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2009 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
Week 13 – ending June 14, 2009

Both referees and assistant referees (ARs) were faced with many challenging decisions during week 13. ARs had a number of close offside decisions leading to goals. This “Week In Review” will address one such offside decision that was missed due to difficulty in detecting player interference. Match officials must be prepared and educated regarding these type of situations in order to ensure they are addressed correctly.

In addition, there were two other situations involving multiple decisions within seconds that require referees to maintain focus in order to correctly administer the appropriate actions from a foul and from a disciplinary perspective. Both of these incidents will be dissected in this week’s commentary to ensure officiating crews call them correctly.


Advantage and Denying an Obvious Goal Scoring Opportunity
Concentration and focus are critical elements for successful officiating. Discussions regarding the importance of these elements, for ARs, have been discussed in several previous “Week In Reviews.” Similarly, referees must be able to maintain the same type of concentration. The need for this high level of focus is accentuated when referees are required to make multiple decisions in a span of several seconds. Concentration and focus allow the referee to process the action and “slow” the decisions down in their mind enabling them to quickly analyze situations in rapid succession.

Many times, referees are faced with multiple challenges on the ball or the opponent in split seconds or in compact spaces. During these moments, focus and concentration allows the referee to correctly recognize the actions that may translate into fouls, advantages, misconduct, fair challenges or combinations thereof.

When evaluating challenges, referees must “feel” the game and decide on the best course of action given the atmosphere of the game or situation at the time. The ability to “feel” and “read” the game is vital when deciding whether to apply the advantage or not as the referee is empowered to do by Law 5 – The Referee. When evaluating a foul for advantage, referees should consider U.S. Soccer’s “4 P Principle” of advantage application:

  • 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.

Remember: When considering whether to apply advantage, the referee must make the decision (by utilizing the “wait and see” technique and applying the “4 P Principle”) to apply advantage within a few seconds. After this, the decision to penalize the original offense cannot be taken.

When the referee awards an advantage yet the offence warrants a caution, the referee must issue the caution at the next stoppage. If the caution is NOT issued at the next stoppage, it cannot be shown later.

In “Week In Review 7,” denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity (DOGSO) was addressed for the fourth time this season To assist referees with the DOGSO decision, U.S. Soccer has established the “4 D Criteria.” “Week In Review 3” provides an extensive overview of this criteria. In summary, the “4 D Criteria” consists of the following components:

  • Distance to goal
  • Distance to ball
  • Defender position/location and number
  • Direction to goal

Video Clip 1: Chivas USA at Columbus (21:57 – second half)
This clip illustrates the need for referees to maintain focus and concentration as the referee is forced to make four game critical decisions in a span of six seconds.

  • Decision 1: Advantage or Not?
    Play starts with a reckless (cautionable) tackle at the halfway line in which the referee correctly applies advantage based upon his evaluation of the situation based upon the “4 P Principle.” At this point, the referee must remember the offender’s number so that at the next stoppage he can administer a yellow card for the reckless tackle (unsporting behavior). Remembering the number of the offender is vital since it may take a long time for until the next dead ball situation.

    Solution: Applying advantage is a good decision as there is a clear and effective attack toward goal. The referee must also remember to caution No. 12 (red shirt) for his reckless tackle that leads to the advantage. The tackle is reckless (not excessive force and a candidate for serious foul play) in that it is from the side and the second leg is not swung through the opponent and there is no straight leg or exposed cleats.

  • Decision 2: Does the Defender Commit a Holding Foul and is it DOGSO?
    Four seconds after the first decision, during a quick counter-attack, the referee is faced with his second decision: Is a foul committed by the defender and is it DOGSO?

    Solution: A holding foul is committed by the last defender in an attempt to stop a scoring opportunity. Hence, each component of the “4 D Criteria” exists.

  • Decision 3: Is There Continuation of the Holding Foul?
    Although the holding foul occurs outside the penalty area, the strength of the attacker allows him to continue to goal. As a consequence, the defender commits a second foul by tripping the attacker from behind.

    Solution: The referee must use the “wait and see” principle when the initial holding occurs. The attacker is able to continue with the ball and is then brought down (fouled) as a result of a tackle by the defender. This foul also meets the “4 D Criteria” for DOGSO and must result in the defender being sent off for denying the opposing team an obvious goal scoring opportunity. At this point the attacker goes down and the referee must whistle the play dead.

  • Decision 4: Should the Game be Restarted with a Free Kick or Penalty Kick?
    The referee must determine the location of the foul for which he is stopping play. If the foul is inside the penalty area, then a penalty kick must be awarded.

