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2010 Referee Week In Review Week 7


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 7 – Ending May 9, 2010
During a week where 11 MLS matches were played, the goals per game average was three (3). Seven games had three goals or more. Attacking soccer has been the norm this season and week seven was no exception. Despite the openness and fluidity of the games, missed offside decisions continue to affect assistant referee (AR) performance. The concept of “giving the benefit of the doubt to the attack” has not received the attention it should over the first seven weeks of the season which has resulted in further attacking play being hampered.

As a follow-up from last week’s topic, “Red Card Challenges: Endangering the Safety of the Opponent and Excessive Force,” further examples of tackles mandating a red card will be examined with an analysis of how ARs can provide necessary information to the referee to improve decision making when the challenge occurs in the ARs “area of involvement.”

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


Giving the Benefit of Doubt to the Attacker: Law 11 – Offside

U.S. Soccer’s publication, “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game,” provides match officials guidance relative to offside decisions. Two critical pieces of advice the publication offers for ensuring correct offside decisions are:

  • Utilize “wait and see”
    ARs must not signal simply because a player is in an offside position. ARs must look for active involvement. The AR must “wait and see” to determine if the offside positioned player: Interferes with an opponent, interferes with play or gains an advantage. Keeping the flag down until one of these events occurs requires patience and discipline but will lead to improved decisions.
  • Give the benefit of doubt to the attacker
    If an AR has any doubt as to whether is in an offside position or if a player in an offside position is actively involved in play, the AR must decide in favor of the attacker and refrain from signaling offside. Simply, give the benefit of that doubt to the attacker.

Note: When in doubt, keep the offside flag down. If a goal is scored and the AR has doubt about whether a player other than the scorer was in an offside position (interfering with play or an opponent), U.S. Soccer instructs ARs to “stand at attention with the flag held straight down at the side.” This is a signal to the referee that the AR is uncertain as to whether the player has interfered with play or with an opponent. The referee, based upon his view, will either consult with the AR or make the decision.

At times, it is very difficult for a well-positioned AR to make a definitive offside decision as inches can often make the difference between offside or onside. In such cases, AR should give the benefit to the attacking team or player and keep the flag down. It is important to remember that offside position is also judged by the relative position of players’ torsos, heads and legs. No part of the attacking player other than the arms may be nearer the opponent’s goal line than the torso, head or legs of the second-to-last defender. The attacker’s arms are not to be used to determine offside position (attackers cannot play the ball with their arms, hence the exception).

Video Clip 1: New York at San Jose (76:10)
In clip 1, the AR makes a great “no-offside call” despite the fact that the goal scorer receives the ball several yards behind the second-to-last defender and looks to be offside. This decision is complicated by the fact that the second-to-last defender is running in an opposite direction compared to the attacker and the fact that there is a long distance between this defender and the attacker. This ARs decision leads to attacking soccer and a goal. Image 1 helps to depict many of the positive factors involved and shows the position of the attacker at the moment the ball is played or touched by his teammate.

What did the AR do to ensure he made the correct decision?

  1. Utilizes sidestepping
    Play and players are moving at a pace that allows the AR to sidestep and keep his shoulders square to the field resulting in a more acute view of the position of all players and the ball. The AR’s lateral movement allows him to react more quickly to the attempt by the second-to-last defender to step-up and place the goal scorer in an offside position. Watch the replay closely and see how the AR is able to react, at the last second, to the quick step of the second-to-last defender.
  2. Image 1Uses field markings
    The AR utilizes the field markings (the top of the penalty area) to assist in the decision. The penalty area line can provide excellent demarcation and a firm reference point for the AR to determine player position at the time the ball is played by the attacking team.
  3. Gives the benefit of doubt to the attacker
    This is a close decision, a matter of a few feet that are made even more difficult due to the movement of the second-to-last defender that attempts to place the attacker in an offside position. This is a perfect candidate for the AR to keep the flag down.

Video Clip 2: Los Angeles at Colorado (54:04)
Clip 2 is an excellent clip to compare with clip 1 since both involve many of the same factors: The second-to-last defender running up field to attempt to place the opponent in an offside position, the distance between this defender and the streaking attacker and the availability of field markings to assist in the decision. Unfortunately, in this clip, the AR makes an incorrect offside decision (by raising the flag) and therefore denies a valid attack on goal.

Evaluate Images 2 and 3. Together, with video clip 2, they draw a good picture of the offside scenario. A factor leading to the AR missing this decision is his position which is not evident on the clip or in the images, he is several yards behind the second-to-last defender. By lagging behind, he skews his view and perspective resulting in the attacker looking further advanced (in an offside position) than he actually is.

