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2010 Referee Week In Review - Week 13


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 2010
Week 13 – Ending June 27, 2010
MLS returned to competition, following the midseason break for the FIFA World Cup, with eight games. As match officials returned to the field of play, they continued to work hard to provide flow and rhythm to the game through solid orchestration of the game and solid differentiation between minor and trifling challenges and those that were needed to be called because they were careless, reckless or involved excessive force. The result was a low average of 19.5 fouls over the eight matches with an average of 1.625 cautions issued per game.

Assistant referees (ARs) were busy monitoring offside decisions. Statistics from this week of games illustrate the importance ARs play in the MLS game. There were an average of 7.25 offside called per game. This figure does not include the no-calls ARs are regularly required to make due to factors like “benefit of the doubt,” “lack interference,” and “player noninvolvement.” Three of the games had 10 or 11 offside called.

During U.S. Soccer’s midseason meetings with MLS officials, one of the focus points was red card tackles. In particular, tackles involving exposed cleats and locked knees that put the opponent at a high risk of injury. Two games this week included excessive force tackles that mandated a red card. Similar tackles were observed and dealt with at recent U.S. Soccer Development Academy Playoff and Finals events

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


“Mode of Contact” and “Area of Contact:” Excessive Force Tackles 

“Week In Review 9” first introduced the concept of mode of contact and area of contact as they relate to tackles and other challenges (like contact above the shoulder). This concept was also a key discussion point amongst match officials during the MLS midseason meetings.

The area of contact is critical because it defines the location of contact. The location/area of contact is an important factor because it often takes less force, speed and/or aggressiveness to cause injury (or endanger the player’s safety) to a player depending upon the location/area of the opponent’s contact.

The mode of contact plays a vital role as certain parts of a player’s body or equipment increases the possibility of injury upon contact. For example, a lunging tackle with a straight leg (knee locked) and exposed cleats is more likely to injure the opponent than a sliding tackle with both knees bent and feet on the ground. This does not preclude either from being part of an excessive force challenge but these factors do impact the likelihood of a player’s safety being endangered and increase the likelihood of a challenge being committed with excessive force.

Note: Referees and ARs should be on the lookout for tackles that involve the following components as they often lead to the determination that excessive force has been used:

  • Straight leg / locked knee: no give in the knee of the tackler.
  • Exposed cleats: leading with the bottom of the boot.
  • Feet / foot off the ground: one or both feet are raised off the ground and/or over the ball.
  • Lunging: tackler leaves both feet and lunges or dives in for the ball. Often times, the lunge is started from a far distance but this increases the speed of the challenge and increases the probability that the tackler has little or no control.

Video Clip 1: New York at Kansas City (93:13)
More than three minutes into additional time, a player commits an excessive force tackle on the opponent. The referee correctly and calmly identifies the severity of the foul and issues a red card for serious foul play.

In evaluating the player’s tackle, the referee can use the mode of contact and area of contact concepts to assist in making the red card judgment.

  1. Mode of Contact
    • Locked knee and straight leg
    • Lunging and takes off from a distance
    • Cleats exposed and making contact
  2. Area of Contact
    • Leg off ground and over the ball
    • Contact in the ankle area

Video Clip 2: Colorado at Houston (6:28)
Unlike Clip 1, this excessive force tackle does not involve a lot of distance (in terms of steps or running) behind the tackle. The tackle does, however, meet the criteria for excessive force due to the mode of contact and the area of contact involved in the player’s overly aggressive challenge for the ball. This is a red card tackle irrespective of the time of the game or the score.

The following considerations indicate that a red card must be issued for serious foul play as a result of an excessive force tackle in which the safety of the opponent is severely endangered (at a high probability):

  • The mode of contact is with the bottom of the boots (the hard surface of the cleats) and the tackler makes contact while his right knee is locked (straight leg).
  • The area of contact involves direct contact with the inside of the ankle.
  • The ball is well gone at the time of contact.

So, despite the lack of a lunge or lack of speed, the tackle involves excessive force because it endangered the opponent’s safety and put him at a high risk for injury.

Teamwork: Getting the Call Right!

