Contents

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LAW 1 – THE FIELD OF PLAY

LAW 2 – THE BALL

LAW 3 – THE NUMBER OF PLAYERS

LAW 4 – THE PLAYER’S EQUIPMENT

LAW 5 – THE REFEREE

LAW 6 – THE ASSISTANT REFEREES

LAW 7 – THE DURATION OF THE MATCH

LAW 8 – THE START & RESTART OF PLAY

LAW 9 – THE BALL IN & OUT OF PLAY

LAW 10 – THE METHOD OF SCORING

LAW 11 - OFFSIDE

LAW 12 – FOULS AND MISCONDUCT

LAW 13 – FREE KICKS

LAW 14 – THE PENALTY KICK

LAW 15 – THE THROW-IN

LAW 16 – THE GOAL KICK

LAW 17 – THE CORNER KICK
Official Publications Related to Law 17

ADMINISTRATIVE GUIDANCE

PROCEDURES TO DETERMINE THE WINNER OF A MATCH

THE FOURTH OFFICIAL

THE TECHNICAL AREA

Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct

Official Publications Related to Law 12

Tackles: Determining Fair and Foul

There is often a fine line between a fair tackle and a tackle that should result in a foul. It is the ability to decide which side of the line the tackle lands that can often determine the success of a referee in a game. According to the Laws of the Game, foul tackles fall within one of three classifications:

  1. Careless: No disciplinary action is required – foul only (direct free kick)
    From the Law: “The player has shown a lack of attention or consideration when making a challenge or that he acted without precaution.” In other words, the player has not exercised due caution in making a play. This is normally exhibited as a miscalculation of strength or a stretch of judgment by the player committing the foul.
  2. Reckless: A yellow card is required (direct free kick)
    From the Law: “The player has acted with complete disregard to the danger to, or the consequences for, his opponent.” This means the challenge is clearly outside the norm for fair play.
  3. Excessive Force: A red card is required (direct free kick)
    From the Law: “The player has far exceeded the necessary use of force and is in danger of injuring his opponent.” In these situations, the challenge places the opponent in considerable danger of bodily harm. Keys are that the player faces injury and his safety is endangered.

The following is a “Severity of Challenges” continuum to assist in visually understanding the concept behind deciphering whether a tackle of an opponent is fair or whether it is careless, reckless or involves excessive force. The further along the continuum, the greater the likelihood the tackle or challenge will require official action on the part of the referee.

Consider the following analogy: Think of the green to yellow to red line as your heartbeat. As a situation becomes more drastic and severe, what does your heartrate do? It increases substantially considering the overall severity, importance or impact of the situation. This is also a normal human reaction to certain challenges or fouls. Although your heartbeat cannot be the determining factor in deciding the severity of a challenge, it can play a role in your “feeling” the situation and it can be used as a barometer to help assess the incident utilizing the criteria (careless, reckless and excessive force) provided by FIFA and U.S. Soccer (SIAPOA)

Similarly, the further to the right on the continuum that a player’s safety is endangered or the amount of force used to execute the tackle, the greater the likelihood for a send off (red card). There may be some gray areas between each of the classifications (for example, between what represents a foul or a foul and caution). In circumstances involving the gray areas, the referee should consider the “big picture.” In other words, what has occurred previously in the game and where the game may be headed. To help clarify the gray areas, after the infringement has occurred, the referee can ask himself the following two questions:

The picture to the right is from the U.S. Men’s National Team’s World Cup qualification match against Mexico this past February. This picture can assist in illustrating the use of the questions above. In the 65th minute of an intense but fairly played game to that point, a player makes a violent challenge on the goalkeeper. At this point, the game was well under control and the challenge was out of character for the match. Yet, in applying the two questions above, the referee would assess that although the game did not need a red card at that moment, the player did due to the violent nature of his cleats-exposed challenge.

An understanding of all components of the continuum will assist a referee with making the correct judgment relative to the severity of a tackle and ensure that the best possible decision is made.

2010 (Click to view/hide)
Video Clip: Sky Blue F.C. at St. Louis Athletica (9:00)
In this clip, a fair challenge results in a penalty kick. Although the referee is well positioned, she does not recognize the characteristics of a fair challenge that should have resulted in the awarding of a corner kick instead of a penalty kick.

What makes this tackle fair?

  • Ball was played
    If a referee has any doubt as to whether the ball was played, he should observe the direction of the ball. Does the ball change direction from after it was last touched by an attacker? Or, does it continue on the same direct path? A ball that changes direction most likely means the defender made contact.
    In this clip: The ball was played before any contact. Watch as the ball changes direction by over 30 degrees.
  • The angle of the tackle
    The direction from which the opponent approaches the attacker and the tackle. Is the tackle directly from behind (increased likelihood of contact with the opponent before the ball)? Or, is it from an angle that gives the defender opportunity to make first contact with the ball?
    In this clip: The tackler is not directly from behind. She is to the left, the same side as the ball as it is cut by the attacker.
  • Location of tackler’s feet
    If the feet are on the ground, there is an increased likelihood that the tackler is playing the ball over the tackler knowing there is no chance to get the ball so they raise their feet/foot to ensure the attacker does not get by.
    In this clip: The tackler’s feet are on the ground to play the ball and not the opponent. She does not raise the feet as she commits herself for the challenge.
  • Location of the ball
    Is the ball in a location in which the opponent can play it without going through the attacker?
    In this clip: Watch as the attacker cuts the ball to the left thereby exposing it to the tackler. The tackler uses her left foot to win the ball on the left which means she does not have to go through the attacker to play the ball.

This represents a fair challenge for the ball. The components of a safe, fair and controlled challenge have been executed by the defender.

Video Clip: New York at Houston (19:50)
This clip involves a reckless challenge by the player in the orange jersey that goes unpunished and the ensuring play results in the awarding of a penalty kick. The focus of this clip is not on the penalty kick and potential punishment therefore but on how a missed foul can lead to a critical game situation.

The referee is seemingly in a good position to see the challenge in this clip. He is 15 or so yards away from the tackle with a good view. Being in a good position must be supplemented by a feel for the game and an understanding of the classifications of fouls. In this situation, the player in the orange jersey commits a reckless tackle that must be accompanied by a caution for unsporting behavior. What factors make this a reckless tackle:

  • The tackler (orange jersey) leaves both feet.
  • The tackler fails to make contact with the ball.
  • The fouled player (blue jersey) has to stop his run for the ball as he sees the upcoming reckless tackle. By stopping his run, the fouled player lessens the force of the tackle.
  • The tackle is not part of the “norm for play.”
  • The tackler makes the challenge with “complete disregard to the danger or consequences” to his opponent. Consider the “area of contact” by the tackler. The tackler is fortunate that the “mode of contact” was with the top of the foot and not with the exposed cleats which would have increased the likelihood of excessive force.

Given these factors, the referee must stop play and award a direct free kick to the fouled player’s team.

Observe, at 20:15 of the clip, how the fourth official attempts to visually get the referee’s attention by taking a positive step of moving along the touchline and making a subtle hand/arm gesture. The fourth official displays good teamwork and feel for the game. By moving along the touchline, the fourth official attempts to stay in the line of vision (or peripheral vision) of the referee for as long as possible thereby increasing the likelihood of the referee seeing/sensing his urgency.

Overall, the referee must see and feel this challenge. Since the challenge occurs in direct view of the fourth official, the referee should not hesitate to make eye contact with the fourth official. This is important as the manner in which the challenge is committed should provide the referee with a “gut” feeling that something outside of a normal, fair challenge has occurred. This “gut” feeling should lead the referee to briefly look to the well-positioned fourth official for some silent input.

Note: Fourth officials should look for positive ways to convey information to referees during the run of play especially when communication devices are not available or not functioning. Visual signals to the referee can be effective tools in communicating the fourth official’s perspective. These visual tools should be subtle and not done in a manner that usurps the referee’s authority. Urgency in body movement or gestures (outside the normal fourth official stand-at-attention look) by the fourth official can convey a message to the referee without drawing too much attention from the technical areas or spectators.

Video Clip: Mississippi Brilla vs. Houston Leones (115:00)
In this regional semifinal of the USL PDL league, a goal is scored from the free kick and challenge on the goalkeeper with approximate five minutes left in the second overtime. This goal ties the game and the teams go to kicks from the penalty mark to determine which team will advance.

There are several factors or flash points that make this a “careless” challenge and require that the referee give the defending team a direct free kick:

  • The attacker initiates the contact. The attacker jumps into the goalkeeper, not straight up. The goalkeeper, on the other hand, has a set position waiting for the ball to come down and jumps straight up. Image 1 shows how the attacker’s contact is forcing the goalkeeper’s body to move to the right thus influencing his ability to play the ball. This is a miscalculation of strength and judgment on the part of the attacker. The strength of the jump into the keeper influences the keeper’s ability to play the ball.
  • The attacker’s right arm goes up and into the goalkeeper on the same side the keeper is attempting to play the ball. Image 1 as well as the video clip illustrate how the arm of the attacker in negatively impacting the goalkeeper’s opportunity to play the ball.
  • The attacker never plays the ball. Although the attacker is looking at the ball, he is required to play it and cannot prevent his opponent from playing it. The timing of the attacker’s jump results in miscalculation and is a misjudgment of the timing resulting in the attacker not playing the ball.

The referee must award a direct free kick for the goalkeeper’s team and disallow the goal as a “careless” foul has occurred.

Aside from reading the flash points of the challenge and understanding the application of a “careless” challenge, the referee could have created a more optimal line of vision to the play by taking a better position at the taking of the free kick restart. By starting wider, with fewer players outside of his vision and to his left, the referee has more options to adjust his position as the ball travels to the drop zone over the approximately 50 yards. This position is a more flexible as it gives the referee a better opportunity to adjust his position and maintain the optimal line of vision. By moving as the ball is played, the referee can ensure he has a clear, unobstructed view of the drop zone.

 

2009 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: San Jose at Colorado (89:36)
    This video clip provides a good example of a player committing a foul that is easily disguised as a fair challenge and requires the referee to visually identify the components that make the challenge unfair. The identification of the foul is exacerbated by the fact that it occurs in the penalty area.

    As you view the clip, take snapshots of the play as the ball approaches the two players. In each picture, consider the position of the ball, the position of the defender relative to the ball and the attacker, and the position of the attacker relative to the flight of the ball.

    Keys to identifying this challenge and jump into the opponent as a foul and a necessary penalty kick call are:

    1. Location of the defender to the ball
      • The attacker is positioned (standing) between the serviced ball and the defender.
      • By legally standing in the defender’s path to the ball, the defender must go through the attacker to play the ball.
    2. Defender never plays the ball
      • The defender only makes contact with the opponent (jumps at) and there is no contact with the ball.
      • There is no opportunity for the defender to play the ball without going through or around the attacker.
      • The service of the ball is too low for the defender to win it in the air.
    3. Defender “jumps over” the top of the well positioned attacker
      • The attacker is not given the opportunity to play the ball as contact is made prior to the ball arriving (being in playing distance).
    4. Location of the ball at the time contact is made by the defender
      • The ball is two yards from the players at the time the defender makes contact with the opponent by jumping through him.
      • Look at Image 1. Image 1 shows the position of the ball (two yards from both players) at the time of contact.
      • In Image 1, the trajectory or movement of the ball is indicated by the red line. It moves down toward the attacker’s head. The white line indicates the trajectory the ball would have needed in order for the defender to have a play on the ball without going through or jumping through the attacking opponent.

    By taking several real time snapshots, referees can visually enhance their interpretation of challenges and better apply criteria in the decision making process. In this clip, regardless of the score or time in the match, the defender makes an unfair (careless) challenge that warrants a foul call and a penalty kick as charging and/or jumping into an opponent is one of the ten direct free kick offenses.

  • Video Clip: Dallas at Galaxy (37:19)
    This situation is initiated from a quick counter attack beginning inside one penalty area and rapidly moving toward the opposite penalty area.

    Maximizing the Angle of Vision Through Position
    Quick and long counter attacks require excellent mobility on the part of the referee. The ability to move quickly enables him to close down the space between himself and the ball, thereby maximizing the vision of potential challenges. In counter attack cases like this, the referee’s first few steps should be toward the middle of the field and should not be to follow directly behind the ball and the attackers. By first moving to an inside position as the ball is moving down the right channel, the referee gives himself the best opportunity to enhance his angle of vision and see between the player’s challenging for the ball instead of at the backs of the challenging players.

    Assistant Referee Preparedness
    Due to the fact this play involves a counter attack from one end of the field to the other, the lead assistant referee (AR) must be prepared to “assist” in making a decision in the event the referee does not have a good view of the challenge because of distance, player positioning and/or his angle of vision. As the play develops, the AR must know (instinctively and through visual affirmation) where the referee is located in order to determine the need for involvement should the challenge be a foul.

    Decision: No Foul
    This is a hard but fair challenge and tackle for the ball. There are several key factors that make this tackle fair:
    • Intent of the tackler
      The defender or tackler clearly intends to play the ball. His foot is down and not over the ball or aimed at the opponent (it is aimed at the ball). There is no follow up or scissors effect with the trailing or second leg/foot.
    • Tackler plays the ball
      The defender plays the ball and not the opponent. In effect, the timing of the tackle (the defender gets to the ball well ahead of the attacker) allows the defender to contact the ball and, therefore, results in the attacker initiating the contact with the tackler’s leg. Notice that the tackler does not go through the opponent to make contact with the ball.
    • Angle of the challenge/tackle
      The tackle is initiated from the side (not directly from behind) which gives the tackler the opportunity to clearly contact the ball without going through the opponent.
  • Video Clip: Dallas at Galaxy (4:51)
    As you watch this clip, compare the tackle with that from clip 1 and consider the factors that made clip 1 a fair challenge. Additionally, “feel” your heartbeat. What is it saying? How does it compare to your heartbeat when you first viewed clip 1?

    This tackle should result in a red card for two separate reasons. First, it is a clear example of serious foul play due to its excessive force and the fact that it endangers the safety of the opponent. Second, it is a red card offense as it meets the criteria for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity (DOGSO). We will examine each case separately.

    Assistant Referee Preparedness
    As with the first clip, the AR must be ready to be involved, not only to call a foul but to provide assistance with the determination of whether there is a DOGSO event. This situation involves a counter attack type scenario which often gives the AR a better perspective than the referee. Additionally, the side or parallel perspective can often provide more clarity relative to defender positions as they relate to DOGSO. In this clip, the AR should be involved as it is a “game critical” decision in which the AR has the best angle of vision for determining DOGSO. After the foul decision by the referee, the AR must get the referee’s attention via a raised flag, his voice or some other electronic indication. Once the AR has the referee’s attention, he must then communicate the fact that the foul involves DOGSO and the defender must be sent off.

    Serious Foul Play: Red Card
    Based upon the criteria established by FIFA and U.S. Soccer, this tackle falls to the far right on the “Severity of Challenge” continuum. The SIAPOA criteria was examined to help officials determine whether a tackle is a red card offense or not. Here are key factors which should raise the heartbeat:
    • Opportunity to play the ball: There is no chance for the defender to get the ball as it is too far out in front of not only him but also the attacker. He must go through the attacker if he is to have any chance at the ball.
    • Intent: There is no intent to play the ball. The defender knows he is the last option between the attacker and an obvious opportunity to score.
    • Aggressive nature of the tackle: The defender lunges at the opponent from a long distance and makes direct contact with the back of his legs in the Achilles tendon area thereby endangering the opponent’s safety. Notice how the defender also uses his second leg to “send a message” as he swipes it through the opponent (scissors type movement) after the initial contact.

    Couple the aforementioned SIAPOA factors with the excessive force of the challenge and the fact that the attacker faces injury due to his safety being endangered, this tackle must be red carded for serious foul play.

    Denying an Obvious Goal Scoring Opportunity (DOGSO)
    The “4 D Criteria” to assist in determining whether an “obvious” opportunity to score was evident is reviewed:
    • Distance to goal
    • Distance to ball
    • Defender position/location and number
    • Direction to goal

Using the “4 D Criteria” in evaluating this clip, all factors are evident. The “defender position/location and number” criteria is least evident amongst the four. However, the still picture to the right shows the location of the defenders. Based upon the speed the attacker is progressing and his location on the field, none of the surrounding defenders are in a position that would have denied the attacker with an “obvious” opportunity to score a goal. In other words, none of the defenders would be able to close down the attacker and deny his “obvious” opportunity to score. The defender who is wide on the left side (indicated by the yellow circle) is too far to have been able to close down the attacker and prevent him from having a shot on goal and the non-fouling defenders behind the ball would not have caught up to the attacker. The key is the distance the defenders are from the opponent and the ball at the time of the foul.

Summary
Although both serious foul play and DOGSO are present, the referee should issue the red card for serious foul play as it is the more severe of the two offenses committed by the tackling defender.

2008 (Click to view/hide)
No material on this topic for this year. Click prior years' tabs below to view information for those years.

Preventative Officiating Leads to Game-Flow

Referee personality to ensure player and game management will be critical in allowing for a free-flowing game that is safe and enjoyable for players, spectators, and referees.  Referees must use personality (not just blowing the whistle and waving “play-on”) to deal with borderline/trifling fouls.  The referee’s actions must be verbal and visual. 

The following video clips display opportunities where the referee’s personality in handling the situation can prevent the next foul from occurring.

2010 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: D.C. United at Philadelphia Union (43:12)

    The referee identifies two opportunities to enhance the rhythm of the game as he identifies two challenges as trifling, minor or doubtful in nature. The first contact occurs in the defensive third. Both the AR and the referee feel there is merely contact (normal and acceptable contact for this level of play) and no foul (not careless or reckless). By allowing this contact, the ball then advances approximately 30 yards to the middle third of the field. Here, the second challenge occurs.

    This challenge (at 39:16) involves upper body contact as two players use their bodies to win the ball. Once again, this is normal contact for this level of play and the referee does well to recognize the opportunity to enhance the game through the application of flow. Since this is not a foul and simple contact, the referee should not indicate advantage. The referee is working hard to move at the pace of the ball and play and does well to put himself in a good vantage point to see play and the players and make sound judgment.

    Note: No signal by the referee is a signal. It is a signal that nothing has occurred and play should continue. Referees often overuse the “no-call” signal.

    The result of the no-call is a through-pass that finds an attacker who is able to get the ball behind the defense and score a goal. Spectators are provided exciting and entertaining soccer that has been orchestrated by the referee’s ability to identify opportunities for flow.

    The AR also plays a role leading up to the goal by keeping the flag down as an offside positioned player makes a run toward the ball but does not “interfere with play” because he does not play or touch the ball that has been passed by his teammate.

    Overall, flow (beginning in the defensive third of the field) and the correct application of offside, lead to a goal and increased entertainment value.
2009 (Click to view/hide)
No material on this topic for this year. Click prior years' tabs below to view information for those years.
2008 (Click to view/hide)
 

  • Video Clip: Kevin Stott talking with KC’s Lopez.  A conversation that opens up a line of communication not just for the moment but later.
  • Video Clip:  Real Salt Lake vs. Chivas (48:30) in which RSL’s Mantilla body checks Chivas’ Harris.  This is borderline cautionable.  The referee must do more than blow the whistle.  Call player over and send a message.  This is a tactical foul made by a defender who knows there is a lot of attacking space behind him if Harris gets by; hence, the defender decides “the ball may get by but the attacker won’t.”
  • Video Clip: Columbus vs. NY (56:20) in which the NY player is body checked off the ball in a manner that borders on “reckless.”  Should the referee not caution, the player should be called over and preventative officiating applied.
  • Video Clip: Columbus at Dallas (38:46) – This clip provides a good example of a referee who takes preventative action with the hopes of being able to influence positive action on the part of the players during the taking of a corner kick.  Corner kicks are rife with holding (shirt and body), shoving, and aggressive body contact due to the congested posturing of defending and attacking players.  Elbows can result from players jockeying for position.  Referees and ARs must pay particular attention to these moments and assume a proactive role to prevent any holding which can escalate to elbowing (striking) thereby preventing the need to award a penalty kick and the need to send a player off.  Hence, “presence” on the part of the referee is a necessity to prevent escalation. In this clip, watch the positive action taken by the referee and the AR. As the clip is viewed, note the following:
    • The referee whistles prior to the corner kick being taken - Once the referee senses too much body contact is occurring and anticipates that such contact could lead to a game control issue, the referee whistles to stop the taking of the corner kick.
    • AR steps in front of the ball - When the corner kick is taken in front of the AR, upon the referee’s signal to hold play, the AR should immediately step in front of the ball to prevent it from being taken as the referee is dealing with the players in the penalty area.  Once the referee signals for the corner kick to be taken, the AR can return to his standard position.
    • The referee moves to address the players - Once play has been held up, the referee moves into the penalty area and addresses the players.  He has now made his presence known and sends a preventative message:  “I am aware and I am watching.  I will deal with it.”
    • The referee takes a strategic position for the restart - Once the referee has conveyed his message in a manner that will influence the players’ future actions, he should take an optimum position that permits him to best observe whether the message has been received appropriately.  Note:  it may be beneficial to continue to talk to the players (from the restart position) as a preventive measure.  Talking will extend the referee’s presence and reinforce the message that the referee has just delivered visually.

