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2009 Referee Week in Review - Week 20

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 20 – ending August 2, 2009

Prior to this weekend’s matches, all officials working in MLS met in Dallas, Texas, for two days of training and to take U.S. Soccer’s interval fitness test. The main training and discussion topics included:

  • Assistant referee (AR) involvement
  • Dissent and irresponsible behavior in the technical area
  • Reckless tackles
  • Contact above the shoulder

Sessions included extensive video review in small group settings. Each group presented their findings and decisions to the entire assembly. Under the guidance of U.S. Soccer and Canadian Soccer Association staff, a final decision for each clip was made. Hence, each working official returned to the field with specific answers/decisions for each reviewed scenario with the goal of further unifying decision making relative to key game situations.

This week will feature two situations in which players committed fouls worthy of a second caution in the match and, thus, a red card. In one situation, the referee fails to recognize the tactical nature of the foul and does not take appropriate action. It is important that referees do not shy away from issuing a second caution to a player when the situation warrants it.

In addition, this version of the “Week In Review” provides good examples of referee mechanics when cautioning a player. The method illustrated in several of the clips should be used as a model for officials when showing a player the yellow card.


Second Caution in the Same Match: Law 12
The Laws of the Game require players to be sent off (red carded) for “receiving a second caution in the same match.” Regardless of the score, the time or the player involved, referees must have the courage to issue a second caution to a player when warranted.

Referees cannot refrain from dealing with misconduct situations that the Laws of the Game and associated U.S. Soccer directives identify as offenses that require a yellow or red card and cannot be managed through the referee’s sending a strong message with his personality/presence. Match officials must possess the mentality to identify the 100% misconduct situations and have the conviction to follow through with the appropriate punishment (yellow or red card). Offenses that meet the criteria for the various forms of misconduct must be managed appropriately. The “Week In Review” publications and podcasts along with the 10 2009 U.S. Soccer Referee Program Directive documents are intended to provide the groundwork for referee consistency resulting in similar decisions given similar situations. Familiarity with these tools is critical to ensure proper application and commonality in decisions from referee-to-referee and game-to-game.

Video Clip 1: Columbus at Colorado (58:41)
As you watch video clip 1 keep the situation and the result in your mind as you will need the information as you analyze clip 2. The referee in this clip does many things correctly, from recognizing “flow” to the awarding of advantage to the issuing of a yellow card.

In the directive entitled “Game Management Model: Flow, Risk Taking and Game Control,” two important principles are executed correctly by the referee. First, the referee shows awareness of and a correct understanding of the concept of “flow.” Second, the referee exhibits the ability to identify a situation that lends itself to the proper application of the advantage clause.

In the clip, there is an initial challenge along the touchline by defending player No. 22 on the red jersey team. The defender makes minor and trifling contact with the attacker who is in possession of the ball. The referee identifies this challenge as an opportunity to provide rhythm to the game by allowing play to continue. In this case, the referee can positively enhance the entertainment value of the game by affecting “flow” while not negatively affecting game control.

After correctly injecting flow into the game, the referee is faced with a second and immediate decision regarding the opportunity for advantage. In the case, the referee quickly assesses the landscape by applying the “4 P Principle.”

  1. Possession of ball: control by the attacking team or player.
  2. Potential for attack: ability to continue a credible and dangerous attack.
  3. Personnel: skill of attackers, numerical advantage.
  4. Proximity to opponent’s goal: closeness to goal.

Remember, depending upon the skill level, age level and general atmosphere of the game, the application of advantage may differ. However, given the circumstances of this game, the situation meets all the conditions of the “4 P Principle” and the referee correctly applies the advantage. When applying the advantage, the referee must do so by extending his arms our directly in front at waist level thereby visually indicating that he recognizes that a foul has occurred but has decided to continue with the advantage.

Misconduct: Unsporting Behavior – Reckless Tackle
The Laws of the Game permit the referee to apply the advantage and then return to the player who committed the foul to issue the caution at the next stoppage. The referee correctly administers this process in the clip. The referee decides that the tackle by No. 4 of the red team is reckless and must be cautioned. The advantage is clear and the referee feels that there is no risk for immediate retaliation. The tackle is late and is executed with poor timing. In this example, the fact that No. 4 fails to make contact with the attacker makes the tackle a yellow card offense (reckless) and not a red card due to excessive force/endangering the safety of an opponent. At the next stoppage, the referee properly returns to No. 4 to caution him for unsporting behavior (the reckless tackle that resulted in the application of advantage). Remember: If the caution is not issued at the next stoppage, it cannot be shown later.

Video Clip 2: Columbus at Colorado (83:27)
Approximately 25 minutes after the foul in clip 1, No. 4 commits another cautionable offense. Once again, No. 4 makes a reckless challenge on the opponent. The defender has extended his leg and makes a late and unsuccessful attempt to play the ball. Instead, he makes contact with the opponent’s upper leg and foot. No. 4 was beat because the attacker was able to get to the ball first and then cut the ball against the movement of the defender. Consequently, the defender had but one option, foul.

