US SoccerUS Soccer
wir flag1jpg.jpg

2010 Referee Week In Review Week 4


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.

The focus of this “Week In Review” will be on the importance of cooperation between the referee and the assistant referee (AR).  To ensure the correct decision is made during a game, the referee and AR must work together. 

This week will include teaching points from two MLS games as well as one from the WPS.  In one case, excellent teamwork leads to an 89th minute, game-winning penalty kick decision. 

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


Referee – Assistant Referee Cooperation:  Location of the Foul

Fouls that occur on the edge of the penalty area test match officials.  The “inside or outside the penalty area” decision is not easy and requires attentive teamwork to ensure the proper decision is made.  ARs can be of particular assistance with fouls that occur along the top of the penalty area as well as along the side of the penalty area nearest them.  Referees on the other hand, must take ownership of the “in or out” decision on the side of the penalty area that runs in their diagonal or area of patrol. 

Note:  In the pregame match official’s meeting, a thorough discussion on responsibilities and the use of approved signals regarding the “inside or outside the penalty area” decision should be addressed.  Pre-game preparation will ensure teamwork and quick, accurate decisions occur.  Each AR must understand their role and responsibilities as it relates to the “in or out” decision.  U.S. Soccer’s publication “Guide to Procedures for Referees, Assistant Referees and Fourth Officials” (~/link.aspx?_id=CDF2894B86EA423CB6FB746A51967D6B) provides a summary of the approved signals.  

The Laws of the Game (Law 1 – Field of Play) state that the “lines belong to the areas of which they are boundaries.”  This means that:

  1. The lines that mark the penalty area are part of the penalty area; and
  2. Any foul that occurs on the lines that mark the penalty area, should be judged to have occurred inside the penalty area.  Remember, it is not the location of the ball that matters but the location of the contact.

It is imperative that ARs anticipate a pending challenge near the penalty areas lines with which they are entrusted to assist the referee.  ARs can provide a second set of eyes thereby providing positive information to the referee.

Note:  When the opportunity exists for a challenge near the lines that mark the penalty area, the AR needs to be cognizant of not only the offside but also of the location of a challenge.  Effective use of peripheral vision and bod position (shoulders square to the field) will enhance the ARs ability to assist the referee in making the correct decision.

Video Clip 1:  Dallas at New York (88:26)
With the game tied at 1-1 and under two minutes remaining in regulation time, the referee team is faced with a decision that could potentially affect the outcome.  Given the circumstances (score and time), ensuring the correct “in or out of the penalty area” decision is made becomes more pressing.

Once the referee has determined that a foul has been committed by the defending team and has whistled for the foul, the referee must now make the determination as to the location of the foul.

Watch the referee in the clip.  As soon as he blows the whistle, the referee moves toward the spot of the foul.  As he moves, he makes eye contact with the lead AR.  Through his eye contact, the referee is asking for a second opinion, confirmation and/or reaffirmation that the foul was committed inside the penalty area (on the penalty area line).  By seeking the ARs input, the referee is able to make a more educated decision.

Note:  In close cases like this, it is not necessary for the referee to make an immediate decision.  Prior to “announcing” his decision to the players and spectators, the referee should get input from the lead AR.  A correct decision is preferred over a quicker but incorrect decision.   WiR

The picture to the right shows the location of the defender’s contact with the attacker.  The contact occurs directly along the line marking the penalty area.  Since the lines are part of the area they mark, a penalty kick decision is correct.

The AR does not have an easy task in providing assistance as the second-to-last defender is eight to nine yards deep in the penalty area and the AR must be aligned with this player (freeze frame the clip at 88:28 to see the location of the offside line).  However, through a keen sense of awareness and proper body mechanics, the AR is able to advise the referee (using U.S. Soccer’s approved signal) that he believes the foul has occurred inside the penalty area.

U.S. Soccer has an approved mechanic for ARs to indicate to the referee that the foul has been committed inside the penalty area.  This signal, draping the flag across the front of the body, should be used immediately upon the referee’s whistle and eye contact when the AR is certain the foul has occurred inside the penalty area.  Once the referee has seen the ARs signal and determines that a penalty kick should be awarded (generally by pointing to the penalty spot and moving to a neutral position), the AR should move swiftly to his penalty kick position which is adjacent to where the goal line and penalty area line intersect.

