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2010 Referee Week in Review - Week 32

The quarterfinals of the MLS playoff series are complete and next up are the conference championships before the MLS Cup final in Toronto, Canada.  Match officials completed the second week of the playoffs with solid performances.  The referees contributed to a positive atmosphere that allowed the players and teams to challenge for the MLS Cup with fair play as the focal point.  As a result, this “Week In Review” will focus on technical decisions (non-foul decisions) that will help all officials improve. 

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


Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct:  Dissent by Word and Action

In “Week In Review 20,” the concept of dissent was explored.  Correctly defining/interpreting dissent requires a calm and controlled match official who is able to distinguish between multiple factors:

Emotional response
Dissent = yellow card
Offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures = red card

U.S. Soccer’s “Dissent” directive is intended to help officials make the appropriate determination.  It is important for officials to correctly distinguish between an emotional response and dissent as well as to be able to make a fair distinction between dissent and offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures.

Referees must be able to “feel” the situation and find the right balance of a player having his “say” quickly without being personal, public or provocative.  Referees must be cognizant of the image portrayed by the player which means an official must know how the player is conveying his message and how that message is received by others (the spectators, television audience, players and coaches). 

Often times the negative impact of visual dissent outweighs the verbal impact.  In other words, how the message is conveyed is more important in determining dissent than what message is conveyed verbally.

Clip 1:  Colorado at Columbus (30:16)
The focus of this clip is not on the foul that has been committed but rather the actions of the goalkeeper after the foul.  The goalkeeper’s actions, both verbal and visual, constitute dissent and, as a result, he should be cautioned.  What makes the goalkeeper’s response more than an emotional response?

  • The distance the goalkeeper runs to confront the referee and the assistant referee (AR).
  • The extended time or duration of the complaining.The goalkeeper does not retreat to his position and discontinue his actions when warned by the referee and AR.
  • The body language of the goalkeeper.  This includes his hand/arm gestures.  Evaluate the forcefulness of the message sent by the goalkeeper’s movements.
  • The verbal tone and volume used by the goalkeeper.  Although it is not audible, it is evident by the keeper’s body language and facial expressions. 

The goalkeeper’s prolong actions represent verbal and visual dissent and he should be cautioned for his actions.  Even in a playoff game in which emotions run higher than normal, the goalkeeper’s actions cannot go unsanctioned.

Misconduct By an Injured Player:  Law 5 – The Referee

Over the years, the Laws of the Game are modified and adjusted as the needs of the game change.  Often, the changes are subtle but important.  The method for dealing with the carding (yellow or red) of an injured player is one of the subtle changes that have occurred over the years.

FIFA’s “Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees” provides the following guidance relative to the issuance of a card to an injured player:

  • Once the referee has decided to issue a card to a player who is injured and has to leave the field of play for treatment, the referee must issue the card before the player leaves the field of play.

The referee must find the right balance between showing the card at an appropriate moment and not taking too long to show the card.  The referee must show the card in a manner and at a time that is respectful to the injured player.  However, the referee must also consider player frustrations and the perception that the opposing players have influenced the decision to card the injured player.

Hence, there needs to be a balance between showing compassion/concern and timing.

The timing of the display of the card may vary based upon whether the card is yellow or red.  It may also vary based upon the reaction of the players and the atmosphere of the game at the time.  Feel the situation and make the best decision for the game – a decision that does cause frustration or anger levels to rise while considering the nature of the injury.

Most importantly, the referee must issue/show the card prior to the player leaving the field to ensure that everyone knows that the player is guilty of misconduct.  There may be instances where the injured player will not return to the match and, by issuing the card prior to his leaving the field, the referee puts the disciplinary sanction on record.  In addition, this ensures that the card is issued prior to the game being restarted at which time the referee would be unable to come back to caution for the offense at a later time.