Image 2Image 2 shows the availability of the grass cutting to assist the AR in making a correct offside decision. The attacker who is called offside is three or more yards behind the grass cutting. The second-to-last defender, on the other hand, is on the other side of this reference point at the time the ball is played by the attacker’s teammate. At the youth and adult levels, this type of marking may not be available but the concept of finding other reference points is a good tool to improve decision making.

Image 3 more clearly shows the position of the second-to-last defender, at the time the ball is passed, as it relates to the grass cutting.

Image 3When two players, separated by a great distance, are running in opposite directions, it increases the difficulty of the ARs decision. Hence, proper alignment/positioning with the second-to-last defender is critical in ensuring a good decision as is the use of field markings.

Note: ARs should incorporate the use of reference points to assist in making offside decisions. Reference points can be grass cuttings/lines, stadium signage, field markings (like the top of the penalty area or American football lines) or other points like sideline marks or points.

Video Clip 3: Los Angeles at Seattle (13:46)
Although not evident, prior to the offside decision presented in this clip, the AR correctly makes four other correct offside decisions

(in the first 14 minutes of the game). As a result, the AR may have a mental mindset regarding offside. Although difficult, ARs must refrain from establishing preconceived notions about offside and handle each situation individually. Each offside decision must be made on a case-by-case basis.

In this clip, the AR incorrectly calls an attacker offside from a long, diagonal pass into the penalty area. This decision, takes away an attacking opportunity. Image 4 shows the relative closeness of the positions of the attacker and the second-to-last defender. This is a perfect candidate for giving the benefit of doubt to the attacker.

The AR is well positioned to make the call (as Image 4 illustrates) but must show restraint in raising the flag. Total concentration on the offside line and the ball (at the time it is passed by the attacker’s teammate) must be practiced.

Image 4According to the AR, the following are the factors that led to the incorrect decision and the adjustments he needed to make to get it right:

Negative Factors Influencing the Decision

  • Player movement in opposite directions: The defender is moving out while the attacker is moving in.
  • Could not pick up the movement of the ball. Due to the distance of the long pass to the player declared offside and the number of bodies (players and referee) between him and the ball, the AR could not pick up the flight of the ball until it was approximately ten yards or more off the attacker’s foot. By this time, the attacker was in an offside position.

Getting it Right

  • Rely on your instincts: In situations like this (distance is involved and a blocked view of the ball), ARs must “feel” when the ball is played and based the decision on this. Experience should tell you when the ball was played once you have it in sight. Once the AR sees the ball in flight, the AR must correlate the ball’s distance and moment it was played (10 yards previous) with the movement and position of the attacker running to play the ball.
  • Go with “sufficient doubt:” Due to the “negative factors” described above and your instincts, there should be sufficient doubt in the ARs mind and, as a result, the AR should keep the flag down.

Even a properly positioned AR’s decision can be influenced by other factors. This is why the task of running line is not an easy one and requires full concentration and the ability to assimilate multiple inputs of information quickly. ARs must be able to “feel” offside situations by assembling the pieces of the puzzle together to make the most educated decision using the mindset of giving the benefit of doubt to the attacker by keeping the flag down when there is reasonable uncertainty.

Note: Offside decisions involving attackers and defenders running in opposite directions are, for the most part, the most difficult and problematic for ARs. All three clips involve opposite runs (defender running up-filed to attempt to put the attacker in an offside position and an attacker running toward goal). ARs must be focused and have the ability to anticipate the move of the defender(s) to ensure that they are positioned appropriately. ARs must possess the ability to change direction and transition from running to sidestepping or from sidestepping to running in order to maintain strict alignment with the offside line.

Red Card Challenges: Can Assistant Referees Help?

In “Week In Review 6,” the concepts behind red card challenges involving excessive force were explored using the acronym SIAPOA. Similar red card challenges and tackles were faced by match officials this week and they were inappropriately punished.

Diagram 1Referee teams can enhance decisions through teamwork. ARs should feel empowered to provide referees vital information as the game and situation requires. “Assistant Referee Involvement,” a 2009 U.S. Soccer Directive, establishes parameters and provides recommendations to assist ARs with identifying scenarios requiring their involvement. One factor an AR can use in deciding whether to be involved or not is the location of the incident. Diagram 1: Assistant Referee Primary Area of Involvement, illustrates how proximity to the AR can play a role. This concept of “area of involvement” was first introduced in “Week In Review 21” from the 2009 season. In general, in situations where the AR has a clear view and the infringement is closer to the AR, the greater the likelihood for AR involvement.

Note: The area of involvement is a guideline and does not limit AR involvement outside the “area” when there is a “critical game situation” and the game requires the AR to be involved. At the same time, just because an infringement occurs in this “area,” does not mean that the AR needs to be involved. Factors like the referee’s angle of vision, the referee’s proximity to the situation, the certainty of what the AR observed and other concepts need to be measured. However, in all cases, the AR should first make eye contact with the referee prior to deciding upon the level (if any) of involvement.