Remember, the referee must be flexible in his position so as to ensure he has view of all players, including those making runs from wide positions.  Once the corner kick is serviced, the referee should not stand flat footed.  The referee should move with the play and the players so that he always maintains the best possible view of the “drop zone” or the “hot spot.”

Refer to the two diagrams below for recommended positioning on corner kicks based upon the side the kick is being taken.  Notice that the referee has flexibility to decide the “optimum position” but the referee should ensure that all players, including those making runs into position, are in clear view and do not start their runs outside of the referee’s clear purview.  Refer to U.S. Soccer’s publication entitled, “Guide to Procedures for Referees, Assistant Referees and Fourth Officials” for a more detailed examination of positioning.

Corner Kick Positioning Diagram

  • Video Clip: Columbus at Dallas (33:38) - The work of the referee in this clip provides another example of the referee anticipating a potential conflict and taking preventive action by exerting his presence through urgency in action/movement.  This is a seemingly harmless foul – a foul that arises in most games.  However, the foul has several warning signs that it may invoke further action on the part of the players if not handled appropriately by the referee.  What are the signs?
    • Vicinity to the touchline and sign board area
    • One or more of the players are on the ground
    • Players are entangled, intertwined which may lead to additional contact

Upon recognizing the warning signs, the referee sprints to the spot of the foul in anticipation of potential further action on the part of the players.  Once he proactively arrives at the spot, the referee is able to react positively to the friendly nature of the exchange between the players (notice the smile on the referee’s and player’s faces).  However, if the player reaction was negative/confrontational, the referee’s anticipatory actions would have acted as the first step in diffusing the conflict.

By sprinting to the spot of the foul, the referee did a good job of being prepared for the worst outcome (player confrontation).  The referee’s actions are a visible signal that he was “prepared for the unexpected” and that he felt that his presence would be able to positively “influence the outcome.”

In the process of working to be proactive in managing players, referees must adjust their personality and game management to meet and exceed the intensity changes of the players on the field.  Often times there are clear “warning” signs provided by the game that can clue referees in on impending changes in game intensity:

  • Score of the Game – When one team is down a goal, the intensity level will pick up as the team works to equalize
  • Numerical Advantage – If a team has the man advantage, they will see the opportunity as a way to break down the opposition and go forward at a faster pace
  • The Team Playing a Man Down – The team playing short-handed may choose to “pack it in” with the hopes of playing a quick counter to the lone striker for a counter attack
  • Equalizing Goal – A team has just scored the equalizing goal and they have the momentum to win the game.  Normally this is after the goal has been scored late in the match and little time is left.  The defending team, on the other hand, may decide to play defensive and therefore the team that just equalized will have more assertive play in their attacking third.
  • Video Clip (Added 10/9/2008): Chicago at Kansas City (10:50 – second half) - This clip illustrates excellent officiating.  It shows a referee who “smells” trouble and uses his presence to defuse and prevent the trouble from escalating.  In this case, the referee recognizes a warning sign:  the goalkeeper is being challenged.  Consequently, the referee sprints to the scene and immediately intervenes preventing game disrepute from escalating to mass confrontation.  Due to his fast response and actions, the referee is able to correctly manage the situation without issuing a caution.  This is an example of anticipatory work on the part of the referee.  Note, if the referee deems the attacker’s actions to be unsporting behavior, he may decide to caution him accordingly but the focus of this clip was not the players actions but on how the referee was able to influence the outcome by his quick response to the warning sign (the challenge on the goalkeeper

Use of Personality In Place of and In Addition to the Whistle

The use of presence and personality to manage the players and influence behavior is one of the most critical success factors in a referee. Referees must possess the ability to establish lines of communication with players and send clear messages that will not only resonate directly with the player being addressed but will also be “felt” and understood by the other participants in the game.

Referees must be more than “whistle blowers.” Calling the foul is only a small part of the referee’s job. Communication, personality and presence are preventative measures. These tools require out-of-box thinking and creativity on the part of the referee as well as the courage to look a player in the eye to send a message. Players read the referee’s body language as do coaches and spectators. Referees must use all their tools to communicate with players in a positive manner that will help the players understand where the “line in the sand” is for that game. Hence, it is critical for referees to realize that when they are communicating with one player, they are really communicating with all the game’s participants.

The “feel” for the game, the situation and the player should help direct the referee’s approach. In some cases, a relaxed and quiet word is the best solution. In other cases, a stern, verbal and visual word is the best solution. In either case, the referee must remain calm and in control.

Often times misconduct can be managed by addressing the player, face-to-face, and keeping the card in the pocket.  Remember, calculated risk taking applies not just to the use of advantage, but also to how you choose to manage individual situations during a match.  Have confidence in your ability and personality.  If the game is under control and the players are responding, find alternative, creative means versus cards.  That’s not to say you can use personality as an excuse for failing to deal with a situation that demands a card.  Specifically, there are several instances in which the referee must carefully consider use of personality over the whistle and card, and in general should defer to the latter:

  1. Early, hard fouls:  The referee must set the standards of conduct for the game.  Hence, the earlier in the game, the less risk you should take and the less flow you may permit. Just like the player who is sending a message with the early tackle, the referee must send a message with a whistle and possibly more.
  2. Tackles from behind:  Tackles from behind are not candidates for flow or taking risks.  They endanger the opponent and lead to further game control issues. 
  3. Sequential fouls:  Fouls that occur in rapid fashion, normally in a tight space are critical for the referee to recognize.  Sequential fouls can occur one after the other or may be spread out over a minute or so.  But, in either case, they are fouls that get executed because of the intensity of the moment or the game.  In some instances, the fouls may seem minor or trifling but the sequencing of them makes them more significant.

The following video clips provide evidence of referees using personality manage players through various situations to ensure complete game control:

2010 (Click to view/hide)
Clip: New York at Dallas (45:45)
This clip begins with a clear reckless tackle for which the fouler is correctly cautioned for unsporting behavior. However, the focus of the review is the command presence of the referee and the manner in which the referee delivers the message (the yellow card).

As you watch the clip, focus on the referee and the player. Ask yourself:

  • Does the referee convey authority?
  • Who is in charge: The referee or the player?
  • Is the referee calm, controlled and confident?
  • Does the referee’s body language convey a message? And, does that message resonate to other players and to you?

The referee’s command presence is key in this situation to ensure the player understands the seriousness of the offense without being embarrassed. The referee employs strong visual body language that matches the severity of the foul while acting as a preventative tool (a warning to the player and others regarding future behavior).

Keys to the referee’s successful presence are:

  1. Calm and positive body language and mechanics.
  2. The referee is able to get the player to stop walking away and turn around.
  3. Eye contact is made as the card is raised (it is not given to the player’s back). This conveys confidence in the decision and decisiveness.
  4. The referee utilizes his right hand to send the “calm down” or “take it easy” message.
  5. The referee’s facial expressions also convey the seriousness of his message.

In this scenario, the referee has created a positive and strong aura/appearance without the use of the verbal word. In other cases, the use of the verbal message to compliment the visual body language may enhance the overall significance of the communication.

Clip: Toronto at Houston (75:53)
This is another example of strong command presence through the use of the verbal word and the use of visual body language. As with the first clip, ask yourself the same questions as you watch the referee’s action and the way in which he directs the decision to merely whistle for the foul (and not issue misconduct) and direct the game with his presence.

This clip involves two interactions between the player who commits the careless foul and the referee. The first occurs at 76:10 and the second takes place 30 seconds later at the next stoppage of play.

At 76:10, the referee sends a strong message. This is a “broadcast” message in that it resonates throughout the field and to all viewers of the game. This message is intended to match the severity of the offense and act as a deterrent to future negative action on the part of the player. The referee’s command presence is much bigger during this first interaction.

Thirty seconds later, the referee chooses a different message and a different approach. In this case, the referee is “following up” with the player to ensure the original message was received. The player provides the referee with a clue that he understands the message as he puts both his hands up as to say “I’m good. Don’t worry.”

Note: Referees can use downtime to open lines of communication with players or to follow up with them after having previously communicated with them. Use of downtime to connect with players or send positive, preventative messages is an effective tool. Downtime represents the moments in the game when the ball is out-of-play like during injuries, throw-ins, goal kicks and substitutions or even as you wait for the kickoff prior to the start of a half.

The initial interaction (76:10) between the player and the referee is effective because the referee “feels” and “reads” the situation and the player which ensures his actions match the circumstances as they unfold. The referee initiates communication first through a verbal exchange and, then, as the player attempts to move away prior to the completion of the message delivery, the referee raises the volume of his communication with his whistle (gets the player’s attention in a more direct and forceful audible manner).

Once the whistle has engaged the player for the second time, the referee “meets the player halfway.” In other words, the referee takes a few steps to the player who is walking away. This shows the referee is confident and not dictatorial. By moving toward the player, the referee makes a statement that this is not about “the referee” or winning the situation or power but it is about finding the most reasonable method to communicate and deliver a message with a frustrated player who may resist listening. By holding his ground in this situation, the referee would merely “add fuel to the fire” and inflame the situation. The player would not be open to the message and any effort would be lost.

The referee’s in-control body language, posture and hand/arm gestures help to deliver the message. Watch as the referee looks the player in the eyes and then points to his head as to say to the player, “think, think before you act.” So, without saying a word, the referee has communicated to the player and all other watching that the referee is taking preventative action with the hopes of influencing the player’s future decisions.

Note: Referees must be aware of situations where the verbal word may overly engage a player and solicit a negative response. In these situations, the utilization of strong body language messages may be more appropriate and not promote further discussion or dissent.

2009 (Click to view/hide)
  • Pictures: Chivas USA at Galaxy
    In one of MLS’s classic rivalry games, the referee must be able to use personality and establish lines of communication to aid in controlling the match. Entering the game, the referee team must understand the factors involved in the rivalry and must prepare themselves for all possible outcomes. Personality and presence must be established early in the game so that the players understand that there is a positive authority figure managing the match. Referees should not only send messages when fouls occur but they should be able to use the “downtime” in the game to communicate and help the players understand what is acceptable or not.

    The pictures below are a positive example of the referee using visual communication to establish his presence and to send a message.
 
Figure 1: Referee's Message Figure 2: Player's Response

The player, in Figure 2, has just committed an off-the-ball foul. In Figure 1, the referee uses just his finger and direct eye contact with the player (from approximately 20 yards away) to send a message: “Think, use your head, be smart . . . .“

In Figure 2, the player responds with a facial expression that says, “Yea, you’re right. I know . . . .” The referee has used a simple approach to send a message to the player. The referee knows that his message has been received due to the player’s response and acknowledgment. If the player does not respond positively, then the referee may have to find another route to communication and sending a message that is firmer/stronger.

The referee’s approach matched the situation. The message was effective and acknowledged. The referee used the “downtime” to send his message early (7:30) in the game. Great work by a match official to channel player behavior through preventative communication.

  1. Calls the player over and then, just before issuing the card, meets the player half way.
  2. Looks the player in the eye as he raises the card above his head.
  3. The referee’s body language is positive yet authoritative. It conveys that he is in charge and not influenced by outside factors.
  4. Watch the referee’s face. It is stern.

Watch how he delivers a quick but firm verbal message early in the clip. Even though it is addressed to another player who is complaining, it is short and to the point.

The referee’s face and body language send the strongest message. This is a message that resonates and is felt by all the players (not just the player being cautioned) and can be understood by the coaches, the spectators and the media. Overall, the referee uses tools other than the yellow card to send his message in an authoritative but positive manner.

 

2008 (Click to view/hide)
 

  • Video Clip: New England at Kansas City (43:55).  The referee calls 2 players over to talk with each after they had words.  This type of communication is not always easy but it diffuses and sends a positive message.  Ensure that, as referee, you isolate the players and look them in the eye.  Note: the referee needs to get to the foul sooner.  Look at the score; anticipate that the winning team will attempt to slow the restart.
  • Video Clip: Chicago at San Jose (1:00).  This is the first foul of the game.  See how the referee sprints to the spot and makes the foul seem “larger than it really is.”  The referee then calls the San Jose player over to have a word.  This is the type of management skills that the game needs more of.  It sets the tone and sets it early.
  • Video Clip: Columbus at DC (44:20). The referee recognizes a “no call” and does not award the attacker for going down in the penalty area.  Any contact is inconsequential thus play should be continued and the game flow maintained.  The referee then exhibits personality by quickly intervening between two players thus preventing escalation of a potentially volatile situation.  Look at the referee’s body language and his facial expressions.  They are controlled yet communicate his displeasure.
  • Video Clip: Chicago at D.C. (75:19). Not only does this clip show a tactical foul committed in the center circle but also provides some critical lessons for effective officiating.  After the initial foul, the referee indicates (by the raising of his arms) that he is applying advantage.  As the two players get off the ground, they tussle; however, the referee exhibits awareness and immediately moves to the potential confrontation thereby preventing its escalation.  Despite the application of the advantage, the referee did not ignore the actions of the defender.  Well done on the part of the referee.
  • Video Clip (Added 10/23/2008): New England at DC (85:55) - A coach of a side that is losing 2-1 is frustrated with an official’s decision.  The coach who can be seen at the bottom of the clip is demonstrative and verbal in his displeasure.  In this case, the referee has the presence of mind to remain composed.  The fourth official also does a good job of moving (in a non-confrontational manner) toward the coach to lend his support to the referee.  Without over reacting, the referee takes control of the situation and uses his presence (movement toward the bench and his physical stature) to convey a very clear and firm message that future similar behavior will not be tolerated.

By taking this action, the referee has “drawn his line in the sand” and has set the standard for conduct going forward.  The burden is now placed on the coaching staff to modify their behavior to acceptable standards.  The referee, by positively addressing the situation, has made everyone aware that he has recognized unacceptable behavior and, by conveying this, he has placed the responsibility for modification on those involved.  These actions are not only positive but preventative because they convey a message regarding reasonable expectations.  If the referee had ignored the coach’s actions, he would have sent a message to both technical areas, the players and the spectators that it is acceptable to visually and verbally dissent the decisions of the officials.  Like this referee, it is imperative that officials do not over react but should find the right personality and solution that matches the game situation and the moment.  In this case, the referee chose the most effective preventative course of action given the game.

  • Video Clip (Added 10/23/2008): Columbus at New York (81:30) - As this clip plays out, start by watching the bottom left corner of the screen.  Observe the two players who, off-the-ball, are involved in game disrepute as defined in the Game Disrepute section of this text.  As defined, game disrepute:
    • Usually involves at least one player and sometimes two or more opposing players going at each other in an aggressive manner.  The actions of the players bring the game into disrepute.  Usually the ball is dead (out of play).  Players feel at liberty to have a “go” at each other because they don’t have to chase a live ball.  These are volatile situations.  Because the ball is dead, a specific foul cannot be called but that should not inhibit the referee from taking appropriate action.

This situation meets all the requirements of game disrepute.  The ball is out of play, two players are going at each other aggressively and their actions bring the game into disrepute. 

Immediately upon recognizing the situation, the referee and fourth official proactively move toward the scene.  The voice, whistle and presence of the officials immediately catch the attention of the players resulting in the settling of the incident.  Once the players are separated, the referee can be seen quickly consulting with the fourth official and then cautioning both players for unsporting behavior.  The referee felt that the yellow cards were necessary given the “big picture” of the game (what had occurred previously, the temperature of the match, the players involved, etc.).

It is important to note how the referee continues to have a controlled conversation with another player after showing the yellow cards.  The referee does not turn his back to this player but allows the conversation to continue given it was done in a disciplined, non-threatening manner.  Calm, controlled conversations like this can lead to the opening of lines of communication in the game between the referee and the match participants.

Getting the Most Out of Your Yellow Card

The referee’s response to a foul or act of misconduct must match or exceed the severity of the player’s action.  In other words, the more severe the act of the player, the greater importance the referee should place on ensuring his actions/response send a message that the behavior displayed by the player will not be tolerated.  The message the referee sends must not only be received by the player for whom it is intended but also to the other players, coaches, and spectators.  An effective message that matches or exceeds the situation is the most effective tool in the referee’s ability to “draw his line in the sand.”  By “drawing the line in the sand,” the referee provides the players, coaches, and spectators with measurable and visual evidence of what is acceptable behavior in that game.

The referee who merely relies on the issuance of a card (yellow or red) to send messages is a reactive official – an official who does not use his personality to prevent the next foul.  Referees need to manage the game with their personality by picking the appropriate method of managing or dealing with a player.

Remember, the best referee is the referee who is seen and heard when the game requires the referee to be seen and heard.

Generally speaking, there is a continuum of referee actions needed to ensure that the referee’s response matches the severity of the offence.  Top level referees find ways to send messages aside from using the whistle.  They also utilize down time (when the ball is out of play) to connect with players.  Often times the connection can be positive communication and encouragement.  And give consideration: In response to every misconduct situation, referees do not need to reach for and display a card immediately.  At certain times, a calculated and diligent approach to the issuance of a card is best. 

By slightly delaying the “card” or “no card” decision, referees give themselves valuable seconds to assess the situation and to consider the action in context of the game and in context of the player who has committed the infraction.  During this brief pause, the referee can make eye contact with the ARs and/or fourth official if needed to get their perspective.  This almost inconspicuous pause can lead to more thought out decisions versus reactive decisions based upon emotion.

The following is brief overview of three important referee responses on the continuum:

2010 (Click to view/hide)
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2009 (Click to view/hide)
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2008 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: Dallas at Columbus (49:08) - The tackle committed in the clip is a certain yellow card for unsporting behavior.  It is reckless, late, from behind with no opportunity to play the ball, and takes out the opposition’s leg.  As a result, the decision by the referee to caution the player is correct.

However, the referee must get more out of the caution other than the simple act of displaying it.  It is not sufficient to merely issue the yellow card as the player walks away with their back to you.  This situation requires a face-to-face conversation.  The action of the referee must match or exceed the action of the player.

As the referee whistles for the foul, his actions starting with the tone of the whistle should signal his displeasure.  Along with a strong whistle, the manner in which the referee runs to the spot of the infraction should also communicate a sense of his displeasure.  Once at the area of the foul, the referee may get the fouler’s attention and motion for him to meet the referee halfway, in a neutral spot.  At this point, the referee can issue the yellow card while looking the player in the eye and having a stern but effective word with him.  This puts the referee in charge of the situation as opposed to the player who would otherwise be walking away from the referee as the card is displayed.

  • Video Clip (Added 9/19/2008): Columbus at Toronto (41:37) – This clip provides an example of a referee who understands the importance of managing the game with more than just his whistle.  In this clear cut yellow card situation, the referee uses his presence and personality to “prevent the next foul.”  The referee’s actions of isolating the offender and then conversing with him not only sends a message to the player being cautioned but also to the other participants in the game.  Through his actions, the referee has “drawn the line in the sand” and can use his actions to set the tone that will guide future actions on the field.
    • At the time of the initial foul, the referee can be seen in the background sprinting to the spot of the foul and then changing his course toward the fouler as the defender moves away from the incident.  This is the first visual action from the referee that indicates his displeasure with the foul.  Consequently, even before the referee has initiated a conversation or has shown the appropriate card, the referee has sent a message (his sprinting and urgency in movement) that the foul will not be permitted in this game.
    • Once he begins interaction with the player, he tailors or fits his method of communication to fit the player and the situation/game.  The result is a clear and distinct message to the fouler and to all other game participants, spectators and media.

Dissent

When deciding whether a player’s actions are cautionable for dissent (by word or action) or can be red carded for offensive or insulting or abusive language and/or gestures apply the following criteria:

Law 12, Fouls and Misconduct requires referees to caution players who dispute or dissent (argue) a referee’s decision either verbally and/or by action (non-verbal). U.S. Soccer has asked officials to take a firm stance against dissent because it:

The 2009 Directive entitled “Dissent” provides officials with multiple examples of various forms of dissent.

