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A yellow card

2010 Referee Week In Review Week 6


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 6 – Ending May 2, 2010

During week six of MLS play, five red cards were issued. Two additional red cards should have been issued, one of which will be examined in this “Week In Review.” Similarly, a red card was issued for a challenge on a goalkeeper that, under review, was harsh. Referees must be on the outlook for players who commit tackles that endanger the safety of the opponent and who lunge at their opponent leading with the bottom of their boots (cleats exposed). When challenges that involve excessive force exist, referees must not hesitate to dismiss the player regardless of the time of the match; however, this requires that match officials be able to differentiate the hard challenge that is merely reckless.

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


Red Card Challenges: Endangering the Safety of the Opponent and Excessive Force

Match officials must be constantly diligent in their effort to ensure player safety and deal with incidents of 100 percent misconduct. For example, referees must be able to successfully identify those situations that clearly meet all criteria for endangering the safety of the opponent and the use of excessive force (both components of red card challenges). To assist officials with deciphering red card tackles, U.S. Soccer has established the SIAPOA criteria:

  • Speed of play and the tackle
    The faster the tackler is moving, the greater the force and likelihood of endangering the safety of the opponent. Additionally, speed also equates to less control of the challenge and the less likely the attacker can cleanly win the ball.
  • Intent
    The intent of the tackler. Was the tackle intended to send a message or to cleanly win the ball?
  • Aggressive nature
    Did the tackler lunge for the ball with one or both feet? Consideration should be given to the distance between the attacker and the tackler at the time the tackler leaves his feet. The further the distance, the less control the tackler has of his actions and the less likely the tackler is to play the ball. Are cleats up and exposed to the opponent?
  • Position of the tackler
    In particular, his legs (height of the tackler’s leading leg and the follow-up action by the tackler’s trailing leg).
  • Opportunity to play the ball
    Was the ball within playing distance? Or, was the ball already past the tackler at the time the tackler’s feet came in contact with the opponent. Tackles from behind and from the side (outside of the peripheral vision of the attacker with the ball) increase the likelihood contact will need to be made with the attacker prior to playing the ball.
  • Atmosphere of the game
    Referees must consider the overall temperature of the match and the player in question. Has an aggressive attitude been displayed to that point? Is frustration amongst or between the players evident?

Match officials need to be very familiar with the SIAPOA criteria as split second recognition is vital to ensuring player safety and the appropriate decision is made. It is NOT required that each of the criteria be present. As part of the decision making process, the referee must evaluate the entire action and weigh each criteria while asking:

Does the mix and weight of the evident criteria endanger the safety of the opponent and lead to a determination that excessive force was used?

Note: The ability to quickly differentiate between a reckless tackle (yellow card) and a tackle involving excessive force (red card) needs to be a vital part of a referee’s repertoire. By observing and analyzing games and the challenges in the games, referees can train their “mind’s eye” to apply the SIAPOA criteria and take the appropriate action.

Video Clip 1: Philadelphia at Los Angeles (45:00 + 1:23)
The referee team does well not to let their guard down despite halftime being moments away. Instead of relaxing just before the halftime whistle, the referee maintains heightened awareness. As a result, the referee is able to clearly evaluate the SIAPOA criteria and decide that a red card (serious foul play) should be issued for a tackle that involves excessive force while endangering the safety of the opponent.

What are the key components of SIAPOA that are evident?

  • Speed of play and the tackle: The player is running at a high speed just before he leaves his feet to begin the challenge. Speed equates to less control of the challenge by the tackler.
  • Aggressive nature: The tackler lunges at the opponent and jumps into the tackle leaving his feet several yards before arriving at the ball. The cleats (hard surface) are exposed.
  • Opportunity to play the ball: There is no opportunity to play the ball. The attacking player has his back to the defender (the tackler is outside his peripheral vision) and the attacker’s body is interposed between the ball and the challenge. Consequently, the tackler can only go through the opponent to attempt to play the ball.

Diagram 1The combination of these clear factors, make this a red card tackle as they endanger the safety of the opponent.

Examine Diagram 1 to the right. The SIAPOA components will be visible.

The referee does an excellent job showing urgency and intervening after the foul. The referee takes preventative action (reduces the potential escalation) by moving to the spot of the foul and preventing opponents from taking action into their own hands. As “mass confrontation” begins to develop, the fourth official and assistant referee (AR) also impose their presence and form the “triangle of control” that has been recommended in U.S. Soccer’s 2009 directive, “Game Disrepute and Mass Confrontation.” 

Quick work by the officiating team defuses a volatile situation and ensures that the players are not able to take actions into their own hands. The fourth official does a good job observing and taking note of any surrounding incidents while the AR works to channel players away from the hot spot.

Note: The referee is not required to show the red card immediately after whistling the foul. In this clip, lending his presence to prevent escalation is more important and the referee decides this is the priority. Once the referee is assured that the situation is under control, he can isolate the tackler and issue the red card. Consultation with the AR and fourth official involved in the “triangle of control” should occur to solicit their input regarding the incident and the mass confrontation.

Video Clip 2: Dallas at New England (70:53)
Another situation involving a challenge that is similar to the tackle viewed in clip 1. This is a clear tackle in which the player has no opportunity to play the ball. In addition, he leads with the bottom of his boots (cleats exposed) while his right leg is locked thereby increasing the danger to the opponent. The tackler’s second leg (left leg) goes through the opponent and connects in the Achilles heal area. Diagram 2 provides a clear visual picture of the endangerment of the opponent resulting from the excessive force used to make the challenge.

