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2009 Referee Week in Review - Week 18

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 18 – ending July 19, 2009
With multiple top flight international and domestic league matches on the agenda, week 18 had many interesting situations. The U.S. National Team has been competing in CONCACAF’s Gold. On the MLS front, six league games were played. The six games saw 18 goals scored for an average of three per match. Interestingly, 11 of the 18 goals (61 percent) were scored in the second half. Of the second half goals, more than half (six) hit the back of the net in the last 15 minutes.

The large percentage of second half goals illustrates the competitive drive occurring toward the end of matches. Teams are continuing to push to goal with the mentality to score even as the game progresses. Once again, this requires all match officials to maintain focus, concentration and high energy levels for all 90 minutes of the match. Even when the result of the game is seemingly determined, due to the potential for late goals, match officials must be prepared and ready to handle last minute critical decisions that may impact the outcome of the game.

With the MLS midseason break a week away, the second half of the season will result in increased intensity and determination on the part of the players and the teams. This is the case with all league play. Destinies are up for grabs. Officials must be prepared mentally and physically for the challenge.


Offside Situations – Interfering and Gaining an Advantage: Law 11
A player who is in an offside position may only be declared offside if he is involved in “active play” which means one of three factors is present:

  1. The offside player has “interfered with play” by playing or touching a ball that has been passed or last touched by a teammate. 
  2. The offside player has “interfered with an opponent” by preventing the opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the opponent’s line of vision or movements or the offside player makes a gesture or movement which, in the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts an opponent.
  3. The offside player has “gained and advantage” from being in his offside position by playing a ball (that has last been played or touched by a teammate) that has either: (a) rebounded/deflected to him off a goalpost or the crossbar; or (b) that rebounds/deflects to him off an opponent.

Remember, in each of the three cases above, the assumption is that the player was in an offside position at the time the ball was last played/touched by a teammate.

Law 11 uses the term “active play” to assist in the definition of determining an offside infringement. “Active play” is a term that varies depending upon the skill and age level of the players.

  • The higher the skill level of the players, the smaller the area of “active play.” In other words, the closer the offside positioned player must be to an opponent for the player to be judged to have “interfered with an opponent.” Skilled players have a greater ability to adjust to and play in tighter situations and are less affected by opponent positions.
  • The lower the skill level of the players, the larger the area of “active play.” In other words, offside positioned players may be further from the opponent to be judged to have “interfered with an opponent.” At lower skill levels, match officials have slightly more leeway to determine “active play” and “interfering with an opponent.”

This concept will become more clear as video clip 1 is reviewed below.

Video Clip 1: Galaxy at New York (34:48)
This clip involves the concept of “active play.” This is a professional game. Hence, the skill level of the players is very high. As a consequence, the area of “active play” is small. To “interfere with an opponent,” the offside player must be much closer than at the non-professional or youth levels where the skill level of the participants may not be as high.

This clip provides an example of a situation where “interfering with an opponent” is not a factor and play should be allowed to continue. Despite the closeness of the offside positioned attacker (white jersey), the attacker has not entered the area of “active play” and therefore does not “interfere with the opponent’s” ability to play the ball. A player at this level should be able to cleanly play or head the ball despite the location of the offside attacker.

The following items are key visual indicators that should assist in making a no-offside decision:

  • The defender has plenty of space to cleanly head the ball. The offside positioned attacker is not the cause of his misplay.
  • The offside positioned attacker declares himself not involved in “active play” by freezing and not making a move to play the ball or interfere with the defender’s ability to play the ball.
  • The offside positioned player does not “interfere with play” as he does not play or touch the ball that has been passed by his teammate.

In general, this is not offside at most levels but certainly not at the professional level. Assistant referees (ARs) must refrain from indicating offside until one of the three factors are present. Use of the “wait and see” principle will aid in correct decision making and ensuring the area of “active play” is appropriately defined relative to “interfering with an opponent.” ARs should take their time, evaluate all the visual signs and then make a definite decision regarding offside.

