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2009 Referee Week in Review - Week 28

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 28 – ending September 27, 2009
Following a week in which there were multiple decisions that potentially impacted the outcome of games, match officials responded with solid performances in terms of overall game and player management. Referees worked hard to maintain solid control while still injecting flow into the match through careful differentiation between fouls and minor, trifling or soft challenges in which player safety is not endangered.

This “Week In Review” will highlight a decision that does not happen too frequently, the pass to the goalkeeper also called the “pass back.” This past week contained two such decisions neither of which are clearly evident to the eye at game speed which may have been the cause of the referees misinterpreting the application of the Law. The video examples of the “pass back” do, however, provide good educational material for officials at all levels to understand the concepts behind the “pass back” rule.

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.


A Penalty Kick Decision Disguised: Law 14
Law 14 – The Penalty Kick, states: “A penalty kick is awarded against a team that commits one of the 10 offences for which a direct free kick is awarded, inside its own penalty area and while the ball is in play.” This Law thereby requires referees to have a clear understanding of the “10 offences for which a direct free kick is awarded.” These 10 offenses can be found in Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct. However, the application of Law 12 comes down to experience (amongst other factors), an understanding of the criteria used to identify fair from foul play and good positioning which leads to an optimal line of vision to any challenge.

Fouls can be subtle and players work hard to disguise fouls. In other words, players attempt to trick the referee by making a foul look like a fair challenge. Referees must be prepared for such deceptive attempts but this is not an easy task given the speed of play. The empowerment of assistant referees (ARs) to help the referee with decisions involving foul play has helped to counteract the speed of the game. Yet, there are many decisions which the referee must address without the aid of an AR or fourth official. In these cases, the referee must rely on his positioning and his interpretation and “feel” for the challenge. Referees need to possess the ability to take several snapshots of a potential offense as it is occurring and translate those snapshots into a decision in a split second.

When the match official is interpreting each snapshot, consideration must be given to the various criteria (from the Laws of the Game, U.S. Soccer position papers, “Week In Reviews,” 2009 U.S. Soccer Referee Program Directives and other publications) that has been established to assist in the correct interpretation.

Video Clip 1: San Jose at Colorado (89:36)
This video clip provides a good example of a player committing a foul that is easily disguised as a fair challenge and requires the referee to visually identify the components that make the challenge unfair. The identification of the foul is exacerbated by the fact that it occurs in the penalty area.

As you view the clip, take snapshots of the play as the ball approaches the two players. In each picture, consider the position of the ball, the position of the defender relative to the ball and the attacker, and the position of the attacker relative to the flight of the ball.

Keys to identifying this challenge and jump into the opponent as a foul and a necessary penalty kick call are:

  1. Location of the defender to the ball
    • The attacker is positioned (standing) between the serviced ball and the defender.
    • By legally standing in the defender’s path to the ball, the defender must go through the attacker to play the ball.
  2. Defender never plays the ball
    • The defender only makes contact with the opponent (jumps at) and there is no contact with the ball.
    • There is no opportunity for the defender to play the ball without going through or around the attacker.
    • The service of the ball is too low for the defender to win it in the air.
  3. Defender “jumps over” the top of the well positioned attacker
    • The attacker is not given the opportunity to play the ball as contact is made prior to the ball arriving (being in playing distance).
  4. Location of the ball at the time contact is made by the defender
    • The ball is two yards from the players at the time the defender makes contact with the opponent by jumping through him.
    • Image 1Look at Image 1. Image 1 shows the position of the ball (two yards from both players) at the time of contact.
    • In Image 1, the trajectory or movement of the ball is indicated by the red line. It moves down toward the attacker’s head. The white line indicates the trajectory the ball would have needed in order for the defender to have a play on the ball without going through or jumping through the attacking opponent.

By taking several real time snapshots, referees can visually enhance their interpretation of challenges and better apply criteria in the decision making process. In this clip, regardless of the score or time in the match, the defender makes an unfair (careless) challenge that warrants a foul call and a penalty kick as charging and/or jumping into an opponent is one of the ten direct free kick offenses.

The Pass Back: Law 12
Over the years, U.S. Soccer has addressed the issue of the “pass back” in various publications:

Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct defines the “pass back” as:
“A goalkeeper is not permitted to touch the ball with his hand inside his own penalty area . . . if he touches the ball with his hands after it has been deliberately kicked to him by a teammate.”

