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2010 Referee Week in Review - Week 33

This past weekend’s games decided the two finalists who will take the field for the opportunity to raise the MLS Cup as 2010 champions.  Week 33 provided intense and emotional challenges for match officials due to the importance of the single elimination format.  Assistant referees (ARs) were particularly tested with many critical and close offside judgments and they responded with top-class decisions.  Teamwork and cooperation between officials is often a vital part of success in games and a good example of cooperation will be reviewed this week.

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


Referee and Assistant Referee Cooperation

Cooperation, coordination and teamwork amongst officials play an important role in managing the game.  Officials must be on the “same page” and in the same “rhythm” of the game.  Cooperation between the referee and AR does not occur solely during dynamic play through assisting with foul decisions.  Cooperation can also play a role in the smooth management of the game during static play (ball out of play).

Use of U.S. Soccer’s “Guide to Procedures” can help referees, ARs and fourth officials organize and standardize their teamwork.  The “Guide” is intended to streamline and organize the various positional and teamwork procedures required by match officials.

One of the static opportunities often presented ARs involves assisting on the management of a free kick in the zone immediately in front of them.  The AR, being closer to the ball (restart location), is better positioned than the referee to ensure the proper distance (10 yards in this case) is given on the restart.  As a result, after acknowledgment by the referee, the AR can enter the field of play and assume responsibility for getting the appropriate distance.  At this point, the AR assumes primary responsibilities in setting the wall at the appropriate distance. 

The referee and AR must analyze the situation to determine which of the two is better enabled to manage the impending wall situation prior to the AR’s entry into the field.  Some considerations are:

  • Distance between the AR and the restart location as well as the referee and the location.
  • Off-the-ball action/occurrences.  Is the game better served by having the referee near the drop zone (the intended target of the free kick)?
  • Can the AR’s involvement ensure that the game is restarted much quicker?
  • Have there been prior issues involving wall management that requires the referee to take charge of the situation?

Note:  It is important that officials review any “special” teamwork issues in the pregame meeting to ensure consistency and an understanding of the management of the critical situations that arise during dynamic and static play.

Clip 1:  Dallas at Los Angeles (7:15)

Within the first eight minutes of the game, the match officials have the opportunity to coordinate the management of a restart following a foul that the AR has just flagged.  So, early on in the game, the coordination of the referee team is tested.  This work by the referee and AR provide a good example of effectively and efficiently managing the free kick restart.

Here are the keys to successful management and execution of this free kick situation:
1.    AR provides proper assistance in calling the foul as the foul occurs in his “area of control” immediately in front of him.
2.    AR gets referee confirmation to enter the field and assume responsibility for the free kick.
3.    Although it is not clear in this clip, as part of assuming the referee’s role, the AR should indicate to the players the “wait for the whistle” signal ensuring that a whistle is required prior to restarting the match.
4.    The AR moves the wall the required 10 yard distance.
5.    After the wall is properly stationed, the AR backpedals (facing the field of play) to his restart position.
6.    Through eye contact or a simple arm gesture, the AR indicates to the referee that he is positioned appropriately to manage the next phase of play.
7.    The referee whistles for the restart once the AR is correctly positioned and once he has assumed optimal position.

Preventing and Anticipating

In past weeks, the concept of delaying the restart of a game has been discussed.  In particular, “Week In Review 21” provided a good framework for identifying potential situations involving teams or players delaying the restart of play through various means.

Referees must “feel” the game and be cognizant of the factors that can potentially lead to a team or player delaying the restart.  By reading the game as it develops, the referee should be able to identify the warning signs of possible delay tactics being used, such as time left in the match and the score (the leading team is often more tempted to waste time).

Through anticipating and “feeling” the game, the referee can take preventative action to send a message to players, coaches and spectators that delaying the restart will not be tolerated.  The referee’s message must resonate with all game participants (“broadcast message”).  In a positive, preventative way, through his message or actions, the referee is “drawing the line in the sand” and making a public statement that he is aware of the potential tactics and he will deal with those that decide to circumvent the Laws of the Game.