Video Clip 2: Galaxy at New York (41:14)
Clip 2 involves all three offside concepts: “gaining an advantage” by being in an offside position, “interfering with play” and “interfering with an opponent.” In this situation, the referee team uses sound judgment to decide that the offside position player should not be sanctioned for being in an offside position at the time the ball was played by a teammate.

From approximately 30 yards from goal, an attacker takes a shot. At this time, there is a teammate of the attacker (white jersey) in an offside position in the penalty area. The goalkeeper makes a diving save but is unable to maintain control of the ball and it deflects/rebounds off his hands. The rebound goes to another attacker who was in an onside position and outside the penalty area at the time of the shot. This onside positioned attacker shoots the ball which again deflects/rebounds off the goalkeeper.

Let’s evaluate each of the three offside concepts and see how they apply to this no offside call:

  1. Interfering with play
    The offside positioned player does not touch or play the ball after it deflects directly off the kicker. He moves toward the ball but he does not touch it and he stops his run when he realizes his teammate will play the ball. Consequently, this player has not interfered with play.
  2. Interfering with an opponent
    There are two instances where the offside positioned player has the opportunity to “interfere with an opponent.” The first instance occurs on the initial 30-yard shot on goal. Although the player is in an offside position, he is not obstructing the goalkeeper’s line of vision as he is not in the direct path of the ball and the goalkeeper is not prevented/distracted from clearly seeing the ball as it approaches him. The second opportunity to “interfere with an opponent” comes after the keeper makes the save and while the ball is rolling free. At this time, the offside positioned attacker makes a move toward the ball as if to play it, while at the same time, a defender is making a run to get to the deflected ball. Although both the defender and the offside position player cross paths, the offside positioned attacker does not obstruct the defender’s movement or ability to get to and eventually play the ball.
  3. Gaining an advantage
    Remember, “gaining an advantage” can only occur when an offside positioned player plays/touches a ball that deflects/rebounds off the goalpost, crossbar or an opponent after the ball has last been played/touched by a teammate. In this case, although the ball deflects off the goalkeeper, there cannot be an offside infraction for this component of the Law due to the fact that the offside positioned player does not touch the ball.

Match officials and particularly ARs need to remember the following statement. It is the first sentence of Law 11 – Offside:

It is not an offense in itself to be in an offside position.

Once offside position is determined, the offside player must be involved in “active play” by:

  • Interfering with play; or
  • Interfering with an opponent; or
  • Gaining an advantage from being in an offside position.

Once one of these three components is present, the AR should raise the flag to indicate offside.

The “wait and see” principle must be applied in this offside/no offside decision. When two attackers (one offside positioned player and on onside positioned player) go for the ball, apply the “wait and see” principle to see who touches the ball and, therefore, “interferes with play.”

Handling the Ball by “Making Yourself Bigger” and Management of Penalty Kicks: Laws 12 and 14
U.S. Soccer’s 2009 Referee Program Directive on “Handling the Ball” describes multiple factors to be considered when deciding whether a ball makes contact with a player’s arm/hand should be whistled for a handling offense or not. The most often factor cited in prior “Week In Reviews” is the concept of “making yourself bigger.”

Review of the following “Week In Review” issues will enhance the understanding of the “making yourself bigger” concept:

In summary, “making yourself bigger” is defined in the directive as:

The placement of the arm(s)/hand(s) of the defending player at the time the ball is played by the opponent. Should an arm/hand be in a position that takes away space from the team with the ball and the ball contacts the arm/hand, the referee should interpret this contact as handling. Referees should interpret this action as the defender “deliberately” putting his arm/hand in a position in order to reduce the options of the opponent (like spreading your arms wide to take away the passing lane of an attacker).

When a match official sees a potential situation involving “making yourself bigger,” they should ask themselves the following questions:

  • Does the defender use his hand/arm as a barrier?
  • Does the defender use his hand/arm to take away space and/or the passing lane from the opponent?
  • Does the defender use his hand/arm to occupy more space by extending his reach or extending the ability of his body to play the ball thereby benefiting from the extension(s)?

If the answer is “yes” to any of the questions, the likelihood of a handling offense is great.

