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2010 Referee Week In Review Week 2

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 2010
Week 2 – ending April 4, 2010
Referees continued to work hard to find the balance between asserting their command presence and dealing with situations that require a yellow or red card (100 percent misconduct). Managing this balance is not an easy task as match officials must weigh the “big picture,” including the atmosphere or environment of the game, as well as, what has occurred in the game to that point and the direction that the referee feels the game is heading. The ability to assimilate this information and decide on the correct course of action is a factor that differentiates the elite referee from the average referee.

Assistant referees (ARs) continued to be faced with many difficult offside decisions. In several instances, the lack of concentration and focus caused ARs to misapply the offside law. On the other hand, there were a few fantastic offside decisions that promoted attacking play like the decision highlighted below in this “Week In Review.” Listen to this week’s WIR Podcast.


Offside and “Interfering with Play:” Law 11

Despite its brevity and simplicity, Law 11 – Offside, is the most misinterpreted and, in application, the most challenging law. Much of the challenge has to due with execution, specifically the concentration, focus and positioning required to make the call. In past “Week In Reviews,” several concepts and guidelines have been provided to assist ARs in getting the call correct. Of utmost importance is:

  • Positioning of the AR
    Maintaining strict alignment with the second-to-last defender as well as attempting to keep shoulders square to the field (through lateral movement) thus enhancing peripheral line of vision.
  • “Wait and See”
    Use the “wait and see” approach (when it is safe and appropriate) by delaying the offside decision until it is determined whether the offside positioned player has “interfered with play.”
  • Give the Benefit of Doubt to the Attack
    In close situations, the attacking team should be given the benefit of doubt when it comes to any offside decision.
  • Focus and Concentration
    Maintain focus and concentration even during moments of downtime. This is vitally important to ensure counter attacks and quick changes in possession are monitored correctly. Full awareness of the position of players and the ball must be maintained at all times.

One of the requirements for penalizing a player in an offside position in Law 11 – Offside, is “interfering with play.” FIFAs “Interpretation of the laws of the game and guidelines for referees”, defines “interfering with play” as:

Playing or touching the ball passed or touched by a teammate.

The use of “wait and see” provides ARs extra time to assess whether an offside positioned player actually “plays or touches the ball” versus an onside player. The additional time should be used by ARs to make the correct decision and to evaluate the action of all attackers whether they are positioned onside or offside. Once the AR has determined whether the onside or offside positioned player has played or touched the ball passed/touched by a teammate (“interfered with play”), the AR can then make the appropriate decision.

Video Clip 1: Chivas USA at Galaxy (78:09)
This clip provides two opportunities for the AR to show his understanding of “interfering with play.” In a span of 13 seconds, the AR must make two offside decisions, neither of which are easy. In order to correctly judge both decisions, the AR must be focused and not affected by the speed of play or the nearness of players to the passed/touched ball.

The first AR decision involves an onside positioned player streaking for a lobbed pass and a player in an offside position. The nature of the pass (lobbed over the top of the defense by an attacker) presents a challenge for the AR as its speed, trajectory and angle provide the opportunity for multiple attacking players to play/touch the ball.

By using “wait and see,” the AR is able to determine which player “interferes with play.” The additional time provided by using this technique ensures the AR correctly applies the “interfering with play” definition. Although the offside positioned player takes a few steps toward the passed ball, this player does not play or touch the ball and, hence, should not be declared offside. The ball is played by the onside positioned player who gathers the ball behind the defense. The “wait and see” technique gives the AR a few split seconds to interpret the actions of each attacking player and, then, make the correct decision to keep the flag down.

Note: As you view the video clip, focus on the ARs position just prior to the ball being passed. The AR is moving laterally (sidestepping) while keeping his shoulders square to the field and play.

Once this initial offside decision is made, the AR continues his run this time staying aligned/even with the ball which is nearer the goal line than the second-to-last defender. After the ball rebounds off the goalkeeper, the AR must now be properly positioned to make a second offside decision. At this moment, an attacker is in an offside position behind the goalkeeper with only one opponent between him and the goal line.

The AR decides that this offside positioned player “interferes with play” by touching the ball last played by his teammate after it rebounds from the goalkeeper. The well-positioned referee, seeing the ARs offside flag, agrees that the ball was last played by an attacking teammate and signals for offside. If the referee felt that the ball was last played by a defender prior to the offside positioned player touching the ball, the referee may allow play to continue and overrule the AR by a quick wave of the hand.