The referee correctly judges the defender’s (No. 4) challenge to be reckless and cautions him for unsporting behavior. This is the defender’s second caution in the match and therefore he must be shown the red card for “receiving a second caution in the same match.” Observe the referee’s mechanics for initially showing the yellow card for unsporting behavior and then immediately following it up with the red card.

It is important to note that the referee did not shy away from issuing the second caution to the player despite the fact the game had less than seven minutes remaining and the player’s team was losing 1-0. In this case, the referee should base his decision on the facts of the last tackle and not the circumstances of the game due to the clear nature of the reckless foul.

Video Clip 3: Seattle at San Jose (13:02 – second half)
Similar to the situation in clip 2 above, the defending player (No. 4 on the green team) who commits the foul was previously cautioned. Additionally, the following items should be noted at the time of the foul:

  • The defender’s team is playing a man down as a teammate was sent off in the 33rd minute.
  • The defender’s team is losing 2-0.

These items are part of the “big picture” of the game. It is important that a referee have full grasp and understanding of the “big picture” factors. Although these factors are important in an official’s understanding of the atmosphere and circumstances surrounding a game, they are not important when the offense committed by a player is clear and not debatable. For example, when the misconduct infringement meets all the criteria established in the Laws of the Game and in U.S. Soccer’s Directives, the referee must apply the appropriate misconduct.

As the “Game Management Model” directive states: “The ‘big picture’ provides the referee with a framework for decisions but it must not be an excuse for a referee’s failing to deal with 100% misconduct situations or a referee’s inability to ensure the safety of the players.”

Clip 3 involves a clear case of a defender committing a “tactical” foul that meets all the criteria established for defining “tactical” fouls in the “100% Misconduct: Tactical and Red Card Tackles” directive. Tactical fouls are defined as:

  • Primarily fouls that don’t necessarily endanger the safety of an opponent but are committed either to break down a promising attack or to gain an advantage in attack.
  • Often considered minor or soft because they normally don’t involve hard, physical contact.
  • They have a tactical implication because they are designed to normally impede the progress of an opponent.

U.S. Soccer has set forth the following six criteria to assist officials with identifying “tactical” fouls so that the correct punishment (yellow card) can be meted out:

  1. Usually in attacking end of the field
    Defensive players commit the foul because they acknowledge that the attacking team will have a opportunity to go-to-goal with a high degree of effectiveness. It normally involves speed of the attack.
  2. Numerical advantage
    Committed by defenders to prevent an attacking team or player from gaining a numeric advantage – not to be confused with denying a goal scoring opportunity.
  3. Time to defend
    Tactical fouls are committed to give the defending team time to get goal-side of the ball. In other words, to give the defending team (as opposed to the attacking team) time to get a numeric advantage between the ball and the goal.
  4. Prevent the ball and/or player from advancing
    Normally, the foul is committed to prevent the ball and/or attacking player from getting into space behind a defender or behind the defense. This assists in developing a numeric advantage. It is the “if the ball gets by, the player doesn’t or if the player gets by, the ball doesn’t” theory. Look for open areas of space that the ball would normally be played into or where an attacking player would run into if they were to receive the ball. This would be behind a defender, into space and normally in the attacking half of the field, often within 35-40 yards of the goal.
  5. The defender knows he is beat.
    Defenders commit this foul because they know they have been beat by the attacker. Look for one vs. one situations: for example, an attacking player along the touchline going by his defender into space (normally along the wing) to set up a cross or to cut in toward the goal.
  6. Minor nature of the challenge.
    Normally this foul does not involve hard, physical contact.

As the short clip unfolds, each of these six criteria is evident. The defender commits a tactical foul by preventing the attacker, with the ball, from advancing into a more advantageous position. The defender knows he has no support or cover behind him so his only options are to either stop the ball or stop the attacker from getting by him. Once the defender sees the speed of the attacker and the ball and the ball has clearly bypassed him, he identifies his only option is to deny the attacker from getting into the space behind him and thereby getting into the penalty area.

The simplest method to prevent the progression of the attacker is to deliberately interpose his body between the attacker and his pursuit of the ball. Remember, players work hard to disguise tactical-type fouls and to make them difficult for officials to recognize. Watch the defender and analyze his actions/movement and ask yourself: “Why did the defender commit the foul in this situation?”

  • The defender’s eyes are not on the ball but on the attacker.
  • The ball is three yards past the defender when he initiates contact.
  • The defender takes two steps to his left and into the attacker’s path to the ball while making no attempt to chase/track down the ball that has been touched behind him by the attacker.
  • The opponent and ball are moving faster than the defender can.

Given these actions by the defender, the referee must decide that a tactical foul has occurred and he must stop play to caution the defender for unsporting behavior. This would be the second caution of the match for the player which means he should be shown the red card for “receiving the second caution in the same match.”

In this clip, the AR has signaled for a foul due to its closeness to his quadrant of control/assistance. This should act as further evidence for the referee to make the correct decision by whistling for the cautionable foul by the defender.