Referees have been asked to take a “common sense” approach to dealing with dissent and consider the manner in which the dissent is delivered. Often times, it is the manner in which dissent is displayed that determines whether a yellow card is warranted or whether another method (like a severe verbal reprimand) of managing the situation will deliver positive results. Remember, the referee’s response to dissent must be consistent with the potential impact of the dissent.

2010 (Click to view/hide)
Video Clip: Los Angeles at New York (58:08)
The home team is losing 1-0. They are playing a team that is first in the standings. There is just over 30 minutes left to equalize. They have been pressuring but unable to score.

This is pressure that referees face on a regular basis and at multiple times in a game. As the pressure mounts, so do player emotions. Every decision becomes increasingly scrutinized. Players fight for every advantage. Referees must have their finger on the temperature of the game and realize that, as factors change in a game, so will the attitudes/emotions of the players and coaches. Consequently, match officials must be prepared to prevent the escalation of emotionalism and find tools to calm volatile situations.

This clip provides a good example of a referee who attempts preventative measures but is forced to caution a player for dissent as the player persists in verbal and visual dissent that:

  • Extends beyond emotionalism through persistence.
  • Is clearly visible and can be seen by spectators and other players.
  • Erodes the authority of the referee if not dealt with.

A player is upset over a correct foul call. The player exhibits his frustration by confronting the referee. The player’s body language (including hand gestures) and facial expression clearly portray his anger. In fact, an opponent attempts to intervene but is dismissed by the angered player.

The referee responds in a preventative fashion prior to deciding to caution the player for dissent. What positive steps does the referee take to defuse the situation and provide the dissenting player some leeway to express his emotions?

  • Remains calm and controlled.
  • Makes eye contact with the player which alerts the player to the referee’s seriousness.
  • Initially holds his ground and then attempts to move away from the player in a manner that does not diminish his authority but acts as a preventative measure and increases the visual aspect of the dissent if the player continues to follow.
  • Uses hand gestures not once but twice. The hands convey a “stop” message that can be seen by the player and others.
  • Draws the final “line in the sand” by increasing his intensity and by a stronger hand gesture.
  • Takes a step back prior to issuing/displaying the yellow card. This creates space between the referee and the player and ensures the referee does not enter the player’s body space and possibly increase the confrontation.

By not responding to the referee’s attempt to defuse the situation and prevent the issuance of the yellow card, the player’s actions move from merely an emotional response to dissent by both word and action.

Overall, good work by the referee in allowing a professional player, in a pressure situation, to have an emotional response. The referee then shows good discrimination, after allowing some emotion and after taking preventative measures, in determining that the emotion continues to persist and has moved to dissent by word and action.

2009 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: Kansas City at Real Salt Lake (29:38)
    Despite the game being less than 30 minutes old, the referee must take a firm position against dissent that is delivered in a negative and persistent manner. In this example, the combination of the player’s verbal and visual actions require the referee to caution him for dissent. Key in interpreting the action is the persistent and exaggerated nature of the player’s actions. Because of the potential impact resulting from the manner in which the dissent is delivered, the referee is required to caution the player for dissent. This is not a candidate for referees to manage with merely a verbal admonition. The player’s non-verbal actions are too significant of a challenge to the referee’s authority. This is not a momentary “emotional outburst.” It is extended and overly public.

    Referees are being asked to take early action against players who exhibit dissent-like conduct thereby preventing the deterioration of player behavior. As stated in the “Dissent” directive, early recognition and early attempts to address protesting players will send a message that will hopefully resonate throughout the remainder of the game. Personality and presence must be at the forefront of a common sense approach. Referees who impart their personality early and often are less likely to have to issue yellow cards for dissent later in the game.
  • Video Clip: Chicago at Seattle (59:00)
    At the beginning of the clip a replay is shown of a player who simulates a foul in order to deceive the referee into awarding him a free kick. This player should be cautioned for unsporting behavior. The Laws of the Game require that the referee caution a player for “attempting to deceive the referee by pretending to have been fouled (simulation).” This includes situations when a player fakes a foul (dives) or exaggerates the severity of a foul.

    When evaluating the attacker’s actions in determining that deception exists, the following flash points exist:

    • The location of the attacker: the attacker is in the “danger” or “red” zone. This is the area approximately 25 to 30 yards from goal where free kicks are often scored. In this area, attacking players evaluate whether a free kick or continuing with the ball will provide more benefit for their team.
    • The attacker’s touch on the ball: the attacker touches the ball by the defender but it is touched far enough from the attacker that he will not be able to regain possession of the ball.
    • The location of surrounding defenders: the attacker knows the location of the supporting defenders and realizes that the surrounding defenders will get to the ball before him or they will prevent him from further progression with the ball.
    • The attacker initiates the contact: closely watch the defender’s actions by watching his feet. The defender holds his ground and does not step into to path of the attacker. The attacker, on the other hand, goes down easily as he passes the defender. The attacker’s fall is deliberate and he is attempting to exaggerate the contact in order to win a free kick in the “danger zone.”

    After analyzing the warning signs, the referee correctly decides that the player commits an act of unsporting behavior and cautions him. Immediately upon issuing the yellow card, the attacker begins to dissent in a verbal and visual manner. The referee decides that the player’s actions constitute dissent (more than an “emotional outburst”) and he issues a second yellow card to the player for dissent. After showing the yellow card the second time in this situation, the referee must then send the player off (show the red card) as this is the player’s second caution in the match.

  • Video Clip: Dallas at Real Salt Lake (69:45)
    This clip starts with a defensive wall that has been established in the penalty area. As the free kick is taken, a defender jumps up from the wall and extends his arm out to the side and deliberately makes contact with the ball as it is headed toward the goal. TThe referee correctly awards a penalty kick since the handling offense was committed by a defender inside the penalty area.

    What occurs next is irresponsible behavior on the part of the coach. The coach’s actions and words (which can be classified as offensive, insulting or abusive language) are irresponsible and strongly question the referee’s authority. Not only are they directed toward the referee (“personal”) but his words and actions are “public.” The persistent/repetitive nature of the irresponsible behavior must be dealt with by the referee by dismissing the coach.

    As the referee sets up the ensuing penalty kick, he does a very good job following the advice and guidelines established relative to the administration of penalty kicks. This is particularly evident in the manner in which he uses preventative refereeing by walking along the top of the penalty area warning players about encroaching into the penalty prior to the ball being kicked. The result is a penalty kick taken in accordance with the Laws of the Game.

    Since the referee’s location on the field may prevent him from fully recognizing the irresponsible behavior of the coach, the fourth official must get the referee’s attention at the first stoppage of play. This may be done directly or through the nearside assistant referee (AR). Here are some recommendations to ensure the process of dismissal is handled without any problems or miscommunication:

    1. Get a second opinion from the AR
      Prior to dismissing an individual within the technical area, the fourth official should attempt to get a second opinion or get confirmation from the nearby AR. By engaging the AR, the fourth official will have more confidence that his decision to dismiss is correct. Engaging another perspective on the situation is a positive move.
    2. Clear, succinct and specific communication with the referee
      Once the referee is summoned, the fourth official should clearly and succinctly communicate the recommended action. If players are involved, use numbers not just names. Make sure to specify the action the referee should take. For example: “Coach <Name> of team A should be dismissed for irresponsible behavior. Coach <Name> used offensive and insulting language and gestures directed at you.” Often times, communicating the exact words used can be effective in conveying the severity of the actions.
    3. Indicate the culprit
      If need be, after communicating the information to the referee, the AR can point to the individual to be dismissed or sent off to ensure the correct person has been identified. This is especially true for non-playing personnel who may not be familiar to the match officials.
    4. Reconfirm the information
      Once the fourth official has conveyed the information, the referee should reconfirm the information. Reconfirmation ensures that what has been transmitted has been received correctly.
  • Video Clip: 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.
2008 (Click to view/hide)
 

  • Video Clip (Added 11/13/2008): New York at Houston (16:30 – second half) - Not only does this clip provide an example of the referee correctly dealing with visual and verbal dissent that questions his authority but it also shows a correct decision to award a foul to the attacking team.  Let’s first address the foul decision.

In this clip, the attacking player has pace and is moving with the ball.  He is approached on both sides by defenders.  The defender on the right makes a legal slide tackle to dispossess the attacker of the ball.  In fact, this defender is successful in contacting the ball in a manner that is fair.  This defender (approaching from the right) cleanly takes the ball off the right foot of the attacker.  Contact is first made with the ball and the defender does not go through the attacker to get to the ball.  This is a fair challenge.

However, the defender streaking in from the left makes no challenge for the ball and throws his upper body into the attacker in order to deny the attacker’s track to the ball.  This upper body charge is intended to run the fast attacker off the ball and prevent him from getting by.  No play on the ball is made by this defender.  The only contact is with the attacker’s body.  Hence, the referee is correct in awarding a foul in favor of the attacking team.  The fact that the defender from the right legally plays the ball does not void the responsibility of the other defender (approaching from the left) to also make a fair challenge.

In terms of the dissent, watch the body language and the facial expression of the defender who is cautioned for dissent.  The player’s actions convey aggressiveness toward the referee and question his authority.  The aggressive and visual nature of this dissent preclude the referee from dealing with it any other way other than with a caution.  The player’s actions have taken the focus off the game and put it on the player and referee thereby bringing the game into disrepute.

Players who physically move toward the referee in an aggressive manner and need to be restrained by other players are strong candidates for yellow cards for dissent.  The player in this clip first waves his arm toward the referee immediately following the foul call and then moves toward the referee’s body space.  This is accompanied by strong verbal comments that can be seen by the spectators and other players.  Failure to deal with this type of action, negatively impacts the referee’s authority on the field of play.  This player must be cautioned and shown the yellow card for dissent by word or action.

  • Video Clip: Toronto at New England (46:00 – added time) - In this clip, the referee has just whistled for half time.  Closely watch the player with the ball as the whistle is blown.  What are his actions?  Are his actions visible so that other players and spectators can witness – are the actions public?  Do the actions undermine or question the authority of the referee?  In this particular instance, the player shows his disregard and disrespect of the referee by, first, clapping his hands in defiance of the referee and, second, by sharply rolling the ball at the referee.  This is a case in which the referee must respond with a message that corresponds to the intensity of the player’s actions; hence, a yellow card is an appropriate response that communicates a strong message to the player, the other players, and to the spectators that such dissent will not be tolerated.  Recommendation:  In cases where the referee anticipates potential dissent at half time, the referee would be advised to move to a neutral position on the field away from the players and coaches so as not to invite dissent and create extra space between himself and potential problem players.
  • Video Clip: Houston at Dallas (73:10) - The attacking player, in this clip, shows his distain toward the referee’s decision to award a foul against him by kicking the ball away.  The player’s actions are magnified by the long time from the whistle to the time he takes to kick the ball away in disgust.  Additionally, the force, power, and distance that he kicks the ball also displays a negative message and makes the player’s actions more distinguishable.  In this case, the referee must caution the player for dissent thereby sending a definitive message that such displays of dissatisfaction will not be tolerated.
  • Video Clip: New York at Colorado (80:45) - Watch in this clip how the player not only negatively addresses the referee but also the assistant referee (AR).  The player’s words and tone as well as his body language and the manner in which he approaches the officials clearly demonstrate his attitude and his dissent.  The referee rightfully cautions him for dissent.  The player is failing to show respect for the referee or for the game.  Look at the score.  The player’s team had a secure lead and the game was void of any controversial decisions and no significant decision occurred that would give any indication to the referee that the player’s actions were a “quick emotional outburst” as opposed to dissent. The extended nature and persistence of the dissenting player’s actions makes the player’s intent even more obvious for the referee team.
  • Video Clip (Added 10/23/2008): Chicago at Toronto (29:45) - The referee makes a decision that the player disagrees with.  The player directs his disagreement and protest at the referee in a visual and manner by waving his hand/arm at the referee in public disgust and disagreement.  Such action, questions the referee’s authority and the referee is justified in cautioning the player for dissent by action.  The referee must make a determination given the game and the manner in which the dissent is delivered whether a yellow card is warranted or whether another method (like a severe verbal reprimand) of managing the situation will deliver the same results.  However, referees cannot allow players to question the authority of any member of the referee team without addressing the player involved.

Handling (a.k.a. the “hand ball”)

U.S. Soccer has published a 2009 Referee Program Directive entitled, “Handling the Ball.” 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
    opponent?

  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.

2010 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: Philadelphia at Houston (35:53)
    This is a clear case where the defender makes himself bigger by extending his arm outside its natural playing area to prevent the opponent from getting the ball. The defender knows that he is beat and, if the ball gets by, the opponent will be positioned to receive the ball. The defender disguises his actions by immediately chasing the handled ball. Image 1 provides a visual as to the position of the defender and the attacker at the time of the handling. The referee should award a penalty kick and caution the defender for unsporting behavior. All elements of denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity (DOGSO) are not evident. Hence, a send off would not be appropriate. The “4-D’s” are used to determine whether DOGSO exists. The four elements are:
    • Number of Defenders
    • Distance to goal
    • Distance to ball
    • Direction of play

    Both distance to ball and number of defenders are missing in this case. The attacker does not have or may not gain clear possession of the ball. Concurrently, the defender who handles the ball and the other rushing defender may have been able to prevent an obvious scoring opportunity.

    The referee can aid his decision by taking a more strategic position and by moving as the ball is crossed in the penalty area. The referee needs to move closer to the “drop zone” and the ball comes down in the penalty area after the semi-bicycle kick. The referee cannot assume that the next phase of play will be “safe.”

    Note: Referees should always be moving their feet. This does not always mean always running. Often times, a few steps as the ball is moving can assist in creating a better angle of vision to play. Move, don’t watch. Anticipate, don’t react.

  • Video Clip: Los Angeles at New England (64:52)
    The referee correctly awards a ceremonial direct free kick for handling as the player in the wall jumps up resulting in contact with his arm. Although the player sets his arms (in front of his face and groin) prior to the original free kick being taken, by virtue of the player jumping, the contact with the ball shall be judged as deliberate and therefore must be punished with a direct free kick. The player in this clip moves his arms from their preset position.

  • Clip: 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.

  • Clip: Kansas City at New England (69:29)
    This clip involves an undetected handling offense that should have resulted in the awarding of a penalty kick. The referee’s angle of vision to the foul is hampered by the position of the players. However, the AR has a side angle and a view that permits him to see between the players and observe the movement of the hands/arms as well as the ball.

    Watch as the defender uses his left hand to handle and push the ball away from an attacker who has goal-side position. If the AR is able to look between the bodies of the two players and, as a result, clearly assess that handling has occurred, then the AR should feel empowered to make the foul decision.

    Given the rapid change in direction of the ball, the referee may be able to sense that the ball has been handled. With this gut feel, the referee can be looking to the AR for input and assistance. Eye contact between the referee and the AR should be the first step in making the correct decision and communicating any information needed to make the penalty kick decision.
2009 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: Toronto at Dallas (81:49)
    With the score 2-2 and approximately eight minutes remaining, the awarding of a penalty kick for a handling offense is never an easy decision for the referee. It takes courage and a well positioned official to make this game critical call.

    The referee correctly awards a penalty kick for handling because he has determined all three of the criteria listed above are evident. The defender “makes himself bigger” by taking away the space the attacker needed to flick the ball up and by the defender. The defender’s extended arm was used to extend his reach and occupy more space.

    The defender’s arm is also in an “unnatural position.” The referee makes the determination that the arm/hand does not need to be in that position or extended so far from his body. In other words, the referee decided that the extended position of the arm was not normal or needed for the task facing the defender. As a result of the extended arm and the contact with the ball, it is evident that the player benefited from putting his arm in the position.
  • Video Clip: New York at Los Angeles Galaxy (37:30)
    In this clip, the AR makes the handling decision which results in the only goal of the game from the ensuing penalty kick. The AR should be applauded for having the courage to make a game critical decision and makes the decision based upon the “making yourself bigger” criteria. First, we will examine the decision itself and then we will examine the mechanics behind the decision.
    • The Decision
      Because the defender’s arms are extended from his body, he has taken away space from the attacker. The defender’s arms are used as a barrier to prevent the service of the ball. The defender is using his arms to make himself bigger and, consequently, he has benefited from the result of his arms occupying space beyond the normal reach of a player. Note that the arms are not near the defender’s body and not at the defender’s side – normal positions for a defender trying to contain an attacker.
    • The Mechanics
      The AR is empowered to make the handling decision as he has a clear view of the incident (the defender’s body and arms are directly facing him). The referee’s distance from the play has also been considered by the AR prior to raising the flag. An AR who is 100 percent certain of his decision and is certain that the “making yourself bigger” criteria has been met is compelled by the needs of the game to be involved.

Once the AR has made the determination that the criteria exists for handling, he should make eye contact with the referee. The eye contact should be followed by the AR raising and giving a slight wave of the flag to indicate a foul. The next step is for the AR to indicate to the referee that the foul should result in a penalty kick:

“If the referee stops the game, the assistant referee first indicates penalty kick by holding the flag across the lower body and then begins walking toward the corner flag.”

You can see this mechanic in action by focusing on the work of the AR in the clip. The AR correctly utilizes the mechanic (holds the flag across his waist after the slight wave and the whistle) to indicate that the foul should result in a penalty kick. This revised signal will be included in the next edition of U.S. Soccer’s publication entitled, “Guide to Procedures for Referees, Assistant Referees and Fourth Officials.”

On anther note, the referee needs to show more energy and must increase his body language to implement and sell the decision. The casual approach by the referee does not exude confidence in the decision. In other situations, players may come at the referee to protest and the referee must show positive authority in his decision making process.

  • Video Clip: 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: 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: 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.
  • Video Clip: Boston at Sky Blue – WPS
    Using the criteria of “making yourself bigger” which is contained in the 2009 Directive entitled, “Handling the Ball,” the referee can confidently make the decision that the player on the blue team has “made herself bigger” as well as put her arms/hands in an “unnatural position.” Thus, this is a clear handling offense that must be recognized by the referee who is well positioned and who sees the offense since he incorrectly signals to continue play.

    The fact that the player’s arms are above her shoulders is evidence that the player has put them in an “unnatural position.” Players do not play the game with their arms/hands in the position that they are in this video clip. In addition, the player “makes herself bigger” by denying the touch or pass of the opponent from progressing. The concept of “making yourself bigger” is not confined only to a player with their arms extended from the side of their body. “Making yourself bigger” applies to all the space around a player including the sides, in front and overhead. In this example, the player “makes herself bigger” by extending her reach above her head and takes the passing lane as well as space away from the opponent.

    Watch the referee in the clip. He seems to mimic the advantage signal when no advantage exists. The referee may be using the signal to indicate that “no foul has occurred.” This is not an authorized signal. The referee also uses the advantage signal to show “no foul.” The advantage signal must only be used in instances where the referee has applied the advantage clause.

    The F.I.F.A. supplement to the Laws of the Game, “Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees,” has a section on referee signals. In this section, it states:

    Body language is a tool that the referee uses to:

    • Help him control the match.
    • Show authority and self-control.

    Body language is not:

    • An explanation of a decision.”

    Basically, referees should refrain from using body language and unauthorized signals to explain a call or no call, a foul or no foul. By not blowing the whistle, the referee indicates to the players, coaches and spectators that an infraction has not occurred. In this case, a “no signal” is a “signal,” a signal that nothing has been observed by the referee. Signals like pointing to the ball should not be used by match officials.

  • Video Clip: New England at Seattle (81:55)
    This video clip situation involves a defender (facing his own goal) making a sliding kick of a ball which has been serviced across the penalty area, near the penalty spot. As a result of the sliding kick, the ball deflects off his leg and it is sent toward his own goal with speed. As the defender kicks it, a teammate is only three yards from him and the ball strikes the arm.

    Given the criteria above, this is not a handling situation because:

    1. The arm is in a NATURAL PLAYING POSITION.
    2. The player did NOT MOVE THE ARM TO THE BALL.
    3. The player tried to move his arm out of the way as it struck him.
    4. He did NOT take away the opponent’s passing/shooting lane.

    Note the excellent position of the referee who has a clear, unobstructed view of the situation.

  • Video Clip: Los Angeles at DC United (84:35)
    Contrasted with clip above, this is an example of a player who has “made himself bigger” and whose arm/hand is in an “unnatural position.” As a result, this is a handling offense that should result in the awarding of a penalty kick.

    Of note is the fact that the referee does not have a strategic position to best view the handling infringement. With the ball being serviced into the penalty area from the left channel of the field, the referee must be moving with the ball/following the flight of the ball toward the drop zone. The referee is not visible in the clip and has not followed the ball. As a result, he is not positioned with the best view of any challenge, let alone a handling offense, in the penalty area. A position closer to the drop zone would enable the referee to have a clearer, more confident view of the scenario.