In U.S. Soccer’s May 21, 2008 position paper, “The Pass Back Violation,” three criteria were provided match officials to interpret potential “pass back” violations. The three criteria which must occur in sequence are:

  1. Pass Back CriteriaBy Foot: The ball is kicked (played with the foot) by a teammate of the goalkeeper,
  2. Deliberate: This action is deemed to be deliberate rather than a deflection, and
  3. Handling by the Goalkeeper: The goalkeeper handles the ball directly (no intervening touch of play of the ball by anyone else).

Each of these three events must occur in order for a “pass back” offense to have occurred. If the referee decides that all three events have taken place, then an indirect free kick should be awarded at the spot the goalkeeper handled the ball (exception: if the handling occurred in the goal area, then the indirect free kick is taken on the goal area line parallel to the goal line at the point nearest to where the infringement occurred).

Diagram 1 gives a graphical depiction of the three factors that must be present for a “pass back” offense to have occurred. Although seemingly a simple Law, the fact that it happens infrequently means officials have little practice or experience implementing the Law. Additionally, a “pass back” offense involves an indirect free kick within a close range of the goal and, hence, a high opportunity for a shot on goal.

Video Clip 2: San Jose at DC United (47:12 – second half)
This is a subtle clip that takes concentration to correctly identify. As you review the clip, carefully watch the ball and its contact with the foot of the opponent immediately after it is played to the goalkeeper by his teammate. Consequently, using the three criteria presented in Diagram 1, a “pass back” does not exist as the deliberate event did not occur due to the deflection by the opponent (No. 19). This is a difficult call for a referee but provides an example of a situation when the deliberate criteria does not exist as the ball touches an opponent (an “intervening touch” as specified in the “Pass Back Violation” position paper) on its way to the goalkeeper. If it were not for the ”intervening touch” of the ball by the defender, this would be a candidate for a “pass back” decision.

Video Clip 3: Real Salt Lake at Dallas (74:50)
This “pass back” example takes thought and analysis as well as a thorough understanding of the three components of the triangle in Diagram 1. Let’s examine each element of the triangle to see why a “pass back” has not occurred.

  1. By Foot – exists
    • The defender runs from behind the opponent to fairly challenge and win the ball.
    • The defender (teammate of the goalkeeper) plays the ball with his foot. As he does this, contact is made with him by the opponent.
  2. Deliberate – does not exist
    • The defender’s eyes are down on the ball as he tries to gain possession of the ball – this is one of the multiple factors for the referee to rapidly consider. The defender is not looking to pass the ball to anyone. He is merely trying to gain possession of the ball from the opponent. Compare the defender’s eyes in this clip with those on the defender in the previous clip (clip 2).
    • The defender does not deliberately play the ball. The ball plays off the defender’s foot as he is being contacted by the opponent. There was no deliberate pass.
    • The ball is accidently misdirected.
    • Similar to the definition used in “played” the ball when making offside decisions, this is a deflection rather than a deliberate ”play” of the ball. Hence, no offense can occur. Consider a shot on goal that deflects off the defender’s foot but goes to his goalkeeper. This is not “deliberate” and should not be considered a “pass back.” On the other hand, a player who receives a ball, looks up to see where his keeper is and then plays it (passes it) to his goalkeeper has made a “deliberate” action to play the ball and may be penalized for a “pass back” should the goalkeeper handle the ball.
    • “Deliberate” is a controlled action with an intended conclusion like a pass intended/targeted for a teammate or the goalkeeper.
  3. Handling by the Goalkeeper – exists
    • The goalkeeper does handle the ball by picking it up.
    • The keeper is initially trying to legally waste time by holding the ball at his feet until challenged because his team is winning and there are about 15 minutes remaining in the match.

Given the fact that the “deliberate” element of the triangle does not exist, play should be allowed to continue as a “pass back” has not been executed.

Injury to a Goalkeeper: Law 5
In accordance with Law 5 – The Referee, U.S. Soccer issued a 2009 Directive “Injury Management.” Like the Law, the directive requires the referee to: “Stop the match, if in his opinion, a player is seriously injured. . . .” If a player is seriously injured, the referee must stop play regardless of whether the ball is in play or not.

