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2009 Referee Week in Review - Week 33

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 33 – ending November 1, 2009
The first four games of the MLS playoffs are complete with the teams headed to the second venue for the final game in the home-and-home series. With aggregate goals the first tie breaker, teams with an equal number of goals scored would play overtime and potentially move to a penalty shoot out (kicks from the penalty mark) to eventually decide the winner.

The intensity and commitment to win that was mentioned in “Week In Review 32” was evident in each of the four playoff games. Players battled to the last whistle as they attempted to gain an edge going into the second leg of the series. In each match, referees successfully matched the intensity level of the game for the entire 90 minutes. Match officials used their personality to manage the gray areas of the game while, in all but a few instances, correctly punished the 100 percent misconduct situations with a yellow card.

Proactive communication and preventative efforts on the part of officials helped to channel player efforts in positive directions and minimized the need to hand out “cards” to solve problems. With the next game being the deciding match, referees will need to further draw upon the positive player and game management tools.

WEEK 33 – Playoff #1 COMMENTARY

Game Disrepute and Mass Confrontation

For the most part this season, instances of game disrepute and mass confrontation have been minimal. Referees have taken proactive approaches and recognized many of the “warning signs” or “trigger issues” that were noted in U.S. Soccer’s 2009 Referee Program Directive, “Game Disrepute and Mass Confrontation.” A classic example of game disrepute involves aggressive behavior on the part of two opponents toward each other in an attempt to provoke and instigate a negative reaction. When game disrepute occurs, immediate preventative intervention is needed on the part of match officials in order to prevent it from escalating to mass confrontation. Mass confrontation, which normally involves three or more players involved in physical and/or verbal confrontations, is much more difficult for officiating teams to manage due to the number of players and the fact they are typically crowded together.

Triangle of ControlU.S. Soccer recommends match officials utilize the “triangle of control” (see diagram) to manage situations involving mass confrontation. By surrounding the group of players, via a triangle, the referee team maximizes its chances of identifying the culprits and, thus, taking the appropriate action.

Remember, when forming the “triangle of control":

  • All officials should not focus on the same hot spot or become too involved in gaining control of the situation.
  • Observe and make notes (mental or otherwise).
  • Look for positive ways to prevent other players from joining in as these players often add “fuel to the fire.”

When dealing with misconduct associated with game disrepute or mass confrontation, U.S. Soccer recommends that the referee should punish uniformly.

Video Clip 1: Houston at Seattle (14:44)
A game disrepute situation that escalates into mass confrontation begins with an attacking cross into the penalty area in which an attacker, on the far post, holds a defender and whose body contact with the goalkeeper blocks the keeper’s path to the ball. The frustrated goalkeeper then exhibits aggressive and reckless behavior toward the attacker. In following the U.S. Soccer directive entitled, “Game Disrepute and Mass Confrontation,” the referee team does a very good job implementing the focal points of the directive as follows:

  1. Act quickly and attempt to separate
    The referee (the closest official to the situation) intervenes quickly and separates the two players in a positive, non-confrontational manner. The referee’s attempt to become a positive “third man in” defuses the situation.
  2. Assistant Referees (ARs) enter the field to observe
    The ARs enter the field to form the “triangle of control” and provide extra sets of eyes to observe player behavior. The near-side AR does an excellent job of not getting too close by taking a vantage point that gives him excellent sightlines to the group(s) of players. The ARs allow the referee to manage the situation with his presence while they observe. 
  3. Channel players to neutral areas
    The referee works hard to channel the players to neutral areas which eliminates potential conflict and body contact and reduces the aggressive nature of the event. 
  4. Confer and decide
    Once the situation is controlled/defused, the referee calls both ARs together and, while facing the players, gets input from each of his assistants. The referee also does well to hold his conference separated from the players thus eliminating any potential outside interference or influence. Keeping players away when discussing the situation provides a better environment for the exchange of information.
  5. Isolate the affected players and disperse sanctions
    Once the referee has decided upon the course of action, he isolates the two players and quickly issues the appropriate misconduct. The referee then promptly restarts the game.

