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2010 Referee Week in Review - Week 27

For the second consecutive week, assistant referees (ARs) were plagued with miscalculations involving offside decisions. As a result, several legitimate scoring opportunities were denied. At the same time, a goal was allowed in which the goal scorer should have been declared offside. Lastly, an example of the referee understanding the “big picture” and displaying the ability to identify a situation involving delaying the restart of play will be examined to assist match officials with proper identification and application of the law.

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


Law 11 – Offside: The Long Ball Decision

“Week In Review 7” discussed the challenges faced by ARs who are forced to evaluate offside when the ball is played or touched from a significant distance and an onside/offside decision must be made. This is not an easy decision but one that can be made by an AR who is focused, concentrating and who can use some intuition (educated evaluation), combined with optimal positioning, when evaluating the timing of the long distance pass/touch.

“Week In Review 7” provided the following recommendations to assist in accurately deciphering the long ball offside scenario:

  • Rely on your instincts
    When distance is involved and the ball and/or play (at the moment the ball is played or touched) is only slightly in your peripheral vision or your vision may be blocked/impaired, the AR must “feel” when the ball is played At lower levels of play, it may be possible to hear the touch of the ball by the attacker. But, in stadium situations, the AR must interpret and “feel” the moment the ball is played/touched and use this moment to take the snapshot of player positions. ARs must correlate the distance of the ball at the time it is in their sightlines with the position of the players near the offside line. Some mental “backtracking” may have to be done to place the players in the appropriate position at the time the AR feels the ball was played/touched. This correlation will provide a reasonable “feel” for the time the ball was played/touched by an attacking player and the position of his teammates.
  • Go with “sufficient doubt”
    If there is “sufficient doubt” regarding the position of the onside/offside players, keep the flag down.

Clip 1: Chivas USA at Los Angeles (61:25)
In “Week In Review 26,” the following formula was discussed relative to making accurate offside decisions:


In this clip, the focus and concentration of the AR must be high as distance is involved between the AR and the ball as it is played as well as between the furthest most attacker and the ball. In addition, there are several players in the AR’s sightlines that could negatively affect the AR’s ability to clearly see the ball at the moment it is played/touched by the attacker.

Using the recommendation of relying on your instincts, if the AR’s view is impaired, the AR must use his experience to interpret where he believes all players were at the time the ball was actually played. Simply, the AR needs to use his mind’s eye to backtrack and place the players in the positions/locations he believes they were at the time the ball was played. Not an easy task but one that is vital to successful interpretation and application.

Using instincts in this case is a bit easier as there are two attackers in an offside position and one of the attackers is one or more yards behind the second-to-last defender. Once the ball is played by the wide attacker, the AR must simply “wait and see” to determine if either offside positioned player “interferes with play or an opponent” or “gains an advantage froweek27m being in an offside position.”

In summary, keys to success are:

  • Heightened focus and concentration – especially when one team is pressing hard on the attack.
  • The lead AR needs to feel the attacking pressure and anticipate a tight offside decision may come at any moment.
  • Optimal positioning to minimize the movement of the defenders.

Once the AR has determined that “interfering with play” has occurred, as it does in this clip, the AR must flag for offside. The goal should be disallowed and play restarted with an indirect free kick for offside from the place the infringement occurred.

Clip 2: Chivas USA at Los Angeles (57:00)
Clip 2 concerns another situation involving a long ball or long pass. In this scenario, it is clear that the AR is well positioned and moving appropriately with the second-to-last defender (the offside line). This decision may be complicated due to the fact that the AR is running forward to maintain alignment with the speed of the offside line and, therefore, his peripheral vision (view of the ball as it is passed) is impacted. Concurrently, the quick forward movement of the defender to attempt to place the opposing attacker in an offside position complicates the AR’s decision.

The AR does have the ability to use the field markings (grass cutting) to assist with deciding player positions. As Image 1 depicts, the furthermost attacker is in an onside position at the moment the ball is played/touched by his teammate.

There is another factor for the AR to consider when preparing for a potential offside decision. An AR who has done their homework will be cognizant of the fact that the player who will make the long pass has a history of playing these type of balls.

Note: At all levels, an understanding of the players and their abilities or skill set can help match officials anticipate decisions and the next phase of play.

Once again, if the play/touch of the ball is on the fringe of the AR’s peripheral vision, the AR will need to incorporate the philosophy of relying on your instincts to aid in making a correct decision. Using this skill along with utilization of the field markings, should provide the AR with sufficient information to decide that the streaking forward is in an onside position at the time the ball is played by his teammate and should, therefore, keep the flag down and allow attacking play to continue.

Because this occurs early in the second half, it is vital that the AR start the half focused and not allow the halftime break to negatively affect concentration levels.

Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct: Proper Identification of Delaying the Restart of Play

The Laws of the Game empower the referee to caution a player for “delaying the restart of play.” As examined in “Week In Review 21,” ( delaying the restart of play is normally a tactical move on the part of a team or player. Tactical because a winning team may want to take precious seconds off the clock in order to help preserve a win.

Referees must be able to understand the “big picture” when evaluating potential delaying the restart of play situations. In cases that may involve delaying the restart of play, the “big picture” is important in order to facilitate prevention and to read the objective or goal of the player.

Clip 3: Chivas USA at Los Angeles (87:43)
What is the “big picture” in this clip?

1. 88th minute of play.
2. A one goal difference.
3. The team that kicks the ball away is leading by a goal.
4. The losing team has been on a constant attack for much of the half.

With an understanding of the “big picture,” the referee is armed with important information in order to analyze the player’s (white jersey) action. The referee can ask himself: “Why? Why did the player kick the ball away after play has been stopped?”

Well after the whistle, the correctly cautioned player kicks the ball away. He sends it quite a distance and to a location where there are no opponents who can easily retrieve the ball. This delay tactic comes after the player makes an initial touch of the ball following the referee’s foul decision. If the player were to leave the ball, after the initial touch, the likelihood of a situation involving delaying the restart is mitigated. However, the player deliberately kicks the ball away from the restart location.

The result of the player’s action is to gain a tactical advantage in the last few minutes of a game that his team leads by a single goal. As a consequence, he has delayed the restart and taken away any advantage the fouled team may have had in putting the ball into play and must be cautioned for “delaying the restart of play.”

Note: Law 7 – The Duration of the Match, permits the referee to add any time lost through delay tactics as these are not a natural stoppage and can be considered wasting time.

Looking Forward – Week 28
Focus and concentration on the part of match officials and assistant referees, in particular. With four or five games left per MLS team, the intensity and emotion of matches is peaking and being exhibited on the field in terms of how players and teams approach the game. Even teams mathematically eliminated from playoff contention are playing with renewed passion as jobs are on the line for the 2011 season. At times, referees can help themselves by keeping the game simple. Get the first foul. Show urgency in front of the benches. Anticipate play.