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2010 Referee Week in Review - Week 24

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 24 – Ending September 12, 2010

Week 24 presented MLS officials with the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and application of the Laws of the Game in the attacking third of the field, especially as it relates to fouls in and around the penalty area. The ability to identify key situations inside or in close proximity to the penalty area, which require action on the part of match officials, is vital to the promotion of attacking soccer.

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


Tactical Fouls: Interfering With or Breaking Up a Promising Attack

The Laws of the Game require a player be cautioned (listed as unsporting behavior) for “committing a foul for the tactical purpose of interfering with or breaking up a promising attack.” Not only is there a mention of tactical fouls in the Laws of the Game but U.S. Soccer’s 2009 directive on “100% Misconduct: Tactical and Red Card Tackles” addresses the identification and management of tactical fouls.

Typically, tactical fouls have several characteristics but a key element in all is that the foul interferes with or breaks up what would otherwise be a promising attack. Simply, a tactical foul is aimed at taking away a possible advantage from the attacking team. The characteristics of tactical fouls include:

  • Usually in the attacking end of the field
    Defensive players commit the foul because they acknowledge that the attacking team will have a credible opportunity to go-to-goal with a high degree of effectiveness. It normally involves the speed of the attack.
  • Numerical advantage
    The foul is 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.
  • Time to defend
    Tactical fouls are committed to give the defending team time to get a numeric advantage between the ball and the goal.
  • Prevent the ball and/or player from advancing
    Normally, 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” concept. 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. Space and the opportunity for a potential shot or attacking advantage are warning signs.
  • 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, such as 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.
  • Minor nature of the challenge
    Normally the foul does not involve hard, physical contact, hence, it is consider minor in nature. But, it is often major in nature because it destroys the game.

Note: Tactical fouls are typically “planned” and require the referee to issue a yellow card due to the nature of the foul.

Referees need to be cognizant of certain player who may be the target of tactical fouls. As the game develops, match officials should identify these players and be on the lookout for opponents who may foul them to break up a promising attack. Wide players (players on the flanks or in wide positions) are often targets as they have greater opportunity to get the ball behind the defense and into positive/promising attacking positions. In addition, players with speed are often on the receiving end of tactical fouls because the opponent must find a way to stop their progress and to stop them from getting behind/around the defense.

Clip 1: Toronto at Chicago (22:37 and 68:40)
This clip involves two tactical fouls that are correctly identified by the referee. The same player is fouled in each situation. As you watch the two scenarios, ask yourself:

  • “Why is this player being fouled?”
  • “What attributes does the player have that make him a target for such fouls?”
  • “Where is the player being fouled?”
  • “If the player was not fouled, what would have resulted?”

In both tactical fouls, the defending player successfully halts the progress of the speedy attacker with the ball. If beat, the defending team will be vulnerable to a promising attack in the final third of the field. If it were not for either foul, the attacker would have progressed with the ball into space behind/around the defender and the result would have been a positive attacking opportunity.

Consequently, both “careless” fouls meet the criteria for being tactical in nature (breaking up a promising attack) and require the referee to caution each defender for unsporting behavior.

The assistant referee (AR) is presented with a good opportunity to help the referee with identifying and calling the tactical foul that occurs in the first (22:37) sequence. The foul is close to the AR and the AR has full view of the build-up leading to the foul. The proximity of the AR to the foul should also give a good “feel” for the speed of the attacker, the reason for the foul and the opportunity to advance the ball that is denied by the defender. Hence, the AR does a good job calling the foul and indicating (by patting his breast pocket) that a yellow card is deserved by the defender.

Unfair Challenge and Penalty Kick

Differentiating between unfair and fair challenges is often a test of a referee’s foul discrimination. Charging an opponent is one of the challenges that is often incorrectly identified because many of the factors leading to it being unfair are hard to differentiate.

The act of charging an opponent (legally) can be performed without it being called as a foul. According to the Laws of the Game:

"The act of charging is a challenge for space using physical contact within playing distance of the ball without using arms or elbows.”

Given this guidance, players may not charge an opponent using arms or elbows/body. In fact, a fair charge must be directed toward the area of the shoulder and not toward the center of the opponent’s back (like the spinal area). A charge against an opponent is not legal if it is committed:

  • In a careless manner.
  • In a reckless manner.
  • Using excessive force.

As a result, the referee must judge whether any challenge (even if it is shoulder-to-shoulder) is done carelessly, recklessly or with excessive force. If it is, then it is a foul and may require misconduct depending upon the classification of the contact.

