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2010 Referee Week in Review - Week 30

After 30 weeks of reviewing key decisions and providing important educational points for referees, coaches and administrators at all levels of the game, this version of the “Week In Review” marks the end of the 2010 MLS regular season. The regular season version will conclude with an analysis of two offside decisions that lead to goals. Additionally, a review of contact prior to a goal being scored will be examined to determine whether a foul has occurred or not.

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


Foul or Not: Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct

In past “Week In Reviews,” the concept of fair, soft and/or normal contact between players has been addressed. A referee with a “feel” for a game based upon the skill level of the participants needs to differentiate between normal and acceptable contact and a foul. To define normal contact, a match official must understand the level of play, the skill set of the players and the overall temperature of the match. Within a match, as well as match-to-match, based upon the game’s temperature and the direction of the game, judgment of normal contact will vary and referees must be able to read the game to apply the appropriate level of normal contact to a match.

Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct, lists 10 offenses that should result in a direct free kick to the opposing team if the referee considers the offense to be careless, reckless or done using excessive force. One of the frequently called direct free kick offenses is pushing an opponent. The use of the hands and arms is a standard part of the game and they can be used to fairly shield the ball and to make fair or acceptable contact with an opponent as long as it is not careless, reckless or using excessive force.

Remember, “careless” indicates that the player has not exercised due caution in making a play. The contact was a miscalculation of strength or judgment by the player and the player has acted without precaution.

Referees must be able to evaluate player actions and judge whether the contact was a miscalculation of strength and consider whether the player’s actions resulted in the fouling player or fouling player’s team gaining an unfair advantage from the action/challenge.

Clip 1: Dallas at Los Angeles (31:53)
This clip involves opposing player contact preceding the scoring of a goal. The referee must evaluate the contact to determine whether it is fair and a normal part of the game or whether the contact is careless requiring a foul be called.

In this case, the contact should be considered careless and result in a foul call. What actions should the referee consider when determining that a foul has occurred and the action is not normal player-to-player contact?

  • The fact that the player extends his arms beyond his normal body space equates to “not exercising due caution” in making a play for the ball. This is not standard player-to-player contact. The fouling player has shown a lack of attention when making the challenge.
  • The speed at which the fouling player approaches the opponent puts more force into any contact or push. 
  • The contact is from behind as the attacking player, with the ball, is shielding the ball in a fair manner as the ball is within playing distance. 
  • The defender has no opportunity to fairly win the ball with his feet given the location of the ball and the player legally shielding the ball.

Overall, acceptable game contact does not involve a push from behind in which the arms are extended and the body of the attacker (who is being pushed) is between the fouler and the ball. Consequently, a direct free kick should be awarded for pushing an opponent.

Positive Offside Decisions Leading to a Goal: Law 11 – Offside

Focus and concentration on the part of assistant referees (ARs) can lead to positive offside decisions and goals. Using the “benefit of doubt to the attack” philosophy and the “wait and see technique,” ARs can promote attacking soccer and ensure accurate offside decisions.

The “wait and see technique” is a tool to improve decisions. Another tool available to ARs is the utilization of field markings to assist in determining player (attacking and defending) locations at the time the ball is played. Grass markings, field markings (painted lines) and other reference points surrounding the field can be tools to aid ARs in determining offside position.

Concentration, focus and attentiveness are vital components of getting offside decisions correct. ARs must always be ready for the next touch by an attacking player as it relates to offside as the next attacking touch provides the framework for player positioning (both attacking and defending). ARs must not assume that a ball will not be passed/touched. Even players that have a lot of space and/or time may one touch a ball forward. As a result, ARs cannot rest nor can they assume a pass or touch will not occur. An AR that rests will not be mentally prepared to take the snapshot or picture at the time the ball is played/touched.

Clip 2: New England at New York (90:59)
With the game in the first minute of second half “additional time” and one goal the difference on the scoreboard, the AR is faced with a difficult offside decision caused by four factors:

  1. The last attacker to play/touch the ball one touches it forward even though he has time and space to maintain possession.
  2. Attackers and defenders are running in opposite directions. Some defenders are pushing up to attempt to put the forward running attacker in an offside position. 
  3. There is a lot of distance or space between the attacker that receives the ball and the second-to-last defender. 
  4. It is late in the game and the AR must resist fatigue and ensure that they are focused and are concentrating. Minds must be ready to make decisions for the entire 90 plus minutes of the match and cannot lapse or rest.

Watching the play live, the attacker who scores the goal appears offside. Why? Because the picture is not complete. The replay shows the second-to-last defender is near the AR placing the furthest most attacker a yard or so onside. Consequently, a fully focused AR is able, through focus and concentration, to ensure that none of the aforementioned four factors negatively impact the correct decision to give the benefit of doubt to the attack and allow play to continue. The use of the grass cutting can also help the AR with making an accurate decision.

Clip 3: Dallas at Los Angeles (21:10)
Clip 3 represents another exceptional decision by the AR to keep the flag down and award a goal when faced with a close offside decision. This clip presents two decision-making points for the AR as there are two attackers with the opportunity to play the ball:

  1. Are either of the furthest most attackers in an offside position?
    By using the grass cuttings on the field and optimal positioning, the AR can determine that neither of the attackers are in an offside position at the time the ball is played by their teammate. Relative position is measured by the attacking player’s torso, head and legs. No part of the attacking player other than the arms may be nearer the opponents’ goal line than the torso, head or legs of the second-to-last defender. If there is any doubt in making this decision, the flag should be kept down thereby giving the benefit to the attack.
  2. Who plays the ball?
    If the AR had decided that the furthest attacker was in an offside position, the AR must use the “wait and see technique” to determine which attacker actually plays the ball passed to them by their teammate in the wide channel. In this case, by holding the flag and refraining from making an immediate decision, the AR would be able to determine that the player who “interferes with play” and scores the goal is in an onside position.

Note: “Interfering with play” means that the offside positioned player actually plays or touches the ball last passed or touched by a teammate.

In this clip, the AR makes a good no-offside decision due to optimal positioning (directly in-line with the second-to-last defender and shoulder square to the field) and by giving any benefit of doubt to the attack.

Looking Forward – Week 31 (Playoff Week 1)
Concentration and focus for all match officials as the pressure and importance of each game and each minute increase. Officials must not rest during the 90-plus minutes of the game both mentally and physically. Utilization of eye contact and other forms of communication amongst the four officials will be key to keeping teammates on track and in tune with the temperature of the game.