Diagram 2A red card for serious foul play is mandated in this 100 percent misconduct situation. The fact that a prior red card has been issued to the same team must not be a consideration. As compared to the first clip, immediately showing the red card is a positive factor as there are not many players in the vicinity and the possibility of escalation in the form of mass confrontation or game disrepute is minimal. Summoning the training staff onto the field to attend to the injured player must be done as quickly as possible.

Video Clip 3: Chivas U.S.A. at Chicago (12:26)
In the 13th minute of the game, the referee and AR are faced with a red card decision. A tackle is committed in the ARs “area of participation.” As the clip is viewed, use the SIAPOA criteria to evaluate the tackler’s actions. Then, ask yourself:

Does the mix and weight of the evident criteria endanger the safety of the opponent and lead to a determination that excessive force was used?

As you review Diagram 3, analyze the tackle. Application of the SIAPOA criteria point to the following:

  • Aggressive nature: The player lunges, leading with his right leg. Although the distance from which the tackle is initiated is not great, the tackler jumps at the opponent with his cleats exposed. Contact is made directly to the opponent’s ankle area. Notice the locked knee and straight legged approach of the tackler.
  • Position of the tackler: The leading leg is off the ground. There is no “slide” involved in the tackle, just a lunge with force. The tackler’s foot is several inches off the ground thereby decreasing the likelihood he can play the ball.
  • Opportunity to play the ball: Because the defender is lunging to the ball with his foot raised significantly off the ground, there is very little likelihood that he will have the opportunity to play the ball. By the time the contact is made, the ball is to the side of the defender.

Diagram 3This challenge represents excessive force and the tackler must be sent off for serious foul play. It is a 100 percent misconduct situation. The fact that the game is less than 13 minutes old, should not play a factor in the decision.

In the clip, both the referee and the AR have very good lines of vision to the infringement. Since this is a “game critical situation” and the infringement occurs in the ARs “area of participation,” this infringement necessitates AR involvement after making eye contact with the referee. The 2009 “Assistant Referee Involvement” directive explores the concept of “game critical situations” and offers guidelines for AR involvement. It is imperative that the AR communicate the red card to the referee and not just signal for the foul with the flag.

Note: In the pregame meeting conducted by the referee, a mechanism for communicating misconduct (by ARs and fourth officials) must be established and discussed. The AR can use a “silent” signal to indicate his “red card” opinion to the referee by patting his back pocket while making eye contact after signaling the foul. A yellow card could be indicated by patting the front breast pocket.

Video Clip 4: Kansas City at Houston (32:20)
The focus of this clip is not on a potential offside decision or the timing of the referee’s response to an offside flag. In clip 4, the referee is faced with a difficult decision that requires a keen eye to make a proper decision. During the challenge on the goalkeeper, there are SIAPOA elements that could indicate a red cared is necessary, BUT just because there are some SIAPOA elements doesn’t define that a red card is necessary. As mentioned before, a referee needs to take in all the different SIAPOA criteria and answer the question below:

Does the mix and weight of the evident criteria endanger the safety of the opponent and lead to a determination that excessive force was used?

Analyzing the subtle differences of each SIAPOA criteria can be difficult for a referee, especially in real time. In this instance, slow motion review shows that the more appropriate decision should have been to caution the attacking player for unsporting behavior instead of showing a red card.

Diagram 4 can assist in differentiating this yellow card (reckless) challenge from a red card infringement (excessive force).

Below we review each of the SIAPOA criteria in this challenge:

  1. Speed of play: YES
    There are elements of speed to this challenge. The attacker is moving with speed to attempt to win the ball. However, the attacker is showing some control as he moves to the left as he approaches the keeper.
  2. Diagram 4Intent: NONE
    The attacker’s intent was to win/play the ball. This can be observed in the manner in which he approaches the ball and the goalkeeper (leaning to the left). No intent to injure or send a message.
  3. Aggressive Nature: NO
    There is no direct lunge for the ball. The attacker does not lead with the cleats. As Diagram 4 shows, the attacker leads with his instep (also a signal of intent to win the ball). The aggressiveness is aimed toward winning the ball and beating the goalkeeper to the ball.
  4. Position of the tackler: NOT A FACTOR
    This is subtle but the attacker is not taking a direct approach to the goalkeeper. As the replays are viewed and confirmed by Diagram 4, the attacker is leaning to the left which virtually prohibits him from leading with the hard surface of the cleats.
  5. Opportunity to play the ball: NOT A FACTOR
    There is a good and fair opportunity for the attacker to play the ball. The attacker arrives just slightly after the goalkeeper takes possession of the ball.
  6. Atmosphere of the game: NOT EVIDENT
    The game’s atmosphere is not evident without viewing the entire game to that moment. However, the game was fully under control and the players were responding to the referee up to this point.

Combining these subtle factors should help the referee with defining the challenge as reckless (cautionable) and not as a challenge that used excessive force. Review of the mix and weight of each of the SIAPOA criteria should lead the referee to the decision that the challenge was reckless and merely a yellow card for unsporting behavior.

Note: The referee does a good job reading the “warning sign” of a goalkeeper challenge and intervenes as quickly as possible to prevent retaliation. The referee’s prompt presence acts as a deterrent.

Looking Forward – Week 7
Continual focus on the SIAPOA criteria and its positive application in the game. Match officials can continue to ensure proper identification of red card tackles by concentrating on the legs of the tackler (raised or on the ground), the part of the boot initiating the contact (the hard surface of the bottom of the cleat), the straight and/or locked knee on the leg(s), the distance and speed of the challenge and the opportunity to cleanly win the ball.

Note: When evaluating situations, match officials should attempt to take snapshots of the event similar to the diagrams provided in this “Week In Review.” These diagrams/snapshots will assist in evaluating the situation and provide a better foundation for visualizing the criteria.