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2010 Referee Week in Review - Week 26

For the first time in a number of weeks, the focus of “Week In Review” will be on offside decisions that test assistant referees (ARs). The decisions that will be reviewed are not easy nor obvious and in order for ARs to make the correct judgment, they must have full concentration and perfect alignment with the second-to-last defender. The final clip will examine a tackle involving excessive force that should have resulted in the player being sent off.

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


Law 11 – Offside: Benefit of Doubt to the Attack

An AR that has any doubt as to whether a player is in an offside position or if a player in an offside position is actively involved in play must decide in favor of the attacker and refrain from signaling offside. In this situation, the AR should give the “benefit of doubt to the attack.” In other words: When in doubt, keep the flag down.

Because the game is so dynamic and fast and because the ball moves faster than the AR, the AR’s job is difficult. The speed and ever-changing direction of play (the ball and players) makes alignment with the offside line (the next-to-last defender or the ball whichever is nearer the opponent’s goal line) a significant challenge. However, the position or alignment of the AR is critical and be the difference between a correct offside decision and one that is misjudged. ARs are often reacting to the movements of players as it is difficult to consistently anticipate body, head and leg movements which can all play a role in offside position.

A misaligned step one way or the other can negatively skew the AR’s view of the offside line. An onside positioned play can be placed in an offside position (in an AR’s mind) due to the AR’s line of sight and position. Since offside position is measured by players’ torso, head and legs, a slightly out-of-positioned AR can fail in interpreting the players’ position.

Remember, no part of the attacking player other than the arms may be nearer the opponents’ goal line than the torso, head or legs of the second-to-last defender. It is not necessary to “see daylight” between them for one to be considered nearer than the other. However, if there is any question as to an attacker’s offside position, the AR should keep the flag down and give the attack the benefit of doubt.

Note: The fact that ARs are required to make split-second decisions (often after minutes or intervals of rest and little/no action) makes the need for focus, concentration and attentiveness vital to getting game critical decisions correct. ARs cannot allow their minds or attention span to drift during spans of inactivity.

Clip 1: New England at Dallas (92:37+)
With the game in additional time and the losing team attacking, the referee crew must be prepared for quick counter attacks and/or long passes directed toward the penalty area or streaking forwards. The losing team will be looking to generate an attacking opportunity to tie the game. Often times, the quickest, most direct route is a long ball over the top of the defense, into the attacking third or directly into the penalty area.

In this clip, there are three quick, one-touch passes or plays of the ball. Combine these immediate touches of the ball with the quick movement of players and the result is a difficult offside picture for an AR to assess and evaluate. To assist in making the correct decision, the AR must be able to take a snapshot (picture) of player positions each time the ball is played/touched by an attacker. An example of the type of snapshot ARs must make is shown in Image 1. By taking a picture at each phase of play and freezing player positions in their mind, ARs can now utilize the wait and see approach to make a determination as to whether an offside positioned player has: 1

  • Interfered with an opponent
  • Interfered with play
  • Gained an advantage by being in an offside position

Once an offside positioned player has engaged in any of these three actions, the AR can then raise the flag to indicate offside has occurred.

Although the AR’s position can be improved in this clip, the decision is correct and leads to the game’s tying goal. The AR uses his experience and is able to utilize the field markings (top of the goal area) to aid his decision. The AR’s snapshot gives him the information he needs to evaluate the potential offside scenario:

  • Location of furthermost attacker
  • Location of the ball
  • Location of the second-to-last defender
  • Which player/team last plays/touches the ball

As Image 1 illustrates, the player who scores the goal is onside at the time the ball is played to him by his teammate. The line indicating the top of the goal area provides a visual clue to the AR as to the relative position of the goal scorer (furthermost attacker) and the ball at the time it is played by a teammate. The goal scorer is behind the ball and, thus, cannot be in an offside position regardless of the position of the defenders. Notice that the location of the ball is on the goal area line while the goal scorer’s entire body is behind the ball and the goal area line. Hence, there is no offside position.

It is important for ARs to continue their runs as the ball advances and to follow the ball as close to the end line (goal line) as possible. It is important that ARs not slow down because they believe the play may be over or because a shot may occur instead of a pass. Keep running (stay with the second-to-last defender or the ball whichever is furthermost advanced) until the ball is out of play.

Clip 2: New England at Dallas (4:08)
This is the same game as clip 1. However, this is in the first five minutes of the match, while the first offside scenario was in additional time. These two clips illustrate the need for ARs to be focused for the entire game (90 minutes or more). From the first whistle to the last whistle, it is imperative that ARs keep their mind on the game and remain fully alert.

In clip 2, the first goal of the game is approximately five minutes old and a goal scored. It is a difficult decision for an AR as the play involves a one-touch pass and there are multiple players (including defenders) moving forward with three attackers in position to play the pass. In addition, the second-to-last defender (who is also pushing out) is furthest away which creates a depth perception problem for the AR as there is a lot a space between him and the “pack” of players. 2

Through concentration and being able to take a snapshot (similar to Image 2 – although it is slightly after the ball has been passed and not at the exact moment), the AR can make an educated offside decision. Since there are multiple attackers who have the ability to play the passed ball, the AR must wait to see who actually “interferes with play” by playing or touching the ball that has just been passed/touched by a teammate.

