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2010 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 2010
Week 21 – Ending August 22, 2010

With 21 weeks of the Major League Soccer schedule completed and the Women’s Professional Soccer playoffs just around the corner, the intensity of each game can be felt and the importance of every decision is magnified. Match officials must ensure they are strategically positioned to make each decision (both the calls and the no-calls) as their presence will defuse player concerns and ensure an optimal line of vision to the play. This week, we will examine an infrequent topic but one that becomes increasingly important as the season winds down and each point becomes vital: Delaying the restart. Additionally, a review of a handling decision, during a WPS match, will be discussed and a quick offside flag during an MLS match.

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


Delaying the Restart of Play: Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct

“Delaying the restart of play” is one of the reasons a player can be cautioned. It is an infrequent yellow card but, nevertheless, one that is supported by the Laws of the Game. The tactic of delaying the restart of play occurs more frequently in the following two situations:

  • A team is winning and they want to “take time off the clock” by keeping the ball out of play. This often occurs in the last several minutes of the game as the team attempts to slow the game down and waste minutes that are vital to their opponent. 
  • A team is numbers down and needs to slow play in order to get more defenders goal-side of the ball. In other words, the defending team has a numerical player disadvantage between the ball and their defensive goal.

This is a tactical move by a team or by a player(s). If the referee fails to correctly deal with the tactic, it can lead to frustration and dissent by the offended team.

Referees must use preventative action to encourage the ball be put back into play quickly. At the same time, the referee must be able to decipher actual “delay tactics” from the normal pace of play and actions of players.

The Laws of the Game (Law 7 – The Duration of the Match) permit the referee to add time in the event a team “wastes time.” This allowance for time lost is at the discretion of the referee. The referee should, however, find the right balance between his ability to add time for time wasting and the need to caution a player for delaying the restart. This “balance” is not easy and this is why it is critical that the referee take preventative action by managing the time used by players and teams. Referees should not be spectators when sensing “delaying tactics.” Upon sensing, feeling or seeing such tactics, the referee should become involved.

Involvement can be displayed in many forms depending upon the scenario but consider the following and/or a combination of the following:

1. Have a physical presence near the restart area.
2. Verbally encourage players to put the ball into play.
3. Visually indicate to players to put the ball into play or that they are delaying. Hand gestures and/or pointing to your watch are often used.
4. Whistle to get everyone’s attention. The whistle signals urgency and can be heard by players, coaches and spectators.
5. Acknowledge that time will be added.

The ability of the referee to anticipate and feel the onset of delay tactics means that the referee can positively manage and “balance” the time lost with the need to issue a yellow card for delaying the restart. A strong, positive message in the early stages will “set the player or team up” for a caution later, if required.

“Delaying the restart of play” can be tactically displayed as follows:

  • Taking the free kick from the wrong position with the sole intention of forcing the referee to order a re-take. 
  • Appearing to take a throw-in but suddenly leaving it to one of his teammates to take. 
  • Kick the ball away or carrying it away with the hands after the referee has stopped play. 
  • Excessively delaying the taking of a throw-in or free kick. 
  • Delaying leaving the field of play when being substituted. 
  • Provoking a confrontation by deliberately touching the ball after the referee has stopped play.

Each of these actions are normally intended to waste time and keep the ball out of play in order to improve a defensive position or to reduce the time the opponent has to play.

Clip 1: Colorado at Columbus (90:00 + 1:24)
The game is at 91:24 (in additional time) and the home team is leading 3-1. Given their lead and the time of the match, the home team is looking for ways to slow the game down, keep the ball out of play, take time off the clock and delay by wasting time. The tactic they chose, in this scenario, is to delay the taking of a free kick by taking excessive time to restart the game and by moving the ball from one restart location to another.

The referee first exhibits keen preventative skills in managing this restart to attempt to avoid having to caution a player for “delaying the restart of play.” The referee recognizes/senses/anticipates the tactics of the winning team. As a consequence, he takes multiple steps to encourage a timely restart:

  1. Presence
    The referee lends his presence to the area surrounding the restart. Instead of taking his normal position all the way up the field, the referee remains close to the restart location.
  2. Voice and Whistle
    The referee makes verbal contact with the players encouraging them to take positive steps to put the ball into play in a reasonable timeframe. The whistle follows the verbal as it increases the severity and importance of the message being conveyed.
  3. Hand Gesture
    Body language (a “let’s go” hand gesture) is utilized to visually indicate to everyone that there is urgency in putting the ball back into play.

Overall, the referee does well to take positive steps to communicate to everyone that he senses a potential issue with delaying the restart. The players do not follow the referee’s guidance resulting in the referee cautioning the goalkeeper for “delaying the restart of play.”

Remember: Teams with the lead in the waning minutes of a game (at times earlier) may tactically attempt to slow the game down and delaying the restart is one of the mechanisms frequently used. Anticipate this and take early preventative action before resorting to the caution.

