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A yellow card

2009 Referee Week in Review - Week 29

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 29 – ending October 4, 2009
Statistics from Week 29 provide insight into the competitive nature of the hunt to be one of the final eight teams that qualify for the post season. Foul count continues to be well managed by officials, as only 21.43 fouls were whistled over seven games consistent with the season-to-date average. There were, however, five red cards for either serious foul play or violent conduct. Out of the 22 yellow cards referees issued (an average of 3.14 per match), 22.7 percent were given for dissent (an indication of the importance the players are placing on each game and each decision). Finally, with one exception (two goals by a team), teams scored no more than one goal in their victory or tie. It is evident the competitive nature of the players is leading to more challenges for officials and tighter results.

U.S. Soccer has recently made all prior “Week In Review” clips available for download and, therefore, for instructional purposes. At the conclusion of each month, the clips will be archived and available for use by “Week In Review” readers. Remember, each clip has a specific instructional message that has accompanied it in the “Week In Review.” The integrity of the message and the corresponding clip should be paramount as this will enable the soccer community to drive toward consistency in interpretation and application of the Laws of the Game.


Referee – Assistant Referee Cooperation and Teamwork: Laws 5 and 6
Law 6 – The Assistant Referees, establishes seven assistant referee (AR) duties. Two of the duties are critical to overall match control as ARs are empowered to indicate, subject to the decision of the referee:

  1. When misconduct or any other incident occurs out of the view of the referee; and 
  2. When offenses have been committed whenever the assistant referees have a better view than the referee (this includes, in certain circumstances, offenses committed in the penalty area).

To facilitate clear and effective communication and teamwork, U.S. Soccer published the 2009 Referee Program Directive “Assistant Referee Involvement.” ( The directive outlines various criteria for AR involvement like:

  • Off-the-ball incidents. 
  • Game critical decisions. 
  • Better angle of vision than the referee.

Video Clip 1: New England at Dallas ( 89:38)
Video clip 1 provides an excellent example of referee/AR teamwork and cooperation to get the decision correct. In this scenario, the ball has left the field of play for a throw-in next to the AR. As the throw-in is being executed, two opponents are involved in an altercation. The altercation is not observed by the referee but is close enough to and in the clear vision of the AR that his involvement is justified. The AR becomes involved by raising his flag and giving it a quick wiggle to indicate a foul has been committed and play needs to be stopped.

After flagging the altercation, the AR calls the referee over by motioning to him with his hand. This is an appropriate step as the actions to be recommended by the AR are significant and require clear face-to-face communication.

When information is exchanged between match officials and misconduct is involved, the information provided must be succinct and should cover, at a minimum, the following items:

  • A brief description of what has occurred using language from the Laws of the Game as much as possible.
  • The team, number and name (if known) of the player(s) involved. 
  • A recommended course of action for the referee that identifies the type of misconduct or action the AR is recommending to the referee. For example, “Red card to player No. 16 for violent conduct, striking an opponent in the head during the dead ball.”

The referee and the AR confer. As they do so, they correctly ask other players to leave the vicinity so that the two officials can communicate without undo interference or distractions. Officials should always attempt to exchange information in an isolated area so as to dispel any notion that their decision(s) may be influenced by a player(s). Notice that, during the communication between the referee and AR, both officials are facing the field to monitor any further altercation.

After clear and succinct communication, the referee calls the two players together and issues the misconduct in accordance with the input received from the AR. One player is sent off for “receiving his second caution in the same match” while his opponent is red carded for violent conduct (striking an opponent above the shoulder in the facial area).

In making the decision to red card the player for violent conduct, the referee team applies guidelines specified in the 2009 directive, “Contact Above the Shoulder.” In this situation, the player uses his arm/elbow as a “weapon” when making contact above the shoulders of the opponent. Deliberate and intentional contact to the face or back of the head of an opponent, while the ball is out of play, with the hand, arm, elbow or fist requires a player to be sent off if the referee determines the act is:

  • Deliberate 
  • Intended to intimidate 
  • Insulting 
  • Offensive 
  • Provocative 
  • Done in an inciting manner

Consideration, in this clip, is given to the fact that a hard surface (hand and/or forearm) is used to deliberately intimidate an opponent by contacting them in a soft tissue area (the head and facial region) which puts the opponent’s safety at a high risk and can potentially lead to serious injury. Given these factors, the referee (with the ARs information) correctly takes the appropriate official action.