2008 (Click to view/hide)
As you examine the following clips, consider the “making yourself bigger” criteria in determining why the decision to award a foul for handling would be correct:

  • Video Clip: New York vs. Columbus (65:05) - The defender uses the “make yourself bigger” technique to prevent an opponent’s ball from getting past him or behind him into space.  The defender extends his arm out and throws his body in front of the player and the ball causing his arm to contact the ball.  The defender attempts to disguise the handling or “making yourself bigger” offense by his actions and the referee does well not to be fooled.

The result of the defender’s action was to take away the space from the attacker and prevent the ball from getting behind him.  The defender turns his body and arm into the path of the attacker and the ball.  The result is a deliberate action by the defender to reduce the options of the opponent.  Consequently, the referee is correct to award a direct free kick for handling the ball.

  • Video Clip (Added 11/5/2008):  Chicago at New England (63:30) - Clearly, the ball strikes the defender’s arm.  Hence, the referee is faced with a decision as to whether to penalize this contact or not.  Even though the contact occurs in the penalty area, the area on the field in which the contact occurs cannot influence the referee’s decision. 

The key to determining this call is found in the answer to the two questions provided above.

    • Where is the placement of the defender’s arm/hand at the time the ball is played by the opponent? - It is important to note that the last person to play the ball is the player himself, NOT an opponent.  The ball comes off the defender’s head to make contact with the arm.
    • Does the arm/hand of the defender take away space from the team with the ball? - The defender is NOT taking away space from the team with the ball since the defender is the last person to touch/play the ball.  Because he is the last to touch/play the ball, he cannot be taking away space from the opponent.  The defender’s arm position does not take a passing lane away or an opportunity away from his opponent.

Because the ball is last touched/played by the defender himself and the defender is not taking away space from the opponent, the defender has NOT made himself bigger and, therefore, there is no handling offense.

  • Video Clip: Chivas USA at Chicago (89:05) - The defender is approximately four yards from the opponent at the time the ball is played.  This long distance provides more time for the defender to control his actions.  As the clip is replayed, look at the position of the defender’s arm – extended out from his body thereby making his body bigger and taking away the passing lane or the angle for a shot on goal.  Additionally, this is not a natural position for the arm as a defender is closing down on an opponent.  Also, closely look at the defender’s left arm.  It too is raised up, away from his body.  Given the “making yourself bigger” criteria, in this case, the referee should call a foul (handling) and award a penalty kick.
  • Video Clip: Atlante (Mexico) at New England (17:31 – second half) - This example is from a SuperLiga game.  Once more, a defender has his arm extended out to a position that “makes himself bigger” and unfairly takes away opponent’s space to pass/play the ball.  The freeze frame clearly shows the extended arm makes contact with the ball.  The referee would be correct in awarding a penalty kick for handling following the “making yourself bigger” criteria.
  • Video Clip:Kansas City at Houston (86:01) - This example of handling the ball is a difficult one for officials – difficult because it is not only hard to identify/see but also because it happens so quickly.  The clip may need to be watched several times to clearly see the handling offense (even more reason why the call is a difficult one for the referee).

    The attacker is able to use his arm/hand to control the ball (bring the ball down) and gain an advantage by doing so.  By “making himself bigger,” the attacker has gained an advantage over the defender resulting in his being able to get off a shot and score.  Referees must consider that the advantage gained by the attacker so close to the goal is unfair and that the position of the arm contributes to the unfair advantage.  The player’s arm is extended from his body and he does not attempt to move the arm out of the way of the ball; hence, he has “made himself bigger” in order to control the ball and attempt a shot.  Watch how the attacker even uses the arm to nudge the opponent away just prior to handling the ball.  This was an attempt by the attacker to “make himself bigger” so that he could control the ball once it reached him.  Given the Spirit of the Game, the referee is within his rights to disallow the goal and award a free kick to the defending team for handling the ball.
  • Video Clip (Added 10/3/2008): Colorado at New York (16:02) - Using the “making your self bigger” criteria, the referee correctly awards a free kick for handling the ball.  The defender’s actions meet the criteria because he is clearly standing with his arms extended from his body, in an “unnatural position.” More evident is the fact that the extended arms take away the passing lane from the attacker attempting to cross the ball.  The extended arms reduce the opponent’s options and take away normally available space to pass the ball.
  • Video Clip (Added 10/3/2008): Colorado at New York (32:27) – In this clip, the referee is faced with another case of “making yourself bigger.”  In this clip, the handling occurs inside the penalty area and the referee correctly awards a penalty kick.  Despite the close proximity of the attacker to the defender who handles the ball, look how the defender jumps out at the ball and extends his left arm out which contacts the ball.  The arm is moving out towards the ball and is not at the defender’s side.  The defender’s action takes away space from the attacker and the result is the denying the attacker the ability to create a scoring chance by connecting his pass with his teammate.

Dealing With Game Disrepute

Game disrepute involves situations in which players do things that are may not be acts of misconduct in and of themselves, but cast a negative light on the game.  Specifically, actions in which players go at each other in a heated manner, especially those situations that involve bodily contact (chest bumping, etc), or players who go face-to-face need to be addressed.  These situations reflect badly on the game, and are not the picture of the sport that we want to paint for spectators who may be new to the game.

Game disrepute by players usually involves at least one player and sometimes two or more opposing players going at each other in an aggressive manner.  The actions of the players bring the game into disrepute.  Usually the ball is dead (out of play).  Players feel at liberty to have a “go” at each other because they don’t have to chase a live ball.  These are volatile situations.  Because the ball is dead, a specific foul cannot be called but that should not inhibit the referee from taking appropriate action. 

Game disrepute can be dealt with in multiple ways:

2010 (Click to view/hide)
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2009 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: New England at New York (47:16)

    Similar to clip 1 above, this example involves a situation where player safety is paramount. Two players are approaching the touchline and the signboards at a high speed. Both are jostling for the ball. As the ball leaves the field, New England player no. 7 (blue jersey) holds the arm of the New York player no. 11 and thereby causes him to push back. These two actions then lead to further pushing by both players.

    Quick intervention by the AR defuses the situation and prevents the game disrepute from escalating. Watch as the AR pats his pocket indicating the referee should consider a yellow card.

    Following the 2009 Referee Program Directive on Game Disrepute and Mass Confrontation, the referee correctly applies the concept of “punishing uniformly” and cautions both players for unsporting behavior. Given the fact that the actions occurred outside the field and while the ball was out of play, the restart would be a throw-in.

    As part of the referee’s decision to caution both players, the referee should ask himself the following two questions. These questions will help the official assess the temperature of the game and guide the decision to caution. If the referee believes the use of personality and presence to address the two players will provide the same result as two cautions, the referee can exercise discretion.
    • Does the player need the card?
      In this case, the referee can consider the past actions of the two players involved and, based upon this assessment, decide if the best course of action to modify their behavior is a caution.

    • Does the game need the card?
      The history of the game to that point and the referee’s assessment of where the game is going can factor into the referee’s decision. Based upon the referee’s “feel” for the game, the official may exercise some discretion in deciding whether the game needs the two cautions to ensure future game control.

  • Video Clip: New England at D.C. United (73:30)
    Several warning signs of impending game disrepute are evident in this clip: two players moving at speed toward the touchline/signboards where the safety of the opponent is at risk (zone of contact), the ball is not playable and the level of contact is above the norm for such a challenge. In this game, the two players involved in the game disrepute have had prior exchanges and this must be recognized by the officials.

    Not only does the AR assist the referee by signaling a foul but the AR “feels” the situation and exhibits positive preventative techniques. The quick and immediate intervention by the AR, by interposing his body in a constructive/positive manner, defuses the situation and prevents the players’ actions from escalating and drawing in other players which could potentially result in mass confrontation. In this case, the AR became the “third man in” and his actions deterred the situation from escalating. Note, officials must be careful when interposing their body between players in a manner that may result in contact.

    The referee follows the directive to “punish uniformly” by cautioning both players. Both players should be cautioned for unsporting behavior but the game should be restarted with a direct free kick in favor of D.C. United (black jerseys) as the New England player committed a foul to stop play.
2008 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: Galaxy at RSL (87:16). This is a classic example of game disrepute and one in which two cautions are warranted.  Two players go chest-to-chest and there is very obvious physical contact amongst them.  Contact is not necessary but it makes the disrepute more obvious.  Look at the time.  Despite the fact there is less than three minutes remaining in the game, the referee identifies that the players’ actions need official attention and represent a threat to the “atmosphere” of the match – regardless of the remaining time.  The referee uses common sense and correctly cautions both players for unsporting behavior.
  • Video Clip: New York at San Jose (38:37 – second half) - The referee correctly cautions (unsporting behavior) the first player for his tactical foul on the opponent.  As the referee whistles for the foul, he immediately displays his yellow card.  However, the preferred mechanic would have been to continue his run toward the two players prior to the issuance of the card.  The referee’s closer presence may have prevented the attacking player from confronting the tackler.  Once he reached the players, if his presence did not diffuse the situation, he could then intervene by separating the opponents and pulling the player(s) he will caution aside.  Once the players were separated, the yellow card would be displayed.

    The player that was fouled also requires a caution for game disrepute (unsporting behavior).  The player acts as an instigator by physically challenging his opponent.  In addition, his attempt to intimidate the defender by faking a head butt (from all angles, contact is not made) can lead to further escalation and misconduct by both players and by both teams.  Although a player that is fouled may exhibit some “controlled” form of frustration, this player’s actions exceed acceptable amounts.  The actions are not only too aggressive they are intimidating and threatening.  A message must be sent that the overly aggressive nature of the player’s retaliation is not acceptable.  The referee must caution him to “draw the line in the sand.”
  • Player Escalation. Be aware of players that run to the fray from long distances and from the bench.  The fourth official can play a role in preventing escalation by controlling the benches and by assisting with the identification of players.  If the situation warrants, AR’s should also feel comfortable entering the field to provide presence. It is critical to deal with players that “make their presence known” by injecting themselves into situations that they were not originally involved.  Please deal with these types of situations in an appropriate manner based upon the game:
    • Video Clip: Chicago at San Jose (53:40).  In this situation, the referee correctly cautions the player who came from approximately 25 yards to engage with opponents.  This is the type of situation that, if not dealt with appropriately, can lead to future problems in the game.

Mass Confrontations

According to the March 14, 2003 US Soccer Position Paper entitled “Mass Confrontation,” “The concerted actions of three or more players from the same team who are disputing a decision while surrounding the referee or hindering or forcing movement by the referee.” Often times mass confrontation manifests itself in one of two ways:

  1. Several players confronting the referee, assistant referees (ARs) or fourth official – players are trying to intimidate one or more official(s) to influence a current or future outcome/decision.
  2. Multiple players confronting each other – swarm of players exhibiting aggressive behavior toward each other.  Physical contact is often a by-product of the acts.

Mass Confrontation Model (Triangle)Mass confrontations where the officials are surrounded and being intimidated by aggressive players, who hope to influence the referee, is never positive, and invokes a negative public image, slows the game down, ignites further aggressive behavior, and ruins the entertainment value of the game.  Referees must work to stamp these types of mass confrontation from the game.  The referee team must work diligently to identify the main culprits and address their actions as misconduct (issue a caution – yellow card, or send off – red card).

U.S. Soccer recommends match officials utilize the “triangle of control” (see diagram) to manage situations involving mass confrontation. By surrounding the group of players, via a triangle, the referee team maximizes its chances of identifying the culprits and, thus, taking the appropriate action.

Remember, when forming the “triangle of control":

When dealing with misconduct associated with game disrepute or mass confrontation, U.S. Soccer recommends that the referee should punish uniformly.

In general, mass confrontations share many similar characteristics that referees can use to react quickly in handling these situations:

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2009 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: Los Angeles at Seattle (11:07, second half)
    This is a complicated clip and requires officials to think on multiple levels and be able to evaluate multiple actions by multiple players while ensuring U.S. Soccer’s directives are followed. In this clip, once the referee whistles for the foul, he must deal with:
    1. Actions aimed at delaying the restart
    2. Game disrepute
    3. Mass confrontation resulting from the game disrepute
    4. The “third man in”
    5. “Contact above the shoulder”

    In order to correctly decipher the totality of actions, the involvement of each member of the referee team is required. In this and similar cases, teamwork will lead to more informed decisions on the part of the referee. Let’s address each of the points above:
    1. Actions aimed at delaying the restart
      As soon as the referee sees that a player on the defending team (the team committing the foul) gets possession of or attempts to gain possession of the opponent’s ball, the referee must immediate impart himself on the situation with his presence and a whistle. A warning sign is the player pulling the ball away from the opponent with his foot as the attacker approaches. Recognizing this leads to preventative work. Urgency in response and movement (the referee cannot walk to the situation) to the delaying player may act to defuse the situation and prevent opponents from attempting to dispossess the defender of the ball. The warning signs of impending issues are there because the free kick is in the attacking third of the field and the defending team wants to slow the restart to get players goal side of the ball. The actions of player No. 16 (white jersey) must be punished with a yellow card for delaying the restart of play. This player is the instigator and this must be recognized by the officials.
    2. Game disrepute
      The player’s actions aimed at delaying the restart escalate into game disrepute because an attacking player attempts to get possession of the ball and makes contact with the instigator. This, in turn, leads to a scrum and multiple players involved (mass confrontation). As mass confrontation ensues, the referee should back away, the near side AR should observe and the far side AR should enter the field to provide another set of eyes. These actions form the “triangle of control” and provide the best vantage point for the officials to ensure the proper misconduct can be administered.
    3. The “third man in”
      As the situation evolves, it becomes evident that player No. 18 (white jersey) is the “third man in.” This player’s aggressive actions and his eagerness to assert himself into the scrum, increases the aggressiveness of the situation. This player must be cautioned for unsporting behavior.
    4. “Contact above the shoulder”
      In response to the actions of the “third man in,” No. 7 (green jersey) strikes the opponent with his right arm/hand contacting him above the shoulder in the neck and facial area. This action meets all the criteria listed above (deliberate, intended to intimidate, potentially inciting further action on the part of opponents, etc.) and thus must be considered violent conduct and a red card issued.

    Identifying players who persist in dissenting the decision is important but secondary to dealing with the perpetrators and retaliators. In this clip, the referee cautions a player for his dissent which is exhibited both verbally and visually (through his physical persistence and interference with the referee).

    A key part to ensuring the correct misconduct is administered should be teamwork. Once the situation has defused and the players channeled to neutral areas, the referee should consult with the other members of his team and evaluate the whole situation prior to deciding what misconduct to mete out. This is key and ensures that all the culprits are identified and the appropriate actions taken. In this situation, the referee should not rush to show cards but should seek input from the ARs and the fourth official and then make the best possible team-based decision.
  • Video Clip: Houston at Seattle (14:44)
    A game disrepute situation that escalates into mass confrontation begins with an attacking cross into the penalty area in which an attacker, on the far post, holds a defender and whose body contact with the goalkeeper blocks the keeper’s path to the ball. The frustrated goalkeeper then exhibits aggressive and reckless behavior toward the attacker. In following the U.S. Soccer directive entitled, “Game Disrepute and Mass Confrontation,” the referee team does a very good job implementing the focal points of the directive as follows:
    1. Act quickly and attempt to separate
      The referee (the closest official to the situation) intervenes quickly and separates the two players in a positive, non-confrontational manner. The referee’s attempt to become a positive “third man in” defuses the situation.
    2. Assistant Referees (ARs) enter the field to observe
      The ARs enter the field to form the “triangle of control” and provide extra sets of eyes to observe player behavior. The near-side AR does an excellent job of not getting too close by taking a vantage point that gives him excellent sightlines to the group(s) of players. The ARs allow the referee to manage the situation with his presence while they observe. 
    3. Channel players to neutral areas
      The referee works hard to channel the players to neutral areas which eliminates potential conflict and body contact and reduces the aggressive nature of the event. 
    4. Confer and decide
      Once the situation is controlled/defused, the referee calls both ARs together and, while facing the players, gets input from each of his assistants. The referee also does well to hold his conference separated from the players thus eliminating any potential outside interference or influence. Keeping players away when discussing the situation provides a better environment for the exchange of information.
    5. Isolate the affected players and disperse sanctions
      Once the referee has decided upon the course of action, he isolates the two players and quickly issues the appropriate misconduct. The referee then promptly restarts the game.

    The referee makes the correct misconduct decision by cautioning both players for unsporting behavior. The goalkeeper’s actions are not excessive force and he does not make “contact above the shoulder.” The goalkeeper merely makes strong chest-to-chest contact with the opponent. The manner in which the contact was made and the fact that the chest-to-chest contact is in no way endangering the safety of the opponent, makes the contact reckless and, thus, a cautionable offense.

    Following the “punish uniformly” guideline, the referee is correct in cautioning the attacker for unsporting behavior for his actions in embellishing the contact as well as for his actions in holding defender on the original cross which initiated the conflict.

2008 (Click to view/hide)
The following video clips demonstrate officials in the act of handling mass confrontations:

  • Video Clip: Charleston at Miami - Let’s use the guidelines that were provided above to streamline the process utilized to manage mass confrontation to analyze this clip from a USL-1 match:
  • Caused by a trigger issue:  typically follows an issue or foul that is sensitive to players like a hard foul in front of the bench or a foul where the safety of a player is endangered. In this case, the trigger is the deliberate kicking of the ball into the opponent who is on the ground.
  • Recognize the trigger issue:  officials must immediately recognize the flash point or trigger issue. Failure to recognize or a slow response by the referee will usually result in further escalation. 

    The referee fails to recognize the flash point (the action of kicking the ball into the opponent).  The fact that the player kicks the ball so late (after the original foul is whistled) and the fact that the ball is hit directly at the opponent when there is so much other free space to kick the ball should alert the referee to the seriousness and deliberateness of the offense. The referee has no urgency in his reaction or his ability to recognize the potential for escalation.  Whenever a player deliberately kicks a ball into or at an opponent, the referee must recognize this as a flash point due to the seriousness of the offense.
  • Get there to diffuse:  once game disrepute amongst opponents arises, a member of the referee team must get there immediately to prevent escalation.  For each step the referee is late, one more player is allowed to participate.

    In this case, the referee is closest to the situation and he must establish his presence.  The referee fails to exhibit urgency after the first foul let alone after the player kicks the ball into the opponent on the ground.  As a consequence, what may have been managed as game disrepute turns into mass confrontation.  Note:  after the ball is kicked into the opponent, in addition to sprinting to the situation, the displaying of a quick red card (for violent conduct to the player kicking the ball into the opponent) may aid in signaling to the players that the referee is taking action and prevent escalation.
  • Separate and disperse:  the first official on the scene should work to carefully separate the immediate players.  The other officials should prepare themselves to intervene based upon their “feel” and “read” of the situation and the warning signs noted above.    The two assistant referees should also take a clear vantage point to observe the actions of the players while the fourth official maintains his position and monitors the bench area.  This procedure forms a triangle around the confrontation and provides a process to monitor the situation and gather information. 


First and foremost, remember, once the situation escalates to mass confrontation and is unmanageable for a single official (based upon the warning signs noted above), the entire referee crew should step back and observe.  At this point, do not attempt to separate players.  Stay close while taking notes.  In this video clip, the “triangle of patrol” around the situation was not correctly implemented by the referee team.  First, AR1 (the bench side AR) gets overly involved in separating players and, in fact, can be seen turning his back to the hot spot.  Second, AR2 (far side assistant) comes in too slow.  Like the referee, he must show more urgency.  Once the situation escalates from game disrepute to mass confrontation, AR2 should immediately sprint in to form the triangle.  Additionally, AR2 separates players (resulting in his back being turned to the bigger situation) instead of standing back and observing one or more of the hot spots.  Lastly, the fourth official does a good job preventing bench personnel from entering the field and joining the fracas.

  • Prevent others from joining in and observe:  all four officials should not focus on the same hot spot or become too involved in gaining control of the situation.  As stated above, form a triangle around the situation, observe, and make notes (mental and otherwise).  Look for positive ways to prevent other players from joining in as these players often add “fuel to the fire;” however, this must be done in a way that does not take focus off the main instigators.

A broad perspective is crucial to success.  When officials are too close to the situation, they miss many of the actions for which players must be held accountable.  In this clip, the ARs are too involved separating players and managing the fringe.  The ARs need to step further back and create a more acute angle of vision.

  • Consult and dispense the appropriate misconduct:  once the situation is under control and players have been channeled to safe zones, the referee team must quickly dispense the appropriate misconduct.  The referee should ensure he has solicited the input of the other officials prior to taking action.  Violent conduct should be the first line of focus.

