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2009 Referee Week in Review - Week 36

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 36 (MLS Cup Final) – ending November 22, 2009

After 120 minutes of soccer and seven rounds of kicks from the penalty mark (shootout), Real Salt Lake were crowned 2009 MLS Cup Champions. At the same time, the match officials (Kevin Stott, C.J. Morgante, Rob Fereday and Baldomero Toledo) topped off a year in which there were many great decisions and a few not so good decisions but a season in which the refereeing community made many positive strides. The MLS Cup referee team managed the game the way a cup final should be managed: They directed the orchestra but allowed the instruments to make the music. The instruments or players were the focal point and their music (the flow and rhythm of the game) provided a stage full of entertainment for the spectators.

In this “Week In Review,” a good decision by each of the four match officials will be highlighted to illustrate how teamwork and focus, in the most pressured of situations, can lead to correct decisions.

With the publishing of U.S. Soccer’s ten 2009 Referee Program Directives (, training and education of officials focused on a criteria-based model. The directives are a key step in driving home consistency in decision-making. As the 2009 season comes to a close, referees (at all levels) should be proud of their contributions and should be proud of their growth. All levels of the game require “professional” referees – referees who take the game and self-improvement seriously while exhibiting care and passion for the participants and what the “beautiful game” represents.

All 144,000 referees in the United States deserve a BIG “thank you” for the time, effort and selfless dedication and services you provide. It is your work that provides the safe stage for the players to play and live the passion that comes with each touch of the ball.


A Tactical Foul: Law 12

As part of U.S. Soccer’s 2009 Referee Program Directives, the topic of tactical fouls was addressed in the document “100% Misconduct: Tactical and Red Card Tackles.” Criteria to assist match officials with the appropriate identification of tactical fouls were provided. Tactical fouls were defined as:

1. Primarily fouls that don’t necessarily endanger the safety of an opponent.
2. Fouls committed in order to:

  • Stop a team of an effective attack; or 
  • Gain an advantage in attack.

Normally, the intent of tactical fouls are to slow down the opponent and not to injure/hurt. They are often considered “minor” and are classified as “soft.” As a result, they often go unpunished as officials do not recognize the tactical implications (the “why the foul was committed”) and officials fail to read the tactical, attacking advantage that has been denied.

Characteristics of tactical fouls include (more detailed explanation is provided in the referenced directive):

  • Usually in attacking end of the field. 
  • Numerical advantage. 
  • Time to defend. 
  • Prevent the ball and/or player from advancing. 
  • The defender knows he is beat. 
  • Minor nature of the challenge.

Video Clip 1: Real Salt Lake vs. Galaxy (13:29)
There is a rapid counter attack at the feet of a fast and dangerous player. The defender knows he is not only beat by the player’s speed and angle but he also is aware of the open real estate that exists behind him and in front of the attacker.

The first freeze frame provides a good aerial perspective of the open space (20 yards or so) that the attacker can exploit and penetrate if allowed to continue with the ball. With this knowledge, the defender charges the attacker off the ball in hopes that this subtle, “soft” upper body challenge (as compared to a tackle) will only lead merely to a foul and not misconduct. However, the referee reads the motives behind the challenge (by evaluating the characteristics provided above) and correctly cautions the defender for the tactical foul (unsporting behavior).

The second freeze frame provides a good perspective of the defender’s possible intent. Look the defender’s eyes. They are focused solely on the attacker and not on the ball. This lack of focus on the ball is a warning sign to the referee regarding the player’s true intent.

Finally, the fourth official does an excellent job using his presence to prevent any potential issues as the foul occurs in a “hot spot” near the benches. Immediately upon the contact between the players, the fourth official quickly moves to the scene to prevent retaliation. This is a great example of preventative officiating and “smelling” potential issues by the fourth official.

Offside Decisions: Law 11

The importance of positioning, concentration and focus for assistant referees (ARs) has been addressed multiple times over the past 35 weeks. The AR job is not an easy one. Split decisions, varied player movement, time for the mind to rest, distance of play/ball and speed of play are all factors that make the task faced by the AR challenging.