    Solution: By utilizing “wait and see,” the referee is able to penalize the tripping offense. The replays show that although the holding offense occurs outside the penalty area, the second challenge or trip makes contact with the attacker just inside the penalty area. Because there have been two offenses in a matter of a second, the referee must punish the more serious of the two offenses by awarding a penalty kick for the tripping foul. The referee’s decision relative to location can be confirmed by the AR. To indicate that the foul occurred inside the penalty area, the AR should stand at attention and drape his flag across his waist (this is the silent signal to the referee indicating the foul’s location was inside the penalty area).

Once play has been stopped to red card the defender for the DOGSO, the referee must remember to caution no. 12 for the original tackle from which the referee played advantage before allowing the game to recommence.

Missed Foul Leads to Opponents’ Advantage and Two Cautions
Poor positioning can lead to bad angles of vision and missed fouls which can start a negative spiral leading to retaliation and/or subsequent fouls, dissent and unnecessary unsporting behavior.

By optimum and strategic positioning, referees can improve their ability to make decisions as their angle of vision of the situation will be enhanced. Through clear lines of vision, referees are better able to judge whether fouls have been committed or not.

Video Clip 2: Real Salt Lake at Los Angeles Galaxy (58:43)
As in clip 1, the referee in this case is faced with multiple decisions within approximately 14 seconds. Positioning, concentration and focus are all necessary to ensure the correct decisions are made.

  • Decision 1: Foul or No Foul?
    There is a challenge at the halfway line in front of the benches and near AR1. At 58:47, a player in the red jersey is fouled.

    Solution: A foul needs to be called because there is a careless challenge in which the defender does not make contact with the ball but trips the opponent who is playing the ball. Despite the fact the ball goes out for a throw-in, the defender should be penalized with a direct free kick for fouling the attacker.

    The referee misses the foul because, at 58:43, he is positioned too deep in the corner of his diagonal which results in a poor angle of vision and his being too far to judge the foul/challenge at the halfway line as the ball is played out of the corner. The referee needs to be closer. Referees should stay more central when the ball is in the quadrant/corner of their diagonal. This central position will still give them a good angle of vision without jeopardizing their position on a counter-attack or long pass across the field.

    AR1 should provide assistance by raising the flag to indicate a foul. By first making eye contact with the referee or by seeing the referee’s poor position, AR1 should take ownership of the decision and assist by signaling a foul.

  • Decision 2: Advantage and Caution?
    Ten seconds after the missed foul decision, a reckless (cautionable) tackle/challenge occurs off the throw-in. The referee must apply the “4 P Principle” and decide whether the foul is a good candidate for advantage.

    Solution: This is not as clear an advantage as in clip 1 but given the skill level of the players it is an acceptable application of advantage (the is space behind the defenders and the attacker has a single defender to beat directly in front of him). The referee does well to indicate advantage by following the proper arm signal mechanic. Remember, at various age groups and skill levels, this may not be a good advantage candidate and the best advantage may be calling the foul.

  • Decision 3: Foul or No Foul?
    Another foul or no foul decision arises approximately four seconds after the referee has signaled for an advantage. In this case the referee decides to award a foul.

    Solution: No foul exists at this point. There is minimal upper body contact and the lower body tackle is a fair challenge. The shoulder to shoulder contact is soft, minor and trifling and the attacker goes down because he knows he has lost his opportunity to attack. Additionally, the lower body contact occurs as part of a fair challenge in which the defender cleanly dispossesses the attacker of the ball as his left foot connects solely with the ball.

    The referee is close to the play but because there are two simultaneous challenges/decisions committed by separate players and one is upper body while the other is lower body, the referee is not able to correctly focus/concentrate on each as an individual decision.

  • Decision 4: To Caution or not to Caution?
    The referee has played advantage from a reckless tackle (by No. 8 in the red shirt) that is 100% misconduct and thereby must be cautioned. Once he has called the subsequent foul, he must also deal with the dissent exhibited by red shirt player No. 84.

    Solution: Despite the fact that the referee decided to play advantage under Decision 2 above, he cannot ignore the fact that the foul leading to the advantage was cautionable. Hence, at the next stoppage, he must return to No. 8 and caution him for unsporting behavior. Advantage application does not cancel any misconduct that initiated the advantage application or that occurred during it.

    Unfortunately, even though the referee’s decision to call the foul is misguided, he cannot ignore the verbal and visual dissent exhibited by red jersey player No. 84. After raising the card to caution, the referee can be seen (at 59:04) warning No. 84 to cease his dissent. Failing to follow the referee’s request, the persisting player is then cautioned for dissent. The use of a visual “quiet sign” is good preventative refereeing. This places the burden on the player to stop his actions or face further sanctions and it acts as a verbal message of impending action to the other players, coaches, media and spectators.

