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2009 Referee Week in Review - Week 26

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 26 – ending September 13, 2009
Following a week with only three MLS matches, Week 25 had the normal slate of eight games. Teams returned to the field rested and tested referees and assistant referees for 90 minutes in each game. There were many critical decisions that referees were required to address including two instances of denying obvious goal scoring opportunities as well as a couple of last minute penalty kick decisions.


Tackles – Fair and Foul: Law 12
There is often a fine line between a fair tackle and a tackle that should result in a foul. It is the ability to decide which side of the line the tackle lands that can often determine the success of a referee in a game. According to the Laws of the Game, foul tackles fall within one of three classifications:

  1. Careless: No disciplinary action is required – foul only (direct free kick)
    From the Law: “The player has shown a lack of attention or consideration when making a challenge or that he acted without precaution.” In other words, the player has not exercised due caution in making a play. This is normally exhibited as a miscalculation of strength or a stretch of judgment by the player committing the foul.
  2. Reckless: A yellow card is required (direct free kick)
    From the Law: “The player has acted with complete disregard to the danger to, or the consequences for, his opponent.” This means the challenge is clearly outside the norm for fair play.
  3. Excessive Force: A red card is required (direct free kick)
    From the Law: “The player has far exceeded the necessary use of force and is in danger of injuring his opponent.” In these situations, the challenge places the opponent in considerable danger of bodily harm. Keys are that the player faces injury and his safety is endangered.

The following is a “Severity of Challenges” continuum to assist in visually understanding the concept behind deciphering whether a tackle of an opponent is fair or whether it is careless, reckless or involves excessive force. The further along the continuum, the greater the likelihood the tackle or challenge will require official action on the part of the referee.

Severity of Challenges

Consider the following analogy: Think of the green to yellow to red line as your heartbeat. As a situation becomes more drastic and severe, what does your heartrate do? It increases substantially considering the overall severity, importance or impact of the situation. This is also a normal human reaction to certain challenges or fouls. Although your heartbeat cannot be the determining factor in deciding the severity of a challenge, it can play a role in your “feeling” the situation and it can be used as a barometer to help assess the incident utilizing the criteria (careless, reckless and excessive force) provided by FIFA and U.S. Soccer (SIAPOA from “Week In Review 25”.

Similarly, the further to the right on the continuum that a player’s safety is endangered or the amount of force used to execute the tackle, the greater the likelihood for a send off (red card). There may be some gray areas between each of the classifications (for example, between what represents a foul or a foul and caution). In circumstances involving the gray areas, the referee should consider the “big picture.” In other words, what has occurred previously in the game and where the game may be headed. To help clarify the gray areas, after the infringement has occurred, the referee can ask himself the following two questions:

  • Does the player need the card? and/or
  • Does the game need the card?

The picture to the right is from the U.S. Men’s National Team’s World Cup qualification match against Mexico this past February. This picture can assist in illustrating the use of the questions above. In the 65th minute of an intense but fairly played game to that point, a player makes a violent challenge on the goalkeeper. At this point, the game was well under control and the challenge was out of character for the match. Yet, in applying the two questions above, the referee would assess that although the game did not need a red card at that moment, the player did due to the violent nature of his cleats-exposed challenge.

An understanding of all components of the continuum will assist a referee with making the correct judgment relative to the severity of a tackle and ensure that the best possible decision is made.

The following two clips will provide a visual illustration of tackles on each side of the continuum. The first clip will depict a hard but fair challenge/tackle while the second clip will show a tackle that should result in a red card, not only for the severity of the challenge (excessive force) but also because it involves denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity.

Video Clip 1: Dallas at Galaxy (37:19)
This situation is initiated from a quick counter attack beginning inside one penalty area and rapidly moving toward the opposite penalty area.

Maximizing the Angle of Vision Through Position
Quick and long counter attacks require excellent mobility on the part of the referee. The ability to move quickly enables him to close down the space between himself and the ball, thereby maximizing the vision of potential challenges. In counter attack cases like this, the referee’s first few steps should be toward the middle of the field and should not be to follow directly behind the ball and the attackers. By first moving to an inside position as the ball is moving down the right channel, the referee gives himself the best opportunity to enhance his angle of vision and see between the player’s challenging for the ball instead of at the backs of the challenging players.