Top-level ARs, like those in the MLS Cup Final, have the fortitude and character to use their experience and “feel” for the situation to make split second decisions. ARs are expected to make offside decisions that can impact the outcome of the game. These decisions are part of the ARs job description.

Video Clip 2: Real Salt Lake vs. Galaxy (11:50)
It is not often that ARs are required to make offside decisions from the taking of a corner kick. As a consequence, it is easy for the AR to lose focus and lose track of the landscape surrounding the taking of the corner kick. In the modern game, more often than not, defending player(s) are guarding one or both of the goal posts and the goalkeeper is a yard or so off the goal line. The result is that the two defenders stationed on the goalposts often determine the offside line and not the goalkeeper and a defending player (ARs are used to the goalkeeper being one of the “last two opponents” for determining offside position). Remember, it is the last two opponents (regardless of who those two defenders may be) that play a factor in determining an attacker’s offside position. ARs must be cognizant of the mix of players as a corner kick is developing and be able to identify the last two defenders.

In this clip, a short corner is played and an alert AR realizes that there are no players on the goalposts and, in fact, the second-to-last defender is approximately three yards from the goal line. The player taking the corner kick therefore is in an offside position once he puts the ball into play because he is nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-to-last opponent.

Once the ball is touched or played by a teammate, the player taking the corner kick can be penalized for being in the offside position and involved in active play once the kicker:

  • Interferes with play, or 
  • Interferes with an opponent, or 
  • Gains an advantage by being in that position.

The attacking teammate touches the ball for the kicker to then service the ball. Although this is not a pass, per se, it is a touch of the ball which leads to the original kicker “interfering with play” by way of his touch of the ball. Remember, the AR makes the offside position decision at the time of the freeze frame shot in the video clip (when his teammate touches the ball). Confusion can arise because the kicker may seem to be in an onside position when he crosses the ball but this is not the moment of decision making.

So, the AR does a good job recognizing that the player was in an offside position and must be penalized for this offside position once he “interferes with play” by touching the ball.

Finally, the referee does a nice job to ensure the approximate restart position of the ball once he has awarded the indirect free kick for offside. As is common practice, teams attempt to advance the location of the restart several yards forward to gain an advantage. The referee, in this case, decides that the team has attempted to advance the ball too far and requires them to move it back. Offside restarts are taken from the position of the offending player when the ball was last played to him by his teammates. When managing restarts, referees need to pay closer attention to the location of the restart the closer the ball is to the attacking goal.

Video Clip 3: Real Salt Lake vs. Galaxy (85:47)
The AR is challenged by an offside decision in the far channel, across the field. Concurrently, the AR has two retreating defenders who are attempting to maintain their shape but also slow down in order to place the running attacker in an offside position. In order to correctly judge offside position, the AR must be directly aligned with the second-to-last defender. In this clip, through proper positioning and concentration, the AR is able to correctly determine that the attacker was in an offside position at the time the ball was passed to him by his teammate and he “interfered with play” by playing the ball once it was passed to him. Overall, a tight but good offside decision.

Video Clip 4: Real Salt Lake vs. Galaxy (81:36)
Clip 4 illustrates how proper AR positioning and sidestepping can aid in ensuring a critical decision is made correctly. As the clip is viewed, focus on the AR and not on the decision. The AR is directly aligned with the second-to-last defender. Additionally, the AR is using sidestepping to keep his shoulders square to the field and to improve his line of vision as it relates to offside positions. By sidestepping, the AR is able to clearly see the ball, the defenders and the attackers. More importantly, sidestepping gives the AR the opportunity to instantaneously adjust to the quick and compact movements of the defenders which is often prevalent when play is around the penalty area. In other words, by keeping shoulders square to the field, not only is the vision of the AR extended but the AR is able to better “shadow” the movements of the second-to-last defender. The ARs correct offside decision is aided by this intelligent AR-ship.

Looking Forward – 2010
With the conclusion of the 2009 MLS season, “Week In Review” goes on hiatus until the first kick of the 2010 season. Over the next several months, continue to regularly check the referee section of for updates and other interesting tidbits geared at providing officials with more tools to enhance their contribution to the game at all levels.

Have a great holiday season and thank you for reading and being a part of the “Week in Review” family.