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A yellow card

2010 Referee Week in Review - Week 31

The excitement, intensity and energy of the MLS playoffs was evident as the first round of matches kicked off this past weekend. Each playoff game presented several challenges for match officials and tested referees’ player and game management skills. This week, three interesting decisions will be examined that are excellent teaching points for officials at all levels.

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: Gaining an Advantage

A player in an offside position is only penalized if, at the moment the ball touches or is played by one of his teammates, he is, in the opinion of the referee, involved in active play by:

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

Gaining an advantage from being in an offside position means playing a ball that rebounds to the offside positioned player off a post or crossbar or playing a ball that rebounds to him off an opponent. Gaining an advantage is most often seen in situations where the ball rebounds from the crossbar, goalpost or goalkeeper (whose contact with the ball is not “controlled”).

Judging gaining an advantage offside scenarios can be difficult because of several factors:

  1. The amount of time between the original shot and the time the offside positioned player actually plays the ball. Shots can come from distance and during the time between the shot and the touch of the ball, it is easy for an assistant referee (AR) to lose track of the original position(s) of the players.
  2. Dynamic player movement during the time of the original pass/shot causes players to be repositioned at the time they should be judged to have gained an advantage. An offside positioned player may have moved to an onside position during the development of the play. 
  3. Officials do not anticipate or expect the offside positioned player to become involved in active play because a shot is being taken directly on goal or a pass is being made to another teammate. As a result, the focus is not on the surrounding players who will seemingly have no influence on the outcome of the play but on the ball.

Clip 1: Los Angeles at Seattle (25 seconds)
A mere 25 seconds into the game, the AR is faced with a potential game-changing offside decision. An offside decision that tests the AR’s ability to be focused immediately from the referee’s first whistle. The AR cannot be caught up in the atmosphere or environment of the match and must be prepared to make the tough decision for the entire 90 minutes of the game.

Aside from the pressure on the officials due to the atmosphere of the stadium and the fact the game is only seconds old, this correct offside decision is complicated due to the time between the original shot and the moment that the offside positioned player gains an advantage from being in an offside position. Approximately two seconds elapse between the shot and the offside player touching/shooting the ball.

These two seconds are vital. The AR must have taken a picture or snapshot of player positions at the time of the shot as this is a phase of play. This picture, detailing all player positions, cannot be discarded until the second phase of play occurs (the ball being touched by another attacker for instance). Despite the two seconds, the AR must freeze player positions in his mind and not lose track of these positions even though there is a shot on goal.

Simply, ARs cannot assume the goalkeeper will gain clear possession of the ball or deflect the ball over the goal line for a corner kick. Prepare for the worst possible scenario. Cement pictures of player positions in your mind until the next phase of play occurs.

The AR makes the correct offside decision that disallows the goal as two attackers are in an offside position at the time the ball is played/shot by their teammate. This decision provides an excellent example of how focus and concentration play a key role in offside decisions. The AR must refrain from flagging offside until such time as one of the offside positioned players gains an advantage from their position. This is the case as soon as the attacker touches the ball.

Preventing the Goalkeeper from Releasing the Ball into Play: Law 12

“Week In Review 3” the topic of interfering with the goalkeeper’s distribution of the ball was examined in detail. In summary, it is important to remember the following concept:

  • An opponent may not interfere with or block the goalkeeper’s release of the ball into play. This includes blocking the goalkeeper’s movement while he or she is holding the ball or doing anything which hinders, interferes with, or blocks the goalkeeper who is throwing or punting the ball back into play.

When confronted with a potential situation involving an opponent’s attempt to interfere with the goalkeeper’s distribution, referees should look to take preventative measures. Examples of preventative measures include but are not limited to: 

  • The referee “closing down on the play” when he senses a player will attempt to interfere with the keeper’s distribution of the ball. A closer presence to the players involved in an attempt to prevent an infringement of the Law. 
  • Verbally getting the attention of the potential infringing player as the player positions himself in front of or near the goalkeeper with the ball. Follow up with the keeper at the next opportunity to let him know that you are aware of the tactic and you will protect him. 
  • Consider an earlier whistle if the player does not heed the verbal warning to stop following the goalkeeper.