Law 14 deals with Penalty Kicks. Referees must be diligent in the organization and execution of penalty kicks to ensure the players adhere to the requirements of the Law. The referee must ensure the following four components are correctly administered prior to the taking of a penalty kick:

  1. The ball:
    Must be placed on the penalty mark.
  2. The player taking the kick:
    Must be properly identified. The referee must ascertain which player will take the kick and clearly identify the kicker to the goalkeeper. This can be done by getting the keeper’s attention and pointing to the kicker who is clearly isolated from the other players.
  3. The defending goalkeeper:
    Must remain on his goal line, facing the kicker, between the goalpost until the ball has been kicked. The goalkeeper is permitted to move or jump along the goal line prior to the ball being kicked. He may not, however, jump out or toward the ball prior to the ball being touched.
  4. The players other than the kicker must be located:
    • Inside the field of play.
    • Outside the penalty area.
    • Behind the penalty mark. This ensures there can be no offside from a penalty kick.
    • At least 10 yards from the penalty mark. The penalty arc ensures this distance.

Referees must take the time to ensure that the players know that they are responsible for adhering to the requirements of the Law. This can be accomplished by the referee quickly walking along the top of the penalty area while pointing to the line and voicing the requirement that players must not enter the area until the ball has been kicked. This work shows authority and acts as a preventative measure. The referee should clearly ensure (both verbally and visually) the players know the requirements.

Once all these components have been met, the referee may whistle for the penalty kick to be taken by the identified shooter. The referee should take a position near the top of the penalty area where his presence acts as a inhibitor to those that may want to encroach (enter the penalty area before the kick is taken) and from which he can clearly see the kicker and the movement of the goalkeeper. In no event should the referee allow players to get behind him, out of his vision.

Law 14 sets forth sanctions for various infringements by players. One of the most common infringements is encroachment (being closer than 10 yards after the whistle has been blown and before the ball has been kicked) by field players. The following is an overview of the sanctions for encroachment by field players once the whistle has been blown:

  1. By a teammate of the player taking the kick (an attacking team player)
    • Goal = retake of the kick.
    • No goal = referee stops play and awards an indirect free kick to the defending team from the place where the infringement occurred (the spot from which the attacker came within 10 yards before the ball was kicked).
  2. By a teammate of the goalkeeper (a defending team player)
    • Goal = a goal is awarded.
    • No goal = retake the penalty kick.
  3. By a player of both the defending team and attacking team
    • The kick is retaken regardless of the outcome.

The following chart provides a summation of the penalty kick infringements and is taken from U.S. Soccer’s position paper entitled, “Violations of Law 14 (The Penalty Kick)”. Review of this position paper will enhance match officials’ knowledge of the various situations surrounding the taking of a penalty kick.

Consequences of an Infringement of Law 14


Who infringed Law 14? What was the outcome of the kick
Ball goes into goal Ball does not go into goal
Attacker (including the kicker) RETAKE PENALTY KICK INDIRECT FREE KICK*
Defender (including the goalkeepr) GOAL (KICK-OFF) RETAKE PENALTY KICK


*From where the infringement occurred

Note: There are other penalty kick infringements listed in the Law which officials must be cognizant of especially since this is a critical aspect of any game. All eyes are on the referee during penalty kick situations from the initial decision through the taking of the kick; hence, the importance of managing the situation correctly.

Referees must have courage to apply Law 14 correctly.

Video Clip 3: Galaxy at New York (85:29)
This video clip contains multiple decisions and learning points and includes an example of “making yourself bigger,” an opportunity for delay in decision making, a potential “denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity” as well as encroachment on the taking of the penalty kick by the attacking team.

“Making Yourself Bigger:” Handling the Ball
The defender (black jersey) has his arm extended in an unnatural position in two instances in this scenario. The first is on the cross in which he attempts to play the ball with his hand. The second is on the shot by No. 9 on the white shirt team. The defender has his arm extended from his body and not to his side (a normal playing position). The last replay (at the end of the clip) shows the ball hitting the defender’s upper arm as it is extended in a manner that takes away space from the opponent resulting in the defender benefiting from the unnatural position of his arm. Notice how the hand and arm are well above the defender’s head.