Because the officials were too involved in the scenario and too close, they miss critical components and miss the worst offenders.  The improper forming of the “triangle of patrol” and the improper handling of the event leads to misconduct being handled incorrectly.  As you watch the clip, look for the player on the red team who slaps at the face of an opponent.  The referee team must be in position to identify this and any similar action as violent conduct.  Note:  the player who deliberately kicks the ball into the opponent on the ground must be sent off for violent conduct.

  • Video Clip: San Jose at Real Salt Lake (80:25) - A trigger issue occurs:  a player is fouled and his safety is jeopardized.  The referee’s actions show he has identified the potential for mass confrontation by opponents – without hesitation, he sprints to the scene.  Watch as he channels players away from the hot spot and into safe zones.  Finally, he dispenses the appropriate misconduct in a timely fashion (30 seconds) that quickly sends a message to everyone that he is taking the action and players do not have to take action into their own hands.  In this case, at 80:37, the assistant referee (AR) can be seen at some distance in the background.  It would have been preferred for the AR to also move quickly to the scene and either assist with dispersing the players or move to be better positioned to witness any further actions on the parts of the players.  In this clip, the referee exhibits urgency, preventative skills, and his actions exceed the intensity level of the game.
  • Video Clip: Houston at Dallas (76:58) – This clip shows a referee who is reactive and does not anticipate the actions of the players.  The player who commits the first foul is wearing a cast.  This should be the first sign as contact is made with the cast and an opponent.  The action is cautionable.  The referee must feel this situation.  Adding to the negative reaction of the players is the fact that the referee delays his whistle as he decides there is a potential advantage as the ball proceeds to the goalkeeper.  This is a poor risk given the player’s cast and the fact that the infraction is cautionable.  Once the whistle is blown, it is too late and the referee is too late to the hot spot.  Any opportunity for preventative work on the part of the referee has been wasted due to the late whistle and the lack of urgency.  Once the moment of truth passes without immediate action on the part of the referee, mass confrontation amongst opponents is the by-product.  Finally, the referee takes too long to disperse the punishment to the players.  During the more than three minutes it takes to resolve this situation, players tempers continue to rise and the doors are opened for more potential conflict amongst the two players as well as other opposing players.
  • Video Clip: Houston at Real Salt Lake (89:00) - The referee team in this clip has the opportunity to utilize the triangle to manage the mass confrontation between the players.  As the foul occurs, the referee sprints to the area of the foul.  Initially, only two players are involved.  But, quickly, others become involved causing the confrontation to escalate.  At this point, the referee and AR need to step back and observe while the fourth official monitors the benches.  The far side AR can join the other two officials to make the third point of the triangle.  All three should monitor the situation and take notes.  In this clip, notice how the referee and AR are so involved that they lose a broad perspective.  Additionally, in the background, watch how the fourth official runs in and takes a position next to the AR.  Again, too close and overly involved – as instructed previously, he must be by the benches preventing their participation and entry onto the field.  Once the situation settles and players are in neutral areas, the referee, ARs, and fourth official should meet and identify the culprits and decide on the official actions to be taken.  Notice how the closeness and direct involvement of the AR and the Referee can cause them to miss much of the action and, thereby, hand out the wrong punishment.  A broader, wider, and calmer perspective will lead to clearer identification and better decisions on the part of the entire referee team.

Simulation

Simulation, diving, embellishment, gamesmanship, play acting.  Whatever term is used, the action should be addressed by the referee.  Players who employ this tactic not only ruin the enjoyment of the spectators but are attempting to cheat the game and influence a potentially game-deciding ruling from the referee.  Furthermore, simulation also often raises the frustration level of opponents resulting in face-to-face confrontations.

Remember, the ultimate goal of players is to get the referee to unfairly punish the opponent.  As a consequence, simulation is a prime candidate for cheating.   As a potential act of simulation confronts the referee, the official must quickly consider the following guidelines:

Remember, players who utilize diving/simulation are cautioned for unsporting behavior.

2010 (Click to view/hide)
Video Clip: Seattle at New York (69:43)
This clip represents a clear case of simulation and attempting to deceive the referee by pretending to have been fouled. The referee acknowledges the attacker’s attempt and does not call a foul. However, the attacker’s actions warrant a caution for unsporting behavior since the dive/simulation is so clear. The referee must send a message that such behavior and attempting to cheat the game will not be tolerated.

Using the human act vs. intentional act concept, the following associated criteria clearly point to the attacker’s actions being intentionally planned:
  1. Location on the field
    The simulation is inside the penalty area where the player can try to influence a decision to give a penalty kick.
  2. Contact
    Contact is not evident and any contact is incidental. The attacker goes down on his own volition. The opponent does not influence the attacker’s fall to the ground. There is some contact on the edge of the penalty area before the attacker turns to goal with the ball, however, this is standard/normal/minor contact for this level and is not a foul.
  3. Score of the game
    Due to the late time (69:43) in the match and the score being 0-0, the attacker is looking for a break. He is looking for the one chance to get his team the win. A penalty kick would seemingly put his team in the driver’s seat.
  4. The ball
    Due to the location on the field, the attacker’s ability to do something with the ball is severely limited as he is on the goal line and has a poor angle to take a shot. The attacker’s teammates are not well positioned to be on the receiving end of any pass. The attacker has also touched the ball too far in front of him and it is traveling over the goal line for a goal kick.
  5. The attacker’s feet
    Watch as the attacker drags his toes and the top of his boots to the grass to initiate the fall to the ground.

Given these factors, the referee should award a goal kick and caution the attacker for unsporting behavior. In cases where the referee would stop play to issue a caution for unsporting behavior resulting from the dive/simulation, the game would be restarted with an indirect free kick from the spot of the misconduct.

Note: Referees must be aware that situations involving diving/simulation/embellishment can lead to aggravation, game disrepute and eventually mass confrontation. Face-to-face confrontations, amongst players, regularly result from attempts to deceive the referee. Consequently, referees need to ensure they have a positive physical presence when such scenarios occur. Preventative refereeing is vital. A quick display of the yellow card and an even faster signal of the direction of the restart can act as preventative tools.

Video Clip: Houston at Real Salt Lake (32:13)
This clip involves embellishment on the part of the attacker. The attacker “play acts” as though contact were made above the shoulder when, in fact, a foul at the professional level has not been committed. The attacker is not going to get to the ball (the pass is too long) so the attacker goes to the ground simulating a foul and embellishing the location of the contact.

The referee should stop play for the embellishment (unsporting behavior) and caution the attacker while restarting with an indirect free kick at the spot of the misconduct.

The assistant referee is over-involved in this situation. First, since the attacker creates the contact and goes down when he realizes he will not be able to get to the ball, the assistant referee (AR) should not flag a foul. Secondly, signaling misconduct (as the AR does) against the defender is inappropriate as the free kick should be awarded to the defending team. Before indicating a foul and misconduct to the referee, the AR needs to “feel” the game as a referee would.

The AR must possess the ability to read and assimilate the same signals that the referee would consider before deciding whether a foul and/or misconduct has occurred. For example, the ball is passed too far, the supporting defender will get to ball before the attacker, and the location and area of contact to the attacker and how the contact is made (arm/elbow low and not swung).

The referee should work harder to place himself in a better position to observe the embellishment through more anticipatory movement. Watch the referee at the beginning of the clip. The referee is not moving his feet and does not anticipate the next phase of play by moving in advance of play when it becomes obvious that the attacking team will have clear possession and will pass the ball forward. As a result, the referee is not as close as he could be to make a better decision.

Note: A well positioned referee, with a better angle of vision, should feel empowered to overrule the AR’s flag in circumstances where he feels the flag is unwarranted. In such cases, the AR should lower the flag and continue on with the appropriate position. ARs must not take this as rejection but as the referee’s interpretation of game control. This should be a learning topic for half time and full time referee crew discussions.

Video Clip: Inter Milan vs. Dallas (73:09)
An international friendly game is the focus of this simulation clip. The attacker on the team losing (2-1) takes on two opponents in the penalty area section of the danger zone. Knowing his team needs a goal and knowing there are two opponents marking him, the attacker takes a risk by pushing the ball between the two opponents and then going down without contact. The simulation is successful as the referee incorrectly awards a penalty kick.

There are two key flash points that indicate that simulation/diving is involved:

  • Notice the attacker’s last touch on the ball. The last touch of the ball is too far in front of him which will most likely allow the goalkeeper to gain control and end the scoring opportunity. The attacker identifies that his best chance to gain a scoring opportunity is to fall to the ground.
  • Secondly, as the attacker passes the two defenders, the attacker drags the tip of his boots. The dragging of his shoes causes him to go down quickly and helps to simulate a real foul and actual contact.

Referees must be keenly aware of such flashpoints. Positioning and optimal line of sight to the play can play a vital role in correct identification. Second, the ability of a referee to recognize/”feel” the “intent” of the attacker and the warning signs surrounding the play are important in being able to address the simulation.

In this case, the referee should award the defending team an indirect free kick, at the spot of the simulation and caution the attacker for unsporting behavior.

 

2009 (Click to view/hide)
No material on this topic for this year. Click prior years' tabs below to view information for those years.
2008 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip:Chicago at Columbus (70:00) - Watch the clip and pay particular attention to the attacker’s actions.  How does the criteria above help the referee identify the action is simulation/diving and, thus, a yellow card?
  • Video Clip: TFC at Chicago (11:02) - In the clip provided, the referee decides that the attacker’s action were an “intentional act” in which there was no contact with the goalkeeper or the contact was created by the attacker’s intentional actions.  Hence, the attacker is cautioned by the referee for unsporting behavior. 
    • In reviewing the three views of the attacker’s actions, determine whether the player going to the ground is:
      • A result of a foul by the goalkeeper - If the referee determines that the goalkeeper makes contact with the attacker in a manner that would have prevented the attacker from keeping possession of the ball, then the referee should award a penalty kick and caution the goalkeeper for unsporting behavior;
      • A “human act” - Incidental contact that was accidental in nature and not a cautionable offense:  the result of a collision by both players causing the attacker to go to the ground; or
      • An “intentional act” - The attacker’s actions were predetermined and done to deceive and cheat the referee into giving a decision in his favor.  As stated previously, when contact exists between an attacker and a defender, it is difficult for the referee to justify cautioning the attacker for simulation/diving (unsporting behavior).  The exception may be the attacker’s actions after the completion of the simulation.  In this event, the attacker may be guilty of embellishment and be issued a yellow card for unsporting behavior.
    • In this clip, diving, simulation, or embellishment do not exist.  This means that there is no “intentional act” of deception involved and a caution is not warranted and should not have been issued.  The referee must then examine the situation and determine if either the goalkeeper has fouled the attacker (restart with a penalty kick and a caution to the goalkeeper) or whether there is a “human act” which involves incidental contact that has resulted from a fair challenge for the ball by the goalkeeper (no foul and the game would be restated appropriately).
  • Video Clip (Added 9/25/2008): New York at Columbus (7:45) - The attacker is in possession of the ball and is entering the penalty area.  Hence, the attacker is in an advantageous location.  The attacker sees that his chances of advancing the ball are minimal as there are four to five defenders within range to close him down.  Sensing his chances for advancement are almost nonexistent, the attacker takes a risk that the referee will be fooled and dives.  The attacker falls to the ground, within the penalty area, hoping to cheat the game and gain an unearned penalty kick.  Notice, there is no contact by the defenders and the attacker’s immediate reaction to the “no call” by the referee is to get up and chase the ball.

In this case, the referee would be justified in cautioning the player for unsporting behavior.  Law 12, “Fouls and Misconduct” and FIFA’s recent addendum to the Laws entitled “Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees,” state that a player must be cautioned for unsporting behavior if the player “attempts to deceive the referee by feigning injury or pretending to have been fouled (simulation).”

Note, this case of simulation occurred early in the match and served as a model for similar additional simulation/embellishment later in the match.  Early recognition and management of this form of gamesmanship should work as a deterrent for the remainder of the match.

Unsporting Behavior (100% Misconducts)

In considering misconduct, it is important that players must not feel that the “first foul” in the game is free.  In other words, because the game is relatively young or the player has just entered the game, players must not feel they can commit fouls that endanger the safety of the opponent or are “reckless” in nature and go unpunished.  Do not allow players to be exempt from misconduct regardless of the time of the game or how long they have been in the game.  100% misconducts must be given.  These types of unsporting fouls generally fall into two main categories:

  1. Tackles
  2. Tactical Fouls

Tackles

In the case of Tackles, there are several video clips that provide examples of fouls that must be sanctioned with a caution:

2010 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: Real Salt Lake at Houston (43:12)

    The defender makes a reckless tackle for the ball. The tackle is reckless because it is outside the norm for fair play and the normal manner in which tackles are executed. Factors contributing to the tackle being reckless are:
    • The angle from which the tackle is executed: More from behind than from the front or side. It is not fully outside the sightlines of the attacker.
    • The fact contact is made with the attacker’s foot or ankle area: The tackle itself lacks speed and force (no lunging or distance associated with the challenge) which would increase the likelihood of it potentially falling under the excessive force category.
    • The ball is not played: The trajectory of the ball and the angle of the tackle indicate that contact was not made with the ball.

    Differentiating challenges is not easy as often it may appear that the ball has been cleanly played by the defender.

    Note: Proper positioning and proximity to play can assist the referee in determining whether the ball has been played and/or whether contact has been made with the attacker.

    In this clip, the defender (orange jersey) should be cautioned for unsporting behavior for committing a reckless tackle.
2009 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: New York at Seattle (61:45)
    Referees must be cognizant of calling the first foul so that players do not retaliate or take matters into their own hands. Finding the right mix of the trifling/soft challenges and clear fouls must be at the forefront of referee foul discrimination. Remember, in the “Game Management Model,” flow and risk taking are secondary to player safety and 100% misconduct – both components of game control.

    In this clip, the referee must have the proper angle of vision to have the best possible view of the challenge. Referees must move faster than any player(s) who may be moving between them and the action thereby ensuring a clear line of vision to any contact between opponents. There can be no obstructed views in a situation that presents sufficient build-up and presents the referee with the opportunity to move to a more strategic position.

    Referees must get the first foul committed by Red Bull New York’s Pablo Angel. There is no flow or risk taking evident in the fouls committed by Angel. First, Angel pulls the opponent down with a shirt pull that prevents the defender from advancing to get the ball. The second foul is a trip of the defender as he attempts to stand up. In both cases, the referee must realize that Angel’s actions are aimed at giving him an unfair playing advantage.

    The fact that the referee misses or feels he has missed the initial foul(s) cannot influence the next decision. Additionally, the fact that in the “big picture” of the game, there have been few issues must not play a role in the referee’s decision as the tackle is 100% misconduct. The referee must recognize the intimidating nature of the tackle on Angel and must caution the defender for unsporting behavior. Although hard and committed with speed, the defender’s feet are on the ground and the tackle is merely reckless in nature and lacks the qualities of excessive force. If the defender’s foot was raised off the ground, a red card can be issued. However, in this case, although hard, the tackler’s foot is down thereby minimizing the risk of injury. Note, if the leading foot of the tackler is raised from the ground and goes over the ball, the referee should issue a red card for serious foul play.

    Should either the near assistant referee (AR) or fourth official have a clear view of the incident, they should feel empowered to use the communication devices to advise the referee that they believe the tackle warrants a yellow card.

  • Video Clip: Colorado at Chivas (45:59+)
    Just as the half is approaching, Chivas midfielder Sacha Kljestan goes in for a strong tackle in front of the Colorado bench. In this case, the tackle is reckless and a foul should be called as well as a yellow card issued for unsporting behavior. Referees need to distinguish this hard, reckless tackle from those that are committed with excessive force. Having the ability to distinguish the seriousness of the foul from the reaction of the team bench is a critical success factor in making the correct decision. Keys to interpreting this tackle as reckless are: 1) the shorter distance from which the tackle is initiated which means more control; 2) the position of the foot – closer to the ground and not over the ball; and 3) the fact that contact is made with the ball and not the player’s leg.

    This is a hard and overly aggressive tackle that is reckless because of the position of the feet and the fact that contact is made with the ball. The tackle is not initiated from distance thereby offering more control by the tackler. The leg is down toward the ground and not aimed over the top of the ball. If the cleats were to go over the ball and direct contact made with the opponent’s leg, the tackle should be considered serious foul play.

  • Video Clip: Real Salt Lake at Seattle (45:00)
    The idea of 100% Misconduct is an important concept as it relates to game management. Both referees and assistant referees (ARs) must be cognizant of situations that, as they play out, meet the criteria for misconduct whether it be a yellow or red card. Often times the player or players involved, the score, the location on the field and the game atmosphere play a role in providing warning signs of impending misconduct.

    In this clip, Seattle is winning 1-0 in the 45th minute. The attacker who is fouled had been on the receiving end of other physical challenges prior to this foul. As the game unfolds, the referee should be maintaining a databank of information that will enable him to anticipate potential issues and respond appropriately. In this game, there were a few warning signs related to the challenge in the clip:
    • Score: The player who commits the foul is losing 1-0 as the teams get ready to enter the halftime break.
    • The attacking player: The attacker had been on the receiving end of prior hard challenges (one of which resulted in the opponent being cautioned).
    • The manner in which the attacker is holding/shielding the ball: The attacker is using his upper body in a fair manner to shield the ball from the opponent.
    • The field location: The incident is close to the signboards and, hence, there is potential for a safety issue.

    As the attacker holds/shields the ball, he is being pressured from behind. As the two players move closer to the touchline, the AR should be prepared to assist the referee. The safety of the attacker is jeopardized as the two players move closer to the signboards. Watch as the defender not only trips the attacker by clipping his leg from behind but follows that foul by recklessly shoving his opponent in the back. The shove occurs off the field of play and results in an unsafe situation near the signboards which are only a few inches away from the falling attacker.

    Due to the reckless nature of the off the field push, the defender must be cautioned for unsporting behavior. The message being sent by the defender must be matched with a commensurate message by the referee (the yellow card).

    This situation lends itself to AR involvement due to the proximity of the situation to the AR and the fact that the AR may be required to intervene to keep the situation from escalating into game disrepute and mass confrontation.

  • Video Clip: New York at Chicago – WPS (24:47)
    In this clip, the defender commits a reckless challenge that should be punished by a yellow card for unsporting behavior. The foul has all the elements of a cautionable tackle and is committed for tactical reasons.

    As the clip is viewed, consider the elements and warning signs listed above. The speed and skill of the attacker puts the defender in a position of having to foul in order to eliminate the potential for a dangerous attack. The defender’s reckless tackle prevents the attacker form getting behind the defense and into the penalty area where the opportunity to service a ball across the goalmouth exists.

    Watch how the tackle is committed. First, the defender initially makes contact with the outside leg of the attacker and does not go through the attacker’s body to commit the foul. Second, the tackle is not committed with excessive force nor is the opponent in danger of being injured. Hence, a caution for unsporting behavior is sufficient.

    Video Clip: Real Salt Lake at New York (47:52)
    A well positioned referee (close proximity and unobstructed view) correctly decides that the tackle is reckless and cautions the defender for unsporting behavior. Despite the fact that the defender stays on his feet to complete the challenge, he nevertheless comes in late and makes the challenge when the ball is not within playing distance. Referees must be aware that players do not have to leave their feet in order to commit reckless fouls as is the case in this video clip.
  • Video Clip: Houston at Galaxy (13:05)
    Often the difference between a reckless tackle and a tackle involving excessive force is a fine line. Referees have a split second to make the differentiation. Other officials on the referee team can often provide input and/or a different perspective to assist in making sure the best possible decision is reached. This, however, is not always possible or necessary.

    This clip involves a tackle that is a yellow card due to its reckless nature. It is a situation where both players involved are challenging for the ball but the player in the white jersey (No. 8) does so in a more aggressive manner. However, both players challenge for a 50/50 ball in a similar, out of control manner. The player in the white jersey (No. 8) exhibits more aggression as his tackle is more direct. As a result, in order to maintain control of the game and send an appropriate message, the referee must punish the extra aggression exhibited by No. 8 with a foul and a caution for unsporting behavior.

    Once the ball is out of play, the ARs and fourth official must be aware of the extra curricular activities surrounding the referee to ensure that there is no escalation or further misconduct. At this time, the ARs are not required to enter the field but must be prepared to enter should mass confrontation develop.

  • Video Clip: New England at Chicago (16:49)
    Early on in this clip, the referee and assistant referee (AR) miss the opportunity to stop play by calling a holding foul committed by the white jersey team that prevents the red shirt attacker from advancing with the ball. Having let this go, the match officials then provide flow to the game by allowing the white jersey team to play the ball out of the defensive third via advantage (a good decision at this level).