Assistant Referee Preparedness
Due to the fact this play involves a counter attack from one end of the field to the other, the lead assistant referee (AR) must be prepared to “assist” in making a decision in the event the referee does not have a good view of the challenge because of distance, player positioning and/or his angle of vision. As the play develops, the AR must know (instinctively and through visual affirmation) where the referee is located in order to determine the need for involvement should the challenge be a foul.

Decision: No Foul
This is a hard but fair challenge and tackle for the ball. There are several key factors that make this tackle fair:

  • Intent of the tackler
    The defender or tackler clearly intends to play the ball. His foot is down and not over the ball or aimed at the opponent (it is aimed at the ball). There is no follow up or scissors effect with the trailing or second leg/foot.
  • Tackler plays the ball
    The defender plays the ball and not the opponent. In effect, the timing of the tackle (the defender gets to the ball well ahead of the attacker) allows the defender to contact the ball and, therefore, results in the attacker initiating the contact with the tackler’s leg. Notice that the tackler does not go through the opponent to make contact with the ball.
  • Angle of the challenge/tackle
    The tackle is initiated from the side (not directly from behind) which gives the tackler the opportunity to clearly contact the ball without going through the opponent.

Video Clip 2: Dallas at Galaxy (4:51)
As you watch this clip, compare the tackle with that from clip 1 and consider the factors that made clip 1 a fair challenge. Additionally, “feel” your heartbeat. What is it saying? How does it compare to your heartbeat when you first viewed clip 1?

This tackle should result in a red card for two separate reasons. First, it is a clear example of serious foul play due to its excessive force and the fact that it endangers the safety of the opponent. Second, it is a red card offense as it meets the criteria for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity (DOGSO). We will examine each case separately.

Assistant Referee Preparedness
As with the first clip, the AR must be ready to be involved, not only to call a foul but to provide assistance with the determination of whether there is a DOGSO event. This situation involves a counter attack type scenario which often gives the AR a better perspective than the referee. Additionally, the side or parallel perspective can often provide more clarity relative to defender positions as they relate to DOGSO. In this clip, the AR should be involved as it is a “game critical” decision in which the AR has the best angle of vision for determining DOGSO. After the foul decision by the referee, the AR must get the referee’s attention via a raised flag, his voice or some other electronic indication. Once the AR has the referee’s attention, he must then communicate the fact that the foul involves DOGSO and the defender must be sent off.

Serious Foul Play: Red Card
Based upon the criteria established by FIFA and U.S. Soccer, this tackle falls to the far right on the “Severity of Challenge” continuum. In last week’s version of the “Week In Review 25”, the SIAPOA criteria was examined to help officials determine whether a tackle is a red card offense or not. Here are key factors which should raise the heartbeat:

  • Opportunity to play the ball: There is no chance for the defender to get the ball as it is too far out in front of not only him but also the attacker. He must go through the attacker if he is to have any chance at the ball.
  • Intent: There is no intent to play the ball. The defender knows he is the last option between the attacker and an obvious opportunity to score.
  • Aggressive nature of the tackle: The defender lunges at the opponent from a long distance and makes direct contact with the back of his legs in the Achilles tendon area thereby endangering the opponent’s safety. Notice how the defender also uses his second leg to “send a message” as he swipes it through the opponent (scissors type movement) after the initial contact.

Couple the aforementioned SIAPOA factors with the excessive force of the challenge and the fact that the attacker faces injury due to his safety being endangered, this tackle must be red carded for serious foul play.

Denying an Obvious Goal Scoring Opportunity (DOGSO)
Last week’s version of the “Week In Review,” also included an overview of DOGSO. The “4 D Criteria” to assist in determining whether an “obvious” opportunity to score was evident was reviewed.

  • Distance to goal
  • Distance to ball
  • Defender position/location and number
  • Direction to goal

DOGSOUsing the “4 D Criteria” in evaluating this clip, all factors are evident. The “defender position/location and number” criteria is least evident amongst the four. However, the still picture to the right shows the location of the defenders. Based upon the speed the attacker is progressing and his location on the field, none of the surrounding defenders are in a position that would have denied the attacker with an “obvious” opportunity to score a goal. In other words, none of the defenders would be able to close down the attacker and deny his “obvious” opportunity to score. The defender who is wide on the left side (indicated by the yellow circle) is too far to have been able to close down the attacker and prevent him from having a shot on goal and the non-fouling defenders behind the ball would not have caught up to the attacker. The key is the distance the defenders are from the opponent and the ball at the time of the foul.