Overall, the referee and AR provide a positive example of teamwork and cooperation while using good mechanics that lead to a correct critical decision (penalty kick).

The Throw-In Location:  When is it Important?

Referees need to be attentive at all times even during a simple restart, like a throw-in.  Throw-ins can cause problems if referees are not aware of flash points or warning signs that a team may use the restart to gain an unfair attacking advantage.  Throw-ins can lead to an unfair advantage because:

  • At all levels, there are usually multiple balls situated around the field.  This allows players to not have to constantly chase balls that have gone out of play.
  • Ball kids and spectators provide balls to the thrower very fast.
  • Stadiums with close walls and/or sign boards which result in the ball remaining close to the field and potential throwers.
  • Players cannot be offside when they receive the ball direct from a throw-in.

These flash points/warning signs make it possible for attacking teams to put the ball into play and look to put the ball into play very quickly.  At times, teams can gain an unfair attacking advantage.  Law 15 – The Throw-In, requires the thrower to “deliver the ball from the point where it left the field of play.”  Based upon the spirit of the laws and past practices, U.S. Soccer’s “Advise to Referees on the Laws of the Game” ( states that the throw-in requirement is satisfied if the restart “occurs within approximately one yard (one meter) from this location, farther upfield or downfield or back from the touch line.”

In practice, match officials tend to be a bit more lenient due to the spirit of the laws or game since throw-in infringements tend to be trifling and minor in nature.  This leniency should not be considered in situations when a team gains an unfair advantage from taking the throw-in from an improper location.  In such cases, the letter of the law is paramount.

Referees have the primary responsibility for ensuring throw-ins are taken from the appropriate spot (where the ball left the field).  If the situation permits, ARs can provide some assistance as long as that assistance does not take them from their primary responsibility of managing offside decisions by being in-line with the second-to-last defender.

Note:  ARs must always remember their primary responsibility is assisting the referee with offside decisions.  Other areas of responsibility should be secondary based upon the game and referee requirements on the AR at the time.  

Since referees have primary responsibility for the restart location along the touchline, they must be close to the play and indicate visually, not only the direction of the throw, but the location of the throw-in whenever the game requires it.

Note:  Visual indications, by the referee, may be merely lining up with the throw-in location or indicating the location with the hand.  If need be, the referee can use the whistle to get the attention of the thrower while visually indicating the correct restart position.  

The sooner the referee notices that a team is preparing to gain an unfair advantage from taking the throw-in from the wrong location, the sooner the referee should intervene and indicate the appropriate location.  The key is prevention and early intervention.  The law requires the referee to award the throw-in to the opposing team if it is taken from the wrong spot (referee’s must gauge this decision using the spirit of the law).

Video Clip 2:  Kansas City at Seattle (90:00 + 1:03)
More than a minute into additional time, the ball leaves the field in the attacking third for an attacking throw-in.  Approximately 10-15 yards upfield, a reserve game ball is quickly given to another attacker who immediately turns, faces upfield and puts the ball back into play.

As the ball leaves the field of play, the following warning signs should be taken into consideration by the referee so that preventative action can be taken:

  • Attacking player (who looks like they will take the throw-in) moving toward the touchline 10-15 yards in advance of the actual throw-in location.
  • Ball being quickly returned to the field by a ball kid.  Notice that the ball is being returned/tossed by the ball kid even before the eventual thrower is off the field.
  • Game time and score:  With the score tied and the game in second half added time, the referee must be aware that a team (particularly the home team, as is the case in this clip) will want to push for the winning goal by getting the ball back into play quickly.

As soon as the referee identifies the warning signs and recognizes the attempt to gain an unfair advantage, the referee must get the thrower’s attention and prevent the throw-in from being taken.  Use of the whistle and body position, in-line with the appropriate restart location, are important.  If the player takes the throw-in from the wrong location, after the referee’s attempt to communicate the correct spot, the referee should award the throw-in to the opposing team.

Note:  Preventative work on the part of the referee is important once the warning signs have been recognized.  Referees should work so that they do not get to the point where the thrower takes the throw-in from the wrong position along the touch line.

In this clip, the AR has very little opportunity to assist with indicating the restart position due to the need to rapidly assume the offside position aligned with the second-to-last defender.  In some instances, a quick hand gesture to the player indicating to him that he must move back may be a preventative measure the AR can use to assist the referee but the referee must assume primary responsibility for the correct application of the law. 