    The referee follows the ball and play while the AR covers the referee’s back by watching “off-the-ball.” The ARs work permits him to observe the cautionable, off-the-ball action by the player No. 29 in the white jersey. Immediately upon observing No. 29’s actions, the AR should raise his flag to get the referee’s attention and have play stopped. Once the ARs flag is recognized and play stopped, the referee must approach the AR and confer without the interference of players.

    The decision to yellow card player No. 29 is the correct decision as the player’s actions were not excessive force and no “contact above the shoulder” was made. The attacker was not placed in any danger of being injured and the contact was reckless in nature.

    The game should be restarted with a direct free kick for the red jersey team as a result of the foul for which the caution is being issued.

2008 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip (Added 11/27/2008): New York vs. Columbus (3:17) - With the game just over three minutes old, a challenge is committed that is “reckless” in nature and, therefore, must be cautioned for unsporting behavior.  Although the game is in the very early stages, players cannot feel that they are free to commit fouls because the referee will not caution or send them off due to the fact the game has just commenced.  Regardless of the game time, referees must address the 100 percent misconduct situations.  Failure to do so can result in loss of game control and loss of respect from the players.

This clip provides an example of a challenge that is “reckless.”  It is a challenge where the defender is running directly at the attacker at a high speed and therefore does not have the ability to control his actions or stop.  Simply, the challenge is executed in a manner that the defender completely disregards the danger he is putting the attacker in.  The defender stays on his feet which is a sign to the referee that the foul is not done with “excessive force” and is not done to injure the opponent which would mandate a red card.  Because it is early in the game, it may be a tactic by the defending team to “send a message” to the attacker that they hope would resonate in his mind for the remainder of the match.  The referee recognizes the tactic being employed and correctly cautions the defender for unsporting behavior. 

  • Video Clip: Chivas at Galaxy (5:30). Notice the time of the game, the referee correctly cautions the player for unsporting behavior despite the early time in the game.  This type of tackle must be sanctioned as it is “reckless” and is done with complete disregard of the danger to, or the consequences for, the opponent.  The fact that the player got some of the ball should not enter into the referee’s decision because the defender went through the opponent (clear contact is made) to get to the ball.  By issuing a caution in this situation, the referee sets the tone for the remaining 84 minutes of the match.
  • Video Clip: Chivas at Galaxy (79:37). In this case, the player committing the foul has no intent to play the ball.  This is evident by the lateness of the challenge and the location of the ball at the time of the challenge.  Notice that the player disguises the exposure of his cleats in the challenge by using his upper body (freeze the view at 79:41).  Failure to call this foul, leads to retaliation by the first attacker fouled.  Referees must recognize these types of fouls and punish them with a yellow card.
  • Video Clip: Real Salt Lake at Chivas USA (25:14) - This is a reckless foul where the defender kicks the opponent in the trail leg after the ball is gone.  Keys to identification:  ball is gone, contact with the trail leg/foot, and stops the attacker from progressing into open space (the attacking third of the field) with the ball.
  • Video Clip: Chicago at Dallas (1:24 – second half) - Another reckless foul committed with complete disregard of the danger to the opponent.  Keys to identification:  the tackle is committed from behind, the only way for the defender to play the ball would be after contact with the attacker, the bent/trail leg is what makes contact with the attacker, the distance of the tackle is short and the lead foot (exposed cleats) is not making contact with the opponent.  Should the lead foot and cleats make contact with the back of the attacker’s leg/foot, the referee would be justified in considering a red card for serious foul play as the challenge would be defined as “using excessive force” because the tackle could now potentially injure the opponent.  Because the player is injured, the referee waits for him to get up and then issues the yellow card.
  • Video Clip: Colorado at Toronto (28:12) - A caution is required in this situation given, amongst other criteria, the danger facing the attacker.  The defender has no regard for the safety of the opponent as he initiates a reckless upper body challenge.  This challenge is similar to others provided in prior “Referee Week In Reviews” in which cautions were required.  Keys to identification:  the proximity to the sign boards and cement pavement (increases the likelihood of injury), the speed at which the body charge is initiated, the extension of the forearm to make contact, the “lining up” of the player by the defender just prior to the foul and the fact that if the defender does not foul the attacker, the attacker and the ball will be behind him headed to goal.  Hence, a foul and caution is required as the defender’s action has to be considered as breaking down a promising attack.  Note, the AR can also provide assistance to the referee if he has electronic flags and has a good view of the situation as contact is made.  By beeping the referee, the AR would be sending a signal that he has seen a foul.  The AR can also provide a “silent signal” that the foul is worthy of a caution by patting his breast pocket indicating his opinion that the foul involves misconduct.
  • Video Clip: TFC at Chicago (52:36) - The referee is close to play.  Key to the referee’s ability to identify the defender’s action is that the referee does not turn immediately follow the ball as it is played away by the attacker who is eventually fouled.  The referee anticipates a late challenge based upon the defender’s body language and run up to the attacker as the attacker passes the ball.  This is not the typical sliding tackle.  This is a form of reckless challenge that involves a defender who stays on his feet.  Late contact is made with the upper thigh/leg of the defender as well as the attacker’s foot to the back of the attacker’s leg/ankle.  The referee must recognize this as unsporting behavior and issue a yellow card.  Note, key to identification is the tardiness of the challenge, the fact the challenge is from behind, and the fact that the ball is not within playing distance

Tactical Fouls

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.”

Tactical fouls are an area that requires more consistency in application.  These are the type of fouls that don’t necessarily endanger the safety of an opponent but are committed in order to either strip a team of an effective attack (like shirt pulling) or are committed to gain an advantage in attack.  Players work very hard to hide these types of fouls and make them difficult for the referee to recognize.  Some may call them gamesmanship but, in effect, they are fouls designed to cheat the game and/or disrupt attacking play.  Often times, these fouls seem so minor that the referee fails to recognize the reason the player is committing the foul. To aid in identifying such situations, the following are general characteristics of tactical fouls:

The following video clips provide for examples of fouls of a tactical nature designed to interfere with attacking soccer:

2010 (Click to view/hide)
Clip: Toronto at Chicago (22:37 and 68:40)
This clip involves two tactical fouls that are correctly identified by the referee. The same player is fouled in each situation. As you watch the two scenarios, ask yourself:
  • Why is this player being fouled?”
  • What attributes does the player have that make him a target for such fouls?”
  • Where is the player being fouled?”
  • If the player was not fouled, what would have resulted?”

In both tactical fouls, the defending player successfully halts the progress of the speedy attacker with the ball. If beat, the defending team will be vulnerable to a promising attack in the final third of the field. If it were not for either foul, the attacker would have progressed with the ball into space behind/around the defender and the result would have been a positive attacking opportunity.

Consequently, both “careless” fouls meet the criteria for being tactical in nature (breaking up a promising attack) and require the referee to caution each defender for unsporting behavior.

The assistant referee (AR) is presented with a good opportunity to help the referee with identifying and calling the tactical foul that occurs in the first (22:37) sequence. The foul is close to the AR and the AR has full view of the build-up leading to the foul. The proximity of the AR to the foul should also give a good “feel” for the speed of the attacker, the reason for the foul and the opportunity to advance the ball that is denied by the defender. Hence, the AR does a good job calling the foul and indicating (by patting his breast pocket) that a yellow card is deserved by the defender.

Clip: Colorado at New York (19:41 – second half)
An attacker, with the ball, is being pursued by a defender as each enter the right side of the penalty area with speed. Observe the body position of both players. The attacker is slightly ahead of the defender and is moving with the ball toward the goal. The defender initiates contact with the attacker in the back. This is an unfair challenge and is careless. The foul is committed for the tactical purpose of interfering with or breaking up a promising attack.

Although the foul is not committed with a lot of force, due to the speed of both the attacker and defender, it does not take a lot of contact for a foul to result. The defender uses his arm and elbow to contact the opponent, who is in front of him, in the back. The result is a careless foul requiring the awarding of a penalty kick. In addition, the defender should be cautioned for unsporting behavior since his foul broke up a promising attack.

The location of the foul and the speed of the play, which initiated at the halfway line, make this a good candidate for AR involvement. As the penetrating attacking pass is made at the halfway line, the AR must be aware of the referee’s position and that the speed of play may result in the referee being far from play. Upon making this determination, the AR needs to heighten his awareness and realize that his involvement/assistance may be needed relative to game management.

Having recognized the referee’s less than optimal position, the AR should then focus on the attacker and onrushing defender. Contact between the two players occurs in the AR’s area of control. The proximity of the foul to the AR and the referee’s position make this unfair challenge one in which the AR is required to become involved. The AR should make immediate eye contact with the referee and then raise the flag with a quick wiggle to indicate that a foul has occurred. Upon the referee’s whistle, the AR should droop/hang the flag across his waist to indicate to the referee that a penalty kick should be awarded for the foul he has just flagged.

Because the defender committed a careless foul for “the tactical purpose of interfering with or breaking up a promising attack,” the defender must be cautioned for unsporting behavior.

2009 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: 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.
2008 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip (Added 11/20/2008): Chicago at Columbus (21:44) - Watch the clip and several of the elements of a tactical foul will be evident.  Remember, when players are traveling with speed, it does not take much contact to knock them off the ball unfairly.  Hence, fouls do not have to be hard challenges just sufficient to unfairly dispossess the opponent of the ball and to deny the opponent of their tactical advantage.  As with most tactical challenges, the foul is of a minor nature like holding, grabbing and obstructing.  The slight hold is just sufficient to impede the attacker’s progress.  The foul is committed because the defender knows he is beat and the defender sees the open space facing the attacker’s.  In order to deny the space and the advancement of the ball, the defender resorts to pulling the shirt.  A “soft” foul but a foul nonetheless.  The referee does a good job of recognizing the nature of the foul and makes a correct decision to caution the defender for unsporting behavior.  The fact that this is a playoff game and only 22 minutes into the match does not deter the referee from taking appropriate action.
  • Video Clip: DC at Real Salt Lake (43:20).  This is a clear case where the defender knows the attacker will get behind him, into the space.  This is a tactical foul intended to destroy attacking play.  Hence, a yellow card must be issued.  Note that the referee seems to be spending more time dealing with the player fouled than the player committing the offense.
  • Video Clip: SJ at Colorado (66:44). This is an example of a tactical foul that requires a YELLOW CARD.  Several items cause the referee to miss this cautionable offense.  First, the referee is too far from play.  He is standing and not accelerating as play develops.  Consequently, he is screened and does not see the foul.  The referee must move on the field so as to anticipate play and always have a clear line of vision of the action.  Second, the AR makes the call despite the fact that he is 28 yards away.  Clearly, this is a decision a well-positioned referee would be able to make without AR assistance.  Third, the referee needs to “smell” this tactical offense and take his time to look to the AR for confirmation that the foul was cautionable.  The AR, in turn, must then indicate a yellow card is needed.  Note the AR should not be making the call here but rather assisting the referee with the decision.
  • Video Clip: Colorado at Chicago (11:04). Another foul committed early in the game.  A foul that is designed to take away an opportunity for the attacking team to get the ball behind the defense.  There is approximately 22 yards of space in front of the attacker, all in the penalty area.  Referees must be aware of this.  With the speed of the attacker, it does not take much for them to go down.  If the referee blows the whistle with similar fouls, a yellow card must be issued.  Notice that the player who commits the foul does not argue.
  • Video Clip: San Jose at New York (35:20). Similar to video clip 11 but, in this case, the referee correctly issues a caution as the defender impedes the attackers advance.  It is a tactical foul intended on destroying an attacking run with the ball. 
  • Video Clip: Chivas at Galaxy (7:00). Early in the game, the attacker is hoping to catch everyone off guard with a tactical foul aimed at gaining an advantage in the attack.  The attacker is taking a risk that the offense will go unnoticed by the referee and AR.  The assistance provided by the AR in a case like this is critical since it is a counter attack and the AR has a clear view of the action.  The referee must punish this type of cheating with a yellow card.  Although the offense is not committed against an opponent, it is an offence committed against the spirit of the game.  The gravity of the offense can be measured in the result (not necessarily the action itself) should the offense not have been seen by the officiating team.
  • Video Clip: Kansas City at D.C. (78:21) - In this clip, the skillful and creative player uses his technical ability to beat four defenders.  As he beats the last player, he knows he has space in which he can attack and carry the ball.  Seeing this, the defender decides he has no other option than to foul.  Although the foul is not representative of the standard hard, sliding tackles common place in today’s game, it does prevent the talented player from advancing and from possibly breaking down the defense further with a pass or his dribbling ability.  Referees must be aware of defensive tactics and be prepared to intervene as necessary.

Referees must possess the ability to differentiate and evaluate the challenges that are fouls from the fair challenges in which the player either goes down to draw the foul or attempts to simulate a foul.  A referee’s ability to identify the differences becomes even more vital in the “danger or red zone” of the field.  The “danger or red zone” is the area that extends approximately 35 yards out from the goalmouth.  This is the area in which attackers look to create contact or exaggerate contact in order to gain their team a free kick restart and an opportunity to score.  With so many goals being scored directly from free kicks in this area or generated from restarts in the “danger zone,” attackers look for opportunities to “create” a foul.  Hence, referees must be on heightened awareness and be close to the play in order to differentiate the fair challenges from the foul challenges.

Referees and AR should be on the alert for “tactical” fouls in the “danger zone” as defenders look to prevent opponents from getting behind them or look to prevent clear opportunities to score via the run of play.   Defenders are often forced into making a decision:  “Is a foul and free kick in the danger zone a better risk than allowing the attacker to get behind me?”  The answer to this question guides the defender’s course of action.

  • Video Clip (Added 11/5/2008): Chivas USA at Real Salt Lake (34:10) - This clip shows a referee who is close to a challenge made by a defender on an attacker with the ball some 22 yards out from goal (in the “danger zone”).  Two defenders attempt to tackle the ball away from the opponent.  Failure to win the ball on the part of the defender(s) could lead to a shot on goal by the attacker as no other defender is around the ball for 10 yards and the attacker is moving toward the middle of the goal.

When viewed on the replay, it is clear that the second defender challenges/tackles for the ball with his left leg but misses the ball and contacts the attacker thereby causing the attacker to lose possession of the ball.  The defender’s careless challenge deliberately prevents the attacker from advancing into a more strategic position.  Just being positioned close to play is often not enough.  Referees must also read or “smell” the play and prepare their mind by anticipating the defender’s actions without prejudging.

A foul for a careless challenge is warranted in this situation.  A yellow card is not required.  However, the referee can use his judgment to determine if, based upon the “big picture,” a yellow card (for unsporting behavior) to the defender is needed because he has determined the foul to be “tactical” in nature.  The decision to caution or not is left, in this case, to the referee’s judgment and feel for the situation and the game.

Tackles from Behind

Tackles from behind can present a myriad of issues for officials as they must quickly and accurately assess a situation that can be both extremely dangerous and extremely volatile.  For the most part, referees can eliminate such dangerous tackles from the game through the use of preventative refereeing by setting the tone through personality and communication with players to explain reckless tackles from behind that could endanger the safety of the opponent would not be tolerated.

2010 (Click to view/hide)
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2009 (Click to view/hide)
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2008 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: New York at New England (2:07) - As this clip begins, note the time – only 2:07 into the game.  Ask yourself, “What is going through the referee’s mind at this early stage of the game?”  It is the opening moments of the game but this should not deter the referee from taking appropriate action.  In prior “Weeks In Review,” the message was clearly sent that players should not feel that the first foul of the game is “free.”  In other words, just because the game is in the early stages, the referee must not hesitate to deal with fouls that are 100 percent misconduct.  This tackle from behind is such a foul and must be dealt with as such by the referee. 

    The foul is directly from behind and committed in a reckless manner.  Additionally, there is no chance for the defender to play the ball as he must go through the attacker’s legs and body to even attempt to make contact with the ball.  This is the perfect opportunity for the referee to set an early tone and put earn control of the game.

    As a general comment, referees need to set the tone early in the game.  Setting the tone does not have to be with a caution – it can be done by imparting personality early on.  Consider the following strategy:  Make the first hard (non-cautionable) foul seem larger than it really is.  In other words, make your presence known in a visual and verbal manner that positively communicates to all participants that the referee will be directing today’s orchestra.
  • Video Clip: Columbus at Galaxy (31:22) - This is a tackle that is complicated by the fact that the player executing the tackle is one caution away from a MLS-enforced one game suspension for the accumulation of too many yellow cards.  Prior to the game, the referee is aware of this situation and, unfortunately, allows this knowledge to influence his decision not to issue a yellow card for a tackle from behind that is also tactical in nature.  This foul is not a borderline cautionable offense where the referee can use discretion.  The foul must be cautioned as unsporting behavior.
    As you view the clip, ask yourself the following two questions:
    • o     Is the foul reckless? The foul is committed in total disregard to the player’s safety and it is made after the ball has passed the defender, thereby making it impossible for the defender to cleanly make a play on the ball.
    • o    Is the foul tactical? “Week In Review 7” provided characteristics officials can apply when evaluating a foul to determine if it is tactical and, thus, should be cautioned for unsporting behavior.  As the play progresses, the defending player’s intent is obvious: prevent the ball and the attacker from advancing because he is beat and the result will be an attacking opportunity at goal.

      Due to the fact that the foul is both reckless and tactical, the referee has no choice but to caution the defender for unsporting behavior.  Knowing that the player is one caution away from suspension should not factor into the referee’s responsibility to the game.

Persistent Infringement

A top class referee is able to identify and deal with players who persistently infringe the Laws of the Game.  At the same time, referees must possess the courage to issue a second caution to a player and then send him off for receiving a second caution in the same match. 

Let us first explore the concept of Persistent Infringement.  Managing persistent infringement requires that the referee maintain an ongoing database of information during the game.  As fouls are committed, the referee should use the database to store information regarding the players involved, the time, and the frequency of the fouls.  As the referee processes the information, he must decide when the stored information requires official action (yellow card).  This is not easy due to the speed of the game and the other game management issues confronting the referee.  Despite the difficulty in processing the stored information, it is critical that the referee possess the skills necessary to identify players who fall into the categories below and then address them.

Players who repeatedly commit fouls

To disrupt play and ruin the entertainment value of a game, players persistently/repeatedly foul opponents.  Such conduct often causes the frustration level of opponents to rise and, therefore, the intensity level of the game to increase.  This can lead to dissent and retaliation.  Recognizing players who persistently/repeatedly foul opponents is critical to game control.  Once the referee has identified the disruptive actions, the referee must pick the appropriate time to caution the culprit for persistently infringing the Laws of the Game.  There is no magic number of fouls that define persistence.  The severity, the frequency, the time between the fouls committed, and the atmosphere of the game are all factors that the referee should consider when determining whether a player is guilty of persistent infringement.  In writing the game report, the referee should state that the caution was issued for “persistently infringing the Laws of the Game.”

Players who are repeatedly fouled

Often times an individual player is the target of repeated fouls – fouls from not one player but from multiple players.  This targeted player can be the skillful/creative play maker, the player who gets repeated touches on the ball.  In this case, persistent infringement is evaluated in terms of the number and nature of the fouls committed against a single opponent as opposed to the number of fouls committed by a single player.  The referee should also consider the time span of the fouls.

Note:  When a referee identifies a case of persistent infringement that falls under category 2 above (“Players who are repeated fouled”), the game report should list the caution as being issued for “unsporting behavior.”  This should be the case as this is more of a philosophical approach to persistent infringement.

According to U.S. Soccer’s DVD entitled, “Persistent Infringement,” referees should consider the following when evaluating persistent infringement:

2010 (Click to view/hide)
Video Clip: Columbus at Real Salt Lake (2:55)
This clip involves a series or pattern of fouls by the same player occurring in the first 32 minutes of the game (2:55, 24:20 and 31:46). While each individual foul is not a cautionable offense, the combination of the three fouls should result in a caution to the player for persistent infringement.

Two of the fouls are borderline cautionable or reckless while the third is just a simple careless foul (24:20). Through a feel for the game, the referee should recognize that the same player is involved in each of the fouls. The referee should also piece together that two of the fouls are borderline reckless (cautionable). However, the combination of all three fouls (the big picture) should be indication to the referee that the player is guilty of persistent infringement.
  • First foul
    The first foul committed by the player occurs at 2:35. It is early in the game. This foul is somewhere between careless and reckless (somewhere between merely a foul or a foul accompanied by a yellow card). As a consequence, the referee has options in dealing with it and deciding whether to caution or not. If the referee decides not to caution, the situation presents the referee with the opportunity to send a “broadcast message” with a strong verbal and visual presence/message that radiates to the other players.

