US SoccerUS Soccer

2009 Referee Week in Review - Week 15

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 15 – ending June 28, 2009
Week 15 offered the soccer fan many different matches on the international and domestic level. The U.S. Men’s National Team played in their first-ever international final at the FIFA Confederations Cup in South Africa, while, domestically, the soccer fanatic had numerous choices, ranging from the normal slate of MLS and WPS matches to SuperLiga games between the top club teams from Mexico and the top MLS clubs.

The variety of games provides match officials the opportunity to view different referee and their approach to game and player management. Various games and various styles of officiating provide all referees the opportunity to examine alternative approaches to game management. When watching games, serious officials should “analyze” and not just “watch.” What is the difference? “Analyzing” is an active term that requires thinking and evaluation. It means that the viewer actively thinks about what he is seeing and explores how the referee’s management/actions can help him/her improve. On the other hand, “watching” is an inactive state that means the mind is at rest and the viewer is merely viewing the game for entertainment purposes without scrutinizing the referee’s actions. Improvement comes through “analyzing” and deciding which of the items you have seen/analyzed can help your “game.”

In this “Week In Review,” we will examine two interesting situations. One involves the restart after an injury and ensuring the correct team is awarded the restart. The second situation revolves around a player in the wall, during a free kick, making contact with the ball with his arms.

At the conclusion of this week’s addition, a look at the officiating lessons learned from the recently completed U.S. Soccer Development Academy Playoffs will be provided as a learning tool for officials at all levels.


Handling the Ball: Law 12
U.S. Soccer has published a 2009 Referee Program Directive entitled, “Handling the Ball.” This directive, along with nine others, is available at Due to changes in tactics and the interpretation of the Laws of the Game, the concept of handling the ball has been revisited and has been amended to cover the increasing number of handling situations in the modern game. For this reason, a clear understanding of the criteria behind handling the ball has never been more important.

Within the “Handling the Ball” directive, there are five criteria U.S. Soccer has provided to aid match officials in making correct decisions involving handling. Here is list of the criteria:

  1. Making yourself bigger
    This refers to the placement of the arm(s)/hand(s) of the defending player at the time the ball is played by the opponent. Should an arm/hand be in a position that takes away space from the team with the ball and the ball contacts the arm/hand, the referee should interpret this contact as handling. Referees should interpret this action as the defender “deliberately” putting his arm/hand in a position in order to reduce the options of the opponent (like spreading your arms wide to take away the passing lane of an attacker).

  2. Is the arm or hand in an “unnatural position?”
    Is the arm or hand in a position that is not normal or natural for a player performing the task at hand.

  3. Did the player “benefit?”
    In considering all the “signs” described above, the referee should also consider the result of the player’s (usually a defender) action. Did the defender’s action (handling of the ball) deny an opportunity (for example, a pass or shot on goal) that would have otherwise been available to the

  4. Reaction Time
    The less time a defender has to react, the less likely there has been a handling offense. For example, a ball struck from a close distance, or a very fast moving ball, or a ball coming in from a direction which is outside the defender’s view gives little or no time for the defender’s reaction to be
    “deliberate.” The referee must take into consideration whether the defender’s reaction is purely instinctive, taken to protect sensitive areas of the body as the face. Distance is a factor in determining “reaction time.” The further the ball, the more reaction time a play may have.

  5. Hand / arm to ball
    Referees must be ready to judge whether the player moved his arm to the ball thereby initiating the contact. Additionally, the referee should evaluate whether the player deliberately readjusted his body position to block the ball thus intentionally playing the ball with his hand/arm.

Referees must be able to judge each of these actions and determine if any are evident when contact is made between the ball and the hand. If any of the criteria can be identified, then a handling offense has occurred.

Video Clip 1: Colorado at Seattle (32:00)
Because so many goals are scored from free kicks (over 30 percent of goals are scored off restarts), defending teams do not want to give 10 yards to the opponent and attempt other tactics to limit the attacking advantage resulting from a free kick. One such tactic is a defender in the wall “making himself bigger” through the use of his arms.

This clip presents a clear example of a defender taking away a passing lane by using his hands/arms to “make himself bigger” and, thus, preventing a free kick shot from going toward the goal. By blocking the shot, the defending team “benefits” from the player’s illegal use of his hands.

Although not obvious in this clip, the decision to call the handling offense and award a penalty kick is the result of exceptional teamwork and attentiveness on the part of the assistant referee (AR). The AR in this situation understands the directive on “Assistant Referee Involvement."

Let us first examine the specifics behind the correct decision to award a penalty kick for handling the ball. The defensive player in the wall, which is positioned in the penalty area, starts with his hands/arms against his body to protect himself. However, as the kick is taken, the defender steps from the wall and jumps up. The player uses his arms to leverage his leap but they then take away the passing or shooting lane from the attacker. This action allows the player to “make himself bigger” and the result is he uses the arms to take away space from the attacker.

