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2009 Referee Week in Review - Week 21

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 21 – ending August 9, 2009
The six MLS games that concluded this past weekend offered a variety of different challenges for match officials. The challenges included five cautions issued for dissent, a red card for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity and a red card issued to a substituted player in the technical area. The challenge was compounded by the fact that the average fouls per game rose significantly to 26.5.

Assistant referees (ARs) also had a busy weekend. In six games, between the two ARs, they were required to rais the flag an average of over six times per game. This does not include the multiple instances where they correctly decided that a flag was not warranted.

The focus and concentration of referees, ARs and fourth officials was thoroughly tested by the competitive and attacking nature of the games. As discussed in last week’s “Week In Review,” the second part of the season in underway and the associated challenges to officials are evident in the variety and quantity of decisions.


AR Involvement and Player Management
ARs must choose the appropriate time to participate in match control. Participation can range from verbally or visually communicating with the referee to flagging a foul to communicating with players to assist the referee in sending appropriate game management messages.

As outlined in U.S. Soccer’s “Guide to Procedures For Referees, Assistant Referees and Fourth Officials,” prior to involvement, ARs must determine whether the infringement was not, or could not, be seen by the referee and, per the pregame conference, whether the referee would likely have stopped play for the infringement if it had been seen. Officials can also reference the 2009 U.S. Soccer Referee Program Directive entitled, “Assistant Referee Involvement,” for more a more in-depth discussion on the parameters for AR participation in game critical situations when the AR is 100 percent sure of what they have observed.

Video Clip 1: Galaxy at New England (30:30)
Video clip 1 illustrates a situation that requires AR involvement. In this clip, assistance involves not only calling the foul but also the ARs use of personality to communicate with a player who has an “emotional outburst.” Two factors can be highlighted that should lead to an ARs empowerment in the decision-making process:

  • The proximity of the foul to the AR
    The foul is clearly closer to the AR than the referee. The infringement occurs approximately 13 yards directly in front of the AR. Remember, the closer the infringement is to the AR, the greater the likelihood for AR involvement. Additionally, the further the referee is from the infringement, the greater the likelihood for AR involvement.

    Diagram 1Diagram 1: Assistant Referee Primary Area of Involvement, depicts the primary areas in which ARs should consider involvement in assisting the referee in control of the match. Incidents in the shaded area are strong candidates for AR involvement. As the action moves from the green areas to the light blue areas, the action is moving closer to the referee and infringements in these areas may be best observed by the referee. Hence, the referee should be given the first option in managing the offense. Note: This does not limit AR involvement outside the “area of assistance” when there is a “critical game situation” and the game requires the AR to be involved. Refer to the 2009 U.S. Soccer directive on “Assistant Referee Involvement” for further information regarding AR responsibilities.
  • AR line of vision
    The AR has a direct line of vision to the handling offense. There are no players that could negatively affect his sight and view of the foul. Additionally, the body and arm of the player committing the offense are facing the AR and, due to the angle and position of the opponent, are blocked from the referee’s view.

Once the AR decides his involvement is required, the AR uses the proper mechanics to indicate a foul by vertically raising the flag in the hand appropriate for the restart direction and giving the flag a slight wave. Then, after making eye contact with the referee and following the referee’s whistle, the AR points the direction of the restart with the flag held at 45 degrees.

After making the correct foul call, the AR takes his involvement a step further by positively using his personality to communicate with the player who has a couple of “emotional outbursts.” ARs should not hesitate to use personality to defuse and prevent situations from escalating.

When players go after ARs or the fourth official, referees must quickly intervene. Players and coaches recognize the referee as the “final authority” and, consequently, usually modify their behavior as soon as the referee becomes involved. Referees need to protect the integrity of the referee team by immediately intervening when “emotional outbursts,” dissent or offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures are being used. Upon recognizing a player is “having a go” at a referee teammate, the referee must take preventative action.

If play is stopped, the referee should make his presence known by moving between the player and the AR (acting as a buffer), by using his whistle to get the player’s attention as he moves to intervene and, finally, by taking official action by verbally addressing the player, channeling the player away and/or by taking the appropriate misconduct action. It is advisable for referees to show urgency when “emotional outbursts” or more are directed at other members of the referee team.