As two players converge upon each other or the ball, match officials must be on the lookout for various forms of charging and be prepared to make a determination as to whether the contact was fair or unfair (careless, reckless or excessive force). Contact with the arms, hands or elbows is not permitted if it is outside normal contact and meets the careless, reckless or excessive force criteria.

Clip 2: Colorado at New York (19:41 – second half)
An attacker, with the ball, is being pursued by a defender as each enter the right side of the penalty area with speed. Observe the body position of both players. The attacker is slightly ahead of the defender and is moving with the ball toward the goal. The defender initiates contact with the attacker in the back. This is an unfair challenge and is careless. The foul is committed for the tactical purpose of interfering with or breaking up a promising attack.

Although the foul is not committed with a lot of force, due to the speed of both the attacker and defender, it does not take a lot of contact for a foul to result. The defender uses his arm and elbow to contact the opponent, who is in front of him, in the back. The result is a careless foul requiring the awarding of a penalty kick. In addition, the defender should be cautioned for unsporting behavior since his foul broke up a promising attack.

The location of the foul and the speed of the play, which initiated at the halfway line, make this a good candidate for AR involvement. As the penetrating attacking pass is made at the halfway line, the AR must be aware of the referee’s position and that the speed of play may result in the referee being far from play. Upon making this determination, the AR needs to heighten his awareness and realize that his involvement/assistance may be needed relative to game management.

Having recognized the referee’s less than optimal position, the AR should then focus on the attacker and onrushing defender. Contact between the two players occurs in the AR’s area of control. The proximity of the foul to the AR and the referee’s position make this unfair challenge one in which the AR is required to become involved. The AR should make immediate eye contact with the referee and then raise the flag with a quick wiggle to indicate that a foul has occurred. Upon the referee’s whistle, the AR should droop/hang the flag across his waist to indicate to the referee that a penalty kick should be awarded for the foul he has just flagged.

Because the defender committed a careless foul for “the tactical purpose of interfering with or breaking up a promising attack,” the defender must be cautioned for unsporting behavior.

Violent Conduct: Off-the-Ball Illegal Contact

A player, substitute or substituted player may be sent off (red carded) for one of seven offenses. One of the offenses is violent conduct. Keys to correctly identifying violent conduct are the following criteria:

  • Use of excessive force or brutality against an opponent when not challenging or contesting for the ball.
  • Use of excessive force or brutality against a teammate, spectator, match official or any other person.
  • May occur either on or off/outside the field of play.
  • The ball may be in or out of play.

Referees must be on constant outlook or awareness for off-the-ball situations which present opportunities for violent conduct. Referees must find the appropriate balance between following the ball/play and monitoring players off-the-ball or players in the area from which the ball was played. Utilization of warning signs can help to guide the referee’s viewing decision. One of the most frequent warning signs occurs when either two opposing players are on the ground or when one player is on the ground and other player is either hovering above or jumping over him. In these cases, players may attempt to hide or disguise their violent actions by efforts to make excessive force challenges appear fair.

As warning signs appear, referees must hesitate and keep partial (if not all) vision on the potential off-the-ball situation until such time as the referee is certain that the situation will not escalate. ARs and fourth officials can assist with monitoring off-the-ball situations.

Clip 3: Columbus at Los Angeles (8:00)
This clip provides a clear example of violent conduct that occurs when a player is not contesting for the ball. The referee seems to have the challenge (stomping/jumping on the opponent) in his sightlines. But, the referee must refrain from the tendency to merely follow the ball.

The referee must “read” the warning sign of a player on the ground and an opponent jumping up to avoid the challenge. Upon acknowledging this scenario, the referee must anticipate a potential next step – the player disguising his violent conduct as an attempt to merely avoid the challenge or to jump out of the path of the opponent.

This challenge is excessive force as the player deliberately drives his cleats/feet into the opponent on the ground. The referee must immediately stop play and issue a red card for violent conduct and restart the game with a direct free kick for the team in the black jerseys.

It is also important to note the manner in which the referee manages the game disrepute (players coming together). Although the presence of the referee is a positive step and prevents the gathering from escalating, the referee must not make strong physical contact with the players (pushing them away). Physical contact with players can place the referee in a volatile situation and should be avoided. A strong whistle, verbalization and physical presence (without contact) can be used as preventative tools.

Looking Forward – Week 25
Preparation for tactical fouls (those that interfere with or break up a promising attack) will help to ensure attacking soccer. Most tactical fouls can be anticipated due to the type of play and associated build-up of play. As this occurs, referees should take strategic positions in anticipation of the foul in hopes to prevent the foul from being executed. Close proximity and the use of the voice by referees as well as ARs may aid in preventing a tactical foul from being committed.