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2009 Referee Week in Review - Week 17

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 17 – ending July 12, 2009
Week 17 was an interesting week for MLS match officials. With six games played, there was a wide variation in fouls called and misconduct. This variation illustrates the importance of officials preparing for every eventuality and for every type of situation and game style.

Over the six MLS games, the average foul count was relatively low at 24.8 per game. The fouls called varied from a high of 35 to 17. At the same time, there was a wide variation in the number of cautions issued in each of the six games. On the low end, one yellow card was given while two matches had five cautions issued. Only one red card was given during week 17.

Match officials must enter games prepared to manage situations involving either end of the spectrum and must possess the ability to “feel” and “read” the game to determine their approach to game control. Remember, as the game plays out, the referee team must adjust their tactics and game management to maximize the safety of the players and the entertainment value.


Player Management: Using Personality
The use of presence and personality to manage the players and influence behavior is one of the most critical success factors in a referee. Referees must possess the ability to establish lines of communication with players and send clear messages that will not only resonate directly with the player being addressed but will also be “felt” and understood by the other participants in the game.

Referees must be more than “whistle blowers.” Calling the foul is only a small part of the referee’s job. Communication, personality and presence are preventative measures. These tools require out-of-box thinking and creativity on the part of the referee as well as the courage to look a player in the eye to send a message. Players read the referee’s body language as do coaches and spectators. Referees must use all their tools to communicate with players in a positive manner that will help the players understand where the “line in the sand” is for that game. Hence, it is critical for referees to realize that when they are communicating with one player, they are really communicating with all the game’s participants.

The “feel” for the game, the situation and the player should help direct the referee’s approach. In some cases, a relaxed and quiet word is the best solution. In other cases, a stern, verbal and visual word is the best solution. In either case, the referee must remain calm and in control.

Pictures: Chivas USA at Galaxy
In one of MLS’s classic rivalry games, the referee must be able to use personality and establish lines of communication to aid in controlling the match. Entering the game, the referee team must understand the factors involved in the rivalry and must prepare themselves for all possible outcomes. Personality and presence must be established early in the game so that the players understand that there is a positive authority figure managing the match. Referees should not only send messages when fouls occur but they should be able to use the “downtime” in the game to communicate and help the players understand what is acceptable or not.

The pictures below are a positive example of the referee using visual communication to establish his presence and to send a message.


Figure 1: Referee's Message Figure 2: Player's Response


The player, in Figure 2, has just committed an off-the-ball foul. In Figure 1, the referee uses just his finger and direct eye contact with the player (from approximately 20 yards away) to send a message: “Think, use your head, be smart . . . .“

In Figure 2, the player responds with a facial expression that says, “Yea, you’re right. I know . . . .” The referee has used a simple approach to send a message to the player. The referee knows that his message has been received due to the player’s response and acknowledgment. If the player does not respond positively, then the referee may have to find another route to communication and sending a message that is firmer/stronger.

The referee’s approach matched the situation. The message was effective and acknowledged. The referee used the “downtime” to send his message early (7:30) in the game. Great work by a match official to channel player behavior through preventative communication.

Goal or No Goal: Law 10
Law 10 – Method of Scoring, provides guidance relative to the scoring of goals. Law 10 states:

“A goal is scored when the whole of the ball passes over the goal line, between the goalposts and under the crossbar, provided that no infringement of the Laws of the Game has been committed previously by the team scoring the goal.”

The diagram above shows an example of a valid goal – a case when the entire ball has crossed the goal line under the crossbar and between the goalposts.

Referees and assistant referees (ARs) must ensure that the entire ball meets the requirements of the Law prior to awarding a goal. If there is any doubt, the referee team cannot award a goal.

The game is played at high speed and the ball will usually travel faster than any referee or AR. Because of the speed of the ball and play, it is vital that ARs be able to effectively sprint and accelerate. The ability to sprint and accelerate allows the AR to get to the end point (the goal line) and maintain the best possible position (offside line) given the situation. ARs should be able to go from a standing position (often times with their shoulders square to the field) or from moving laterally to a sprinting position running to the goal line in a split second. This is a skill that must be practiced.

Although it is difficult for ARs to beat a long distance shot to the goal line, the AR must use his sprinting capability to get to the goal line as quickly as possible. In any event, the AR must run all the way to the end line prior to making a decision. This effort helps to sell any decision and gives the AR a chance to review the decision in his mind prior to making the goal or no goal decision. The ability of an AR to “read” play and anticipate the upcoming shot can also play a positive role in helping the AR get into an optimum position to make the decision.

According to U.S. Soccer procedures, when an AR is signaling a goal (when the ball has fully crossed the goal line and then returns to the field of play), the AR must raise his flag from the corner flag to signal to the referee that the ball has gone out of play. Once the referee acknowledges the flag with a whistle, the AR then drops the flag and runs up the touchline to signal that a goal has been scored.

It is important to note, that goals should not be awarded unless the match officials are 100 percent certain that the ball has fully crossed the goal line. This decision must be aided by the positioning of the AR. Even if an AR is in an advantageous position, he should not signal a goal unless he is absolutely certain all the requirements of the Law have been met. Decisions, like this, stress the need for ARs to concentrate and focus so that they can make split second decisions.

Video Clip 1: Houston at Seattle (31:26)
In this clip, the camera angle does not give a clear view of whether a goal has been scored according to the Laws of the Game. But, ARs should not signal a goal unless they are 100 percent certain that a goal has been scored. This play has build-up and is not as fast as others yet it is difficult for ARs to maintain proper position. Hence, the need for acceleration and sprinting.