Clip 2:  San Jose at New York (30:15)
The referee correctly identifies a tackle as reckless and, therefore, cautionable.  The tackler’s approach is from the side and his foot/leg originally is on the ground.  The mode of contact is the key indicator (aside from the direction of the tackle) that the challenge is only a yellow card.  In this case, the mode of contact is the side/top of the foot and not the hard, unforgiving surface of the cleats.  There is no straight leg (the tackler’s knee is bent).  These factors lead to the determination that no excessive force has been used and, therefore, a yellow card is appropriate.

Once the referee has determined that the tackle is cautionable, he must rapidly evaluate the situation to determine the appropriate time to issue the yellow card.  As you watch the clip, consider options and ask yourself:

1.    Does the situation require that I raise the card immediately?
2.    If I do not show the card immediately, will the perception be that I am being influenced by the opposing players in making my decision?

In this case, the referee should consider taking the yellow card out of his pocket immediately upon deciding the tackle is reckless.  By holding the card at his side, the referee sends a clear message that the tackler was guilty of misconduct.  This is “preventative” action on the referee’s part and should defuse any potential frustration, retaliation and/or dissent on the part of the opponents.  Once the card is out, the referee can then wait to show the card to the player basing the decision on his feel for the game including the player’s status and attitude.  Note:  Issue the card before the game is restarted and at a time that reduces opportunities for player frustration and retaliation (timing and respect).

Notice that the referee does a good job authorizing the medical staff to enter the field to attend to the injured player.  As soon as the referee identifies the seriousness of the injury, he clearly motions for the medical staff. 

The Corner Kick Decision (Which Side?):  Law 17 – The Corner Kick

Often times, the simple decisions or technical decisions can lead to controversy and frustration.  For example, the awarding of throw-in to a team and the side from which a corner kick is taken can be a source of dispute and complaint.  For this reason, officials should take these technical decisions as serious as they would any other foul call. 

The side from which a corner kick is taken is determined by the point from which the ball crossed the goal line.  As the Laws of the Game state:

  • The ball must be placed inside the corner arc nearest to the point where the ball crossed the goal line.

The side from which the ball crosses the goal line is not always obvious.  In these cases, the referee must make the best determination as to the side from which the restart must be taken.  Referees should not be influenced or intimidated by players or coaches in making this decision.  This decision is often not an “exact science” but must be made based upon the referee’s position and view at the time the ball crosses the goal line.

Shots and deflections often occur very fast so the referee must stay alert to make the appropriate restart decision not only in terms of the side from which the corner kick should be taken but whether the restart is a corner kick or goal kick.

It is important that the referee indicate the corner from which the kick is to be taken with a clear hand/arm signal.  When the decision may not be clear to others, the referee should sell the call by making a decisive and convincing signal (pointing to the corner from which the restart will occur).

Clip 3:  Seattle at Los Angeles (18:08)
The side from which the corner kick is to be taken becomes controversial when a goal is scored off the ensuing restart.  Remember, in the modern game, over 30 percent of goals are scored from restarts like corner kicks.

In clip 3, the referee is appropriately positioned for the dynamics of the play and for making the corner kick “side” decision.  In addition, the referee quickly and decisively indicates the side from which the corner should be taken.  The referee shows no hesitancy in his decision and does not change his decision due to protests from coaches and/or players.

The replay of the referee’s decision, from behind the far goal, shows that the referee’s position allowed him to make the correct decision in awarding the restart of the corner kick from the far side.  If the ball leaves the field at a point close to the center of the goal line, the referee must use his best judgment to determine the correct side for the corner kick to be taken.

Looking Forward – Week 33 (Playoff Week 3)
The conference championship games are next in line for match officials.  The dynamics for these two games change as these are single elimination matches.  There is no home-and-home series.  Hence, one game will determine whether the team goes forward.  Match officials must be prepared as the players may approach the game with a different mentality and attitude given it is a single elimination game.  Officials must remember to be prepared for the unexpected and be focused for the entire match.  Referees must be thinking the game even when they don’t think they need to think.