    The referee displays urgency by moving quickly to the spot of the foul. This is vital given the foul is committed in front of the team benches. As he approaches, he has a quick word with the fouler but spends more time admonishing two other players. A stronger message sent to the fouler would send a more convincing signal to him and, thus, be more preventative and possibly better channel the player’s future actions. Notice how the referee indicates (points to his eyes) to his nearside assistant referee (AR) and fourth official to watch the other players as he leaves the spot of the foul to communicate with two other players.
  • Second foul
    At 24:20, the player commits his second foul. This is a simple, careless foul. However, the referee should register that this is the second foul committed by the same player in the first 25 minutes. This information needs to be stored for future reference and to assist the referee in identifying the pattern of persistence.
  • Third foul
    The third foul is committed seven minutes after the player’s last foul. This foul, by itself, fringes on reckless. However, the referee decides that it is merely careless in nature. At this point, the referee needs to put the pieces of the puzzle together in order to form a picture. The picture (three fouls, two of which are borderline cautionable) should indicate that the player has earned a yellow card (for persistent infringement) as a result of his pattern of play.

Not every player who commits three fouls requires a caution for persistent infringement. Three is not the magic number. Ultimately, factors like the timing of the fouls, the aggressiveness of the fouls and the type of fouls committed play a factor in the referee’s determination as to whether persistent infringement exist. But, a player similar to the one in this situation, should be a candidate for a caution given the fact that he has committed a series or pattern of fouls as well as the aggressive nature (borderline reckless) of two of the three fouls. The referee must be able to recognize and recall the prior actions of the player and then sift through how those actions are impacting the game. This is the feel referees need to exhibit as part of their game management tool set.

2009 (Click to view/hide)
No material on this topic for this year. Click prior years' tabs below to view information for those years.
2008 (Click to view/hide)
The following video clips provide examples of officials recognizing (or failing to) persistent infringement and examines the important aspects in identifying persistence:

  • Video Clip: Chicago at FC Dallas (25:44) - The game is in the 26th minute.  A player commits a hard foul in midfield which the referee calls.  Although the clip does not fully show the referee’s action, he uses personality to call the player over and his player management skills to send an appropriate message to the player that he needs to modify his behavior.  The action, on the part of the referee, “sets the table” for the next foul by the defender (what is not shown is the same player committed a previous foul at 22 minutes). Approximately 1:40 later, the same defender commits another foul that takes away an attacking play by preventing the attacker from getting around the corner and into the penalty area.  Having just warned the defender about his questionable play, the referee now issues a yellow card for persistently infringing the Laws of the Game.  This is excellent execution on the part of the referee because he “drew his line in the sand” on the first foul by positively imposing his personality on the game by warning the defender.  Remember, there is no set number of fouls necessary to define persistent infringement.  In this case, it was the time span between fouls and the severity of the two fouls that led to the yellow card.  The referee used his databank recalling the same player committed fouls at 22 and 26 minutes and a third foul at 28 minutes.  
  • Video Clip: New England at Houston (53:03) - In this clip, a player enters the match at halftime.  Then, in a span of 34 minutes is involved in three questionable plays – two of which are potentially cautionable on their own.  After the first foul, at 53:05, the referee exhibits his displeasure with the player’s actions.  Approximately six minutes later, the same player goes in for an aerial challenge that the referee determines is fair.  But, remember, the referee’s mental databank needs to register the players involved in hard challenges.  Finally, some 34 minutes after the initial hard challenge, the player commits another careless (even potentially reckless on its own) foul from behind where there is no opportunity to play the ball.  At this point, the referee must be able to recognize that the player is persistently infringing the Laws of the Game and caution him.

Second Caution

The Laws of the Game require players to be sent off (red carded) for “receiving a second caution in the same match.” Regardless of the score, the time or the player involved, referees must have the courage to issue a second caution to a player when warranted.

Referees cannot refrain from dealing with misconduct situations that the Laws of the Game and associated U.S. Soccer directives identify as offenses that require a yellow or red card and cannot be managed through the referee’s sending a strong message with his personality/presence. Match officials must possess the mentality to identify the 100% misconduct situations and have the conviction to follow through with the appropriate punishment (yellow or red card). Offenses that meet the criteria for the various forms of misconduct must be managed appropriately.

The “Week In Review” publications and podcasts along with the 10 2009 U.S. Soccer Referee Program Directive documents are intended to provide the groundwork for referee consistency resulting in similar decisions given similar situations. Familiarity with these tools is critical to ensure proper application and commonality in decisions from referee-to-referee and game-to-game.

2010 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: Chivas U.S.A. at Columbus (14:24)
    Twelve minutes after being cautioned for unsporting behavior (reckless aerial challenge on an opponent), the same player commits a handling offense that is a clearly unsporting behavior. After issuing the first caution (at 14:24), the referee’s hands are tied and he must issue the second yellow card to the same player at 24:53 as a result of a blatant handling offense (unsporting behavior). This is supported by FIFA’s “Interpretation of the Laws and Guidelines for Referees” which states that referees are required to caution a player who:

    “Handles the ball to prevent an opponent gaining possession or developing an attack (other than the goalkeeper in his own penalty area).”

    The referee must not consider the fact that the game is only at the 24:53 mark, with a 0-0 score line, and the team would be forced to play the remainder of the game shorthanded. “Big picture” concerns cannot be considered when there is no gray area in terms of the offense committed and the Law mandates the referee issue a card for misconduct.

    Hence, the appropriate decision, in clip 2, is for the referee to issue a yellow card for the handling offense (unsporting behavior) which would be the player’s second in the same match and, thus, the caution should be followed by issuance of the red card.
2009 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: Columbus at Colorado (58:41)
    As you watch video clip 1 keep the situation and the result in your mind as you will need the information as you analyze clip 2. The referee in this clip does many things correctly, from recognizing “flow” to the awarding of advantage to the issuing of a yellow card.

    In the directive entitled “Game Management Model: Flow, Risk Taking and Game Control,” two important principles are executed correctly by the referee. First, the referee shows awareness of and a correct understanding of the concept of “flow.” Second, the referee exhibits the ability to identify a situation that lends itself to the proper application of the advantage clause.
    • Flow
      In the clip, there is an initial challenge along the touchline by defending player No. 22 on the red jersey team. The defender makes minor and trifling contact with the attacker who is in possession of the ball. The referee identifies this challenge as an opportunity to provide rhythm to the game by allowing play to continue. In this case, the referee can positively enhance the entertainment value of the game by affecting “flow” while not negatively affecting game control.

    • Advantage
      After correctly injecting flow into the game, the referee is faced with a second and immediate decision regarding the opportunity for advantage. In the case, the referee quickly assesses the landscape by applying the “4 P Principle.”
      1. Possession of ball: control by the attacking team or player.
      2. Potential for attack: ability to continue a credible and dangerous attack.
      3. Personnel: skill of attackers, numerical advantage.
      4. Proximity to opponent’s goal: closeness to goal.

      Remember, depending upon the skill level, age level and general atmosphere of the game, the application of advantage may differ. However, given the circumstances of this game, the situation meets all the conditions of the “4 P Principle” and the referee correctly applies the advantage. When applying the advantage, the referee must do so by extending his arms our directly in front at waist level thereby visually indicating that he recognizes that a foul has occurred but has decided to continue with the advantage.

    • Misconduct: Unsporting Behavior – Reckless Tackle
      The Laws of the Game permit the referee to apply the advantage and then return to the player who committed the foul to issue the caution at the next stoppage. The referee correctly administers this process in the clip. The referee decides that the tackle by No. 4 of the red team is reckless and must be cautioned. The advantage is clear and the referee feels that there is no risk for immediate retaliation. The tackle is late and is executed with poor timing. In this example, the fact that No. 4 fails to make contact with the attacker makes the tackle a yellow card offense (reckless) and not a red card due to excessive force/endangering the safety of an opponent. At the next stoppage, the referee properly returns to No. 4 to caution him for unsporting behavior (the reckless tackle that resulted in the application of advantage). Remember: If the caution is not issued at the next stoppage, it cannot be shown later.

  • Video Clip: Columbus at Colorado (83:27)
    Approximately 25 minutes after the foul in clip 1, No. 4 commits another cautionable offense. Once again, No. 4 makes a reckless challenge on the opponent. The defender has extended his leg and makes a late and unsuccessful attempt to play the ball. Instead, he makes contact with the opponent’s upper leg and foot. No. 4 was beat because the attacker was able to get to the ball first and then cut the ball against the movement of the defender. Consequently, the defender had but one option, foul.

    The referee correctly judges the defender’s (No. 4) challenge to be reckless and cautions him for unsporting behavior. This is the defender’s second caution in the match and therefore he must be shown the red card for “receiving a second caution in the same match.” Observe the referee’s mechanics for initially showing the yellow card for unsporting behavior and then immediately following it up with the red card.

    It is important to note that the referee did not shy away from issuing the second caution to the player despite the fact the game had less than seven minutes remaining and the player’s team was losing 1-0. In this case, the referee should base his decision on the facts of the last tackle and not the circumstances of the game due to the clear nature of the reckless foul.
  • Video Clip: Seattle at San Jose (13:02 – second half)
    Similar to the situation in clip 2 above, the defending player (No. 4 on the green team) who commits the foul was previously cautioned. Additionally, the following items should be noted at the time of the foul:
    • The defender’s team is playing a man down as a teammate was sent off in the 33rd minute.
    • The defender’s team is losing 2-0.

    These items are part of the “big picture” of the game. It is important that a referee have full grasp and understanding of the “big picture” factors. Although these factors are important in an official’s understanding of the atmosphere and circumstances surrounding a game, they are not important when the offense committed by a player is clear and not debatable. For example, when the misconduct infringement meets all the criteria established in the Laws of the Game and in U.S. Soccer’s Directives, the referee must apply the appropriate misconduct.

    As the “Game Management Model” directive states: “The ‘big picture’ provides the referee with a framework for decisions but it must not be an excuse for a referee’s failing to deal with 100% misconduct situations or a referee’s inability to ensure the safety of the players.”

    Clip 3 involves a clear case of a defender committing a “tactical” foul that meets all the criteria established for defining “tactical” fouls in the “100% Misconduct: Tactical and Red Card Tackles” directive. Tactical fouls are defined as:
    • Primarily fouls that don’t necessarily endanger the safety of an opponent but are committed either to break down a promising attack or to gain an advantage in attack.
    • Often considered minor or soft because they normally don’t involve hard, physical contact.
    • They have a tactical implication because they are designed to normally impede the progress of an opponent.

    U.S. Soccer has set forth the following six criteria to assist officials with identifying “tactical” fouls so that the correct punishment (yellow card) can be meted out:
    • Usually in attacking end of the field
      Defensive players commit the foul because they acknowledge that the attacking team will have a opportunity to go-to-goal with a high degree of effectiveness. It normally involves speed of the attack.
    • Numerical advantage
      Committed by defenders to prevent an attacking team or player from gaining a numeric advantage – not to be confused with denying a goal scoring opportunity.
    • Time to defend
      Tactical fouls are committed to give the defending team time to get goal-side of the ball. In other words, to give the defending team (as opposed to the attacking team) time to get a numeric advantage between the ball and the goal.
    • Prevent the ball and/or player from advancing
      Normally, the foul is committed to prevent the ball and/or attacking player from getting into space behind a defender or behind the defense. This assists in developing a numeric advantage. It is the “if the ball gets by, the player doesn’t or if the player gets by, the ball doesn’t” theory. Look for open areas of space that the ball would normally be played into or where an attacking player would run into if they were to receive the ball. This would be behind a defender, into space and normally in the attacking half of the field, often within 35-40 yards of the goal.
    • The defender knows he is beat.
      Defenders commit this foul because they know they have been beat by the attacker. Look for one vs. one situations: for example, an attacking player along the touchline going by his defender into space (normally along the wing) to set up a cross or to cut in toward the goal.
    • Minor nature of the challenge.
      Normally this foul does not involve hard, physical contact.

      As the short clip unfolds, each of these six criteria is evident. The defender commits a tactical foul by preventing the attacker, with the ball, from advancing into a more advantageous position. The defender knows he has no support or cover behind him so his only options are to either stop the ball or stop the attacker from getting by him. Once the defender sees the speed of the attacker and the ball and the ball has clearly bypassed him, he identifies his only option is to deny the attacker from getting into the space behind him and thereby getting into the penalty area.

    • The simplest method to prevent the progression of the attacker is to deliberately interpose his body between the attacker and his pursuit of the ball. Remember, players work hard to disguise tactical-type fouls and to make them difficult for officials to recognize. Watch the defender and analyze his actions/movement and ask yourself: “Why did the defender commit the foul in this situation?”
      • The defender’s eyes are not on the ball but on the attacker.
      • The ball is three yards past the defender when he initiates contact.
      • The defender takes two steps to his left and into the attacker’s path to the ball while making no attempt to chase/track down the ball that has been touched behind him by the attacker.
      • The opponent and ball are moving faster than the defender can.

      Given these actions by the defender, the referee must decide that a tactical foul has occurred and he must stop play to caution the defender for unsporting behavior. This would be the second caution of the match for the player which means he should be shown the red card for “receiving the second caution in the same match.”

      In this clip, the AR has signaled for a foul due to its closeness to his quadrant of control/assistance. This should act as further evidence for the referee to make the correct decision by whistling for the cautionable foul by the defender.

      Given the clarity of the tactical foul, the referee must caution the defender and then send him off for receiving his second caution of the game. Because the foul is clear and meets all the established criteria, the referee cannot consider the factors involved in the “big picture.”
2008 (Click to view/hide)
In the clips below, the referee sends a message with the first caution but the player chooses not to receive the message. 
  • Video Clip: Real Salt Lake at FC Dallas (17:00) - This clip not only shows a reckless tackle but it also contains other valuable lessons.  First, the referee is keen enough to award an advantage to the attacker who has sufficient space to advance with the ball.  Secondly, when the referee calls the foul, he is excellently positioned.  He is close to the play and possesses a clear line of vision to the offense.  The tackle is clumsy and late and it is committed at an angle in which the defender cannot play the ball.  Hence, a caution is issued for unsporting behavior.
  • Video Clip: Real Salt Lake at FC Dallas (37:47) - Just under twenty minutes later, the same two players are involved in another late challenge.  This is an unnecessary challenge as the attacker is moving away from the penalty area; however, the speed at which the attacker is moving with the ball leads to the reckless tackle.  Also, note the defending player’s reaction after the tackle.  He seems apologetic as though he knows he committed a cautionable offense.  Once again, the referee is correct in deciding that the tackle is worthy of a caution for unsporting behavior.  Thus, the referee displays the yellow card and then the red card for receiving a second caution in the same match.  Given the game is still in the early stages, this is a courageous and correct decision.
  • Video Clip: TFC at Colorado (69:32) - The player who commits the foul does so having already been cautioned.  The player commits a reckless upper body challenge.  The force of the challenge is unnecessary and places the attacker/opponent in a dangerous position.  The fact that the players are near the sign boards and the fact that the challenge is done in such a manner that it propels the attacker toward the boards, should heighten the referee’s sensitivity and should be taken into consideration when evaluating the severity and the level of the contact.  Notice the location of the ball and play when the challenge is initiated:  the ball is clearly going out if it has not done so already.  So, the referee must ask himself as he evaluates the severity of the punishment, “why is the opponent making such a challenge given the ball is not playable and is out of play?”
    • Observe how the referee first shows the yellow card as he judged the offense as unsporting behavior.  After displaying the yellow card, the referee immediately raises the red card signifying the player is being sent off for “receiving a second caution in the same match.”  The urgency shown by the referee in issuing the cards keeps the situation from escalating to game misconduct (actions by multiple opponents).
  • Video Clip (Added 10/30/2008): Dallas at Galaxy (27:43) - This clip is of a correct first yellow card issued to the player who will receive his second caution in video clip 2.  The foul committed by the defender falls under the “reckless” classification.  It is “reckless” because it is done with complete disregard to the consequences to the opponent.  Further, it is unsporting behavior because the foul is committed for the ”tactical purpose of interfering with or breaking up a promising attack.”

As the attacker progresses with the ball, look for the space in front of him.  This is the space that the attacker would be able to exploit if it were not for the foul.  Getting the ball and the player into the more than 30 yards of open territory would provide the attacking team a “promising attack.”  Hence, the defender is cognizant of the opportunity for the attacker and decides that the best course of action is to prevent him from getting into the space behind the defense by fouling.  Watch the defender’s legs as he executes the tackle.  One leg is raised as contact is made in order to prevent the attacker from being able to jump over the tackle and keep possession of the ball.

This is not a red card tackle as it is not done with “excessive force” or done in a manner that could potentially injure the opponent.  The tackle is from the side, not straight on, and the contact is made with a bent leg of the defender and not with a straight leg with cleats exposed.  Given these characteristics, the referee is correct in determining the tackle is unsporting behavior and, thus, a yellow card.

  • Video Clip (Added 10/30/2008): Dallas at Galaxy (3:26 – second half) - The game is still relatively early (41 minutes remaining).  Despite the time remaining, the referee is faced with a difficult decision:  Do I send a player off for his second cautionable offense?  The same defender, who was cautioned in video clip 1 above, is again the focus of another unsporting tackle.

The attacker is in possession of the ball and progressing with speed.  Similar to the example in video clip 1, the attacker has space in front of him that he can exploit.  There is approximately 12 yards of open field facing the attacker, in the attacking third, if he is able to get around the challenging defender.  The defender must track the attacker down and trip him up from the side to prevent the advancement of the player with the ball.

Once again, this is another tactical and reckless foul intended to impede the progress of the attack and the attacking player.  Although the foul is not committed with malice, it is committed in a manner that is “reckless” and meets the criteria for unsporting behavior in that the foul committed was tactical in nature so that the opponent’s attack is broken up.

Remember, often times, defenders, who may be beat, result to tactics to ensure that the man/attacker will not get by them because it as easier to take out (foul) the man/attacker than cleanly win the ball.

The referee correctly cautions the player for unsporting behavior and then sends him off for receiving a second caution in the same match.

Note:  The referee uses proper mechanics to issue the second yellow card and ensuing red card.  First, the referee must show the yellow card.  Once this card has been displayed, the referee may then display the red card to indicate that the player has been sent off.  This is an example of a well executed issuance of a second yellow card and resulting send off.

Delaying Restarts of Play

Delaying the Restart of Play generally falls into one of two categories:

2010 (Click to view/hide)
Clip: 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.

Clip: 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.

Clip: Chivas USA at Los Angeles (87:43)
What is the “big picture” in this clip?

1. 88th minute of play.
2. A one goal difference.
3. The team that kicks the ball away is leading by a goal.
4. The losing team has been on a constant attack for much of the half.

With an understanding of the “big picture,” the referee is armed with important information in order to analyze the player’s (white jersey) action. The referee can ask himself: “Why? Why did the player kick the ball away after play has been stopped?”

Well after the whistle, the correctly cautioned player kicks the ball away. He sends it quite a distance and to a location where there are no opponents who can easily retrieve the ball. This delay tactic comes after the player makes an initial touch of the ball following the referee’s foul decision. If the player were to leave the ball, after the initial touch, the likelihood of a situation involving delaying the restart is mitigated. However, the player deliberately kicks the ball away from the restart location.

The result of the player’s action is to gain a tactical advantage in the last few minutes of a game that his team leads by a single goal. As a consequence, he has delayed the restart and taken away any advantage the fouled team may have had in putting the ball into play and must be cautioned for “delaying the restart of play.”

Note: Law 7 – The Duration of the Match, permits the referee to add any time lost through delay tactics as these are not a natural stoppage and can be considered wasting time.

2009 (Click to view/hide)
No material on this topic for this year. Click prior years' tabs below to view information for those years.
2008 (Click to view/hide)
There are many situations in games where players of one team will attempt to delay the restart of play by the opponent, or where one team will attempt to slow the pace at which they put the ball back into play themselves.  Referees must be aware of these situations and deal with them promptly. There are many talented free kick specialists now playing in MLS.  Hence, the “red zone” becomes even more critical.  Defending teams want to take away any advantage the kicker may have. Get 10 yards and maintain 10 yards.  Additionally, referees must be cognizant of the score and the time in the match.  Teams ahead in score will often “push the envelope” and test the referee to see if they can slow the opposing restarts down.  We must deal with these two scenarios by being active and having a presence around the ball/situation.

