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2009 Referee Week in Review - Week 34

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 34 – ending November 8, 2009

Big games. Big decisions. Those are the themes resulting from MLS week 34, the second leg of the opening home-and-home playoff series. Match officials were faced with many decisions that had the possibility of influencing the outcome of the game and officials responded admirably. Despite the pressure-packed playoff atmosphere, referee teams were able to match the intensity level and manage the games in such a way that they did not negatively impact the outcome.

When faced with game-deciding calls, as will be examined in this “Week In Review,” referees exhibited the courage and character to make the correct decision despite the game implications, game time or score. Big decisions must be made in big games and match officials showed the preparation to respond appropriately. This week, two penalty kick decisions and two misconduct situations will be explored.

WEEK 34 – Playoff #2 COMMENTARY

Game Critical Fouls Leading to Penalty Kicks: Law 12

Referees must not shy away from making the big decision in a game when it is warranted. Through the years, the “3-C’s” have been considered critical components to a successful referee: courage, character and conviction. Referees must have the conviction (confidence) and courage to make a potential game-deciding call when the situation is presented. This must be aided by proper positioning and proper foul recognition. The importance of the game, the score at the time and the players involved cannot be factors in making the big decision when no gray areas are present.

Video Clip 1: Real Salt Lake at Columbus (45:00)
Right at the stroke of first half additional time, the referee awards a free kick just less than 50 yards from goal. As is common practice, both teams send as many players into the penalty area as possible looking to win the ball. The conglomeration and bunching of players leads to body contact and the potential for holding or pushing to gain a defensive or attacking edge against the opponent. This free kick results in the correct awarding of a penalty kick that ties the game.

After awarding the free kick, the referee takes an appropriate restart position near the top of the penalty area which lends his presence to action in and around the penalty area. On free kicks with services into the penalty area, players must sense or feel the referee’s presence. Presence can be enhanced by verbal communication on the part of the referee and by the referee’s mere physical stature – being visible and in the players’ sight lines.

In this clip, once the ball is served into the penalty area, the defender commits a holding offense as he drags and pulls down the attacker who is making a run to receive the ball. The defender is seemingly beat to the inside and is forced to commit the holding foul to prevent the attacker from gaining an advantageous attacking position behind him.

The referee is correct to award a penalty kick (which results in a game-tying goal) as one of the direct free kick offenses has been committed by a defender in the penalty area. In this case, the referee should also issue a yellow card for unsporting behavior to the defender due to the tactical nature of the foul.

Video Clip 2: Chivas USA at Galaxy (69:27)
As we have seen so often over the past 33 weeks, a critical referee decision comes off a counter attack situation – a situation in which the ball travels from one penalty area to the other penalty area. This counter attack requires only five passes to advance the ball up the field and get the ball into the attacking penalty area. In 12 seconds, the referee must cover approximately 80 yards (penalty area to penalty area) and attempt the impossible – move as fast as the ball. As explored in “Week In Review 33,” this attack amplifies the need for proper positioning on the part of the referee through excellent fitness/sprinting ability and reading of the play.

Once the ball reaches the left side of the penalty area, it is crossed to the far side of the goal area to a streaking attacker. As the attacker controls the ball, there is illegal contact caused by a defender. The defender fouls the attacker by jumping at him and then making contact with the right leg. The defender never plays the ball and his contact injures the attacker and prevents him from continuing his play on the ball. Consequently, the referee must award a penalty kick. The fact that the score is 0-0 at the time of the foul is inconsequential as the referee must make his judgment based upon the actions of the defender and not the fact that it is a playoff game or the score at the time of the foul.

Misconduct – Differentiating Red From Yellow: Law 12

As the MLS season comes to a close, there have been multiple “Week In Reviews” focused on assisting match officials with differentiating red card challenges (using excessive force) from yellow card challenges (reckless) from simple fouls (careless). The ability to differentiate and classify challenges is a critical function and skill set of the referee. Hence, the constant review and examination of this aspect of the game. At all times, referees must understand the need to ensure the entertainment value of the game through ensuring player safety and correctly addressing the 100 percent misconduct situations.

When evaluating tackles and whether they are committed with “excessive force,” referees should apply the often mentioned “SIAPOA” criteria mentioned in U.S. Soccer’s 2009 directive “100% Misconduct and Red Card Tackles:”

  • Speed of play and the tackle – the faster the play and players, the greater the force.
  • Intent – is the intent to win the ball or send a message?
  • Aggressive nature – does the player lunge at the opponent with force? Consider the distance from which the challenge is started.
  • Position of the tackler – in particular, his legs (height of the tackler’s leading leg and the follow-up action by the tackler’s trailing leg).
  • Opportunity to play the ball – the location of the ball in relationship to the timing and execution of the tackle. Is it a controlled challenge executed with a high degree of success in winning the ball?
  • Atmosphere of the game – this is the “big picture” which may only be felt by the official at the time of the challenge and is based upon where the game has been thus far and where it may be headed (player/team attitudes should be considered).

Remember, red card tackles usually involve combinations of the SIAPOA components.

Video Clip 3: Seattle at Houston (28:29 – overtime)
The focus of this video clip analysis is on the tackle committed and not the associated actions by the players.

With the score 1-0 and less than two minutes left in overtime, a player on the losing team commits a red card tackle (serious foul play) that meets each of the SIAPOA criteria. Of particular note is the manner in which the defender uncontrollably lunges into the attacker with his cleats exposed from a long distance. As the video clip is viewed, notice that the challenge is initiated even before the attacker has received/touched the ball thereby reducing the defender’s opportunity to fairly play the ball. Additionally, take note of the height of the defender’s leading leg. The frustration level and intent of the defender is to send a message to the attacker.

Players committing challenges (meeting the SIAPOA criteria) such as this must be sent off for serious foul play as they are a display of excessive force.

Video Clip 4: New England at Chicago (16:49)
Early on in this clip, the referee and assistant referee (AR) miss the opportunity to stop play by calling a holding foul committed by the white jersey team that prevents the red shirt attacker from advancing with the ball. Having let this go, the match officials then provide flow to the game by allowing the white jersey team to play the ball out of the defensive third via advantage (a good decision at this level).

The referee follows the ball and play while the AR covers the referee’s back by watching “off-the-ball.” The ARs work permits him to observe the cautionable, off-the-ball action by the player No. 29 in the white jersey. Immediately upon observing No. 29’s actions, the AR should raise his flag to get the referee’s attention and have play stopped. Once the ARs flag is recognized and play stopped, the referee must approach the AR and confer without the interference of players.

The decision to yellow card player No. 29 is the correct decision as the player’s actions were not excessive force and no “contact above the shoulder” was made. The attacker was not placed in any danger of being injured and the contact was reckless in nature.

The game should be restarted with a direct free kick for the red jersey team as a result of the foul for which the caution is being issued.

Looking Forward – Playoff Week 3
The winners of Playoff Week 3 games advance to the MLS Cup in Seattle on November 22, 2009. The conference finals are a “winner take all” single game format unlike the prior home-and-home series. As a consequence, there is no second chance for the teams. Match officials must be prepared for the players to leave everything on the table and to strive for a victory until the final whistle. Teamwork and communication will be the hallmark for success as will the referee’s ability to use his personality to positively influence the game’s direction.