During the time the goalkeeper has control of the ball and is preparing to release it into active play, an opponent may not stand or move so close as to restrict the direction or distance of the goalkeeper’s release. This includes any time when the goalkeeper is:

  • Bouncing the ball 
  • Running with the ball 
  • In the process of dropping the ball in preparation for kicking it 
  • Throwing the ball

Remember, a yellow card is not mandated for an interfering with the goalkeeper offense. The referee must “feel’ the situation and take the best action for the game considering the “big picture.” The referee has the option to show distain, warn or caution the player for preventing the goalkeeper from releasing the ball into play. The appropriate option should be based upon the needs of the game and/or player at that moment. If given, the yellow card would be classified as unsporting behavior.

Clip 2: Los Angeles at Seattle (92:04+)
This clip begins with a legal pass back by a defender to his goalkeeper who handles the ball inside his penalty area. This is a legal pass back because the defender uses his head and not his foot.

Once the goalkeeper has possession of the ball in his hands, the opposing player may not impede or hamper the keeper’s movement as he attempts to release or distribute the ball from his hands or from his feet.

It is important to note that it is not necessary for the attacker to contact the ball for a foul to occur. There mere attempt to prevent the goalkeeper’s distribution can be considered an offense. For this reason, it is important for the referee to take preventative action. For example, in this clip, there are many “warning signs” of a potential situation involving interference:

1. The score and time. The attacker’s team is losing 1-0 and there are approximately two minutes of additional time left in the match.
2. The attacker positions himself right next to the goalkeeper.
3. As the keeper moves to his left, the attacker immediately tracks him or shadows him, even to the point of changing direction as the goalkeeper changes direction.

As the “warning signs” unfold, the referee should consider preventative action with physical presence and verbal acknowledgment/warning prior to having to stop play for a violation of the Law. Should the attacker continue to track the goalkeeper or prevent him from releasing the ball into play from his hands, the referee should then award an indirect free kick to the goalkeeper’s team. In this case, the referee decides to caution the attacker (unsporting behavior) based upon the referee’s feel for the game at that moment. However, the referee has the option to chose the most appropriate course of action (warn or caution) after judging that interference has occurred.

Injured Player Removal: Law 5 – The Referee

In July of 2010, the Laws of the Game were revised relative to the temporary removal from the field of an injured player(s). When dealing with injured players, referees must adhere to the following procedure (this has not changed):

  • As soon as the referee has authorized the doctors (or any team personnel) to enter the field of play to attend to an injured player, the player must leave the field of play, either on a stretcher or by foot. 
  • An injured player may only return to the filed of play after the match has restarted.

There are four times when an exception to this ruling [team personnel entering the field to attend to an injured player(s)] may occur:

  1. When a goalkeeper is injured
    An injured goalkeeper does not need to leave the field of play. 
  2. When a goalkeeper and a field player (regardless of team) have collided and need immediate attention
    Neither the goalkeeper nor the field player needs to leave the field of play. 
  3. A severe injury has occurred
    For example, a player has swallowed his tongue, there is a concussion or broken leg.

    The 2010 modification/addition to the Law:
  4. Players from the same team have collided and need immediate attention
    When two players from the same team need attention on the field because they have collided, neither player needs to leave the field of play until the game is restarted. It was considered unfair for two players on the same team to leave the field of play to receive treatment thereby leaving the team at a numerical disadvantage.

Clip 3: Columbus at Colorado (71:19)
Clip 3 provides a vivid example of the recent injured player Law modification. In this situation, two players on the same team collide and are injured. Medical staff (team staff) is called onto the field to attend to the players. As a result, neither player is required to leave the field and reenter when the game is restarted.

The referee is encouraged to use common sense. Although one player is not as severely injured as the other, team staff is called on due to a collision in which teammates sustain an injury. As a result, the referee should not require either player to leave the field. Once treatment is swiftly provided, both players should be allowed to remain on the field of play as the game is restarted.

Looking Forward – Week 31 (Playoff Week 1)
Now that the playoffs are in full force, match officials must be cognizant of the rules of competition as they relate to overtime and kicks from the penalty mark. In particular, kicks from the penalty mark require management by the officiating team and have particular requirements that are not part of regulation. Proper preparation and planning can ensure smooth and effective execution of overtime and kicks from the penalty mark.

Officials should familiarize themselves with two published U.S. Soccer position papers relating to kicks from the penalty mark for a more in-depth analysis of the specifics regarding the administration of this vital part of the game: “Kicks From the Penalty Mark” (October 14, 2004) and “Kicks From the Penalty Mark – the ‘Reduce to Equate’ Principle” (June 11, 2002).

In terms of kicks from the penalty mark, officials should take special note of the “Kicks From the Penalty Mark Checklist” that outlines many of the critical issues associated with this vital aspect of overtime matches.