Note: At times, referees may be better positioned to see which player (attacker or defender) last touched/played a ball prior to an offside positioned player touching the ball. In addition, there may be times in which the referee has more time to determine factors like “interfering with play,” “interfering with an opponent” and “gaining an advantage by being in an offside position.” In such cases, the referee may overrule the AR with a quick acknowledgement that the flag has been seen but play will be continued. This acknowledgement or signal should be discussed in the pregame meeting by the referee crew.

Management of the Technical Area

One of U.S. Soccer’s 2009 Directives involved “Managing the Technical Area”. In this directive, referees were encouraged to take ownership of issues by communicating with the coach in a positive way to prevent escalation of issues.

The concepts of “emotional outburst” and “personal, public and provocative” are important in the referee determining the type of action to take. Not only are these covered in the “Managing the Technical Area” directive but they are also addressed in the directive entitled, “Dissent: By Word and Action.”

Video Clip 2: New England at DC (90:00 + 1:22)
This situation involves an emotional response by several members of the technical staff. In response to a foul, the technical staff exhibits a quick and momentary outburst of emotion. Adding to the emotionalism is the fact the foul occurs directly in front of the technical or bench area and the game is 1:22 into the referee’s allowance for lost time.

The referee takes ownership of the situation by swiftly addressing the technical staff in a positive, controlled manner. The referee uses his “command presence” by walking toward the bench and using body language (hand and arm gestures) to send a message that matches the emotionalism of the moment.

Note: Watch the referee, at 91:37, as he approaches the bench personnel. The referee uses his “command presence” to send an appropriate message. In fact, the referee is effective in defusing the situation as is evident by the calm and smiling look on the coaching staff faces shortly after the referee has addressed them.

Despite the game being in its final seconds, the fourth official should be more proactive in ensuring that, in accordance with FIFA and U.S. Soccer direction, only one person (at a time) is conveying tactical instructions. In this clip, there are five technical staff standing within the technical area. This makes management and control of the area more difficult.

Overall, the referee does well to match his response to the situation and the moment by taking ownership of the personnel in the technical area. The referee’s calm demeanor and use of “command presence” prevents escalation and the need to dismiss non-playing personnel for irresponsible behavior.

Reckless Tackle: Law 12

The Laws of the Game require that a player be cautioned for “reckless” challenges. “Reckless” means that a player has “acted with complete disregard to the danger to, or consequences for, his opponent.” More simplistically, U.S. Soccer’s publication, “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game,” further defines reckless as meaning “the player has made unnatural movements designed to intimidate an opponent or to gain an unfair advantage.” If a foul is reckless, clearly outside the norm for fair play, the referee must award a direct free kick and caution (yellow card) the player for unsporting behavior.

Note: It is important for match officials to be able to clearly differentiate between the three classifications of a foul:

  1. Careless
  2. Reckless
  3. Excessive force

The ability to differentiate between these type of fouls are an important component in the overall success of the referee and often dictate the temperature of a game, thus, affecting game and player control.

Video Clip 3: Real Salt Lake at Houston (43:12)
The defender makes a reckless tackle for the ball. The tackle is reckless because it is outside the norm for fair play and the normal manner in which tackles are executed. Factors contributing to the tackle being reckless are:

  • The angle from which the tackle is executed: More from behind than from the front or side. It is not fully outside the sightlines of the attacker.
  • The fact contact is made with the attacker’s foot or ankle area: The tackle itself lacks speed and force (no lunging or distance associated with the challenge) which would increase the likelihood of it potentially falling under the excessive force category.
  • The ball is not played: The trajectory of the ball and the angle of the tackle indicate that contact was not made with the ball.

Differentiating challenges is not easy as often it may appear that the ball has been cleanly played by the defender.

Note: Proper positioning and proximity to play can assist the referee in determining whether the ball has been played and/or whether contact has been made with the attacker.

In this clip, the defender (orange jersey) should be cautioned for unsporting behavior for committing a reckless tackle.

Looking Forward – Week 3
Application of the principle of “wait and see” will facilitate better and more accurate offside decisions. At the same time, ARs need to be better prepared to judge offside decisions coming from restarts like free kicks. As a consequence, mental focus and alertness must be present even when there is downtime (ball out of play) in the match. When downtime exists, minds cannot rest. Use downtime to anticipate and prepare for the “next phase of play.”