The referee makes the correct misconduct decision by cautioning both players for unsporting behavior. The goalkeeper’s actions are not excessive force and he does not make “contact above the shoulder.” The goalkeeper merely makes strong chest-to-chest contact with the opponent. The manner in which the contact was made and the fact that the chest-to-chest contact is in no way endangering the safety of the opponent, makes the contact reckless and, thus, a cautionable offense.

Following the “punish uniformly” guideline, the referee is correct in cautioning the attacker for unsporting behavior for his actions in embellishing the contact as well as for his actions in holding defender on the original cross which initiated the conflict.

Positioning Through Anticipation and Reading Play

Proper positioning requires the right balance of fitness and reading the game (anticipation) as depicted in the image.

The ability to sprint and be agile while moving around the field of play can benefit referees as the speed of the game has increased. Speed/quickness allows a referee to “close down” quick counter attacks and long balls. Fitness also provides the referee an opportunity to add presence to action/decisions around the ball without interfering with play or players.

Reading the Game (Anticipation)
Referees must read the game and anticipate the next phase of play. In other words, referees must think like players and have a vision of the field and the opportunities that exist for the player with the ball. This vision and understanding of player options, lends itself to movement to the next phase of play before the ball is actually played/passed/dribbled.

Often times, referees who possess a strong ability to read the game and anticipate do not need to rely on their speed and quickness to place them close to play or give them the optimum line of vision to a situation. Early movement and the ability to think like a player can enhance the referee’s overall decision making by improving sightlines and providing added presence to a situation.

Video Clip 2: Galaxy at Chivas USA (2:55)
In this clip 2, the referee combines good fitness with good movement on a counter attack that starts deep in the defensive half of the field and moves to the far left channel of the referee’s diagonal. As the ball is played out of the defensive third of the field, the referee must track the ball and play as it advances. As he moves up field, the referee must also concentrate on maintaining the best angle of vision to play. The optimum angle is achieved, in this clip, by the referee’s run. Notice that the referee does not follow directly behind the ball or play/players. The referee takes the most economical route up the middle of the field (and not into the wide channel) so that he has an angle to see through any potential contact/challenge and not through the back of the attacker with the ball. The referee anticipates any potential challenge and sets himself up to make the right call but ensuring the optimum line of vision. Referees should attempt to place themselves at angles so that they can see the “light” between the two opponents challenging for a ball and not at the back of a player(s).

Video Clip 3: Galaxy at Chivas USA (8:48)
The referee exhibits excellent feel and read of the game through proper movement and positioning to ensure that he has the best possible view of the next phase of play. In video clip 3, the referee shows his ability to read the game by advancing forward of the play as it develops. As the referee reads that the ball is transitioning, he moves before the team that has won the ball is able to advance it with speed. As a consequence of his anticipation, the referee gains about 10 yards on the ball/play. The referee’s movement also takes him out of the passing lanes and allows him to have as many players in view as the ball is passed up and across the field.

Many times, referees remain flat-footed when the ball is transitioned from one team to the other. This lack of anticipation and movement puts the referee in a deficit position – a position that must be made up later (if it can be) by fitness/sprinting. Watch, as one team wins the ball, how the referee swiftly moves up field and then utilizes backpedaling to ensure that he keeps the ball and play in full view.

Using the “Big Picture” to Decide the Sanction

The “100% Misconduct – Tactical and Red Card Tackles” directive published by U.S. Soccer provides guidance to officials in determining whether a challenge is “careless” (merely a foul and not misconduct) or “reckless” (a foul requiring a yellow card). Often times, challenges fall in the gray areas between “careless” and “reckless.” These “gray area” scenarios require the referee to consider the “big picture” surrounding the match as discussed in the “Game Management Model” directive.

The “big picture” relates to the atmosphere and mood of the match as it is played out and the referee’s “feel” for what the game needs at a given moment. If an act by a player could be interpreted as either a yellow card or red card (the act falls within the “gray area”), the referee needs to consider the “big picture” surrounding the match. In these few instances where borderline (“gray area”) cases arise, referees should consider asking themselves:

  • Does the player need the card?
  • Does the game need the card?

