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2009 Referee Week in Review - Week 19

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 19 – ending July 26, 2009
This past week, there were three cases where individuals (two players and one coach) were dismissed from the game due to dissent. The two players were sent off after receiving second cautions, one which involved dissent, while the coach dismissed from the sidelines for irresponsible behavior.

In each of the three cases cited, the individuals involved both visually and verbally protested the referee’s decision. In each case, the referee’s decision to dismiss them from the match was necessary due to the personal and public nature of their visual demonstrations as well as the content of their verbal assaults. Two of the situations will be highlighted in this week’s commentary.

There were also two unfortunate tackles that involved serious foul play. In both situations, the defender’s challenge went over the top of the ball and endangered the safety of the opponent. Although the challenges were clearly red card offenses given the potential to severely injure the opponent, referee teams only dealt with one correctly. As you will see in the summary below, we will explain the importance of recognizing the seriousness of these challenges and how to correctly handle the situation.


Dissent – More than an Emotional Outburst: Law 12
The 2009 U.S. Soccer Referee directive entitled “Dissent” outlines several important factors for officials to consider when deciding whether comments/actions from players or non-playing personnel require official sanction or action. There is a spectrum of potential actions and each requires a different response by the referee. Actions can range from “emotional outburst to dissent to offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures.”

  • Emotional Outburst: Verbal Admonition
    Usually a one time factor. It is said and over. Normally, not specifically directed at an individual. A brief, quick reaction to an incident.
    Referee Response: Attempt to manage with personality and presence. Send a strong verbal and visual message to the player.
  • Dissent: Yellow Card
    Use the “personal, public and provocative” criteria provided in the “Dissent” directive to determine whether the comments and/or actions were disrespectful to “any referee.” Normally, words, tone, body language and facial expressions which demonstrate a negative and condescending attitude toward a match official. The actions are usually more extended in nature and persistent than those used in an “emotional outburst.” Consider gestures, directed at an official, that show disgust or disrespect. Look for aggressiveness directed at an official.
  • Offensive, Insulting or Abusive Language and/or Gestures: Red Card
    Considering the “personal, public and provocative” criteria, the referee must judge the severity of the actions (verbal and non-verbal). The more aggressive or directed the action, the further up the scale (toward a red card) the referee must consider. Each situation and its context within the game must be addressed and evaluated individually using the “personal, public and provocative” criteria. However, if a player’s or non-playing personnel’s actions exceed the boundaries of the “personal, public and provocative” standards, the player must be sent off or the non-player dismissed.

Officials must be aware of actions/comments that undermine the authority of the referee and must take the appropriate action that corresponds to the actions of the player.

Video Clip 1: Chicago at Seattle (59:00)
At the beginning of the clip a replay is shown of a player who simulates a foul in order to deceive the referee into awarding him a free kick. This player should be cautioned for unsporting behavior. The Laws of the Game require that the referee caution a player for “attempting to deceive the referee by pretending to have been fouled (simulation).” This includes situations when a player fakes a foul (dives) or exaggerates the severity of a foul.

When evaluating the attacker’s actions in determining that deception exists, the following flash points exist:

  • The location of the attacker: the attacker is in the “danger” or “red” zone. This is the area approximately 25 to 30 yards from goal where free kicks are often scored. In this area, attacking players evaluate whether a free kick or continuing with the ball will provide more benefit for their team.
  • The attacker’s touch on the ball: the attacker touches the ball by the defender but it is touched far enough from the attacker that he will not be able to regain possession of the ball.
  • The location of surrounding defenders: the attacker knows the location of the supporting defenders and realizes that the surrounding defenders will get to the ball before him or they will prevent him from further progression with the ball.
  • The attacker initiates the contact: closely watch the defender’s actions by watching his feet. The defender holds his ground and does not step into to path of the attacker. The attacker, on the other hand, goes down easily as he passes the defender. The attacker’s fall is deliberate and he is attempting to exaggerate the contact in order to win a free kick in the “danger zone.”

