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2010 Referee Week In Review - Week 23

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 23 – Ending September 5, 2010

With eight games on the MLS calendar this past week and two semifinal Open Cup matches, there were multiple challenges for referees. Despite the importance of the games and the tightness of the playoff race, referees did well to manage the games by identifying and calling key fouls required for game control while also managing the normal contact with presence. As a result, there was only an average of 20.5 fouls per game. While three red cards were earned (one for a second cautionable offense), a per game average of 3.25 yellow cards were given.

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


Off-The-Ball: Contact Above the Shoulder (Violent Conduct - Striking)

Positioning by the referee can often be the difference between identifying or missing an off-the-ball offense. Failure to identify off-the-ball violent conduct offenses can lead to mass confrontation and game control issues. As a result, match officials must identify the optimal position to anticipate and observe the next phase of play. In addition, a strategic position lends itself to prevention because players will see and feel the aura and presence of the official.

Because attacking teams have become efficient in executing restarts in which the ball is serviced into the penalty area (corner kicks, free kicks and throw-ins), defending teams and players look for a competitive edge. These defenders look for a way to slow the opponent down and thereby minimize the opportunity to create a scoring opportunity. Slowing the attacker down can be done several ways but it is most commonly exhibited by holding, obstructing the opponent’s run to space or the ball and by using the arm/elbow/hand as a barrier as they jostle for position.

Since the ball is normally coming from a long distance from a corner kick, free kick or throw-in, players often feel it is “safe” to take a risk and make illegal contact with the opponent as they feel the referee will not be focused on the contact in the drop zone but rather on the ball as it travels the distance to the drop zone. For this reason, preventative refereeing means being in an optimal position to be able to view the ball and the drop zone concurrently.

Note: Keeping the ball and all the players (within the drop zone) in the referee’s line of sight is key to optimal positioning on restarts. Do not let players start their runs outside your sightlines. If you need to start wider, then do so and move with the players as they move.

One of U.S. Soccer’s 2009 Directives provides guidelines for the various forms of “Contact Above the Shoulder.” In cases where there is no challenge for the ball because it is not within playing distance, contact above the shoulder is often exhibited as violent conduct – striking.

Clip 1: Los Angeles at Chicago (20:13)
It is early in the game (20:13) and there is no score. A free kick is being taken approximately 32 yards from the goal. The free kick is served into the penalty area where there are 16 players in or near the drop zone. Watch the movement of the players prior to the kick. Each attacking player is looking to separate themselves from their opponent (create space). The objective of the defenders, on the other hand, is to slow the attacker’s progress and to minimize the space.

In order to observe all 16 players in the drop zone (their movement and actions), the referee must be well positioned. In this clip, the referee is well positioned and the last replay shows that there are no players outside the referee’s line of vision. Players are not starting their runs behind him (out of his line of sight). As a consequence, the referee is optimally positioned to see off-the-ball actions.

The last replay shows the red card offense. As the attacker runs into space, the defender strikes him (with his right hand) in the side of the face. The defender clearly uses his hand/arm/fist as a “weapon” and makes contact above the shoulder. A red card for violent conduct is mandated.

Since this striking occurred after the ball was put into play from the free kick, the referee must award a penalty kick as striking is one of the direct free kick offenses that, if committed in the penalty area by a defending player, must result in the awarding of a penalty kick. Key to this situation is the fact that the offense occurred after the free kick was taken.

Note: Referees can take preventative action prior to a drop zone restart. Use of the voice, the whistle and body language can alert the players that you are observing their actions. Utilization of these tools ensures the players are aware of the referee’s presence and forces them to second guess taking potential negative actions.

The referee’s calm and controlled decisiveness improves his command presence and helps to sell the call in an authoritative yet positive manner. This was a courageous decision to red card the player and to have the wherewithal to award a penalty kick only 21 minutes into the match. However, this was a decision that was required and failure to take the correct action may have negatively impacted game control for the remaining 69 minutes.

Advantage and the Importance of “Wait and See”

One of the focal points of “Week In Review 22” was the application of advantage and how U.S. Soccer’s “4 P Principle” can help with determining whether a foul situation is worthy of advantage. The question of applying advantage in the penalty area is often a source of debate in the soccer community. In most cases, there is no advantage to applying advantage in the penalty area. However, the Laws of the Game provide the referee a “few seconds” to decide whether to penalize the offense (in this discussion, award a penalty kick) or whether to apply the advantage.

Given this, when should a referee consider advantage application in the penalty area?

  • Only when a goal is clear and immediate.

The element of time is important. The time between when the offense is committed and the result (which should be a goal). Since the Laws of the Game grant the referee a “few seconds” to make the advantage decision, the referee should use this time to observe the result. If a goal immediately results, in those “few seconds,” then the referee should apply the advantage. Referees should refrain from immediately applying and signaling the application of advantage. By using the wait and see approach, the referee gives himself a “few seconds” to see if a goal is clear and immediate.

If a goal is clear and immediate, then the referee should apply and signal advantage. If a goal is not clear and not immediate, then the referee should whistle the foul and award a penalty kick (as well as take any misconduct action warranted).