The following is a summation of this clip and the associated responsibilities provided by a current MLS assistant referee and former FIFA AR.  The ARs thoughts give insight into his thought process and how he would address a similar situation:

  • The referee has the best perspective from his position and he has a whistle to prevent the attacker from throwing the ball too far from the place where the ball crossed the touch line.
  • The restart happens so fast that the AR cannot use his voice or a subtle hand gesture to indicate to the attacker the correct location.
  • From a practical and on-the-field perspective, the AR is mentally getting ready for the play following the throw-in and physically should be in position with the second-to-last defender for the next phase of play.
  • Initially, the AR can use peripheral view to see that the throw-in mechanics (feet on or behind the touch line) meet the requirements of the law but the ARs main focus should be on the offside line position for the next phase of play.

In summary, the referee should prevent the throw-in from being taken from the improper location by taking ownership of the restart location.  Strong body presence (in-line with the restart location) and the use of the whistle, voice and/or hand gestures should be used to ensure the throw-in is taken within the law and as preventative measures.  Focus should be on the fact that the attacking team has gained an unfair advantage by taking the throw-in so far in advance of where it left the field of play.

Offside or Penalty Kick:  Referee / AR Communication and Cooperation

Referees are often faced with multiple decisions in a short period of time.  Due to the short time span, the ability to process information and sort out the various actions, infringements and/or decisions is vital.  Communication (verbal, visual, eye contact) can assist in making the correct decision.

Forward passes to attacking teammates who are positioned in the attacking half of the field require that the referee give a quick glance to the AR to determine whether an offside offense has occurred.  Due to the time delay often associated with determining whether an offside player interfered, participated or gained an advantage, referees are often required to give a second quick glance at the AR as an attacking player touches/plays the ball as this is the moment the AR may raise the offside flag.

Note:  Referees must develop a reflex reaction (eye contact with the AR and then a second look to the AR) on offside decisions due to the potential extended time it takes for the offside decision to develop.  Referees must develop this reflex habit regardless of whether access to beeper flags or communication devices are available.  

In situations where misconduct occurs between the time of the attacker’s pass/touch of the ball and the decision to penalize for an offside infringement, the referee must still deal with the misconduct.  Missing an offside flag or late acknowledgement of an offside flag does not “cancel out” any misconduct committed by a player(s).  U.S. Soccer’s “Advise to Referees on the Laws of the Game” ( (section 12.32 – Sequential Infringements of the Law) explains:

  • If the referee has decided to stop play for an infringement of the Law (foul, misconduct, offside or other reason) and another infringement of the Law occurs between the making of this decision and the actual whistle to stop play, this subsequent violation must be treated as misconduct and handled appropriately.

If the referee misses or does not acknowledge an offside flag, the lead AR must stay at attention, with the flag raised, until the defense gains clear possession or until a goal kick or throw-in is awarded to the defending team.  In other words, once the AR raises the flag for offside, the flag must remain raised until:

  • The referee acknowledges (overrules) the flag by waving it off or some other prearranged hand gesture determined in the pregame meeting.
  • The defending team gains clear possession of the ball is able to mount their own attack.
  • The ball goes out and a goal kick is awarded to the defending team.
  • A throw-in is awarded the defending team.

If the offside flag has been raised and the ball goes out for a corner kick or attacking throw-in, the AR should keep the flag raised and hold their position until it is acknowledged by the referee (waved off or offside awarded).

Note:  Time does not play an element in keeping the offside flag up.  The referee must acknowledge the flag or one of the elements above must occur for the AR to drop the offside flag.  

Video Clip 3:  Philadelphia at Boston (5:38) – WPS
Just past five minutes into the game, the referee is faced with two decisions in a matter of seconds:  offside and penalty kick (plus misconduct).  Taken separately, each decision may seem simple and standard.  The purpose of this clip is not to focus on whether the offside decision is correct (although stop action appears to put the attacker even with the second-to-last defender when the ball was played and the AR did not err on the side of the attacker) but to focus on the teaching points associated with a missed offside flag and the subsequent awarding of a penalty kick.

Note:  Despite the game being in the early moments, match officials must be focused and prepared to make difficult decisions regardless of the time or what has occurred thus far in the game.  Mental or physical relaxation cannot occur at any moment in a match.  Concentration and focus is paramount from the time match officials enter the stadium until they leave the stadium. 