Making the Call
Both the referee and AR should be positioned to make this decision. As the ball is crossed from the left flank into the penalty area toward the far post, the referee must be anticipating the drop zone and be moving to an advantageous position giving him the best view of the ball and the players in that zone. This involves anticipation and movement. Due to the location of the handling offense, the AR may have a clear view. If the AR sees that the referee has a poor angle of vision and the AR is 100 percent certain that handling has occurred, the AR should raise the flag and bring the foul to the referee’s attention (once the referee has blown the whistle, the AR should mimic the substitution signal across his waist to indicate that the foul should result in a penalty kick).

After whistling the handling offense, the referee should not run to the penalty spot where he is accosted by four defenders and two attackers. As stated in prior “Week In Reviews,” the referee should attempt to move to a neutral spot where he is facing the field of play and the players have to approach him from a long distance. By taking this position, the referee must deal with the arguing players which prevents him from having the opportunity to clear his head to evaluate the potential DOGSO event as well as seek input from the AR either visually or via the RefTalk communication devise.

Delay in Decision Making
Closely watch the clip. Immediately following the handling offense, the ball comes back to an unmarked attacker who has no one between him and an open goalmouth. In this case, the referee must exhibit patience, hold the whistle and utilize the “wait and see” principle. By utilizing a split second delay, the referee would be able to evaluate all the facts and see that a goal scoring chance exists and a goal results. Referees must resist premature whistles and read the potential development of the play and give the play no more than a few seconds to develop in a positive sense for the attacking team. If it does not develop (a goal results), then the awarding of a penalty kick must occur.

Denying an Obvious Goal Scoring Opportunity (DOGSO)
Given the replay angles, it is not clear whether a DOGSO exists or not. However, if the referee awards a penalty kick and the match officials believe that the defender prevented the ball from going toward the open goal and consequently denied the attackers with an obvious opportunity to score, then the referee should red card the defender who handled the ball for “denying a goal or obvious goal scoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball.”

If the referee plays advantage and a goal results but the referee felt that DOGSO existed as a result of the handball, the player who committed the handling offense may not be sent off but the referee may caution him depending upon the severity.

Encroachment by an Attacker at the Taking of the Penalty Kick
First, the referee must take a position closer to the top of the penalty area where his presence can been seen and felt by the players. Once this is done and the whistle is blown, the referee must be cognizant of players who enter the penalty area before the ball is put into play (encroachment). In this case, it is clear that an attacker has entered the penalty area well before the ball is kicked and is approximately five yards behind the ball once it is put into play. This is an obvious and blatant infringement of the Law and must result in the kick being retaken since a goal is scored.

Feinting at the Taking of the Penalty Kick
FIFAs “Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees” states that “feinting” (a deceptive move to disguise the real intent) is acceptable by the kicker at the taking of a penalty kick:

“Feinting to take a penalty kick to confuse opponents is permitted as part of football. However, if, in the opinion of the referee, the feinting is considered an act of unsporting behavior, the player must be cautioned.”

During the taking of the penalty kick, the kicker does a quick stutter step during his approach and several yards before he contacts the ball. This is an acceptable form of feinting. The ability for a kicker to feint was introduced when the Laws were changed to allow the goalkeeper to move along the goal line prior to a penalty kick being taken. Because the goalkeeper can move, the keeper has the opportunity to react to a reasonable feint by the kicker.

Overall, a handling offense (“making yourself bigger”) did occur. The referee should have waited (using the “wait and see” principle) prior to whistling for handling to see if a goal materialized. In this case, it did. Therefore, the optimum decision would have been to award the goal and not call the penalty kick as this would have a greater benefit for the attacking team.

Looking Forward – Week 19
With MLS midseason a week away, referees and ARs working MLS games must prepare for the two day midseason clinic in Dallas following the MLS All Star game. At this clinic, the FIFA interval and sprint test will be administered. Hence, mental and physical preparation will be needed.