The AR’s positioning and movement allow him to have the best sightlines to make the decision. The AR is able to maintain strict alignment with the next-to-last opponent by mimicking the movements of the field players by sidestepping. Additionally, an optimal view of the ball is maintained because sidestepping allows him to keep his shoulders square to the field and thereby monitor the ball as well as the offside line and the attackers.

Clip 3: Houston at D.C. United (58:57)
In this clip, a goal is disallowed for an errant offside flag. Once again, the use of the snapshot or picture would aid the AR in evaluating the position of every player. This is especially critical when an offside decision involving “gaining an advantage from being in an offside position” is involved. Why? Because of the time between the last play/touch of the ball by the attacker (including the rebound off the goalpost, crossbar, goalkeeper or opponent) and the time the ball is actually played/touched by a potentially offside positioned teammate of the attacker.

Note: ARs must keep the picture embedded in their mind until the next phase of play despite the decision making time lapse. Concentration and focus are critical as the AR must not allow other distractions to erase the picture from their memory.

The following formula can help ARs make vital offside decisions:


When one or both factors are missing, miscalculations involving offside decisions often occur.

In order to ensure the accurate offside decisions, ARs must possess the following:

1. Excellent understanding of the interpretation and application of the offside law.
2. Optimal positioning resulting from mobility, agility and fitness.
3. Concentration for the entire duration of the match.
4. The ability to use the “human eye” resulting in giving the benefit of the doubt to the attack.
Image 3 provides an example of where non-optimal positioning on the part of the AR can lead to misinterpretation of the furthermost attacker’s offside position. The AR’s position (one to two yards up-field from the offside line) skews the view of the positions of the players at the time the ball is shot (played by a teammate). Because the AR is in an advanced position, the furthermost attacker also looks to be further up-field than he is in actuality. Consequently, at the time of the snapshot, in the AR’s mind, the attacker is incorrectly frozen in an offside position. The offside line may seem somewhat out of alignment but it has been adjusted for parallax based upon the camera angle.

This is a close decision but one that clearly fits the benefit of doubt to the attack philosophy. The fact that doubt about the position of the attacker is evident means that there cause to keep the flag down and allow play to continue.

Closely watch the movement of the second-to-last defender (the defender who steps up to attempt to block the shot) immediately before the ball is played. He takes a quick, long step forward. This step is difficult for the AR to anticipate or match on a real-time basis and, thus, the AR is left a step or so behind. This points to the importance of ARs ability to change direction quickly (including transitioning from sidestepping to sprinting and sprinting to sidestepping) as well as ensuring excellent mobility incorporating acceleration. Agility and mobility are vital conditioning factors for ARs.

If the player were in an offside position, the AR’s use of wait and see would have been appropriate considering he is waiting to see whether the offside positioned attacker “gained an advantage from being in the offside position” after the ball rebounded off the goalkeeper. It is important to note that the ball does rebound off the goalkeeper because his contact with the ball is not controlled.

Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct: Excessive Force 

Last week’s version of the “Week In Review” discussed the requirement in the Laws of the Game to give a red card to a player who uses excessive force when making a challenge. When evaluating challenges that clearly meet the excessive force criteria, referees must not consider the time or score of the match. In cases where a tackle is committed with little or no concern for the safety of the opponent, the player committing the foul must be sent from the field and shown the red card for serious foul play.

Clip 4: Houston at D.C. United (88:05)
With only a few minutes left in regulation play, a player pursues the attacker with the ball from the side. Instead of tackling with both feet on the ground, the fouler lunges at the opponent with the bottom of both cleats thereby exposing his opponent to a high risk of injury and with no regard to the opponent’s safety. As the Laws of the Game state:

“Any player who lunges at an opponent in challenging for the ball from the front, from the side or from behind using one or both legs, with excessive force and endangering the safety of an opponent is guilty of serious foul play.”

In executing this tackle, the fouler not only lunges at the opponent but the hard surface (cleat area) of both boots contacts the ankle area (highly susceptible to injury) of the opponent. As contact is made, the tackler also uses his entire body to go through the opponent in the knee area. Notice the location of the tackler’s feet – raised, off the ground. This is a good sign of a tackle that puts the opponent at a high degree of risk relative to injury and safety.

This tackle must be sanctioned with a red card for serious foul play. It is possible that the nearside AR and fourth official can help communicate the severity of the foul to the referee. Prior to showing the card, the referee has the time to make eye contact with the AR and the fourth official. By incorporating quick visual contact with his assistants, the referee can get additional opinions/input which can be communicated through prearranged silent signals (like the patting of the back pocket to indicate red card) or through the electronic communication system (RefTalk).

Looking Forward – Week 27
Seeking input when the situation permits itself or requires it can aid in making more educated decisions. If the referee feels that he did not have a good view or that the view of another member of the officiating team was better, than seeking input can be valuable. ARs and fourth officials must be 100 percent certain of what they have observed if they are to change a decision that has already been made by the referee.