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2009 Referee Week in Review - Week 22

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 22 – ending August 16, 2009
Week 22 was a busy one for officials as there were a high number of red cards and yellow cards issued. In total, six red cards were issued, five of which occurred in two matches. Referees worked hard to use personality to manage and prevent escalation in very competitive and emotional games.

Again, there were several instances of “contact above the shoulder.” For the most part, officials were not consistent in addressing these circumstances by following U.S. Soccer’s 2009 directive, “Contact Above the Shoulder.” Recognizing the criteria and the components that differentiate the use of the elbow/arm/hand as a “weapon” versus a “tool” is critical for player safety, game control and, ultimately, officiating success. For the most part, to date, there have been relatively few concerns with officials being too harsh when addressing the use of the elbow/arm/hand as a “weapon.”

This week, we will also explore two topics that have not been regularly explored in past “Week In Reviews” but are good reminders for officials at all levels: Free Kick Management and Goalkeeper Possession.


Tackle Using Excessive Force and Endangering the Safety of the Opponent (Serious Foul Play): Law 12
In U.S. Soccer’s 2009 directive “100% Misconduct and Red Card Tackles,” there are several components provided for referees to evaluate the nature of a tackle. Red card tackles usually involve combinations of the following components (using the acronym SIAPOA):

  • Speed of play and the tackle – the faster the play and players, the greater the force.
  • Intent – is the intent to win the ball or send a message?
  • Aggressive nature – does the player lunge at the opponent with force? Consider the distance from which the challenge is started.
  • Position of the tackler – in particular, his legs (height of the tackler’s leading leg and the follow-up action by the tackler’s trailing leg).
  • Opportunity to play the ball – the location of the ball in relationship to the timing and execution of the tackle. Is it a controlled challenge executed with a high degree of success in winning the ball?
  • Atmosphere of the game – this is the “big picture” which may only be felt by the official at the time of the challenge and is based upon where the game has been thus far and where it may be headed (player/team attitudes should be considered).

These components need to be considered in the context of the requirements of the Laws of the Game to red card a player who uses “excessive force” and/or who “endangers the safety of the opponent” in the manner in which they commit a challenge. In other words, does the player “far exceed the necessary use of force” and, therefore, is “in danger of injuring his opponent?” If so, the referee must red card the player for either serious foul play or violent conduct.

Video Clip 1: Seattle at Los Angeles Galaxy (15:55)
The game is in the 17th minute with no score. The challenger initiates his tackle from a long distance and lunges at the opponent with his cleats exposed. The leaping – with speed – at the opponent and leading with the hard surface of the cleats immediately endangers the safety of the opponent and puts him at high risk for injury. The fact that the cleats connect with the opponent’s leg, causing injury, further provides evidence that the tackle is one of serious foul play. This is a challenge that is made without control.

Figure 1The picture to the right shows the seriousness of the tackle. Many of the SIAPOA criteria can be seen in this still photo: cleats exposed, lunging at the opponent, challenger off the ground (not a slide tackle), foot over the ball (the height of the leading leg eliminates any opportunity to play the ball) and contact with the opponent’s leg. What the picture does not show is the speed of the tackle, the distance from which the tackle is initiated and the force of the contact.

Tackles such as this must be punished with a red card for serious foul play. The referee should not consider the score or the time of the match when 100% misconduct (red card or yellow card) offenses occur that have no gray area for interpretation.

Video Clip 2: Chicago at Kansas City (39:45 – second half)
This is another tackle that the referee correctly punishes with a red card for violent conduct (the ball is not within playing distance and there is no challenge for the ball). It is similar to Clip 3 in that the player’s safety is endangered given the fact the cleats are used to make contact in an area very vulnerable to injury (in this clip, the back side of the lower leg near the Achilles tendon). However, this red card challenge is committed from a standing/running position by a player on his feet. Nonetheless, it is executed with no opportunity to play the ball and the intent is seemingly to send a message. Both players are moving with speed.

The referee correctly judges that the tackle contains sufficient components of the SIAPOA criteria and sends the challenger off for violent conduct.

