteria, the directive provided the following guidance in determining whether “contact above the shoulder” required a red card:

Actions aimed at the face of an opponent (one form of “contact above the shoulder”) must be dealt with severely REGARDLESS OF THE FORCE USED if the actions are:

  • Deliberate
  • Intended to intimidate
  • Endangering the safety of an opponent
  • Insulting and/or offensive in nature
  • Potentially inciting further action on the part of opponents
  • Done in a provocative, inciteful manner

Video Clip 4: Houston at Chicago (82:48)
This “contact above the shoulder” situation had several warning signs that could have assisted the referee by increasing his urgency through anticipation and decreased reaction time. As the clip is viewed, consider the following: approximately two minutes earlier, there was a red card that resulted in game disrepute and further misconduct.

Considering the circumstances and atmosphere of the game created a few minutes before (a first warning sign), the referee must anticipate increased tensions and be prepared to respond to volatile situations like the one in clip 4. A headbutt is precipitated by late and hard body contact after the ball is gone (a second warning sign). The player on the receiving end of the late and reckless foul then responds with a more intense response of his own, a headbutt.

As soon as the referee recognizes the late body charge by the Houston player (orange shirt), the referee must move to the spot with urgency with the hope that the player that has been fouled “feels” the referee’s presence and “feels” that the referee will take prompt and correct disciplinary action. As you watch the referee’s response to the situation, notice his first few steps. These initial steps lack urgency and energy, thereby reducing his arrival time on the scene of the crime.

Given the actions by the two players, the disciplinary decisions by the referee are correct. The Houston player (orange shirt) should be cautioned for his reckless challenge (unsporting behavior) while the Chicago player is correctly sent-off for violent conduct (head butt).

Interfering With an Opponent: Law 11 – Offside
Law 11 – Offside states that a player, in an offside position, who interferes with an opponent must be declared offside. Interfering with an opponent is just one of three determinants to be utilized by officials in deciding to penalize an offside positioned player.

Interfering with an opponent means:

  • Preventing an 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.

Key to correct application are the terms obstructing the opponent’s line of vision and obstructing the opponent’s movements. For example, blocking the goalkeeper’s view of a shot or preventing a goalkeeper from being able to make a play on a ball can be construed as interfering with an opponent.

U.S. Soccer’s publication “Guide to Procedures for Referees, Assistant Referees and Fourth Officials” tells ARs that if they are unsure whether an offside positioned player should be declared offside when a goal is scored, the AR should stand at attention and not move up field which would be an indication of a valid goal (and no offside infraction). By standing at attention, the AR is sending a silent signal to the referee that a potential issue exists with the goal that has been scored. Based upon the referee’s position or understanding of the situation, the referee should conference with the AR, assess the situation from their perspective of the offside positioned player’s action and then render the goal or offside decision.

Video Clip 5: San Jose at Chivas U.S.A. (90:00 + 2:18)
This clip requires the officials to understand the interfering with an opponent definition. From a corner kick, the defense clears a ball that is then immediately shot into the goal from just outside the penalty area. As the ball is cleared, the defense moves out with the exception of a defending player who is covering the goal for the goalkeeper who is at the top of the goal area. Just behind the keeper is an offside-positioned attacker who is moving forward after the ball is shot by his teammate.

As the shot moves through the penalty area and toward the goal, the goalkeeper attempts to stop the ball but is impeded through contact with the offside positioned attacker. Diagram 2 shows a still picture of the offside positioned player and the goalkeeper. This is a similar picture that must be taken by the AR and the referee (both from different angles). It is important for the AR and referee (when possible) to take a picture at the time of the shot and then carefully observe the impact of the offside player’s actions and position on the goalkeeper.

Diagram 2 shows the attacker is interfering with an opponent (the goalkeeper) by “preventing the goalkeeper from playing the ball or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the goalkeeper’s movements.” As a result, the goal should be disallowed and the game restarted with an indirect free kick for offside.

Diagram 2Note: If there is any doubt in the ARs mind relative to whether “interference with an opponent” exists, the AR should stand at attention as the ball goes into goal (do not run up the field as the AR would to signal a good goal). Prior to signaling a goal, the referee should make eye contact with the AR and, at this point, would notice that the AR is at attention indicating an issue associated with the goal. After a quick conference with the AR, the referee can make the correct offside or goal decision.

The referee does a very good job reading the warning sign associated with the attacker going into the goal to retrieve the ball after the goal. Through urgent movement to the goalmouth, the referee prevents potential conflict (and possible misconduct) between the goalkeeper and the attacker who has gained possession of the ball.

Looking Forward – Week 6
Urgency in movement and anticipation should be the focal point for the upcoming week and thereafter. Match officials must heed the warning signs associated with various situations in the game. Responding with urgent actions that are felt and seen by players will aid in preventing situations from escalating.