Video Clip 4: Philadelphia at Real Salt Lake (16:42)
Early in the game, the referee and AR are faced with a challenge that meets the criteria for excessive force and should result in a red card. The tackler is late with the challenge (ball gone and no opportunity to play it) while leading with the hard surface of his cleats. As you watch the replay, freeze the clip as the defender makes contact with the opponent. The ball is approximately two yards up field at the time of contact. Image 5 provides a visual picture of the location of the tackler’s contact as well as the location of the ball at the time of the contact.

The referee needs to be able to identify this tackle and similar challenges as meeting the excessive force definition. However, well positioned ARs should provide much needed help to the referee for the good of the game. Image 5In fact, in this clip, the AR does provide the referee with input. Unfortunately, the AR signals that the infringement is a yellow card (watch as the AR pats his breast pocket indicating his yellow card recommendation). The AR is much closer to the challenge than the referee and has a direct line of vision as the contact is made. More importantly, the AR should have a better “feel” for the force of the contact and this should help direct his decision to communicate that a red card is required for violent conduct (ball is not in playing distance).

Note: In the pregame match official conference lead by the referee, the referee should establish parameters for AR involvement and empower ARs to provide important information when the game requires AR involvement. Although referees should establish the method/mode of communication in the pregame, it is accepted practice for ARs to pat their breast pocket to indicate yellow card and pat their back pocket to signify a red card should be issued.

Video Clip 5: Kansas City at D.C. United (57:48)
Clip 5 involves a red card tackle that endangers the safety of the opponent due to its force as well as the location (inside ankle) and method of contact (hard surface of cleats). Once again, the challenge occurs in the ARs primary area of involvement. The AR has a clear view of the incident and is much closer than the referee. The referee is well behind play as a result of not anticipating the ball being played quickly out of the defensive third into the other half of the field. As the ball moves out of the defensive third, the referee must attempt to move at the speed of play and/or the ball to ensure he has an optimal view of any challenge or contact.

The AR, on the other hand, must be cognizant of the referee’s poor position and lack of clarity of view. As the ball is played out of the defensive half, the AR should have already recognized the referee is starting from a deficit position and this will potentially require more management/involvement on the part of the AR. Then, as play moves closer to the AR, into his area of involvement, the AR must have heightened awareness. Once the challenge is committed, the AR should make immediate eye contact with the referee and identify that the referee is not optimally positioned. Given the fact the AR has a clear view and is much closer than the referee, the AR must become involved by first indicating a foul and, then, be able to indicate the severity of the misconduct. The final decision, however, is still the responsibility of the referee.

Once the foul is indicated, the AR must be able to identify the challenge as a red card offense for serious foul play. The weight and mix of the SIAPOA components require a red card (refer to “Week In Review 6” for a more in-depth discussion):

  • Speed of play and the tackle
    The tackler is sprinting toward his opponent with a high degree of speed. The speed of his approach results in increased force and the endangerment of the attacker’s safety.
  • Intent
    The challenge was committed to send a message and to stop a speedy opponent from advancing with the ball. The defender sees the amount of unoccupied space in front of the attacker and must find a way to destroy his advancing with the ball.
  • Aggressive nature
    The tackler lunges for the ball and does so leading with his exposed cleats. The only way the defender can win/play the ball is to go through his opponent’s ankle. Because of the lunging nature, the exposed cleats are clearly off the ground and the tackler has very little control over the timing of contacting the ball.
  • Position of the tackler
    The legs of the tackler are off the ground by several inches.
  • Opportunity to play the ball
    The attacker/dribbler’s body is stationed between the ball and the tackler. As a result, the only way the tackler can access or play the ball is to go directly through the legs of the opponent from behind. This is little, if any, opportunity presented to play the ball in a safe manner that does not endanger the safety of the opponent.
  • Atmosphere of the game
    This is not evident in the moments shown by the clip.

The application of advantage cannot be considered by the match officials. The Laws of the Game state:

“Advantage should not be applied in situations involving serious foul play or violent conduct unless there is a clear subsequent opportunity to score a goal.”

In this situation, there is no clear and subsequent opportunity to score a goal. Consequently, the match officials must stop the game immediately (AR flag and the referee whistle). In the immediate moments following the challenge, the attackers are not faced with a clear goal opportunity. Hence, the importance of dealing with the red card misconduct must take precedence.

Note: ARs must feel the game as the referee would. This is critical when situations develop in the ARs area of involvement. ARs are often better positioned to not only see the infringement but to also feel the full impact of contact.

Looking Forward – Week 8
Teamwork and cooperation to get the call right for the good of the game. AR and fourth official involvement should be discussed and parameters established to ensure the referee team makes the correct decision for the good of the game. ARs must “feel” the game and must often “referee” the game when the game requires it.