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2009 Referee Week in Review - Week 23

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 23 – ending August 23, 2009
In the nine games played lasted week, six ended in a tie or a single goal was the difference. These results speak to the competitiveness of the matches. Every shot and attacking opportunity plays a critical role in potentially determining the winner. For this reason, assistant referees (ARs) in particular, must be ready for situations leading to attacks on goal. Concentration and focus is vital to correct interpretation of the offside law. ARs must be prepared for counter-attacks involving long balls serviced from distance, as well as quick touches where there may be multiple bodies in tight spaces moving in different directions.

Week 23 saw multiple decisions by ARs deny fair opportunities to score. These decisions included goals disallowed for erroneous offside decisions and over involvement by an AR as a result of calling an unnecessary foul that took away an early goal.

Finally, this “Week In Review” will explore the feinting during the taking of a penalty kick. A few weeks ago, a feinting situation occurred in a CONCACAF Champions League match involving D.C. United during the taking of a penalty kick. The situation raised many questions. As a consequence, U.S. Soccer asked FIFA for an interpretation and, based upon FIFAs input, has issued a position paper entitled, “Deception at the Taking of a Penalty Kick.”


Deception / Feinting at the Taking of a Penalty Kick: Law 14  
“Week In Review 18” briefly touched on the tactic of feinting during the taking of a penalty kick. At the time, a video clip of fair deception, or feinting, was provided. This week, an additional clip will be examined that further illustrates a fair form of feinting.

“Feinting to take a penalty kick to confuse opponents is permitted as part of football. However, if, in the opinion of the referee, the feinting is considered an act of unsporting behavior, the player must be cautioned.”

When feinting occurs, referees must evaluate the line between acceptable “feinting” and unacceptable “unsporting behavior. This decision is based upon “the opinion of the referee” who must evaluate the specific circumstances of the kicker’s actions and the referee’s “feel” for the match at that point.

In making this evaluation, referees should consider the following three specific examples of behavior by the penalty taker that U.S. Soccer has deemed not acceptable and, therefore, should be judged as unsporting behavior:

  1. Running past the ball and then stepping backward to perform the kick.
  2. Excessively changing directions or taking an excessively long run to the ball (thus causing an unnecessary delay in the restart, in the opinion of the referee).
  3. Making a hand or arm gesture which obviously distracts or deceives the goalkeeper.

Video Clip 1: D.C. United at Firpo (38:50)
This clip is from a CONCACAF Champions League match involving D.C. United. During the game, a penalty kick is awarded. During the taking of the penalty kick, the kicker (No. 10) feints immediately prior to contacting the ball. This action is acceptable behavior and should not be considered unsporting behavior. Based upon the three examples provided above, the penalty taker’s actions fall within the category of acceptable “feigning” (acceptable deception) during the taking of a penalty kick.

Video Clip 2: Los Angeles at New England (82:09)
This clip provides another example of feigning that is acceptable. The player does not violate any of the criteria set forth above. Also note the encroachment that occurs. This is a separate violation of the Law that the referee must decide whether to address. In this clip, the defensive team clearly encroaches (enters the penalty area and within 10 yards of the ball prior to the ball being kicked); however, a goal is scored so no action should be taken on the part of the referee.

Offside: Law 11
Law 11, Offside is a simple law yet it is a law that causes much controversy. The concepts are straight forward but the application of the concepts requires focus and concentration combined with optimum positioning and keen eyesight.

Video Clip 3: Kansas City at San Jose (11:53)
This clip illustrates the need for the AR to have both a clear understanding of the current offside interpretation and a working knowledge of the recommendations by U.S. Soccer in the “Guide to Procedures for Referees, Assistant Referees and Fourth Officials.”

Here is the offside model:

Offside Position
Active Participation (any of the three below)

  1. Interfering with play = touching the ball
  2. Interfering with an opponent = movement or gesture to impede or distract. Blocking the
    line of sight of an opponent
  3. Gaining an advantage from the offside position = playing the ball from a
    rebound off a goal post or the crossbar having been in an offside position or
    playing a ball that rebounds off an opponent

Offside Infraction (raise flag to indicate offense)

When the player on the team with the black jersey heads the ball from his defensive third of the field, a teammate is behind the opposing second-to-last defender (white jersey) in an offside position. The ball is played (headed) by an opponent backwards (behind his position) toward the opposing attacker in an offside position. Because the ball was played by the defender, the attacker cannot be offside.

Why is the defender’s header considered playing the ball? Because the heading defender (white jersey) was under no pressure from an opponent nor was he challenged by or interfered with by the offside positioned attacker or any other player who may have caused him to misplay or deflect the ball.

In evaluating the situation, the question for the AR and the referee is whether or not the defender in the white jersey played the ball or did the ball rebound off him?

Controlled play, misplaying or poor execution of play by a player under no pressure from an opponent are different than the ball rebounding or deflecting. The concept of playing may differ slightly depending upon the age and skill level of the players involved.

In the clip, there is NO offside infraction. Play should be allowed to continue.

The AR must be 100 percent positive the attacker is guilty of an offside infraction prior to raising the flag and signaling the offside infraction to the referee.

If the AR has doubt, U.S. Soccer guidance is for the AR to keep the flag down.

Subsequently, if a goal is scored and the AR still has doubt as to whether or not the attacker received the ball from a rebound off an opponent or a controlled play by the opponent, the AR should stand at attention with the flag held straight down at the side and be prepared to signal the referee in accordance with the pre-game discussion if further information needs to be given to assist in making the correct decision.

Video Clip 4: Seattle at Houston (46:25)
AR awareness, focus and concentration are vital skills for making correct offside decisions. In this clip, the AR demonstrates the need to maintain focus and concentration while mentally processing offside decision points during a sequence of three separate attacking team “touches” of the ball which occur in a short time span.