Although both serious foul play and DOGSO are present, the referee should issue the red card for serious foul play as it is the more severe of the two offenses committed by the tackling defender.

Preventing Game Disrepute – Proactive Management by the AR: Law 12
U.S. Soccer’s 2009 Referee Program Directives include a paper on “Game Disrepute and Mass Confrontation.” Game disrepute and mass confrontation are events or situations that bring negative connotations to the game and spoil the game for spectators. As part of the preparation for the 2009 season, U.S. Soccer asked referees to be more diligent in addressing situations involving either of these two factors. Key to the addressing both forms of negative behavior is recognition, prevention and management. Here is how each term is defined:

  1. Game Disrepute
    Verbal or physical actions which are disrespectful to the game, the opponent or officials.
    • Involves at least one player and sometimes two from each team adopting an aggressive attitude toward each other or the match officials.
    • Usually the ball is dead (out of play).
    • Aggressive behavior toward an opponent or behavior that attempts to provoke an opponent or those within the technical area.
    • Treating the game, the referee or the opponents in a disrespectful manner; often the player is attempting to show he is above the game.
  2. Mass Confrontation
    Verbal or physical actions which are disrespectful to the game, the opponent or officials where three or more players are involved.
    • Can be toward opponents by more than one player from a singe team that involves physical/verbal confrontation, aggressive behavior toward each other and, often times, physical contact happens. Normally involves the coming together to engage in physical and/or verbal confrontation. Intimidation and a source of strength are often trademarks.
    • Can be toward official(s) when players exhibit aggressive behavior often characterized by surrounding, hindering or forcing movement. An overall attitude focused on intimidation to influence a current or future outcome/decision.

It is important to note that “game disrepute” can quickly escalate and become “mass confrontation.” As a consequence, prevention and early intervention by match officials is critical to proper management. The 2009 “Game Disrepute and Mass Confrontation” directive ( requires officials to utilize the “Triangle of Control” as detailed in the directive.

Video Clip 3: Colorado at Toronto (64:28)
The focus of this clip is not on the foul but on the actions after the foul is called although, seemingly, the first foul (holding the opponent’s shirt) is missed.

Once a foul has been called by the referee, the AR does an exceptional job of “feeling” the situation and anticipating the response by the players. As a result, the AR quickly responds by entering the field (in close proximity) and intervening between the two opponents in a positive manner that defuses a “game disrepute” scenario and prevents escalation into “mass confrontation.”

By interposing his body between the two players by walking up field with them, the AR acts as a “cushion” and prevents further negative behavior. The AR is able to channel the players and assist in the management of their actions. Officials must be careful in reading situations like this to ensure that they do not get too close when the situation may present a danger (like unwarranted physical contact) to the match official.

As the AR is intervening, the referee is given time to move to the scene. Through his presence, the referee is then able to send the appropriate message to the players which acts as a preventative measure. “Week In Review 14” (video clip 2) discusses a warning sign of potential conflict between two players which also exists in this clip: One player on the ground and one player standing over the player. The AR correctly “reads” this warning sign and takes appropriate corrective/preventative action by intervening in a positive, non-confrontational manner.

Due to the teamwork of the AR and the referee, the situation is well managed and does not require a caution to be issued.

Looking Forward – Week 27
Last week the topic of “pregame preparation” was touched upon in the “Looking Forward” section of the “Week In Review.” An important aspect of preparation not touched upon was a match official’s mental and physiological preparation. An important part of preparing mentally and physically is rest. A rested mind and body allows an official to be alert and unencumbered by negative outside influences that can adversely affect performance especially in difficult situations.

Match officials have a responsibility to the game to ensure that they enter each contest in tip-top condition whether it be mentally or physically. Over training, too many games, back-to-back games, and the challenges of life outside the field can all wear on an official’s preparedness. As a consequence, referees must be smart and balance their approach to each game. Minimize outside interferences while maximizing mental clarity. Minimize issues that can potentially affect the physical aspects of performance and lead to injury or to an official’s being a step behind when a critical decision is needed. This “attitude” is critical in order for an official to best serve the game.