Another factor in determining the fact that handling has occurred is the “hand/arm to ball” criteria. Once the defender moves his arms away from his body to an “unnatural position,” he has deliberately moved his arms to the ball (“hand to ball”) initiating the contact. By moving his arms away from his body by raising them to take away space, once the contact occurs with the ball, the defender’s action (handling of the ball) denies an opportunity (a shot on goal) that would have otherwise been available to the opponent.

Now that the AR has applied the criteria and recognizes a clear handling offence has occurred (which will result in a penalty kick), the AR must determine whether the incident has been clearly seen by the referee. This is done through eye contact with the referee and a determination of the referee’s position (did this position give the referee a clear line of vision to the foul?). By evaluating the referee’s position and reading his body language, the AR can determine whether he believes the referee has seen the hand to ball contact. If the AR determines that the referee did not see the handling of the ball, the AR should raise the flag and give it a slight wave. This is an indication to the referee that the AR has observed a foul.

Since the foul is game critical and the AR is 100 percent certain of what he has observed, the AR must keep the flag up until it is recognized by the referee. Once the referee blows the whistle to stop play, the AR should signal that a penalty kick should be awarded by standing at attention and draping the flag across his waist (refer to the picture to the right). The referee’s response to the ARs signal is to point to the penalty spot and move to a neutral position thereby indicating the awarding of the penalty kick for handling.

Remember, prior to his involvement (raising the flag to call a foul), the AR:

  • Decides that he is 100 percent certain of the offense.
  • Makes eye contact with the referee.
  • Evaluates the referee’s position to determine if he believes the referee could have clearly seen the offense.
  • Reads the body language of the referee to determine if it communicates whether the referee has or has not seen the foul.

Video Clip 2: New York at Toronto (1:16)
Despite the fact the game is a little more than a minute old, the referee is faced with a game critical decision regarding the handling of the ball in the penalty area by a defender. It is important that the referee does not permit the time of the match to influence his decision.

The following two criteria make this a handling foul and a penalty kick since the foul was committed by the defending team in their penalty area:

  • Making yourself bigger
    The defender’s arm is extended from his body and is placed directly in the ball’s and player’s path to goal. Hence, the arm is used to take make the defender’s body bigger and take away space from the attacker.

  • The hand/arm is in an unnatural position
    The player falls down but the arm is extended from his body. Notice that the arm is not used to break his fall down to his side (a natural position). The defender reaches out with his arm to block the path of the ball (unnatural position).

Given these two factors are present, the referee correctly awards a penalty kick for handling the ball. The referee’s position aids in his ability to correctly make this decision.

Injury Leading to a Throw-In: Law 15
Often times when an injury occurs on the field of play, a team will intentionally kick the ball out of play (most of the time resulting in a throw-in for the opponent). Because injury stoppages can take a long time, match officials can loose track of which team should be awarded the throw-in restart. In addition, referees cannot orchestrate the restart to be taken by the team that had possession of the ball and deliberately kick the ball over the touch line. Law 15 clearly states that a throw-in is “awarded to the opponents of the player who last touched the ball when the whole of the ball crosses the touch line, either on the ground or in the air.”

Normally restarts from this type of injury related situation results in fair play. Teams are encouraged to use “fail play” when returning the ball into play. However, the referee cannot be responsible for nor legislate the manner in which a team returns the ball into play, but he can ensure that the game is restarted correctly.

There are several items that can assist the referee team in ensuring a restart, after an extend time, is taken correctly.

  1. Mark the restart position
    The referee or and AR can mark the restart location by taking a position near the spot or in-line with the spot of the restart (even if it is done by the AR on the far side of the field because the restart is in the referee’s diagonal).

  2. Take control of the ball
    One of the match officials hold the ball. Consider holding the ball in the hand on the side of the direction of the restart.

  3. Verbally or visually confirm the restart direction with the nearest official
    Prior to the restart, verbally or visually confirm the direction with the nearest official (can be the AR or the fourth official). Or, during the stoppage, make contact with the nearest official and reconfirm the direction.

Match officials must totally concentrate and can not relax due to the length of a temporary stoppage in the game. Heat, humidity or the minor nature of the situation can not cause match officials to loose their focus or drop their guard and forget situations that seem minor at the time.

Video Clip 3: New York at Toronto (42:56)
In this clip, all match officials loose focus and do not concentrate sufficiently on the minor details revolving around a throw-in that results from a team intentionally kicking the ball out of play due to an injury. Unfortunately for the referee team, they permit the wrong team to take the throw-in restart and this incorrect decision leads to a shot on goal. Either by using improved conversation or the tips provided above, the referee team needs to ensure that the correct restart of play is executed.

