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2009 Referee Week in Review - Week 30

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 30 – ending October 11, 2009
Week 30 was highlighted by competitive MLS matches as well as the last two matches for the U.S. Men’s National Team in the final round of qualifying for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Going into its last game, the United States’ National Team had qualified for its sixth consecutive World Cup appearance. With World Cup preliminaries coming to an end, MLS teams will have their full stable of players for the final two or three games of the season. Competitive games are ensured with four of the eight playoff spaces yet to be accounted for.

This “Week In Review” will examine two critical offside decisions from the same match (Dallas at San Jose) and show how concentration and utilization of the approach U.S. Soccer has been recommending to assistant referees (ARs) can play a significant role in ensuring correct game-deciding decisions are the topic of the day.

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.


Offside – Positioning and Concentration Make the Difference: Law 11
It is often stated that Law 11 – Offside, is a simple law. In terms of words and principles it may be but, in application, it can be complicated. In multiple prior “Week In Reviews,” the importance of focus, concentration, patience and proper positioning have been stressed as critical success factors in ARs performance. Without these four factors, the simplicity of Law 11 is easily lost and improper decisions often result. This is why the role of the AR is vital in an officiating team’s performance and success.

ARs have multiple factors they must consider when making offside decisions that complicate the call. Whereas a referee may only have to consider the actions of two players challenging for a ball to determine whether a foul has occurred or not, the AR must consider the movement of multiple players spread out over the width of the field (70 to 75 yards), the location of the ball which may be many yards behind play, as well as well as having the patience to evaluate the actions of players after a ball has been passed/touched.

There are three factors that determine whether a player in an offside position should be penalized. This decision is made at the moment the ball touches or is played by a teammate and the offside positioned player is, in the opinion of the referee, involved in “active play” by:

  1. Interfering with play; or 
  2. Interfering with an opponent; or
  3. Gaining an advantage by being in that position

U.S. Soccer advocates ARs utilize a “wait and see” (better to be a little late and correct than early and incorrect) approach in deciding whether any of the three aforementioned factors have taken place. The “wait and see” approach gives the AR time to evaluate the situation and view the actions of the player in the offside position. Remember, the use of the “wait and see” tactic may need to be assessed when a faster offside decision may be required when the potential for a collision exists between two players and a quicker decision may prevent a potential dangerous situation.

Concurrently, ARs are asked to “give the benefit of the doubt to the attack.” This philosophy promotes attacking soccer and provides a framework for the very close offside decision – favor the side of the attack. However, giving the benefit of doubt to the attack cannot be the result of lack of concentration or poor positioning but, instead, must be based on sound judgment when a matter of inches make the difference.

It is important to keep in mind that it is not an offense to be in an offside position. Players can be in offside positions without being penalized. Until the offside positioned player is involved in “active play” through one of the three principles of the Offside Law listed above, there is no offense.

Video Clip 1: Dallas at San Jose (81:00)
This video clip illustrates two critical and correct decisions made by an AR using the “wait and see” principle. In this clip, find the attacking player moving in an offside position and within yards of a passed ball that cuts through the defensive line. ARs must be able to identify this offside positioned player. Next, look for the run made by another attacker from an onside position at the moment the ball is played/touched by a teammate. The AR must recognize that there are two players who are able to become involved in “active play.”

Once both players are noted, the AR MUST “wait and see” to determine which of the two attackers (offside or onside positioned) are involved in “active play” by interfering (touching the ball). In this situation, the player in the offside position should not be declared offside because he has not:

  1. Interfered with play
    He has not touched or played the ball that has been passed by a teammate.
  2. Interfered with an opponent
    He has not prevented an opponent from being able to play the ball.
  3. Gained an advantage from his position
    The ball does not rebound off the goalpost/crossbar or off an opponent.

The second critical and correct decision involves the pass leading to the shot and goal. In this case, the attacker (the same player who was in an offside position on the prior phase of play) is behind the ball at the time it is passed to him. In other words, he is not in an offside position due to the fact he is not nearer his opponent’s goal line than both the ball and the second-to-last opponent.

This second decision could easily have been missed if it were not for full concentration and proper positioning. Seconds before this second decision, the AR had to make another critical decision which could have left him questioning his call and, thus, unfocused and doubting himself. The AR successfully puts the first assessment (prior phase of play) aside and does not allow it to cloud any decisions that follow. When vital decisions are made, officials must be able to immediately put them aside and continue. Time spent questioning or over-assessing a call can lead to memory lapses, poor positioning and/or lack of proper attention being given to subsequent decisions.

Video Clip 2: Dallas at San Jose (77:22)
This example comes from the same game as video clip 1. With the score tied and more than 12 minutes remaining, teams are pushing for the potential winning goal. As the attacker penetrates into the attacking third with a piercing run with the ball, a teammate runs into a supporting position in the wide channel. While this player runs with speed into his supporting flank position, the defense moves up (in a direction against the run and the movement of the ball) in an attempt to place the wide channel attacker in an offside position (the “offside trap”). Each of the following components make this a difficult decision but one that ARs must be able to make and must be correctly positioned to make:

  • Speed of play
  • The long distance between the AR and the wide channel attacking player
  • The long distance between the wide channel attacker and the second-to-last defender who is attempting to put the attacker in an offside position
  • The opposite direction of the runs of the second-to-last defender and the wide attacker

Week 30 Image 1Image 1 illustrates the competing forces (players running different directions) and the distances involved. Decisions like this highlight the need for ARs to be able to quickly change direction with the second-to-last defender. Training methods for ARs must incorporate transitional running and change of direction mobility exercises geared at enhancing the ability to transition from sidestepping to sprinting and from sprinting to sidestepping while preparing the AR to change directions without losing a step on the offside line. As shown in Image 1, the AR is not properly in line with the second-to-last defender and, thus, has a skewed and incorrect view of the positions of the player (note the location of the AR relative to the white offside line – there is a difference of several yards – at the time the ball is passed by an attacker). The result, an incorrect offside decision that takes away a reasonable opportunity to attack to goal.

Looking Forward – Week 31
“Wait and See.” ARs and referees consider increased use of the “wait and see” principle as it relates to advantage and offside decisions. It is clear that taking the time to get a “feel” for the outcome prior to making a decision can lead to improved decisions. Patience in flagging and whistling provides match officials a split second for play to develop and can therefore lead to improved, more educated decisions.

In summary, ARs must properly:

  1. Interpret and apply Law 11 – Offside, correctly.
  2. Be in proper position.
  3. Always concentrate.
  4. Incorporate the “human eye” factor by maximizing the use of peripheral vision and proper depth perception to manage situations like the “offside trap” (competing runs) as well as the distance of players and their movement.