The referee’s failure to recognize the initial foul described in Decision 1, leads to two unnecessary cautions (one for a reckless tackle and one for dissent). Through improved positioning and angle of view, the referee could have prevented the last two cautions by calling the first foul. Missed calls can lead to more problems as it did in this case.

Missed Offside Leads to Goal: Law 11
Law 11 – Offside, states that a player is in an offside position if “he is nearer to his opponents’ goal line that both the ball and the second last opponent.” The Laws of the Game further define “nearer to his opponents’ goal line” to mean:

“Any part of a player’s head, body or feet is nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second last opponent. The arms are not included in this definition.”

This means that the arms are the only part of the body that may be closer to the opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second to last defender. Why? Because players (except the goalkeeper, of course) may not use their arms to play the ball. The head, body or feet may play the ball without being sanctioned; hence, they are used in the determination of offside position and the arms are not.

Video Clip 3: Real Salt Lake at Los Angeles Galaxy (50:54)
A corner kick is taken which then results in a pass or service from the other side of the field into the penalty area. At the time of the service (51:00), four attackers in the penalty area are in onside positions because they are NOT “nearer to the opponents’ goal line.”


However, as the ball reaches its intended target, it is deflected off the head of a defender to one of the onside attackers (even though the attackers are in an offside position at the time of the deflection, they cannot be declared offside because they were onside when the ball was last played/touched by a teammate).


One of the attackers then shoots the deflected ball at goal. At this point, a new phase of play begins and a new judgment point for offside is initiated. At the time of the attacker’s shot, a teammate has slipped to the ground directly in front of the shooter. Despite the fact the player is laying on the ground, his feet and his body are closer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-to-last defender. As a result, he is in an offside position and if he plays or touches the ball, he should be declared offside.

Although it is not evident in the clip, the offside positioned player on the ground is hit by the ball when it is shot by his teammate. This means that he has “interfered with play” and must be sanctioned for being offside and the goal disallowed. It does not matter where the ball contacted with player or the fact that he did not intentionally/deliberately play/touch the ball. The mere fact that the ball touches an offside positioned player requires that he be called offside.


This is a difficult decision for the AR because the AR does not have a clear view of the ball contacting the offside positioned player on the ground. The AR does, however, have the best view to judge that the player is in an offside position.

The referee on the other hand, is best positioned to recognize the fact that the ball makes contact or is touched by the offside positioned player. As a consequence, it is important that the referee team bring these separate pieces of information together to make the correct decision. The following are some recommendations:

  1. The referee has to sense that the player on the ground may be in an offside position given his location and the location of the defenders. Because he senses a potential issue, once the ball is in the goal, the referee should have an extended look at the AR. This may require the referee going to the AR to confer even if the AR has run up the field to indicate a goal. If the AR has started his run up the touchline to indicate a goal and the referee starts to approach him, the AR should discontinue his run and await the referee.
  2. The AR can see, by the sudden bounce and elevation of the ball after the shot, that its trajectory or direction may have changed. The combination of the change in trajectory and the offside player being in line with the direction of the ball, should add to the “warning signs” that something may be wrong.
  3. Both the referee and the AR can read the defending player reactions. Although not always the best indicator, in this case, the defender closest to the player on the ground raises his arm to indicate offside. Using this “sign” for assistance, the referee has additional reason to consult with the AR. The AR also has additional reason to consider connecting with the referee.
  4. If the AR is unsure whether the player either interfered or participated in the play, he should stand at attention and not run up the touchline (running toward the halfway line indicates a good goal). The referee should then see that that AR has not run up the touchline and approach him to confer.
  5. At the professional level, this is a perfect situation for use of the RefTalk communication devices. Both the referee and AR can “compare notes” prior to making a final decision.

All in all, teamwork and taking the time to ensure a correct decision is made should prevail. Experienced match officials need to “sense” an issue based upon the warning signs (player positions, ball trajectory, player reactions) explored above.

Looking Forward – Week 14
As the season progresses, teams as well as players are seeing each other for the second or third time. It is critical for match officials to be cognizant of any prior potential match-ups, tactical issues and “history” between the teams and players. Assimilating this knowledge is preparation. Preparedness can be accomplished, for example, by contacting prior officials, watching prior games and reading the published game summaries and post game write-ups available on-line on league websites or via media outlets. Preparation means officials are working to reduce “surprises” and eliminate the uncertainties by educating themselves with information that can be positively used to aid game management.