Serious injury normally relates to the location of the injury (this varies depending upon the age of the players involved as younger players typically require more immediate attention). Injuries to the head, neck or facial region should be considered serious in nature. The safety of players should be paramount in the referee’s consideration.

Injuries to goalkeepers, while the ball is in play, are a special situation and often require further attention. Since the goalkeeper is the “last line of defense” and is the only player who may use his hands in his own penalty area, the referee must be on alert for any injury the keeper may suffer.

In a general sense, if a referee determines that the goalkeeper is seriously injured or cannot perform his special duties, the referee should stop play immediately. This ensures the Spirit of the Law is preserved and prevents the attacking team from having an unfair advantage. If the goalkeeper is injured and immediately the attacking team takes a shot on goal with the opportunity to score, the referee may use discretion and briefly await the outcome of that play but, should the ball not immediately enter the goal, play should be stopped. On the other hand, if the referee believes there will be several touches of the ball before a shot can be taken, the game should be stopped immediately.

The key question the referee should be asking is: “If a goal is scored when the goalkeeper is injured and unable to perform his duties IS THIS FAIR?” If a goal results immediately from that current play, the answer is likely “YES”. If not, it is “NO” and play should be stopped.

In the event the referee stops play due to a serious injury (the ball was in play), the referee must restart play with a dropped ball from the position of the ball when play was stopped (Exception: If play is stopped when the ball is in he goal area, then the restart is a dropped ball on the goal area line parallel to the goal line at the point nearest to where the ball was located when play was stopped).

Video Clip 4: San Jose at DC United (4:06 – second half)
This clip provides a clear example of a serious injury to a goalkeeper who has left his goal line to play a ball. The seriousness of the injury is evident by the goalkeeper’s reaction after he plays the ball and hits the ground and, ultimately, by the fact he is substituted out of the game.

The goalkeeper plays the ball and, as he goes down, the ball goes to an opponent who takes an immediate shot. This shot is blocked by a defender. At this point, the referee must stop the play and see to the goalkeeper. Should a goal have been scored directly off the shot, the referee would be within his rights to award the goal if he judged, based upon the immediacy of the opponent’s shot, that the injury did not prevent the goalkeeper from stopping the shot.

Once play has been stopped while the ball is in play and medical attention given to the goalkeeper, the referee must restart play with a dropped ball as he does in this clip. The drop ball should be given in the approximate location of where the ball was when the referee whistled to stop play.

The mechanics the referee uses to drop the ball in this clip requires refinement. First, the ball is dropped from too high a spot. This gives the players too much time to play the ball before it hits the ground. Remember, dropped balls are not in play and may not be played by players until they hit the ground. In this clip, the ball is played prior to striking the ground and, therefore, the dropped ball must be retaken if identified by the referee.

Solution: Drop the ball closer to the ground. U.S. Soccer’s “Advise to Referees on the Laws of the Game” suggests the following procedure for dropping the ball:

“A dropped ball must be dropped, not thrown. The referee should hold the ball in the palm of the hand at waist level with the other hand on top of the ball. At the proper moment, the referee should then pull away the hand beneath the ball and let it drop. . . .”

Referees may also consider talking to the players to get their attention just before the ball is dropped which may then increase the chances of the ball hitting the ground before it is played.

Second, the referee’s position at the time he drops the ball is not optimal. The position taken by the referee interferes with a potential clearance of the dropped ball by the defenders while also potentially interfering with a touch or pass by the attacking team to the center of the penalty area.

Solution: A better position would be for the referee to stand on the goal side of the two players. In this position, he is not blocking a defending team clearance or an attacking team pass or shot to the center of the penalty area. In other words, the referee should take a position that ensures he does not interfere with the potential next phase of play.

Looking Forward – Week 29
Optimal positioning resulting in optimal vision is a critical component in making optimal decisions. Referees and ARs must work hard to anticipate play and position themselves so they are prepared for the “next phase of play” and they have ensured they have covered every eventuality. For ARs, this means chasing every ball to the goal line or back to the goalkeeper. For referees, this means reading play and moving with play and/or the ball so that they are positioned to make the difficult decision. All match officials must be able to exert full energy and exhibit hustle for more than the 90 minutes of a match.