U.S. Soccer has multiple publications earmarked to help officials get decisions correct whether it be through proper interpretation and execution of the Laws of the Game or through proper teamwork, mechanics and positioning. Two important guides are:

  1. “Guide to Procedures for Referees, Assistant Referees and Fourth Officials”
  2. Directive on “Assistant Referee Involvement” 

Through proper and uniform mechanics and/or procedures, referee teams have a better chance to make the right decision for the game. Mechanics help create seamless communication. Critical situations need to be addressed during the referee’s pregame meeting/instructions with his crew. Referees must empower ARs to participate in game critical decisions when they are 100 percent certain.

Remember: The AR has an obligation to the referee and to the game.

The “Assistant Referee Involvement” directive states that AR involvement is required for certain game critical decisions when the AR is 100 percent certain of what he observed – regardless of the position of the referee. Those situations include:

  • Decisions the “game requires” or the “referee requires” vs. simple fouls in the midfield – like a penalty kick
  • Misconduct (serious foul play / violent conduct): yellow card, red card
  • Foul inside / outside of the penalty area
  • Goal / no goal decision
  • Denying an Obvious Goal Scoring Opportunity (DOGSO)
  • A team will gain an “unfair advantage” if the referee team does not deal with it
  • A “trigger” event occurs that is likely to lead to mass confrontation if not dealt with quickly and firmly (look for a situation that may escalate)

Thorough understanding of these critical moments and proper pregame preparation can help the referee team properly deal with these type of situations. If the referee fails to address these and similar critical decisions during the pre-match meeting, ARs have the responsibility to ask for instructions and guidance to ensure conformity on game critical situations.

Video Clip 3: D.C. United at Columbus (56:34)
This importance of teamwork is the focus of this clip. A goal is scored as a result of a handling offense that goes unpunished. In this situation, the referee and lead AR did not see the handling. However, the trail AR clearly observed that a punishable handling offense occurred prior to the scoring of the goal. The referee team relied on technology (communication devices) to address the situation but the communication devices did not function as they should. Consequently, there was a lack of communication and messages were not delivered thereby negatively impacting the game.

Note: When a game critical decision arises, match officials cannot rely on technology (radio communication and beeper flags) especially when communication is seemingly one way (message sent without a reply or confirmation). Without a confirmation or reply, officials should assume the message was not delivered and there was a technological malfunction. Since play is stopped, the referee, AR or fourth official must seek the opportunity to have a face-to-face conversation. The focus must be on making the correct decision for the good of the game.

Since most games are played without the availability of technology to aid/assist officials, the following should be considered when a game critical situation arises:

  • Prior to signaling a goal, the referee should take the time to make visual contact with the other officials – especially the lead AR. This provides the referee the time to feel and read the situation (like player reactions). If there seems to be significant negative reaction and the situation is game critical (a goal), the referee can then make eye contact with the trail AR and fourth official. In this case, the referee makes a very quick goal signal without first consulting with his teammates.

    Note: Match officials must have the ability to feel and read situations in the game especially when they have not clearly observed what has occurred. This includes reading players’ reactions and having the ability to decipher information because reactions may be telling a story. The referee does not have to act on the messages being sent but can use them as a signal to check with other crew members.
  • If the trail AR is 100 percent certain that he observed a handling offense, he should get the referee’s attention and confer with him prior to the restart of the match. This can be done with eye contact and a hand motion or by the AR raising the flag vertically to get the referee’s attention. Since the AR is fully confident of what he saw, he must insist that the referee come over for a conference.

    Note: While conferring with an AR or fourth official, the referee should keep the field and players in full view. Additionally, the referee should ensure there is no outside interference (players and team staff) in the area so that the officials can communicate without interruption.
  • If a fourth official is involved, the trail AR can also quickly seek his input.
  • If the lead AR observed the handling offense, the AR should stand at attention with the flag held straight down at the side and should not run up the touchline to indicate a goal.

Looking Forward – Week 14
Continue to promote flow while ensuring the safety of the players is paramount. Deal with the violence and 100 percent misconduct situations as they arise.