Clip 2:  San Jose at Colorado (85:58)

With approximately four minutes left in regulation, the team that is leading the game (1-0) has two consecutive throw-ins.  The referee anticipates a time wasting situation or a situation in which the team leading may delay the throw-in restart.  As a consequence, the referee, understanding the warning signs (time left in the game and the score), takes preventative action to ensure the situation does not deteriorate to a point a yellow card would be required.

The team leading (1-0) has no reason to restart the game quickly.  In fact, the longer the ball is out of play, the less time the opponent has to score or tie the game.  Hence, the referee must find a positive way to incentivize them to put the ball into play quickly.

There are two opportunities for the leading team to delay and the referee takes positive action to ensure the situation does not result in a caution for delaying the restart. 

1.    Throw-In at 86:04

  • The referee is reading the game.  He notices that there is no approved second ball.
  • Listen (at 86:08 and 86:17) as the referee uses his whistle to get the player’s attention.
  • The referee “feels” the situation and expedites the second ball.  Notice his hand and arm gestures asking for the ball.
  • The referee manages this in close proximity to the restart position.
  • The players on the losing team feel the referee is taking ownership of the situation through his proximity and hand gestures.  Before the players complain, the referee has taken action.  This anticipatory action, defuses potential player frustration and complaints.

2.    Throw-In at 86:47

  • The referee moves close to the restart location so that his presence is felt by the players and his voice can be heard.
  • The referee uses his hand/arm to indicate the throw-in location so that there can be no doubt by the team as to the location of the restart.  Players often attempt to waste time by deliberately moving up the touchline in hopes that the referee will force them back.

Overall, the referee sends a visual message to the players, coaches and spectators that he is cognizant/aware of the situation and if a player attempts to delay the restart and attempts to take an unfair advantage of the situation, the referee will be forced to take action.

Offside by “Interfering with Play”

“Interfering with play” means playing or touching a ball that has been last passed or touched by a teammate.  “Interfering with play” is one of the criteria required for a player (in an offside position) to be judged offside.  The concept of playing or touching the ball is important because, often times, multiple players have the “opportunity” to play or touch the ball and some of these players may originally be in an onside position and others in an offside position prior to their playing/touching the ball passed to them by a teammate.

U.S. Soccer has been an advocate of the wait and see approach to offside decisions when there is no potential for injury or collision.  The wait and see approach lends itself to making correct decisions when more than one player has the opportunity to become involved in active play.  Why?  Because wait and see gives the AR more time to evaluate the situation and determine who actually plays/touches the ball.  This extra time can often mean the difference between a good goal and incorrectly disallowing a goal.

Clip 3:  Dallas at Los Angeles (71:46)

Clip 3 involves two players each of whom has the opportunity to play a ball passed in to space by a teammate.  However, one player is in an offside position while another player runs into space behind the defense from an onside position.

Through utilization of the wait and see technique, the AR is able to clearly evaluate which player “interferes with play” by playing/touching the passed ball.  In this case, the AR correctly decides that the player who does touch the passed ball is onside at the moment his teammate makes the pass.

Although a player is in an offside position, he does not “interfere with play or an opponent.”  ARs must evaluate this offside positioned player’s actions.  This player shows that he is not involved by standing at attention and by not making a move to the ball. 

The AR’s position enables him to clearly make the correct no-offside decision.  The AR has his shoulders square to the field (sidestepping) and is directly in line with the second-to-last defender.  The AR is also fortunate to have the line demarking the top of the penalty area as an aid in determining offside positioning.  A quick and decisive move to follow the pass, by the AR, helps to “sell” the call and conveys confidence in the decision.

The clip also involves the referee cautioning a player for dissent.  Although this is an emotional playoff game, the referee correctly determines that the player’s actions are more than an emotional outburst and represent dissent by word and by action.  “Week In Review 32” provides further analysis of dissent.

Looking Forward – Week 34 (MLS Cup Final)

Management of emotions will be key to a successful final game.  Each match official must manage their emotions and resist the temptation to get “caught up in the moment.”  In addition, the match officials must positively manage the emotions of the players by utilizing their “options” in dealing with situations involving gray area.