Game Management Model – Providing Flow Through Advantage: Law 5
U.S. Soccer’s directive on the “Game Management Model” asks officials to try to manage the games by differentiating between minor, soft and trifling challenges from fouls that are careless, reckless or involve excessive force. The ability to distinguish between soft challenges and a foul is an important characteristic of referees as it allows them to enhance the entertainment value of the game for spectators. A reasonable sense of the atmosphere of the game (player and team attitudes up to that point in the match) is a key factor in the referee’s ability to correctly decide whether to allow flow by deciding a challenge does not need to be penalized as a foul.

The “advantage clause” contained in Law 5 – The Referee, gives the referee the power to allow play to continue when the team that has been fouled will have an advantage in attack created by the referee’s application of advantage. The advantage clause is worded as follows:

“The referee allows play to continue when the team against which an offense has been committed will benefit from such an advantage and penalizes the original offense if the anticipated advantage does not ensue at that time.”

The referee has the ability to “wait and see” prior to whistling a foul when an advantage opportunity presents itself. The theory of “wait and see” provides the referee with “a few seconds” to decide whether to penalize or whether the apparent advantage actually materializes. If the referee identifies an advantage situation, he is empowered to wait a few seconds to see if the advantage actually develops. If it does not develop in those few seconds, the referee may then stop play for the original foul. This flexibility gives the referee a tool to implement flow in his games.

Video Clip 4: Chivas USA vs. San Luis – SuperLiga (17:48)
In this SuperLiga match between Chivas USA (MLS) and San Luis (Mexico), the referee is provided with an opportunity to incorporate flow into the match by applying the advantage clause. Instead, the referee decides to call a foul and must then give an avoidable yellow card.

This situation is a classic “wait and see” scenario. The goalkeeper is challenged in the air for the ball. But, the goalkeeper retains possession of the ball. This is not a severe offense and the referee’s whistle diminishes the chances of an immediate and dangerous attack. Why? It is more advantageous for the goalkeeper to maintain the ball in his hands so that he can initiate a quick and effective counter attack than it is for the keeper to place the ball on the ground and restart with a free kick (which gives the opponent time to get back into solid defensive position).

By using “wait and see,” the referee has time to evaluate the potential for attack. The goalkeeper’s actions are important. Even after he is fouled and retains possession of the ball, the goalkeeper’s actions signal that he wants to advance with the ball in his hands so that he can initiate a distribution up field. If the goalkeeper stops advancing with the ball, the referee can stop play and award a free kick.

Since the referee stops play, the attacker (who claims to not have heard the whistle) plays the ball after the keeper puts it on the ground for the restart. This action “delays the restart of play” and requires the referee to caution the player. By reading the play and by applying flow, the referee avoids the caution while engineering flow into the match.

Looking Forward – Week 16
U.S. Soccer just completed its first Development Academy Playoffs in Greensboro, N.C. Over 85 officials participated with each under 18 game being assessed by a National Assessor. It was a unique five days for participants that included a mixture of work and play. Play literally meant play. Officials had the opportunity to play and show their individual skill in a game against Development Academy staff.

Work included not only games by two instructional sessions. A two hour session was held on opening night followed by a Sunday field session in which referees spent 15 minutes in six different stations receiving practical training. Officiating performances took a day to warm up as the opening day of games resulted in six unacceptable performances by National Referees/Candidates. However, performances improved as the tournament advanced.

What follows are some observations from the four days of games. The observations include items that the National Assessors observed during the event that tended to lead to positive officiating performances as well as those items that caused problems for match officials.

Positive Performance Attributes

  • Professionalism
  • Application of U.S. Soccer Directives like the “Game Management Model” including the application of flow and risk taking as well as the “100% Misconduct” directive
  • Referees exhibiting presence and personality through visible body language and verbalization to manage players and coaches
  • Establishing open lines of communication with the players
  • Referees came hungry to learn and came to the event with great attitudes while seeking input and information
  • ARs ran balls to the goal line
  • Offside decisions erred on the side of the attack
  • Using a positive demeanor to calm an upset coach

Areas That Caused Problems

  • Overall fitness level not as high as expected given the heat and humidity
  • Too far from play on transitions or counter-attacks
  • ARs not incorporating sidestepping into their movement and positioning
  • Calling soft, minor, trifling challenges which lead to complaining on the part of players and coaches
  • Lack of urgency shown by referees especially when their intensity and presence did not match that of the situation or game
  • Not recognizing and properly dealing with inappropriate behavior in the technical areas
  • Lack of reading and anticipating the game. Too much reactive refereeing and movement. Not getting to drop zones. Standing and watching