Handling Leads to Penalty Kick

By being current on the 2009 U.S. Soccer directive on “Handling the Ball,” and following multiple “Week In Reviews” over the past two years, match officials should have a better understanding of the criteria to be used to determine whether contact between a player’s hand/arm and the ball constitutes a foul for handling. This year, “Week In Review 10” outlined the primary factors for referee consideration when evaluating ball and hand/arm contact:

  1. Making yourself bigger 
  2. Is the hand or arm in an “unnatural position?” 
  3. Did the player “benefit?”

The speed of the game requires match officials to have a clear understanding of these criteria so that they can make a clear and concise decision with little hesitation. When a match official is confronted with a potential handling offense, the official can ask themself questions like:

  • Did the defender use his hand/arm as a barrier?
  • Does the defender use his hand/arm to take away space and/or the passing lane from the opponent? 
  • Does the defender use his hand/arm to occupy more space by extending his reach or the ability of his body to play the ball thereby benefiting from the extension(s)?

Clip 2: F.C. Gold Pride at Chicago – WPS (77:30)
This clip provides a good example of the referee applying the handling criteria to determine that an offense has occurred within the penalty area. As a result, the referee appropriately awards a penalty kick as the handling was committed by the defending player.

In this situation, the defender used her arm to occupy more space by extending her reach and the defender benefited from her body being bigger. Additionally, the extension of the player’s arm results in it being in an unnatural position. By making herself bigger (her arm being spread wide from her body) the defender takes away the opponent’s space as well as the passing lane of the ball as it traveled from the free kick.

Note: Since the handling offense occurred in the penalty area by a member of the defending team, a penalty kick must be awarded. A yellow card is not mandated in this situation.

Offside: Patience, Patience, Patience

With U.S. Soccer offside guidance focused on “giving the benefit of doubt to the attack,” assistant referees (ARs) must be able to exhibit patience prior to making offside decisions when there is any question as to:

  • Which attacking player (onside or offside positioned) will “interfere with play” by touching or playing a ball passed by a teammate.
  • Whether a player has “interfered with an opponent” by preventing the opponent from playing or being able to play the ball because they have clearly obstructed the opponent’s line of vision or obstructed their movements. In addition, the AR must consider whether the offside positioned player made a gesture or movement which, in the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts the opponent.

Note: If an AR senses a potential collision or injury may result from a delayed flag, the AR should not hesitate and should make a quicker decision that may prevent the collision from occurring. For example, a quicker flag may prevent an onrushing goalkeeper and an opponent from colliding.

Because the “interfering with play or an opponent” decision is often clouded or complicated by many factors, ARs need to show restraint by using the “wait and see approach” prior to flagging for offside. Patience or restraint gives the AR the extra split second to allow the play to unfold and to make a judgment that benefits attacking soccer.

Clip 3: Philadelphia at D.C. United (18:43)
This is an interesting offside clip as it potentially presents the AR with two offside decisions both requiring patience and the utilization of the “wait and see” approach to allow the attacking play to develop prior to making the “interfering with play or the opponent” decision.

  1. Offside Decision 1: At 18:49
    An attacker has the ball and is taking on an opponent. At the same time, a teammate of the attacker is at the top of the penalty area in an offside position. As the attacker dribbles the opponent, it looks as though he attempts a pass to his offside positioned teammate. However, the attacker beats the defender by cutting the ball back and does not make a pass (he plays the ball to himself). As the ball is cut and touched forward, the offside positioned player takes a step toward the ball but never touches or plays it.
    Decision: No offside. First, the offside positioned player does not “interfere with play” as he never touches or plays the ball after it was touched by his teammate. Second, the actions of the offside positioned player do not “interfere with any opponent” as he does not prevent them from playing/being able to play the ball or deceive or distract them. The AR’s view of the player with the ball is slightly obstructed due to the other players (several attackers) in his line of sight to the ball. In this situation, ARs should consider a slight shift in position to be able to see through the players and have a better view of the player with the ball.
  2. Offside Decision 2: At 18:52
    The ball is passed into the penalty area from an attacker on the left flank. At the time the ball is passed, there are two attacking teammates running toward the goal in the penalty area. The attacker nearest the ball is in an offside position. The furthest attacker is in an onside position. The onside attacker plays the ball.
    Decision: No offside. Despite the offside positioned player being closer to goal and in the middle of the field, this player does not “interfere with the opponent” (the goalkeeper or surrounding defenders) as he does not prevent them from playing/being able to play the ball nor does his movement deceive or distract an opponent. Since the onside player plays the ball, there is no “interfering with play” (the offside positioned player never touches/plays the ball). The “wait and see” approach utilizing patience, will give the AR the appropriate amount of time to correctly determine who plays/touches the passed ball and make a decision that benefits attacking soccer.

Looking Forward – Week 22
Referees, ARs and fourth officials are encouraged to use personality and command presence to manage games and to establish lines of communication with participants as a game management tool. Communication cannot, however, take away from the immediate needs of following the game and being positioned to make decisions. Concurrently, communication must be to the point and succinct. Remember, communication can occur “on-the-fly.” In other words, while the ball is in play. Or, exchanges can be managed during extended stoppages but officials must be aware of the appropriate time to discontinue the interface and put their full attention back on the game so that they can perform their other responsibilities to the game.

Although ARs can have dialogue with bench personnel, it should be quick and to the point. In many instances, the bench-side AR has the fourth official to interface on his behalf when the game requires his attention to on-field matters.

In no event should ARs be out of position as a result of interaction with individuals within the technical area. Even with the ball being out of play, ARs cannot be consumed with the technical areas which may result in their being out of position. Image 1 shows an AR interacting with a coach. As a result of this interaction, the AR is out of position on a quick restart. The fourth official needs to be on the same wavelength as the AR and take over the interaction thus allowing the AR to focus fully on the game within the field of play.