Free Kick Management: Law 13
Officials have done an admirable job managing free kicks throughout the first 22 weeks of the MLS season. As part of the 2009 directives, U.S. Soccer included a paper on “Free Kick and Restart Management” as a way of ensuring unity in officiating approach and consistency in application. At the same time, going into this season, FIFA had made some modifications to the wording in the Laws of the Game relative to free kicks.
There are two important issues that officials must be cognizant of when managing free kicks:

  1. Quick free kick versus ceremonial free kick
    Quick free kick: The attacking team takes the 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 (normally 10 yards). This should be the method encouraged by the referee except where a specific reason exists requiring a ceremonial free kick.
    Ceremonial free kick: The kick may not be taken until the referee gives a signal (normally the whistle) for the kick to be taken. Ceremonial free kicks should be used in cases where the attacking team asks the referee (verbally or visually) for the minimum distance and/or the referee chooses to enforce the distance for game management purposes.
  2. The concept of: Referee “involvement”
    The referee verbally or physically (positively using presence) intervenes and gives direction to either the attacking or defending team that may be interpreted as indicating “wait for the whistle.” Such actions should result in a ceremonial free kick. 
    Attacking team actions: Referee involvement generally results from the kicking team “asking” that the opponents be moved back the appropriate distance. This “ask/request” does not have to be verbal, it can be a gesture or body language as well.
    Defending team actions: Referee involvement can also result due to the actions of the defending team. If the defending team’s actions require the referee to intervene (for game management purposes) in such a way that either team could interpret the actions as an implicit signal to “wait for the whistle,” the referee must make the free kick ceremonial. For example, the defending player standing directly in front of the ball and not immediately moving back at the request of the referee.
    Requirements of the Law: The Laws of the Game require the referee to delay the taking of a free kick and whistle the restart when: a substitution is requested and granted, a player needs medical attention for an injury or the referee has decided to give a yellow or red card for misconduct which happened prior to or during the stoppage of play.

Although it is often said that defenders have no rights in a free kick situation, they do have a right not to be confused by the referee giving misleading signals about whether the kick is quick or ceremonial. If the referee decides that the kick cannot be taken right away, you must make the players aware of this decision as soon as possible.

Video Clip 3: Houston at Real Salt Lake (66:14)
This clip starts with the referee having already awarded a “ceremonial” free kick and is in the process of moving the wall back to the appropriate distance. He then whistles for the kick to be taken. To this point, notice the following regarding the referee’s actions:

  • 10 yards
    The referee must ensure the full 10 yards is given and should not whistle until the appropriate distance is achieved. The referee can use the field markings to assist with positioning the defensive wall. In this case, the grass cut can be a tool for the referee’s enforcing the required distance.
  • Referee position
    The referee takes an optimal position for managing this restart. Due to the position of the restart/ball and the location of the players, the referee’s position allows him to monitor and control the ball, kicker, wall and the next phase of play.
  • Whistles the restart
    Because the referee is managing a “ceremonial” restart, a whistle is required before the ball can be put into play. The referee correctly uses the whistle to indicate that the ball may now be kicked.

The kick then strikes the hand/arm of a defending player jumping in the wall and the referee correctly decides a handling offense (the player has “made himself bigger”) has occurred and calls the foul. The referee must decide whether a yellow card is warranted for unsporting behavior (handling offence). If the referee believes that the defender prevented a reasonable scoring opportunity, then he may use discretion in deciding to caution the player. Remember: Players are allowed to jump up in a wall but not up and forward. In this case, the players merely jumped up.

Once the referee has whistled the foul and because the free kick is in the red zone or danger zone (the area 25-30 yards from goal), the referee moves toward the spot of the restart to indicate/monitor the location of the ball. Let us review the process used by the referee to execute the second free kick after the handling offense:

  • Quick free kick or ceremonial free kick?
    The referee’s actions in this clip indicate that he has chosen to enforce the distance for game management purposes. The referee has imposed a ceremonial free kick by whistling to show the new restart position as he marks the spot of the ball and by way of his interaction with the kicker as the kicker places the ball. As a consequence, based upon the referee’s visual and verbal messages, he cannot allow a quick free kick.
  • Using the “wait for the whistle” signal
    Once the referee has imposed himself on the free kick and has decided it should be a ceremonial restart, he should promptly use the “wait for the whistle” signal (holding the whistle at face level) indicating to everyone that a whistle is required to restart. This is a visual message to the players, spectators and media that a ceremonial free kick is being implemented and a quick restart (like the one in this clip) will not be permitted.
  • Denying the quick restart
    Despite the effort of the kicker, the referee is correct in denying the quick restart that has been attempted. The only option is for the referee to immediately stop play and have the ball brought back for the free kick to be taken correctly (after the referee’s whistle).
  • Getting the appropriate distance
    The referee does a very good job, the second time, of getting the appropriate distance and moving the defensive wall back. Watch the quick and effective method he uses to inconspicuously mark off the 10 yards as he backpedals. In this case, the field markings can be of assistance as the distance between the top of the penalty arc and the penalty mark is 10 yards.