It is important to note the fourth official does a commendable job being a calm influence on the upset technical area. The fourth official’s demeanor is not inflammatory and gives the technical area personnel a “reasonable” amount of room to vent their frustration without becoming irresponsible.

Free Kick Management – Referee Intervention: Law 13
Entering into the 2009 season, U.S. Soccer placed emphasis on the management of free kicks in order to provide further focus on attacking soccer. Firm and proactive management of the circumstances surrounding a free kick promotes attacking soccer as statistics show that approximately one third of all goals result from restarts. As part of the 2009 Referee Program Directives, U.S. Soccer issued the “Free Kick and Restart Management” to assist match officials with correctly directing all components associated with a free kick.

In order to successfully direct a free kick, referees must have a firm grasp of the following concepts outlined in the “Free Kick and Restart Management” directive:

  • Understand the differences and intricacies between a “quick free kick” and “ceremonial free kick.” 
  • The sequence of actions to manage free kicks. 
  • Proactive techniques to prevent problems and interference. 
  • The idea of “deliberately prevents.”

It must also be stressed that once referees are seen to “intervene” (by body language or gestures) in a free kick situation, the referee must then ensure that the free kick is managed as a ceremonial free kick. “Intervention” refers to a referee, by way of his actions, who seemingly steps in to manage the restart and slow the restart process down. In other words, the referee’s actions can be interpreted as formally managing the defending or attacking players surrounding the free kick.

Referees must have a feel for when teams’ or players’ actions indicate they require “intervention” on the part of the referee and, thus, a ceremonial restart. For example, player indications are often exhibited through the motioning or pointing to an opponent like an attacker pointing toward a defender or the defensive wall in a manner that can be interpreted as “asking the referee to move the player(s) back.” It is important to note that these actions do not need to be verbal.

Video Clip 2: Chicago at Los Angeles (84:08)
Video clip 2 serves as an example of the management of a free kick situation in which there are three separate occasions requiring referee intervention due to the actions of the attacking and defending team. In each case, the referee must ensure a ceremonial free kick is administered. As you watch the clip, remember that any actions by the referee that may be perceived as “intervention” require a ceremonial free kick.

The referee has awarded an indirect free kick to the attacking team in the red jerseys. Let us examine each of the three situations requiring intervention on the part of the referee.

Intervention 1:
The initial restart requires the referee’s intervention as well as his implementation of a ceremonial free kick. At the initial set up of the indirect free kick, the referee’s presence or intervention is needed at the ball, as several players from each team have congregated in the area immediately in front of the spot of the foul. The number, location and actions of the players on both sides are clear indications a ceremonial free kick must be administered. Remember: Ceremonial restarts require the referee’s whistle prior to putting the ball back into play.

Step 1: In this situation, the referee should indicate his application of a ceremonial free kick by using U.S. Soccer’s recommended “wait for the whistle” signal: Pointing to the whistle while holding it extended at face level. The referee should get visual or verbal confirmation from the attackers around the ball and attempt to make eye contact with the defending goalkeeper thereby ensuring he is aware of the need for a whistle to restart play.

Step 2: Once the “wait for the whistle” signal has been given and acknowledged, the referee, in this clip, uses one of the appropriate mechanics to move the wall back. The referee indicates the location and distance he wants the wall. Note how the referee uses his body and presence to establish the wall position and does so while facing the “danger area” (the area in which most players are congregated). This position enables the referee to have a clear view of player actions off-the-ball and ensures preventative action can be taken should the situation arise. As the referee does in this clip, if the situation permits, he may move the wall while facing the majority of the players.

