US SoccerUS Soccer
wir flagjpg.jpg

2009 Referee Week in Review - Week 35

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 35 – ending November 15, 2009
The Eastern and Western Conference Championships are done and Real Salt Lake and Los Angeles Galaxy have booked their tickets to Seattle. Each team was victorious in exciting matches that extended beyond 90 minutes. Fitness, focus, teamwork and concentration were the hallmarks of match official performances.

During the two high-pressure games, the referees were challenged to find the right mix of game flow, foul discrimination and misconduct while ensuring the safety of the players and the entertainment value for the spectators was maximized. As a result, both teams will enter the MLS Cup with a full compliment of players as no player will miss the “big game” due to a red card as the games were managed to ensure no red card offenses were committed.

WEEK 35 – Playoff #3 COMMENTARY

Application of Advantage – Going Back to Caution: Law 5

Law 5 – The Referee, lists several powers and duties of the referee. There are two critical aspects of Law 5 that referees are frequently called upon to enforce:

  1. The Advantage Clause
    The referee shall allow play to continue when the team against which an offense has been committed will benefit from such an advantage and penalizes the original offense if the anticipated advantage does not ensue at the time.
  2. Taking Disciplinary Action
    The referee can take disciplinary action against players guilty of cautionable and sending-off offenses. The referee is not obliged to take this action immediately but must do so when the ball next goes out of play.
    • If an offense warrants a caution, it must be issued at the next stoppage before play is allowed to be restarted.

A smart referee – a referee who is “feeling” the game and “reading” the game – uses the “wait and see” approach to assist in determining whether advantage opportunities exist with each offense and can, therefore, correctly apply the advantage clause while also recognizing associated misconduct. While injecting flow into the game by benefiting attacking soccer, the referee must consider the seriousness of any misconduct that may have been committed when deciding whether to apply advantage. Use of U.S. Soccer’s “4 P Principle” of advantage combined with the “wait and see” approach can help officials assess whether the application of advantage can be successful:

  • Possession of ball
    Control of the ball by the attacking team/player.
  • Potential for attack
    The ability to continue a credible, immediate and dangerous attack on the opponent’s goal.
  • Personnel
    The skill of the attackers and the attacking team’s numerical advantage in front of the ball.
  • Proximity to opponent’s goal
    Relates to the closeness to goal. The closer to the opponent’s goal, the more effective the advantage.

Refer to the U.S. Soccer’s newly released “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game 2009/2010” which can be found at for an in-depth analysis of the advantage clause and its application. This publication is available in both English and Spanish.

Once a referee has identified an advantage opportunity and a non-serious offense requiring misconduct (yellow card), the referee should indicate advantage and take note of the guilty player’s number as it often takes considerable time until the next stoppage in play. Referees may consider pointing to the player who will be receiving the misconduct and make a positive comment like “I am coming back to you,” in order to let the other players know that you have recognized the severity of the offense. This action may help squelch any potential dissent or players taking action on their own.

Video Clip 1: Real Salt Lake at Chicago (90:54)
As the ball progresses into the attacking third of the field, the referee shows a good “feel” for the skill level of the players (despite the compactness of play) and uses the “4 Ps” to determine that an opportunity to apply advantage is available. This decision is aided by the use of “wait and see.” The result: exciting attacking soccer and a corner kick. Watch as the referee indicates his application of advantage by using the approved arm signal.

Once the ball is out of play (for the corner kick), the referee seeks out the player who committed the foul and cautions him for unsporting behavior. Remember, the referee must issue the yellow card prior to the restart for the corner kick.

Video Clip 2: Real Salt Lake at Chicago (99:34)
With the game slightly over nine minutes into extra time, the referee applies advantage as the ball comes out of the defending penalty area. Even though the advantage situation lacks the “proximity to goal” component (it is in the defensive third), the referee does acknowledge that the attackers have clear “possession” of the ball, they have the “potential” for attack through expediency to the opposition’s goal and the attackers have the “personnel” via skill and numbers (in front of the ball) to maintain a clear and effective attack on the opponent’s goal.

As a consequence, the referee feels comfortable injecting flow into the game by allowing play to continue. Despite the 22 seconds it takes from the time the foul is committed to the ball going over the touchline, the referee does not forget the fact that an act of unsporting behavior has been committed. Once the ball is out of play and before play is restarted, the referee returns to the player who committed the foul and cautions him. Since the referee must issue the caution before play restarts, he holds up play and does not allow the team to take the throw-in until the yellow card is issued and the information recorded. Finally, since a caution was given, the referee (as is the case in this clip) must whistle for play to restart.