After analyzing the warning signs, the referee correctly decides that the player commits an act of unsporting behavior and cautions him. Immediately upon issuing the yellow card, the attacker begins to dissent in a verbal and visual manner. The referee decides that the player’s actions constitute dissent (more than an “emotional outburst”) and he issues a second yellow card to the player for dissent. After showing the yellow card the second time in this situation, the referee must then send the player off (show the red card) as this is the player’s second caution in the match.

Video Clip 2: Dallas at Real Salt Lake (69:45)
This clip starts with a defensive wall that has been established in the penalty area. As the free kick is taken, a defender jumps up from the wall and extends his arm out to the side and deliberately makes contact with the ball as it is headed toward the goal. This case of “making yourself bigger” while jumping in the defensive wall is consistent with the direction given in “Week In Review 15” when a similar handling offense occurred. The referee correctly awards a penalty kick since the handling offense was committed by a defender inside the penalty area.

What occurs next is irresponsible behavior on the part of the coach. The coach’s actions and words (which can be classified as offensive, insulting or abusive language) are irresponsible and strongly question the referee’s authority. Not only are they directed toward the referee (“personal”) but his words and actions are “public.” The persistent/repetitive nature of the irresponsible behavior must be dealt with by the referee by dismissing the coach.

As the referee sets up the ensuing penalty kick, he does a very good job following the advice and guidelines established in “Week In Review 18” relative to the administration of penalty kicks. This is particularly evident in the manner in which he uses preventative refereeing by walking along the top of the penalty area warning players about encroaching into the penalty prior to the ball being kicked. The result is a penalty kick taken in accordance with the Laws of the Game.

Since the referee’s location on the field may prevent him from fully recognizing the irresponsible behavior of the coach, the fourth official must get the referee’s attention at the first stoppage of play. This may be done directly or through the nearside assistant referee (AR). Here are some recommendations to ensure the process of dismissal is handled without any problems or miscommunication:

  1. Get a second opinion from the AR
    Prior to dismissing an individual within the technical area, the fourth official should attempt to get a second opinion or get confirmation from the nearby AR. By engaging the AR, the fourth official will have more confidence that his decision to dismiss is correct. Engaging another perspective on the situation is a positive move.
  2. Clear, succinct and specific communication with the referee
    Once the referee is summoned, the fourth official should clearly and succinctly communicate the recommended action. If players are involved, use numbers not just names. Make sure to specify the action the referee should take. For example: “Coach <Name> of team A should be dismissed for irresponsible behavior. Coach <Name> used offensive and insulting language and gestures directed at you.” Often times, communicating the exact words used can be effective in conveying the severity of the actions.
  3. Indicate the culprit
    If need be, after communicating the information to the referee, the AR can point to the individual to be dismissed or sent off to ensure the correct person has been identified. This is especially true for non-playing personnel who may not be familiar to the match officials.
  4. Reconfirm the information
    Once the fourth official has conveyed the information, the referee should reconfirm the information. Reconfirmation ensures that what has been transmitted has been received correctly.

Excessive Force and Endangering the Safety of an Opponent: Law 12
U.S. Soccer has published criteria to assist officials with identifying tackles that must result in the issuance of a red card due to the use of excessive force and the fact that they endanger the safety of an opponent. The criteria are summarized as follows:

  • Speed of play and the tackle
    The speed at which the attacker and the defender are running at the time and the force of the tackle. The faster the tackler is moving, the greater the force.
  • Intent
    Is the tackler’s intent to take the player out and “send a message?”
  • Aggressive nature of the tackle
    Lunging, distance from ball/opponent when the tackle was initiated, cleats exposed. Think about the point of contact: where is the contact being made?
  • Position of the tackler
    In particular, the legs of the attacker and the direction from which the tackle was initiated – from behind, straight on.
  • Opportunity to play the ball
    Given the factors above, does the tackler have a chance to play the ball? Where is the position of the ball relative to the timing of the tackle? Where is the position of the ball relative to where contact is made?
  • Atmosphere of the game
    Consider the overall spirit in which the match has been played. Look at the “big picture” and determine how your decision will impact the way the remaining game time is played.