Notice the time of the match: 46:25. The second half is just over a minute old. The referee team must be ready and alert at all times. It is easy to return to the field after the halftime break relaxed and inattentive. Concentration is mandatory at all times.

  1. The first decision point
    The give-and-go through ball played to the attacking team’s (blue jersey) forward penetrating behind the defense down the left flank.
  2. The second decision point
    When the ball is played back across the top of the goal area to the trailing teammate (No. 6).
  3. The third decision point
    Occurs at the moment the trailing attacker (No. 6) touches the ball forward past the on-rushing goalkeeper who is unable to play the ball. The touch by the trailing attacker goes directly toward his teammate who, at the time of this touch, is in an offside position.

The offside position can be confirmed due to the fact that, at the moment No. 6 (trailing attacker) touches the ball past the opposing goalkeeper, his teammate is ahead of the ball with only one defender (the orange jersey player who is running to cover the goalmouth for the keeper) between his position and the goal line. Just before No. 6 can get a second touch on the ball to shoot at goal, his offside positioned teammate plays (touches) the ball into the goal.

As a result of his “touch” of the ball, the offside positioned player interferes with play and should be penalized for an offside infraction. The AR makes a correct decision to disallow the goal for offside.

AR focus and awareness is needed to recognize the goalkeeper moving forward from his goal line position past the attacker as, now, the ARs normal second-to-last defender view is changed. Having the visual and mental acuity to make this change/adjustment is critical to making the correct offside decision.

Handling the Ball: Law 12
Referees are regularly faced with judging contact between the ball and a player’s arm/hand. As we have stated in prior “Weeks In Review,” these decisions are never easy due to the speed of the game and the quick judgment the referee must make.

Using the criteria detailed in the 2009 Referee Program Directive “Handling the Ball,” referees are more prepared than ever to correctly decide whether an infringement has occurred when there is contact between the hand/arm and the ball. Multiple prior “Weeks In Review” have also provided video evidence to assist in the training of the match official’s eye to correct discern handling decisions.

The following lists the criteria to be used by match officials in judging handling offenses:

  1. Making yourself bigger
    This refers to the placement of the arm(s)/hand(s) of the defending player at the time the ball is played by the opponent. Should an arm/hand be in a position that takes away space from the team with the ball and the ball contacts the arm/hand, the referee should interpret this contact as handling.
  2. Is the arm or hand in an “unnatural position?”
    Is the arm or hand in a position that is not normal or natural for a player performing the task at hand.
  3. Did the player “benefit?”
    In considering all the “signs” described above, the referee should also consider the result of the player’s (usually a defender) action. Did the defender’s action (handling of the ball) deny an opportunity (for example, a pass or shot on goal) that would have otherwise been available to the opponent? Did the offending player gain an unfair tactical advantage from contact with the hand/arm which enabled him to retain possession? In other words: Did the player benefit by putting his hand/arm in an “unnatural position?” The referee needs to be able to quickly calculate the result of the player’s action to determine whether an offence has been committed.

    After applying the aforementioned criteria, if the referee is still uncertain as to whether handling the ball has occurred, the referee should then incorporate the following two criteria as part of his decision making process:
  4. Reaction Time
    The less time a defender has to react, the less likely there has been a handling offense. For example, a ball struck from a close distance, or a very fast moving ball, or a ball coming in from a direction which is outside the defender’s view gives little or no time for the defender’s reaction to be “deliberate.” The referee must take into consideration whether the defender’s reaction is purely instinctive, taken to protect sensitive areas of the body as the face. Distance is a factor in determining “reaction time.” The further the ball, the more reaction time a play may have.
  5. Hand / arm to ball
    Referees must be ready to judge whether the player moved his arm to the ball thereby initiating the contact. Additionally, the referee should evaluate whether the player deliberately readjusted his body position to block the ball thus intentionally playing the ball with his hand/arm.

Video Clip 5: New England at Seattle (81:55)
This video clip situation involves a defender (facing his own goal) making a sliding kick of a ball which has been serviced across the penalty area, near the penalty spot. As a result of the sliding kick, the ball deflects off his leg and it is sent toward his own goal with speed. As the defender kicks it, a teammate is only three yards from him and the ball strikes the arm.

Given the criteria above, this is not a handling situation because:

  1. The arm is in a NATURAL PLAYING POSITION.
  2. The player did NOT MOVE THE ARM TO THE BALL.
  3. The player tried to move his arm out of the way as it struck him.
  4. He did NOT take away the opponent’s passing/shooting lane.

Note the excellent position of the referee who has a clear, unobstructed view of the situation.

Video Clip 6: Los Angeles at DC United (84:35)
Contrasted with clip above, this is an example of a player who has “made himself bigger” and whose arm/hand is in an “unnatural position.” As a result, this is a handling offense that should result in the awarding of a penalty kick.

Of note is the fact that the referee does not have a strategic position to best view the handling infringement. With the ball being serviced into the penalty area from the left channel of the field, the referee must be moving with the ball/following the flight of the ball toward the drop zone. The referee is not visible in the clip and has not followed the ball. As a result, he is not positioned with the best view of any challenge, let alone a handling offense, in the penalty area. A position closer to the drop zone would enable the referee to have a clearer, more confident view of the scenario.

Looking Forward – Week 24
There needs to continue to be a re-emphasis on focus and concentration by ARs. ARs should continue to ensure their mind is fully active for the entire 90 minutes of the match. This includes the time just after the kickoff, just before and after halftime as well as the last few minutes of the game. Focus and concentration is the foundation for acuity and decision accuracy.