From a throw-in and subsequent attacking pass, the AR raises the flag for offside (the AR is not seen in the clip).  The referee does not recognize there is a potential offside situation nor does he visually see the ARs flag.  The referee fails to glance at the AR as the forward pass is made.

The offside positioned player receives the ball and is then fouled in the penalty area by an opponent.  Based upon the contact, the referee awards a penalty kick.  Simply, the missed offside flag leads to a penalty kick decision.   The infringement committed by the defender should be identified as unsporting behavior (reckless challenge) and the defender should be cautioned regardless if the action occurred after the ARs unrecognized signal for offside.

After whistling for the penalty kick, the referee moves to the penalty mark to signal the penalty kick decision.  During this time, the referee lacks awareness of the pending offside issue. Close to a minute later, the referee finally realizes the AR had raised the flag for offside prior to the penalty kick foul and correctly gives offside instead of the penalty kick.

What can be done to improve the referee’s decision-making process:

  1. Recognition of potential offside:  The referee needs to look to the AR as quickly as possible after the initial forward pass is made to the offside positioned player.  Forward passes and through balls to attackers require the referee to “feel” potential offside situations and glance toward the lead AR.
  2. Awarding of the penalty kick:  The referee goes to the penalty mark to indicate the awarding of a penalty kick.  By going to the spot, the referee ensures that he is not facing the AR.  This signal and position, hampers the referee’s ability to visually see the AR or make eye contact.  Watch the video clip from 5:50 to 5:53.  The referee’s decision to immediately move to the penalty spot precludes him from having visual contact with the AR and recognizing the offside flag.
  3. Confirmation with AR:  The referee must be looking to the AR as the penalty kick is set-up to ensure the AR is moving toward or is properly positioned at the intersection of the goal line and the penalty area line.  An early glance to the ARs restart position would signal to the referee that the AR is not there and, hence, a problem exists.

In situations similar to this, once referees realize that they have missed an offside flag, they must award the offside unless they were positioned appropriately to determine that the attacking player was not in an offside position or the offside positioned player did not interfere, participate or gain an advantage from their offside position. 

Note:  To overrule an AR on an offside decision requires the referee to be 100 percent certain of the facts leading to the decision to overrule.  In some key instances, this may require a quick conference between the referee and the AR to discuss the facts and make the final decision.  

The referee, in this clip, needed to “feel” a potential offside situation and glance at the AR at the time of the attacker’s forward pass.  This would have prevented the penalty kick situation as well as potentially averting the need to caution the defender for unsporting behavior as a result of her reckless challenge in the penalty area.  Even though the referee may have contributed to the reckless challenge by failing to recognize the offside flag, the referee must nevertheless caution the player as misconduct did occur.

Once the referee determines that he is no longer awarding the penalty kick and, instead, giving the offside decision, he needs to clearly explain to the captains what has occurred and the appropriate restart.  So much time has gone by since the whistle for the penalty kick resulting in the teams setting up for the penalty kick, that the referee must explain that offside preceded the penalty kick decision but that the player will be cautioned for the misconduct that followed the offside.

Note:  Conveying information, after-the-fact, or reversing a decision is never easy but it must be done professionally and in a controlled fashion.  Additionally, the referee must ensure that both teams are given the appropriate opportunity to adjust so that they do not get caught out of position or are unprepared for the restart.  The referee should take a more personable approach and have a face-to-face conversation with the captains explaining the decision and the appropriate restart.  Such efforts on the part of the referee will ease tensions.  Remember, consider how the situation looks to others who are observing the on-field confusion and ensure the process is managed so that it is viewed as being handled professionally (minimizing the confusion) while ensuring the players/coaches feel it is handled professionally.

Looking Forward – Week 5
Use of the pre-game meeting to establish clear lines of responsibility should be used by the referee team.  The examples provided above illustrate the importance of the referee team being prepared and having a game plan for multiple situations that may arise in a match requiring collaboration and cooperation amongst the match officials.  ARs and fourth officials should feel free to ask questions to clarify responsibilities prior to the game.  Key items that should be addressed in the pregame can include but are not limited to:

  • Foul location in or out of the penalty area.
  • Fouls in the penalty area not observed by the referee.
  • Incidents behind the referee’s back.
  • Field coverage on counter attacks.
  • Misconduct observed by the AR and/or fourth official.
  • Management of mass confrontation.