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2010 Referee Week in Review - Week 29

This “Week In Review” will examine a counter attack situation in which the referee appropriately cautions a player after applying two advantages. In addition, a difficult handling decision will be explored which should have resulted in the awarding of a penalty kick. The summary will conclude with a disallowed goal due to the correct application of the offside law by an assistant referee (AR).

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


Advantage and Misconduct

The Laws of the Game permit the referee to continue with play when a foul (by the offending/defending team) has occurred that involves the issuing of a yellow card. Allowing play to continue when a red card offense is involved is not recommended due to the seriousness of the offense and the fact that retaliation may result. In the case of an imminent goal, the referee may consider applying advantage despite a red card offense being committed. Smart refereeing and a sense or “feel” for the game is required to apply advantage when a yellow card offense is involved.

There are many factors referees must consider when applying advantage. U.S. Soccer recommends referees evaluate advantage situations utilizing the components of the “4 P Principle” which was introduced in 2008. The “4 P Principle” includes:

  • Possession of ball
    Active and credible control of the ball by the attacking team/player. There can be no advantage clause without possession of the ball by the attacking team.
  • Potential for attack
    The ability to continue a credible, immediate and dangerous attack on the opponent’s goal. 
  • Personnel
    The skill of the attackers and the attacking team’s numerical advantage in front of the ball. 
  • Proximity to opponent’s goal
    Relates to the closeness to goal. The closer to the opponent’s goal (less distance to goal), the more effective the advantage and the greater the potential.

As a potential advantage situation unfolds, the referee must very quickly evaluate the situation and then decide if the attacking team will have a greater advantage from maintaining possession of the ball or from a foul being called. This decision must be made in a matter of a few seconds. By using the “wait and see” technique (delay making the call for a few seconds) the referee can also evaluate whether the advantage has actually materialized. In other words, by taking a few quick seconds, the referee can assess whether continuation of play or the whistling of a foul is more advantageous to the team in possession of the ball.

At higher levels, the referees have more opportunity to apply advantage from all areas of the field due to the technical abilities of the players and their ability to maintain a clear, immediate, effective and positive attack toward goal. As the skill set of the players decreases, referees must consider whether the players and/or team have the ability to mount a credible attack from the application of advantage. This is certainly the case the further from goal the foul leading to advantage is committed.

Law 5 – The Referee, grants the referee the power to apply advantage and then, if the offense committed warrants a caution, issue the caution at the next stoppage. The referee must issue the caution at the next stoppage as it cannot be shown later.

Clip 1: D.C. United at Chicago (3:20)
Despite the game being in the first four minutes, the referee is presented with two advantage situations in a span of seven seconds. The second advantage scenario involves a reckless foul for which a caution must be issued.

The referee is able to effectively evaluate the two advantage situations by:

  • Using the “4 P Principle.”
  • Using “wait and see” to delay in making a decision to ensure that advantage materializes.

The first opportunity for advantage occurs as the attacking team is transitioning from the defensive third to the middle third of the field. A risky area to apply advantage but one that, in this case, meets the criteria set forth in the “4 P Principle.” The skills of the players also lend themselves to positive advantage application. The referee observes that the attacker, with the ball, is able to break himself free from the hold and continue an effective attack.

Note: The referee uses the correct advantage signal to indicate his decision to the players, coaches and spectators.

The second advantage opportunity follows immediately as the ball is passed and deflected by an opponent but the ball goes to another attacker who looks to continue the progress to goal. At this point, the second foul is committed. It is a reckless foul warranting a yellow card. Seeing another attacker with the opportunity to gain possession of the ball in the wide channel, the referee allows play to continue by applying the second advantage. Since the foul is cautionable, the referee must wait until the next stoppage to issue the yellow card.

The clip also shows the referee exhibiting concern for the player who was the recipient of the foul leading to the second advantage. The demonstration of concern by match officials for players who are injured and following up with them demonstrates compassion and a sense of caring about their wellbeing.

Handling the Ball and Penalty Kick

Handling of the ball is a topic covered in U.S. Soccer’s directive entitled, “Handling the Ball.” Two of the key factors involved in deciding whether a handling offense has occurred are:

  • Making yourself bigger 
  • The hand/arm in an unnatural position

Handling offenses can be easily disguised and often require optimal positioning on the part of match officials in order to identify the offense. In certain instances, ARs can provide valuable assistance as they may have a better line of sight to handling offenses that are not able to be clearly observed by the referee. In such cases, the AR must be aware of the referee’s view – what he can and cannot see. If the handling decision is obvious and clear to the AR, then the AR should find the best method to communicate his observation to the referee.

Clip 2: Kansas City at New England (69:29)
This clip involves an undetected handling offense that should have resulted in the awarding of a penalty kick. The referee’s angle of vision to the foul is hampered by the position of the players. However, the AR has a side angle and a view that permits him to see between the players and observe the movement of the hands/arms as well as the ball.

Watch as the defender uses his left hand to handle and push the ball away from an attacker who has goal-side position. If the AR is able to look between the bodies of the two players and, as a result, clearly assess that handling has occurred, then the AR should feel empowered to make the foul decision.

Given the rapid change in direction of the ball, the referee may be able to sense that the ball has been handled. With this gut feel, the referee can be looking to the AR for input and assistance. Eye contact between the referee and the AR should be the first step in making the correct decision and communicating any information needed to make the penalty kick decision.

Offside From a Free Kick

Free kicks where the ball will be served into the penalty area can present challenging offside decisions for ARs due to the fact that:

  • The location of the ball at the time of the free kick may be at the fringe of the ARs peripheral vision. Hence, the ability to clearly see the moment the ball is played and monitor the offside line is difficult. 
  • Players are congregated in tight spaces in the penalty area. A quick step one way or the other by a player can change offside position dynamics immediately.

For these reasons, ARs must be focused and ensure that they are properly aligned with the second-to-last defender. Positive positioning by having shoulders square to the field can enhance peripheral vision and allow the AR to quickly adjust movement to mimic or shadow that of the second-to-last defender.

Clip 3: Chivas USA at Seattle (58:52)
A free kick is awarded in the wide channel of the field near the AR. Twelve players are positioned inside the penalty area in the drop zone looking for an advantage. The referee shows initiative by recognizing a potential problem that could result from pushing, shoving and holding in the penalty area as players jostle for position on the free kick. By holding play up and stepping toward the players, the referee sends a broadcast message or warning to prevent a foul from being committed.

After sending his message, the referee whistles for the free kick to be taken. From the restart, an apparent goal is scored. However, the goal scorer (the player who plays the ball directly from the free kick) is correctly judged to be offside due to his offside position at the time the ball is played by his teammate (from the free kick) and the fact that he “interferes with play” by playing/touching the ball. Err on the side of the attacker cannot apply in such obvious situations.

This correct decision is aided by proper AR positioning and the AR’s ability to copy or imitate the movement of the second-to-last defender by sidestepping. As a consequence, the AR is positioned to make the best possible decision. Finally, the AR uses the “wait and see” approach to offside decisions by holding the flag until he is certain that the offside positioned player “interferes with play or an opponent.”

Looking Forward – Week 30
Feeling the atmosphere of the game will be important. Throughout the game, match officials must constantly assess the environment of the game including the temperature of the game and the players. As the attitude of the game and players change, so must the tactical approach of the referee. The ability to change and adjust as the game dictates is a key success factor for any official.