Step 3: Once the wall is at the appropriate distance (10 yards from the ball as should be the case in this video), the referee should move back across the front of the wall while making eye contact with the players in the wall and reminding them of their responsibilities not to break from the wall prior to the whistle. Note that the referee does not get the full 10 yards in this example and should use the field markings to assist with ensuring the proper distance is provided to the attacking team.

Step 4: When the referee has assumed his appropriate restart position, which he does in this clip, he must raise his arm indicating the indirect free kick restart and use his whistle to signify that the ceremonial free kick may now be taken. Referees should choose a restart position that maximizes their management of the “next phase of play” while providing them with the best opportunity to manage the attackers around the ball and the players in the wall.

Remember, the following helpful hints when managing ceremonial free kicks:

  1. Use the “wait for the whistle signal.”
  2. Establish the position of the wall and ensure the proper distance (10 yards unless the distance from the ball and the goal line is less than 10 yards) is maintained thereafter.
  3. Face the danger zone or the majority of the players while moving/managing the wall.
  4. Never turn your back to the ball.
  5. Whistle for the restart only when you have taken a strategic monitoring position.

Intervention 2:
After the referee whistles for the restart, the actions of the players in the wall require a second intervention on the part of the referee and, thus, another ceremonial restart. As soon as the referee moves toward and points to the players in the wall, he must indicate a second ceremonial restart. As with the first intervention, the referee’s whistle is required prior to the ball being put back into play.

As you watch this segment or intervention, watch the referee’s body language as he responds to the actions of the players in the wall. The referee interposes himself (intervenes) through his movement toward the wall, the lowering of his indirect free kick signal and his hand gestures (pointing toward the wall).

After quickly addressing the wall issues, the referee steps back and, again, indicates an indirect free kick and whistles to authorize the restart.

Intervention 3:
After players attempt to break from the wall early (encroach), the referee moves toward the ball and gestures with his right hand. These actions on the referee’s part are a clear indication of his intervention and, therefore, require a third ceremonial restart.

Given the repetitive nature of the violations exhibited in this free kick situation, the referee needs to take a stronger stance and send a “broadcast message” that further actions will be dealt with in a more stringent fashion.

The Pass Back – Revisited: Law 12
In last week’s version of the “Week In Review 28,” two examples of a pass to the goalkeeper (“pass back”) were explored. As Diagram 1 depicts, there are three key factors in determining that a pass back violation has occurred:

  1. Deliberate
  2. Kicked by foot
  3. Handled by the goalkeeper

Remember, each of the three items must exist before the referee can punish for a pass back infringement. The key factor addressed in “Week In Review 28” was the deliberate criteria. As defined last week, deliberate refers to, amongst other terms:

A controlled action with an intended conclusion like a pass intended/targeted for a teammate or the goalkeeper.

Video Clip 3: Kansas City at Houston (19:34 – second half)
In this clip, the deliberate criteria does not exist. Despite the ball contacting the foot of the defender and the goalkeeper handling the ball, the ball deflects off the defender’s foot. Given the high location of the ball and the abnormal and extra effort needed by the defender to contact the ball, there is reasonable doubt as to the deliberate nature of the defender’s contact.

In this clip, the ball plays the defender rather than the defender deliberately playing the ball to his goalkeeper. The ball is accidently misdirected as opposed to deliberately played. If there is any doubt as to the deliberate nature of the defender’s action, the referee should refrain from punishing the pass back.

Looking Forward – Week 30
Preventative refereeing will go a long way over the last several games of the season. Proactive watching and listening will aid in preventing the next foul and in channeling player behavior toward positive expressions. The ability for a referee to “feel” the game, the situation, the moment and/or the player becomes increasingly important with so much on the line. Match officials must be constantly aware of the warning signs or flash points within a game and use those signals to direct their personal actions. Strong and confident management of the “big picture” and the “gray areas” is needed as the last few games are whistled. The right mix of personality/presence, feel for the game and application of the Laws of the Game will be vital