Video Clip 4: Houston at Seattle (25:56)
Video clip 4 is an example of a foul that falls within the “gray area” and one in which the referee should consider the “big picture” when deciding upon the appropriate sanction. When viewing the challenge, the referee must decide whether the foul is “careless” or “reckless” (warranting a yellow card for unsporting behavior).

The action by the player in the orange jersey, depending upon the “big picture” of the game and the moment, may be interpreted as a “careless” challenge or as “reckless.” In evaluating the challenge, the referee should consider the actions of the orange jersey player and must decide whether he was:

  • Careless
    The player has shown a lack of attention or consideration when making the challenge or acted without precaution. In other words, the player has not exercised due caution in making the play. This is normally exhibited as a miscalculation of strength or a stretch of judgment by the player committing the foul.
  • Reckless
    The player has acted with complete disregard to the danger to, or consequences for, his opponent. In other words, the challenge was clearly outside the norm for fair play.

This situation, in the playoff game referenced, was merely “careless” in nature and a direct free kick should be awarded. The player committing the foul showed a lack of attention and made the attempt to play the ball (and not the opponent) without precaution. Additionally, since the player was attempting to play the ball, this can be considered a stretch of judgment.

Since it is difficult to convey the entire “big picture” in the “Week In Review,” it must be noted that other similar challenges may be interpreted as “reckless” (and, thus, cautionable) depending upon how the challenge was initiated and the overall atmosphere (“big picture”) of the game.

Inside or Outside, Penalty Kick or Not: Law 12 – The Penalty Kick

When any of the 10 offenses for which a direct free kick is awarded is committed by a player in their own penalty area (while the ball is in play), the referee must award a penalty kick. This is a simple requirement from Law 12 – The Penalty Kick. In making this decision, the referee and AR must also consider that the Laws of the Game state that the lines “belong to the areas of which they are boundaries.”

What does this mean for officials relative to penalty kicks? In the case of player-to-player physical contact when challenging for the ball, the officials must note whether the contact occurred on or outside the line making the penalty area. A direct free kick foul that occurs “on the line” should be considered to have taken place inside the penalty area and, when committed by the defending team, a penalty kick must be awarded.

ARs should be prepared to assist referees with this inside/outside decision. This help is particularly critical for fouls that occur on or near the top of the penalty area as the AR has the best view of the penalty area line due to their perpendicular position. As challenges in and around the penalty area lines occur, the referee should ensure they use the AR to assist in making the correct decision. When the referee whistles for a foul, immediate eye contact should be made with the lead AR. If the AR believes the foul occurred inside the penalty area, the AR must signal by draping the flag across their waist as indicated in the picture to the right. Otherwise, the AR should remain at attention and offer no signal.

Video Clip 5: Chicago at New England (12:42)
In video clip 5, there are two critical decisions that must be made by the referee and the lead AR.

  1. Handling decision
    First, there is a decision as to whether a handling offense has been committed by the attacker. In watching the video clip, an infraction seems to have taken place. Due to the angle of the attacker’s run and his body angle, the AR may be best able to make this judgment. If the AR believes that the attacker has handled the ball, the AR should signal with the flag raised vertically in the hand appropriate for the restart direction and, after making eye contact with the referee, give the flag a slight wave.
  2. Penalty kick decision
    Should the officiating team decide there was no handling offense, the second decision for which the AR can provide input is whether the defensive foul has occurred inside or outside of the penalty area. Immediately upon whistling the foul, the referee must make eye contact with the lead AR. The lead AR should then follow U.S. Soccer’s guidelines as outlined above in the event they feel the foul has occurred on the penalty area line (and therefore inside the penalty area). This decision must be made based upon the location of the contact between the attacker and the defender’s leg and not based upon the location of the ball or the defender’s planted foot.

Looking Forward – Playoff Week 2
Referee teams must be prepared for overtime and, potentially, kicks from the penalty mark to determine the winner. This is seemingly a simple task but one that is vital to the success of finishing a game. As part of this preparation, match officials must be familiar with the following U.S. Soccer position papers relative to kicks from the penalty mark.

The correct administration of kicks from the penalty mark is technical in nature. There are many variables that can turn a simple process into a nightmare and one that can negatively influence the result. Hence, familiarity by all members of the officiating crew is vital.