Injury Management – Stopping the Game for Serious Injury: Law 5

One of U.S. Soccer’s Referee Program directives issued in 2009 is entitled “Injury Management.” This directive addresses the management of injuries. In particular, the management of “serious injuries.” The Laws of the Game require the referee to stop the match if a player is seriously injured.

In its “Injury Management” directive, U.S. Soccer states that injuries to the head, neck or facial region should be considered serious in nature and, thus, require immediate stoppage of play. The safety of players should be paramount in the referee’s consideration.

Officials can refer to “Week In Review 6” for a similar serious injury to the head region in which referees were instructed to immediately stop play.

Referees can be aided by assistant referees (ARs) and fourth officials in identifying the need to immediately stop play for serious injury. At the same time, referees must be able to read the “warning signs” that a serious injury or head injury has occurred.

Video Clip 3: Real Salt Lake at Chicago (114:41)
Video clip 3 provides a good example of a “serious injury” that requires the game be stopped immediately regardless of which team has possession of the ball. Player safety is in jeopardy and the referee must ensure his injury is addressed without delay.

In this case, the referee allows play to continue for 45 seconds while the player goes unattended. At the time the player goes down to the ground, as a result of contact with the opponent, the referee must be aware of the warning signs that a serious injury has occurred:

  • There is head-to-head contact. At 114:49, both players grab their heads. 
  • The unnatural movement of the player on the ground. This is the movement of a player that has been seriously injured. 
  • The fact that the player subsequently raises his hand while lying on the ground indicating his needing immediate attention (114:56). 
  • The amount of time the player is on the ground.

The referee and/or AR and fourth official must take the time to correctly assess the “seriousness” of the injury. If the referee allows play to continue and it is clear to either the fourth official or AR that there is a serious injury, then they should get the referee’s attention by using the communication devices available to them (RefTalk or the beeper flags) or raise the flag to indicate that the referee must stop play. The fourth official can have the near-side AR raise his flag. At the youth and amateur levels of play, it is also acceptable for the officials to verbally get the referee’s attention by calling his name.

Due to the seriousness of the injury combined with the extended time the ball was allowed to be in play, once the referee does stop the game, players dissent and one player is required to be cautioned. When play is stopped for an injury, the following is a good approach by the referee to defuse any potential conflict:

Assess the injury, signal for assistance from medical or coaching staff and then leave the area so that the player can be handled by team personnel. Once the injury has been assessed by team personnel, the referee may return to facilitate the removal of the player from the field for treatment. In the case of a serious injury, the referee must work with team officials regarding treatment and removal.

A “Reckless” Tackle Requiring a Caution: Law 12

A regular topic for the “Week In Review” throughout the 35 weeks of the season has been tackles and the evaluation of tackles. Challenges with the feet or legs is a regular occurrence at all levels and the “Week In Review” focus has been geared at assisting match officials with identifying the critical components that differentiate the various tackles (fair, careless, reckless and excessive force). Repetition helps to train the mind’s eye so that there is increased consistency in the proper classification of challenges/tackles.

Over the past 35 weeks, the acronym SIAPOA has been explored multiple times as have the definitions of careless, reckless and excessive force. Despite all attempts to define and classify, decisions will always be affected by angle of vision, positioning, the “big picture” of the game and personal perspective. However, we should all continue to strive for consistency and perfection in decision making and strive to make the game safer and more enjoyable for players and spectators.

Video Clip 4: Houston at Galaxy (13:05)
Often the difference between a reckless tackle and a tackle involving excessive force is a fine line. Referees have a split second to make the differentiation. Other officials on the referee team can often provide input and/or a different perspective to assist in making sure the best possible decision is reached. This, however, is not always possible or necessary.

This clip involves a tackle that is a yellow card due to its reckless nature. It is a situation where both players involved are challenging for the ball but the player in the white jersey (No. 8) does so in a more aggressive manner. However, both players challenge for a 50/50 ball in a similar, out of control manner. The player in the white jersey (No. 8) exhibits more aggression as his tackle is more direct. As a result, in order to maintain control of the game and send an appropriate message, the referee must punish the extra aggression exhibited by No. 8 with a foul and a caution for unsporting behavior.

Once the ball is out of play, the ARs and fourth official must be aware of the extra curricular activities surrounding the referee to ensure that there is no escalation or further misconduct. At this time, the ARs are not required to enter the field but must be prepared to enter should mass confrontation develop.