Contact Above the Shoulder – Serious Foul Play: Law 12
The concept of “contact above the shoulder” has been an ongoing point of focus in multiple “Weeks In Review.” The reason is that the risk to a player’s health and safety is very high. Broken jaws, concussions, bloodied faces and cuts have all resulted from using the arm/hand/elbow as a “weapon” instead of a “tool.” Go to’s section of 2009 “Week In Review” publications and review the following eight prior releases for multiple clips and concepts geared at unifying the approach to dealing with situations involving “contact above the shoulder:” 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 17.

One of the key concepts is the differentiation between the use of the arm/hand/elbow as a “weapon” versus a “tool.” Review of the differentiation of “weapon” and “tool” by reading the U.S. Soccer Directive: “Contact Above the Shoulder.” ( The following will help to summarize the concept:


  • 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: Galaxy at New England (71:22)
As you view the video clip, use the criteria above as a checklist. Put a mark next to each criteria that you identify in the clip. Once you have completed the exercise, see whether you have checked more items under “tool” or “weapon.”

Upon review of your checklist, it is evident that there are more “weapon” criteria present in the challenge than “tool” criteria. Here are the “weapon” criteria that can easily be identified which should, therefore, result in a red card being issued for serious foul play:

  • Excessive force used
    Because the player is jumping into the opponent from such a distance and the contact involves a hard surface (elbow) connecting to a soft surface (the facial region of the opponent) excessive force is prevalent. The distance of the jumps adds to the speed of the contact and the inability of the defender to control his actions. In order to play the ball, the defender has to go through the opponent. Look at the position of the opponent and ball.
  • Safety of the player is endangered
    The likelihood for injury is very high and, thus, player safety is jeopardized. Contact in the facial area with a hard object like the elbow can easily lead to injury and puts the safety of the receiving player at risk. During the replay, watch where the defender’s head is as compared to the ball – it is not close. The defender has no opportunity to play the ball. Going through an opponent is not a normal movement or method to win the ball either on an aerial challenge or a tackle.
  • Hard surface (forearm/elbow/hand) contacting soft surface (facial and neck region)
    The replay clearly shows that the elbow contacts the facial region of the opponent.
  • UP and IN – arm used as a ”battering ram”
    The defender leaves his feet (takes off) four to five yards from the opponent. This leads to lack of control and increased force. The defender leaps forward, up and into the opponent. Additionally, the player leads with the elbow – this is the “battering ram.” The player is not merely jumping up to win the ball. He is jumping into the opponent in an uncontrolled manner.
  • Injury results
    The result of the challenge is the final piece of the puzzle needed to determine that serious foul play is involved. The receiving player is injured by the contact made by the player’s elbow.

Given the fact that the arm/elbow is being used more as a “weapon” than as a “tool,” the referee must issue a red card for serious foul play.

There are a few other important lessons from this clip for all officials.

  1. AR involvement/assistance
    AR involvement and assistance in making this call is appropriate as he has sufficient vision. The infringement is in his area of control and the nature of the offense can be supported by a flag.
  2. Referee urgency
    The referee “smells” that the foul may create a mass confrontation situation and immediately sprints to the location in order to defuse potential retaliation or escalation.
  3. Referee conferences with officiating team
    The referee solicits assistance in making the correct decision by conferencing with the nearside AR and the fourth official. The referee effectively uses the stoppage in play to confer with them without the interference of players.

Unfortunately, despite the conference, the referee team incorrectly decides the red card offense only merits a caution. This is a situation where the referee and the fourth official have the best angle of vision to the aerial challenge. The nearside AR is looking at the back of the challenger and may not see how the contact is made. The referee and fourth official, on the other hand, should have the perspective of seeing the contact and identifying the “weapon” criteria noted above. Understanding and comprehension of the criteria is critical to proper execution and identification.

Looking Forward – Week 22
In order to provide optimum assistance to the referee and provide the best service to the game, assistant referees should concentrate on switching their line of vision from the offside line to the area of the ball or potential challenge. ARs need to possess the ability to transition their peripheral view to the primary view and back. In other words, while in line with the second-to-last defender (with primary focus on the offside line and peripheral vision on the ball/play), ARs need to have the ability to shift primary focus to the ball/play and peripheral vision to the offside line when a potential challenge, tackle or offense may occur away from the offside line.

This is a skill that requires practice but a skill that can lead to better officiating team decisions because more eyes are on the play. It also provides different angles of vision and, consequently, different perspectives.