Given the clarity of the tactical foul, the referee must caution the defender and then send him off for receiving his second caution of the game. Because the foul is clear and meets all the established criteria, the referee cannot consider the factors involved in the “big picture.”

Excessive Force and Endangering the Safety of an Opponent: Law 12
Last week, in “Week In Review 19”, a similar challenge was executed by a player that endangered the safety of the opponent and should have resulted in a red card. As part of the analysis of the incident, the following two concepts were introduced:

  • Location of the contact: Less force is needed to endanger the safety of an opponent depending upon the area in which contact is made by the opponent. Areas of the body that are particularly vulnerable and put the receiving player at high risk include but are not limited to: the Achilles, the knee, the ankle and the facial and neck region.
  • Surface initiating the contact: Less force is also needed when a hard surface is initiating the contact. Examples of hard surfaces include but are not limited to: the bottom of the cleats, the elbow and the fist.

Remember, “excessive force” is determined by the location of the contact and the surface initiating the contact and not merely the speed or force at which the tackle or challenge is committed.

Video Clip 4: Kansas City at Dallas (51:40)
Using the criteria and concepts provided regarding “endangering the safety of the opponent,” review video clip 4. Take into consideration the location of the contact and the surface initiating the contact.

Although the force or speed of the challenge is not extremely high, the player (No. 16 on the blue team) committing the foul does:

  • Challenge late. On the last replay, look at the location of the ball. When contact is made, it is nowhere near the challenger (two to three yards away) and the opponent has actually turned with the ball.
  • Leads into the challenge with the sole of his boot (his cleats) which represents a hard and unforgiving surface. Contact is initiated with the cleats.
  • Connects (with his cleats) into the hip, groin and upper leg area.

Given these factors, the attacker’s safety is endangered and the challenger must be sent off for serious foul play.

Issuing a Card – Misconduct Technique: Law 5, The Referee
When referees issue a card (yellow or red) to a player, substitute or substituted player, referees must do so in a calm yet authoritative manner. The referee must always be in-control and above the emotionalism of the players. Having said this, referees must also judge the moment and temper their response (in a positive, non-aggressive manner) and the strength of their delivery given the game, the situation and the tone of the message that needs to be sent at the time.

The referee must be above EVERYTHING if they are to be above EVERYONE.

There is a fine line between delivering a strong, positive message and being too emotional, aloof or overbearing. Referees can temper their visual and verbal message by considering the following techniques and tools:

  • Look the player in the eye.
    Eye contact shows authority without saying anything.
  • Meet the player half way.
    Do not issue the card to a player’s back. When exhibiting the card (raising it straight above your head), politely ask the player to come to you while you are walking toward the player.
  • Isolate the player.
    If there is a crowd or you require some “quiet time” with the offender to appropriately convey the message, consider isolating the player away from other “outside influences.” This gives the referee the opportunity to “look the player in the eye.”
  • Use body language.
    The way you stand shows confidence in your decision. Using your hands in a controlled manner (hands extended in front, palms to the ground) to visually show to the player that he must “relax.”
  • Tone of your voice.
    Vary the tone of your voice depending upon the strength of the message you want to convey. Never yell or curse at a player.
  • Message delivery.
    Short, crisp and clear messages are the most effective. Don’t lecture. One or two words can often be stronger than long sentences depending upon the tone used and the body language. Words like “no more” can be most effective if delivered using the other tools mentioned above.

Players don’t have to speak the same language as you for your message to be delivered. Everyone speaks the language of the body and can “feel” the tone of your voice.

Video Clip 5: Columbus at Colorado (45:00+)
This is an excellent display of a calm and controlled issuance of a yellow card. The referee uses many of the techniques and tools mentioned.

  1. Calls the player over and then, just before issuing the card, meets the player half way.
  2. Looks the player in the eye as he raises the card above his head.
  3. The referee’s body language is positive yet authoritative. It conveys that he is in charge and not influenced by outside factors.
  4. Watch the referee’s face. It is stern.
  5. Watch how he delivers a quick but firm verbal message early in the clip. Even though it is addressed to another player who is complaining, it is short and to the point.

The referee’s face and body language send the strongest message. This is a message that resonates and is felt by all the players (not just the player being cautioned) and can be understood by the coaches, the spectators and the media. Overall, the referee uses tools other than the yellow card to send his message in an authoritative but positive manner.

Looking Forward – Week 21
Now that the MLS midseason break has passed, team and player attitudes can change. Normally, a season is comprised of three seasons: the first half of the season, the second half of the season and the playoffs. Each of these three seasons represent different pressures on the players and teams as they battle to make the playoffs. With the second half now underway, each point means that much more and, consequently, the pressures on players and coaches increases. These additional pressures will translate to action on the field and referees must be prepared both mentally and physically for the renewed vigor teams/players will show.

Remember, “The referee’s intensity and energy must exceed that of the players and the game.” By following this practical piece of advice, match officials can ensure that they are prepared for the unexpected and they are ready for any eventuality that may arise. Mental acuity and preparedness should be by-products of following this motto.