Suspending the Match Due to Outside Interference: Law 5

Law 5 – The Referee, empowers the referee to “stop, suspend or abandon the match because of outside interference of any kind.” The term “outside interference” is broad but relates to issues not associated with infringements of the Laws.

In the MLS playoff match between Houston and the Galaxy, the referee (Terry Vaughn) was forced to “suspend” (temporarily halt) the match twice due to the lights going out in the stadium. This “outside interference” was deemed to be a safety hazard to the players and, as such, forced the referee to suspend play until the situation was rectified.

Immediately upon the lights failing, Vaughn stopped play. According to Vaughn, the first thing that entered his mind was the safety of the players, as well as, whether the outage was more than just an issue with the stadium lights. Fortunately, the electronic signboards surrounding the field of play and the security lights were functioning, which allowed for an orderly assimilation and assessment of the situation. Vaughn then ensured that the players were channeled to a safe area around the team benches. Having the players in a controlled area facilitated communication within the officiating team and with operational personnel regarding the outage. The following summarizes the key information discussed and the actions taken after obtaining that information.

Communication during the outage is a critical component to ensuring a smooth restart and overall cooperation amongst the participants. Components of successful communication during this stoppage included:

  • Finding out what caused the problem.
    Based upon communications with operational personnel, Vaughn learned that the lights went out due to a power surge in the immediate area. 
  • Finding out how long it would be until the lights would be back on.
    Vaughn was informed that it would take 18 minutes for the lights to power up. 
  • Obtain all the information on other issues that could now be affected due to the delay.
    During unusual stoppages, especially at the professional level, there are many logistic issues that need addressing. For example, many professional stadiums have curfews – a time in which the game cannot go beyond. In this playoff game, prior arrangements had been made to allow the game time to exceed the curfew time. In addition, logistics associated with television can cause havoc if not dealt with correctly. With the game being on national television, the sooner it could be resumed, the better for the television audience. 
  • Communicating with the match officials.
    Not only did Vaughn communicate with his ARs and fourth official about the situation, he used the stoppage as an opportunity to chat and revisit what had occurred during play up to the two stoppages (similar to the approach used by referee teams at halftime).

Having an action plan and executing that plan also plays a vital role during situations such as a lighting outage. In this game, there were several key action plans that assisted the match officials in the smooth execution of their responsibilities. The key actions taken included:

  • Communicate the circumstances surrounding the delay with the coaches and keep an ongoing dialog with them during the delay.
    Keep the coaches informed. As the situation changes, communicate the changes with the coaches thereby ensuring there are no surprises. This allows the teams time to prepare their players to restart the game.
  • Develop a plan to restart the game as quickly as possible while still ensuring player safety.
    Given the teams knew it would take 18 minutes for the lights to return to full power, it was agreed that the teams would remain on the field. Both teams indicated they would need five minutes to be fully warmed up. Consequently, the referee team agreed to notify the coaches five minutes prior to the restart of play. There was sufficient light on the field for the players to properly stay warm and warm-up during the 18 minutes needed for the lights to return to full capacity.
  • Reset the game clock.
    As soon as play was stopped, all four match officials made note of the time that had been played and the location of the restart (where the ball was when play was halted). This ensures the proper amount of time is played and the game is resumed in the correct manner. 
  • Restarting play.
    The restart of play was easy because the referee team did its job by recording the time the game was suspended and the location and method of restart. As the lights returned to full power, due to the proactive work of the referee team, the game was able to restart promptly and the players were properly prepared. Remember, ensure that the game is restarted with the same players on the field or, if the rules of competition permit, take note of the substitutions.

Although the “suspension due to outside interference” was caused by a lighting failure, there are many other causes which affect the game at all levels. The process used by Vaughn in this professional game can assist officials with the management of a suspended game for various other reasons like: lightening, inclement weather and severe player injury.

Looking Forward – MLS Cup
Being selected as a match official to MLS Cup is the culmination of 35 weeks of training, hard work and toil. Being chosen to manage the MLS Cup, as is selection to any final (at any level), is an honor and means that the work of the referee crew will be on center stage for all to witness. With the assignment comes responsibility, the responsibility to represent all 144,000 American officials. This year’s honor goes to:

Kevin Stott, Referee
C.J. Morgante, Assistant Referee
Rob Fereday, Assistant Referee
Baldomero Toledo, Fourth Official

The soccer community wishes you the best in this magnificent game!

The game will be broadcast live, Sunday, Nov. 22, on ESPN and Galavision at 8:30 p.m. ET.