The AR is only a couple of yards from the goal line at the time the ball is played by the defender out of the goal mouth. Given this position, the AR must be certain that the ball has fully crossed the line prior to following U.S. Soccer guidelines relative to signaling a goal that has crossed the goal line and then come out. If the AR feels a goal has not been scored, the AR should just continue with the correct offside line position. Key: Goals should only be awarded when the decision is clear and definitive.

Contact Above the Shoulder: Law 12
Players use their arms, hands and forearms to restrict the opponent’s movement. Referees must be cognizant of players who raise their arm up when being challenged from behind. This is a critical “warning sign” of a potential use of the arm as a “weapon.” According to U.S. Soccer’s Directive on “Contact Above the Shoulder,” the use of the arm as a weapon must result in a red card being issued. Below are examples, from the reference directive, officials can use to differentiate the use of the arm as a “weapon” versus a “tool.”


  • Arm used for balance
  • Normal body movement
  • No swing of the arm INTO the opponent
  • Opponent into arm/elbow/hand – not arm/elbow/hand into opponent
  • Arm/elbow was out before the challenge was initiated
  • Not UP and IN – just UP


  • Excessive force used
  • Safety of the player is endangered
  • Hard surface (forearm/elbow/hand) contacting soft surface (facial and neck region)
  • Arm/elbow UP and IN to opponent
  • Arm/elbow/hand is swung toward opponent’s facial region
  • UP and IN – arm used as a ”battering ram”
  • Injury results

Video Clip 2: Chivas USA at Galaxy (89:25)
This use of the arm/elbow (hard surface) illustrates the use of both as a “weapon” when contacting the opponent in the face (soft tissue area). As you watch the clip, focus on the player’s (No. 5) face and eyes and well as his body movement.

First, it is clear that No. 5 “lines up” the opponent. As the opponent approaches from behind, the player with the ball looks over his shoulder to see the approach of the white jersey player (No. 10). He then deliberately places his arm and elbow in the path of the opponent.

Second, in the last replay, look at the body movement of No. 5. As No. 10 approaches, the player (No. 5) steps off the ball and into to opponent. This shows he is not playing the ball but is deliberately playing the opponent.

Third, the Laws of the Game require players be sent off for “excessive force” and “endangering the safety of an opponent.” It is important for officials to know that the amount of force that needs to be exhibited depends upon the area being contacted and the item making the contact. In this case, not much force is needed to endanger the opponent’s safety when the facial region (soft tissue) is involved along with the hard surface of an arm or elbow. Consequently, the action exhibited by No. 5 in this clip is serious foul play and the player must be sent off for using his arm as a “weapon” due to the excessive force and the fact that the “safety of the opponent has been endangered.”

Offside: Law 11
Offside decisions can be complicated by the location of the defenders and attackers as well as the distance between these opponents. U.S. Soccer promotes attacking play and wants ARs to give the “benefit of doubt” to attacking soccer in close offside decisions. This means that ARs should keep the flag down in cases where they have any doubt relative to a player being “nearer to his opponents’ goal line,” “interfering with play or an opponent” or “gaining an advantage by being in an offside position.” “Any doubt” cannot extend to clear examples of offside position. At higher levels, ARs are expected to have more acute vision and awareness of these types of close offside positions.

The closer the attacker and players are to the AR, the tougher the ARs decision, as peripheral vision and view of the ball may not be as optimal as compared to when the players are further across the field. In cases close to the AR, the AR may consider moving back from the touch line to give a broader/wider perspective of play (the ball and all involved players).

Video Clip 3: Dallas at Colorado (78:41)
A quick “give and go” pass is executed by the attacking team. It occurs to the side of the penalty area of the AR. The decision regarding offside position is complicated due to the distance between the attacker making the through run and the three defenders spaced across the middle of the penalty area some 10 yards from the runner. The distance and the space between the three defenders can cause depth perception issues. Therefore, the AR must be totally focused on the ball, the attacker making the run and the three defenders positioned 10 yards further into the field.

The AR must be positioned optimally. In this case, being in line with the second-to-last defender is not sufficient. The AR must also attempt to have his shoulders square to the field. By having his body square to the field, the AR has the best view of all the factors needed to make a clear decision: the ball, the runner and the three defenders. An AR who runs forward and looks over his shoulders, as in this case, limits the ARs angle of vision.

Play is moving sufficiently slow that the AR can be sidestepping and, thus, be square to the field and not have to look over his shoulder to make a decision. Closely examine the last replay to see if you have the capability to sidestep in this situation given the speed of play and the fact that the second-to-last defender is also sidestepping.

The running attacker is in an offside position at the time the ball is passed/played to him by his teammate. This attacker is clearly “nearer to his opponents’ goal line” than the second-to-last opponent at the time the ball is played. Furthermore, this offside positioned attacker “interferes with play” because he plays/touches the ball passed to him by a teammate. At the time the ball is passed, a sufficient amount of the offside positioned player’s body is past the second-to-last defender to indicate there is no benefit of doubt for the attack. As a result, the goal should be disallowed and an indirect free kick awarded to the defending team for an offside infraction.

Looking Forward – Week 18
Several round robin, group play games have been completed in Carson, Calif. during U.S. Soccer’s Development Academy Finals Week. Each of the eight participating referees have officiated at least one game as a referee. Local officials who have worked many Development Academy games over the past season have also been participating as ARs.

Each day, feedback sessions have been conducted with the match officials by Paul Tamberino, Alfred Kleinaitis and Herb Silva. Extensive analysis of performance is part of the feedback with emphasis on improvement and highlighting key areas of success for pro-track referees. The championship game in the Under-17/18 and Under-15/16 groups will be televised lived on ESPN Classic on Thursday, July 16 and Friday, July 17 at 10 p.m. ET.

Go to Studio 90 at to view highlights of games as well as interviews with referees. You can also view and listen in on a feedback session conducted during the Finals Week.