Endangering the Safety of the Opponent
When considering “endangering the safety of an opponent,” match officials must be cognizant of what part of the challenger is initiating the contact and where the contact is made.

  • 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.

The ability for an official to swiftly review the aforementioned criteria and make a determination as to whether the tackle has been committed in a manner that is careless, reckless or has utilized excessive force is vital to game control. Failure to correctly classify the challenge and take appropriate action can lead to players taking the game into their own hands by sorting out their own punishment, loss of control and mass confrontation.

Video Clip 3: Toronto at Columbus (37:38)
This clip involves a clear case of serious foul play and, therefore, the tackler must be issued a red card. As the clip is reviewed, the criteria established by U.S. Soccer and outlined above for evaluating tackles should be used to ensure the correct punishment is meted out.

As you view the clip, consider the following:

Excessive Force

  • Is this a normal challenge? No. The foot is raised off the ground. If the defender were attempting to play the ball, he would have swung his foot at it to kick it away and not leaped in directly at the opponent.
  • The ball is on the ground and the challenge goes over the top of the ball.
  • Does the defender have the opportunity to play the ball? No. A normal challenge is made with the foot on the ground not raised two to three feet off the ground.
  • The challenge is late.

Endangers the Safety of the Opponent

  • A hard surface (the cleats) is used to make contact. Direct contact is made with the bottom of the cleats.
  • The area contacted (the knee) is soft. Given that the area involves a joint, severe damage is possible.
  • The tackle is committed straight on.

Given these factors, the referee must issue a red card for serious foul play.

In order to ensure the referee team gets the decision correct, the following preventative measures should be considered:

  1. Anticipation and movement by the referee
    The referee must move much faster when the initial pass is executed. Although it is not clear in the clip, the referee does not anticipate nor move when the long pass is made. The referee must “read” the play and accelerate as the long ball is played to the corner. “Reading the play” involves recognizing a one versus one situation on the wing in which the defender is playing catch-up. A one versus one situation in the wide channel is a warning sign and this is especially true when the defender starts from a deficit position behind the attacker. The defender must prevent the attacker from getting around the corner and advancing toward goal. By moving closer to the challenge and gaining a proper angle, the referee will have a better view and will be better prepared to “feel” the tackle and identify the warning signs. Remember the age old adage: Presence lends conviction.
  2. “Feel” the challenge
    The AR and referee must “feel” the severity of the challenge and ask themselves: “Is it normal for a tackle to be committed with cleats up/exposed and contact made in the region of the knee?”
  3. Delay the misconduct decision and observe the outcome
    Before the AR advises the referee (by patting his chest pocket or via verbal communication) that a yellow card is needed, he should delay to observe the result of the challenge. In addition, a slight hesitation in indicating the color of the card will provide the AR the opportunity to confirm where the contact was made (at the knee level). The AR is very close to the tackle and this may slightly hamper his view but the warning signs and especially the area of contact (above the ball on the knee) and the mode of contact (the cleats) should be sufficient evidence that the tackle is a red card offense.

The referee must not rely on the AR to make this decision. This is a clear challenge that utilizes excessive force and endangers the safety of the opponent. In addition, the challenge is in the open field and there are no obstacles to block the referee’s vision. With swifter movement and acceleration on the initial pass, the referee would enhance his view and give himself a better “feel” for the seriousness of the challenge.

Looking Forward – Week 20
MLS midseason has arrived. Beginning Wednesday, all officials working MLS will convene in Dallas, Texas for two days of training and to take the U.S. Soccer interval fitness test. Under the direction of Paul Tamberino (Director of Referee Development), the referees and ARs will review the season to date and prepare for the second half of the year.