Clip 2: Columbus at D.C. United (Overtime)
This clip takes place during overtime of a U.S. Soccer Open Cup semifinal match. In this scenario, the referee is faced with a decision in the penalty area: Do I award a penalty kick or do I wait and see if a goal results and then apply advantage?

This is not an easy decision as the ball is played by another attacking player prior to the goal and it is not scored directly after the player is fouled. However, this clip is an excellent example of how the wait and see approach can lead to a positive, immediate result. By holding the whistle for a “few seconds,” the referee gives himself the opportunity to see that the ball quickly rolls to another attacker who immediately shoots and scores a goal. This occurs in a “few seconds” (two or less). As the ball enters the goal, the referee can signal advantage. If the ball did not go into the goal, the referee should identify that advantage did not materialize and award a penalty kick.

By hesitating and not signaling advantage, the referee does not commit himself and, most importantly, gives himself those “few seconds” to see if a goal is clear and immediate. Overall, the element of time is not exceeded and a result (the goal) is realized within a “few seconds.” By not signaling advantage, the referee does not announce a decision and uses the Laws of the Game to his benefit and to the benefit of the game.

There are a couple of other lessons from this clip that can assist match officials in similar situations:

  1. The referee applies a good initial advantage outside the penalty area that meets the “4 P Principle.”
  2. The referee’s positioning is not optimal. The referee takes an extreme position as the play develops outside the penalty area in front of his assistant referee (AR). Although the position allows him to be close to play, it restricts his view of the players in the penalty area. Additionally, the referee’s position may also hinder his ability to see the play and the options that result immediately after the foul. The referee’s unorthodox position may result in his having tunnel vision to the ball and the challenge and not the developing scenario/play surrounding the ball. A position at the top of the penalty area moving with play and the ball would be more advantageous and provide a broader perspective.
  3. The yellow card for unsporting behavior is needed. The tackle is reckless. The “4 D Criteria” (see “Week In Review 1”) is not obvious and, therefore, denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity is not present.

Failure to Respect the Required Distance: Free Kick

“Week In Review 21” discussed delaying the restart of play during the taking of a free kick. Defending teams can use the ploy of encroaching or stationing a player in front of the ball on a free kick or corner kick in order to prevent a restart for tactical reasons. The “Free Kick and Restart Management Directive” published by U.S. Soccer provides guidelines for understanding multiple free kick standards.

Failure to respect the required distance can manifest itself in many forms but two of the most frequent are:

  1. Interfering with a team’s ability to put the ball into play by standing in front of the ball or by lunging toward the ball (and making contact) to prevent it from reaching its intended target. Both of these are done less than 10 yards from the ball.
  2. Encroaching from or leaving a wall early (prior to the ball being kicked and moving) at the taking of a free kick in order to narrow the shooting angle. Players crash the ball and attempt to time their early wall departure so that is goes undetected.

Players who do not retire or move the required 10 yard distance on free kicks must be managed by referees. Referees must encourage quick free kicks. A quick free kick occurs when:

  • The attacking team wants to take the free kick as soon as the ball is properly placed, with no separate signal needed by the referee. The attacking team does not ask for (verbally or visually) the minimum distance to be enforced.

The player who immediately stands in front of the ball to prevent the kick from being taken is called the “statue.” The “statue” often forces the referee to intervene. Here are some preventative steps officials can take when they anticipate the “statue” will be formed:

  • Proactive verbally: As you see the player take position in front of the ball, verbally ask them to retreat.
  • As you move to the restart position, attempt to encourage the “statue” to move with you / back-up with you.
  • If you see this as a trend to delay the restart, move to the spot of the foul quicker and manage more with your presence.
  • Consider if the player moved towards the ball to form the “statue” or if he was there immediately following the foul.
  • Presence is critical to prevent the “statue” from kicking or throwing the ball away.

Clip 3: San Jose at Houston (43:18)
This clip provides a good example of how a “statue” interferes with the taking of a quick free kick and must be cautioned for failure to respect the required distance when play is restarted from a free kick. A defender deliberately moves from behind the ball to directly in front of the ball. This position allows him to interfere with the taking of the free kick.

As the attacker attempts to put the ball into play from the free kick, the defender/”statue” uses his body and foot to prevent the attacker from quickly restarting play. The referee correctly cautions the player and has the kick retaken, takes his restart position and whistles to authorize the restart of play after the caution.

As you watch the clip, observe the referee’s position prior to the second restart. The referee is well positioned to observe all action in the “drop zone.” Players can see and feel the presence of the referee. The referee also utilizes his verbal toolset to warn and make the players aware of his presence.

Looking Forward – Week 24
Read the warning signs or flash points in a game. The warning signs are indicators of potential issues. Match officials should use the warning signs to prevent and anticipate. Referees need to be cognizant of even the little warning signs as they can build up and potentially explode if ignored or not dealt with. Let the players know that you know. In other words, as the flash points develop, your actions (body language and verbal skills) need to communicate your awareness.