Goalkeeper Possession: Law 12
The Laws of the Game – Law 12 state that “when a goalkeeper has gained possession of the ball with his hands, he cannot be challenged by an opponent.” The Laws are clear that goalkeeper’s must be protected when they have possession of the ball. The question is, “What is possession or control of the ball?” Once again, the Laws provide guidance:

A goalkeeper is considered to be in control of the ball:

  • While the ball is between his hands or between his hand and any surface (e.g. ground, own body):
  • While holding the ball in his outstretched open hand/palm; and
  • While in the act of bouncing it on the ground or tossing it into the air.

U.S. Soccer’s “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game” publication includes further information relative to goalkeeper possession of the ball. A ball controlled by the goalkeeper using means other than the hands (like dribbling the ball with his feet) is open to legal challenge by an opponent. However, the referee should consider the age and skill level of the players in evaluating goalkeeper possession and, often times, err on the side of safety with younger, less skilled players.

Law 12 also outlines offenses that are committed against a goalkeeper for which the referee must punish with a free kick (a caution is not mandated and is at the discretion of the referee depending upon the “big picture,” the method used to disposes the keeper of the ball and/or the tactical nature of the foul). FIFAs/IFAB “Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees” states:

  • It is an offense for a player to prevent a goalkeeper from releasing the ball from his hands;
  • A player must be penalized for playing in a dangerous manner if he kicks or attempts to kick the ball when the goalkeeper is in the process of releasing it; and
  • It is an offense to restrict the movement of the goalkeeper by unfairly impeding him, e.g. at the taking of a corner kick.

Video Clip 4: Chivas USA at New York (69:42)
This is a clear case of a player infringing the Laws of the Game by playing a ball that is in the goalkeeper’s possession: Holding the ball in his outstretched open hand/palm. The referee correctly calls a foul. In this case, since the player uses his head (dangerous play) and he has prevented the goalkeeper from releasing the ball, the game should be restarted with an indirect free kick. A caution for unsporting behavior is not mandated in this clip due to the nature of the foul. If the foot or other more aggressive means were used that would make the challenge to dispossess the ball “reckless,” the referee should then caution for unsporting behavior.

Dissent by Word and/or Action: Law 12
Dissent by word or action is one of the seven cautionable offenses. Although each referee must determine how to implement the Law based on the manner in which dissent is exhibited throughout a game and from game-to-game, the fundamentals of what is dissent and why dissent must be managed do not change. Dissent consists of language (both verbal and nonverbal) which disputes an official’s decision including physical gestures. “Week In Review 19” dealt with the concept of differentiating between an “emotional outburst” (verbal admonition by the referee) dissent (yellow card) and offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures (red card). Dissent exhibited in such a way that shows disrespect or disgust or that erodes the authority of the referee must be dealt with by cautioning the player in question.

Video Clip 5: Houston at Real Salt Lake (45:00 + 1:23)
The player in this scenario publically displays his dissent and distain of the referee’s decision by slamming the ball to the ground. This is a public act of dissent and must result in the player being cautioned for dissent by action. Due to the blatant nature of the player’s actions, the referee has no choice but to issue a yellow card even though this is the second yellow card of the game for the player and results in his being sent off for “receiving a second caution in the same match.” Unfortunately, referees cannot manage actions such as an “emotional outburst” with only personality and presence. The player’s actions are too forceful and too public to be managed with a stern word. The referee should also consider the player’s prior conduct and attitude in deciding to caution him.

Looking Forward – Week 23
With the end of summer and the beginning of fall on the horizon, the youth season is gearing up. For the past year and a half, the “Week In Review” has been published not just for the pros but for the rank and file (all levels) that make it happen on a daily basis. You are the heart and soul of the refereeing family. As the fall season kicks off, use the guidance and lessons provided in the “Week In Review” and in U.S. Soccer’s 10 2009 Directives to make a positive impact at whatever level you are servicing. Not only implement them but educate others about their content and importance. Always keep in mind the enjoyment and beauty of the game as well as the need to provide a safe environment for the participants as you put on your referee jersey. Thanks for reading and have a great season!