  • Video Clip: New England at Kansas City (43:45):  The referee makes a solid foul decision.  New England is ahead 3-1; hence, every second that ticks off the clock is to their advantage.  The referee must be aware of this. Earlier actions by defending players send messages that must resonate with the referee.  Once we are aware, we can then take action to prevent the delay.  The referee should sprint to the spot of the foul and ensure the defender’s opportunity to interpose himself in front of the ball is minimized.  Once New England has delayed, the referee’s use of personality to address the two players is fantastic.
  • Video Clip: Toronto at Galaxy (46:00).  Wall management will become increasingly important and critical since over 30% of goals are scored from restarts.  Referees must reduce the time the ball is out of play, get a FULL 10 yards, and ensure no one advances to block the kick (not permit free kick interference).  If a player advances and makes contact with the ball, the referee is empowered to retake the kick without having to caution the player but allow the team the opportunity that they earned.  Note, in this clip, it takes 1:40 from foul to the taking of the free kick. 

Specific notice should be taken of goalkeepers attempting to delay restarts and/or waste time through violation of the “6-Second Rule” or through prolonging the taking of a goal kick, etc. There have been instances of the goalkeeper keeping possession of the ball, in his hands, for more than six seconds.  While we realize this is a technical offense and seldom called, we are asking officials to be proactive in ensuring the goalkeeper release the ball within the 6 seconds.  A whistle from the referee should not be required if preventative work is done.

  • Referees and ARs must be cognizant of situations in which a goalkeeper may want to hold the ball for extended periods.  When a team is in the lead, the goalkeeper will “push the envelope” so as to reduce the time the ball is in play. 
  • Look at the time and the score.
  • Be proactive.  Move close to the goalkeeper while he has the ball in his hands so a visual message is sent.  Have a verbal exchange as you move to the keeper.
  • Motion to the goalkeeper, with your hands/arm, encouraging him to put the ball in play.
  • The next time the ball goes out near the goalkeeper, have a word with him.
  • Talk with the captain on the team and ask him to speak with the goalkeeper.
  • The AR can also assist by communicating and getting the goalkeeper’s attention and encourage more rapid release of the ball.
    • NOTE:  THESE REFEREE TACTICS ARE APPLICABLE TO OTHER TYPES OF GOALKEEPER DELAYS LIKE DELAYING THE TAKING OF A GOAL KICK.

Misconduct by Substitutes and Substituted Players

The Laws of the Game specifically empower the referee to caution or send off any “player, substitute, or substituted player.”  In each case, the referee must show the yellow or red card. 

Substitute players are held to the same standard as players regarding conduct despite being off the field.  Consequently, they may be cautioned or red carded.  The Laws give the referee the power to caution a substitute or substituted player if he commits any of the following three offenses:

2010 (Click to view/hide)
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2009 (Click to view/hide)
No material on this topic for this year. Click prior years' tabs below to view information for those years.
2008 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: Real Salt Lake at Chicago (73:50) - This clip shows a substitute player who is cautioned for dissent and then given a straight red card for “using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures.”  Notice the substitute players warming up behind the goal line as play is in progress.  This is the designated area at this stadium for substitutes to warm up.  Despite being in front of the sign boards, the subs are not permitted to approach the field or the AR to express their opinions, dissent, or become involved in any interaction with any active player.

    Watch at 73:59 as the AR signals to the referee to caution one of the substitutes warming up.  Although the clip does not show it, the referee displays the yellow card to the sub after cautioning the defender for the foul.  The referee’s initial focus is on the two players involved in the foul as this is the situation that has the opportunity to escalate.  Hence, the referee only deals with the substitute after he has dealt with the other two players and he is certain that the initial situation has been resolved.  Once the referee feels the first situation is resolved, he can turn his attention to the act of the substitute and caution him, based upon the information received from the AR, for dissent by word and action.  At the time the caution is issued, the referee warns the player that further misconduct will result in him being sent off.Just over a minute later, as play is being restarted from the spot of the foul, the AR gets the referee’s attention by wiggling his flag overhead and calling him over.  At this time, the referee approaches the AR and is advised to red card the player for using offensive, insulting or abusive language.  Refer to “Law 12 - Dissent” for a set of standards officials can utilize to define dissent and abusive language:  public, personal, and provocative.  The referee correctly displays the red card and motions to the player to leave the area around the field of play.
    • Note: it is not recommended that a referee leave the field of play to display a card to a substitute or a substituted player.  Referees should attempt to remain on the field of play as substitutes may not enter the field without your permission and the boundary lines create another visual barrier between the referee and the substitutes.

Removing Violence from the Game – The Red Card

U.S. Soccer has established criteria to be used by match officials when evaluating tackles to determine whether a red card is deserved for excessive force. Extensive examination of this criteria (using the acrynoynm “SIAPOA”) can be found in the 2009 U.S. Soccer Referee Program Directive entitled: “100% Misconduct – Tactical and Red Card Tackles.”

As a general overview, referees should use the SIAPOA criteria when determining whether a player committing a tackle should be cautioned for the reckless nature of the challenge or sent off (red carded) because excessive force was used. Remember, the Laws of the Game define using excessive force as “the player has far exceeded the necessary use of force and is in danger of injuring his opponent.” Additionally, the Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees state that “Any player who lunges at an opponent in challenging for the ball from the front, from the side or from behind using one or both legs, with excessive force and endangering the safety of an opponent is guilty of serious foul play.” These are key words that should guide your viewing of the tackles that follow.

Red card tackles usually combine each of or several of the following SIAPOA components:

Referees must be able to quickly weigh the SIAPOA criteria and decide whether sufficient criteria are evident rendering the tackle as serious foul play and, thus, a red card.

2010 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: Philadelphia at Los Angeles (45:00 + 1:23)
    The referee team does well not to let their guard down despite halftime being moments away. Instead of relaxing just before the halftime whistle, the referee maintains heightened awareness. As a result, the referee is able to clearly evaluate the SIAPOA criteria and decide that a red card (serious foul play) should be issued for a tackle that involves excessive force while endangering the safety of the opponent.

    What are the key components of SIAPOA that are evident?
    • Speed of play and the tackle: The player is running at a high speed just before he leaves his feet to begin the challenge. Speed equates to less control of the challenge by the tackler.
    • Aggressive nature: The tackler lunges at the opponent and jumps into the tackle leaving his feet several yards before arriving at the ball. The cleats (hard surface) are exposed.
    • Opportunity to play the ball: There is no opportunity to play the ball. The attacking player has his back to the defender (the tackler is outside his peripheral vision) and the attacker’s body is interposed between the ball and the challenge. Consequently, the tackler can only go through the opponent to attempt to play the ball.


    The combination of these clear factors, make this a red card tackle as they endanger the safety of the opponent.

    The referee does an excellent job showing urgency and intervening after the foul. The referee takes preventative action (reduces the potential escalation) by moving to the spot of the foul and preventing opponents from taking action into their own hands. As “mass confrontation” begins to develop, the fourth official and assistant referee (AR) also impose their presence and form the “triangle of control” that has been recommended in U.S. Soccer’s 2009 directive, “Game Disrepute and Mass Confrontation.” 

    Quick work by the officiating team defuses a volatile situation and ensures that the players are not able to take actions into their own hands. The fourth official does a good job observing and taking note of any surrounding incidents while the AR works to channel players away from the hot spot.

    Note: The referee is not required to show the red card immediately after whistling the foul. In this clip, lending his presence to prevent escalation is more important and the referee decides this is the priority. Once the referee is assured that the situation is under control, he can isolate the tackler and issue the red card. Consultation with the AR and fourth official involved in the “triangle of control” should occur to solicit their input regarding the incident and the mass confrontation.

  • Video Clip 2: Dallas at New England (70:53)
    Another situation involving a challenge that is similar to the tackle viewed in clip 1. This is a clear tackle in which the player has no opportunity to play the ball. In addition, he leads with the bottom of his boots (cleats exposed) while his right leg is locked thereby increasing the danger to the opponent. The tackler’s second leg (left leg) goes through the opponent and connects in the Achilles heal area. Diagram 2 provides a clear visual picture of the endangerment of the opponent resulting from the excessive force used to make the challenge.

    Diagram 2A red card for serious foul play is mandated in this 100 percent misconduct situation. The fact that a prior red card has been issued to the same team must not be a consideration. As compared to the first clip, immediately showing the red card is a positive factor as there are not many players in the vicinity and the possibility of escalation in the form of mass confrontation or game disrepute is minimal. Summoning the training staff onto the field to attend to the injured player must be done as quickly as possible.

  • Video Clip 3: Chivas U.S.A. at Chicago (12:26)
    In the 13th minute of the game, the referee and AR are faced with a red card decision. A tackle is committed in the ARs “area of participation.” As the clip is viewed, use the SIAPOA criteria to evaluate the tackler’s actions. Then, ask yourself:

    Does the mix and weight of the evident criteria endanger the safety of the opponent and lead to a determination that excessive force was used?

    As you review Diagram 3, analyze the tackle. Application of the SIAPOA criteria point to the following:

    • Aggressive nature: The player lunges, leading with his right leg. Although the distance from which the tackle is initiated is not great, the tackler jumps at the opponent with his cleats exposed. Contact is made directly to the opponent’s ankle area. Notice the locked knee and straight legged approach of the tackler.
    • Position of the tackler: The leading leg is off the ground. There is no “slide” involved in the tackle, just a lunge with force. The tackler’s foot is several inches off the ground thereby decreasing the likelihood he can play the ball.
    • Opportunity to play the ball: Because the defender is lunging to the ball with his foot raised significantly off the ground, there is very little likelihood that he will have the opportunity to play the ball. By the time the contact is made, the ball is to the side of the defender.

    This challenge represents excessive force and the tackler must be sent off for serious foul play. It is a 100 percent misconduct situation. The fact that the game is less than 13 minutes old, should not play a factor in the decision.

    In the clip, both the referee and the AR have very good lines of vision to the infringement. Since this is a “game critical situation” and the infringement occurs in the ARs “area of participation,” this infringement necessitates AR involvement after making eye contact with the referee. The 2009 “Assistant Referee Involvement” directive explores the concept of “game critical situations” and offers guidelines for AR involvement. It is imperative that the AR communicate the red card to the referee and not just signal for the foul with the flag.

    Note: In the pregame meeting conducted by the referee, a mechanism for communicating misconduct (by ARs and fourth officials) must be established and discussed. The AR can use a “silent” signal to indicate his “red card” opinion to the referee by patting his back pocket while making eye contact after signaling the foul. A yellow card could be indicated by patting the front breast pocket.

  • Video Clip 4: Kansas City at Houston (32:20)
    The focus of this clip is not on a potential offside decision or the timing of the referee’s response to an offside flag. In clip 4, the referee is faced with a difficult decision that requires a keen eye to make a proper decision. During the challenge on the goalkeeper, there are SIAPOA elements that could indicate a red cared is necessary, BUT just because there are some SIAPOA elements doesn’t define that a red card is necessary. As mentioned before, a referee needs to take in all the different SIAPOA criteria and answer the question below:

    Does the mix and weight of the evident criteria endanger the safety of the opponent and lead to a determination that excessive force was used?

    Analyzing the subtle differences of each SIAPOA criteria can be difficult for a referee, especially in real time. In this instance, slow motion review shows that the more appropriate decision should have been to caution the attacking player for unsporting behavior instead of showing a red card.

    Diagram 4 can assist in differentiating this yellow card (reckless) challenge from a red card infringement (excessive force).

    Below we review each of the SIAPOA criteria in this challenge:

    1. Speed of play: YES
      There are elements of speed to this challenge. The attacker is moving with speed to attempt to win the ball. However, the attacker is showing some control as he moves to the left as he approaches the keeper.
    2. Intent: NONE
      The attacker’s intent was to win/play the ball. This can be observed in the manner in which he approaches the ball and the goalkeeper (leaning to the left). No intent to injure or send a message.
    3. Aggressive Nature: NO
      There is no direct lunge for the ball. The attacker does not lead with the cleats. As Diagram 4 shows, the attacker leads with his instep (also a signal of intent to win the ball). The aggressiveness is aimed toward winning the ball and beating the goalkeeper to the ball.
    4. Position of the tackler: NOT A FACTOR
      This is subtle but the attacker is not taking a direct approach to the goalkeeper. As the replays are viewed and confirmed by Diagram 4, the attacker is leaning to the left which virtually prohibits him from leading with the hard surface of the cleats.
    5. Opportunity to play the ball: NOT A FACTOR
      There is a good and fair opportunity for the attacker to play the ball. The attacker arrives just slightly after the goalkeeper takes possession of the ball.
    6. Atmosphere of the game: NOT EVIDENT
      The game’s atmosphere is not evident without viewing the entire game to that moment. However, the game was fully under control and the players were responding to the referee up to this point.

    Combining these subtle factors should help the referee with defining the challenge as reckless (cautionable) and not as a challenge that used excessive force. Review of the mix and weight of each of the SIAPOA criteria should lead the referee to the decision that the challenge was reckless and merely a yellow card for unsporting behavior.

    Note: The referee does a good job reading the “warning sign” of a goalkeeper challenge and intervenes as quickly as possible to prevent retaliation. The referee’s prompt presence acts as a deterrent.

  • Video Clip: D.C. United at Houston (56:43)
    This clip involves a red card tackle in which the area of contact and the mode of contact play important roles in the decision to send the player off for serious foul play. Review Image 1 for a clear mental picture of these two important factors.

    The area of contact is the inside ankle of the opponent. This attacker is very vulnerable to injury solely based upon the area in which the tackler makes contact.

    The mode of contact is the hard surface of the tackler’s cleats. This hard surface is accentuated by the fact that he has a locked leg/knee which translates to no give at the time of contact.

    Given the area of contact combined with the mode of contact, the referee should recognize that excessive force is being used and the player is at high risk for injury. The referee must issue a red card for serious foul play (challenge for the ball).

    There are three warning signs of a potential unfair tackle that the referee team should recognize. First, watch as the tackler tracks the opponent for approximately 25 yards. This may be a sign of his intent and his hunger to dispossess the opponent of the ball. Second, the offense occurs in front of the team benches. This is a highly volatile area. Thirdly, the location of the ball is on the outside of the attacker and the only way for the tackler to win it is to go through the opponent. These three factors should raise the referee’s awareness and increase his physical presence (closeness to play) as play develops.

  • Video Clip: D.C. United at Houston (16:42)
    Earlier in the same match as clip 1, a red card tackle is committed against the player who commits the tackle in clip 1. In this clip 2, the tackler does not lunge for the ball with great speed but, as Image 2 shows, his challenge leaves the attacker vulnerable to injury. The area of contact is behind the opponent’s knee. In this case, the direct nature of the contact leaves the attacker very susceptible to injury. Although there is not a lot of speed or a direct lunge for the ball (starting from distance), the mode of contact is the entire body of the tackler that is driven through the attacker’s trailing leg.

    Given the contact made with the attacker’s back leg and the vulnerable location of the leg, it does not take much force to put the player at high risk for injury. The referee must send the tackler off (red card) for serious foul play (challenge for the ball).

  • Video Clip: Columbus at Kansas City (89:15)
    Late in the game, played in heat and humidity, the referee is faced with several quick moments of body contact. By this time, the referee’s mind is fighting fatigue resulting from the climate. Referee’s must resist the temptation to relax and must stay mentally alert for the duration of the match. The referee makes a decision that the body contact leading to the tackle is acceptable and normal for that level. However, the fact that there is two quick moments of contact should be a flash point for the referee to move closer to the situation to lend his presence.

    A tackle is committed that involves excessive force (maybe a result of the prior contact that was not called). The tackler should be sent off for violent conduct as the ball was not in playing distance and there was no challenge for it.

    Once again, the concepts of area of contact and mode of contact are important in judging that a red card offense has been committed.

    1. Area of contact
      Directly behind the knee in a soft area highly susceptible to injury given it is behind the knee where tendons and joints are involved. Contact is off the ground by several feet.
    2. Mode of contact
      The hard surface of the top of the boot is swung, with force, at the opponent while the ball is shielded from the tackler on the other side of the player in possession of the ball.

    With no attempt to play the ball, the excessive force used (due to area and mode of contact) and the fact that the player is facing injury, the referee should red card the tackler for violent conduct.

  • Video Clip: Kansas City at Toronto (25:50)
    The referee correctly identifies the exposed cleats and late challenge as one that involves the use of excessive force because it far exceeds the force or aggressiveness needed to make a fair play for the ball. Additionally, the opponent’s safety is endangered and he is very susceptible to injury due to the mode of contact (the hard surface of the bottom of the boots). The tackler leads with his cleats and connects with the opponent’s thigh with a straight leg. Look at the location of the ball. Image 1 shows that the ball is nowhere near the tackler when contact is made. The ball is on the ground and the challenge is late and nowhere in the location of the ball. Image 1 provides a good visual of the location of the ball as the challenge connects with the opponent. A red card for serious foul play must be issued.

    In this clip, the referee does a good job to place himself in a good line of vision to the play so that he can correctly evaluate the contact and the severity/aggressiveness of the foul. The referee’s position allows him to see between the players as the challenge is initiated.

  • Video Clip: New York at Kansas City (93:13)
    More than three minutes into additional time, a player commits an excessive force tackle on the opponent. The referee correctly and calmly identifies the severity of the foul and issues a red card for serious foul play.

    In evaluating the player’s tackle, the referee can use the mode of contact and area of contact concepts to assist in making the red card judgment.

    1. Mode of Contact
      • Locked knee and straight leg
      • Lunging and takes off from a distance
      • Cleats exposed and making contact
    2. Area of Contact
      • Leg off ground and over the ball
      • Contact in the ankle area

  • Video Clip: Colorado at Houston (6:28)
    Unlike Clip 1, this excessive force tackle does not involve a lot of distance (in terms of steps or running) behind the tackle. The tackle does, however, meet the criteria for excessive force due to the mode of contact and the area of contact involved in the player’s overly aggressive challenge for the ball. This is a red card tackle irrespective of the time of the game or the score.

    The following considerations indicate that a red card must be issued for serious foul play as a result of an excessive force tackle in which the safety of the opponent is severely endangered (at a high probability):

    • The mode of contact is with the bottom of the boots (the hard surface of the cleats) and the tackler makes contact while his right knee is locked (straight leg).
    • The area of contact involves direct contact with the inside of the ankle.
    • The ball is well gone at the time of contact.

    So, despite the lack of a lunge or lack of speed, the tackle involves excessive force because it endangered the opponent’s safety and put him at a high risk for injury.

  • Clip: Philadelphia at New England (28:38 and 35:48)
    This clip contains two examples of 100 percent misconduct tackles (at 28:38 and 35:48). The referee misinterprets the first challenge (which is the more severe of the two) and only issues a yellow card. Approximately seven minutes later, the referee is faced with another tackle that meets the excessive force criteria but this time correctly issues a red card for serious foul play. Because the referee was not consistent in his application and interpretation, the frustration level of the players and those in the technical area is heightened.
    1. Red card tackle at 28:38
      This tackle is committed late and the tackler leads with the hard surface of his cleats (mode of contact) and contacts the opponent in the ankle area (area of contact). The player is at a very high risk of serious injury. This challenge meets all the SIAPOA criteria due to factors like speed, the location of the ball at the time of the challenge and the opportunity to play the ball. A red card for serious foul play must be given for similar tackles. This is a 100 percent red card situation and there are no other options.
    2. Red card tackle at 35:48
      Having only given a yellow card for the clear red card tackle seven minutes earlier, the players and technical personnel are surprised by the issuance of a red card for this second tackle. The red card for serious foul play for this tackle is correct as the SIAPOA criteria are existent. The tackle is late and the defender launches his entire body through the opponent after the ball is gone. Despite the correctness of the decision, there is an atmosphere or feeling of “unjust” amongst the players as the first challenge is not dealt with in the same manner as the second. To the referee’s credit, he is well positioned to view the severity of the tackle and this positioning leads to a correct decision.

    All in all, the lack of consistent decisions can lead to confusion and frustration by players, coaches, administration and spectators. In this clip, two red cards must be issued. The red cards are consistent with the criteria (SIAPOA and mode/area of contact) to be used to aid in the identification of excessive force tackles.

  • Clip: Houston at D.C. United (88:05)
    With only a few minutes left in regulation play, a player pursues the attacker with the ball from the side. Instead of tackling with both feet on the ground, the fouler lunges at the opponent with the bottom of both cleats thereby exposing his opponent to a high risk of injury and with no regard to the opponent’s safety. As the Laws of the Game state:

    “Any player who lunges at an opponent in challenging for the ball from the front, from the side or from behind using one or both legs, with excessive force and endangering the safety of an opponent is guilty of serious foul play.”

    In executing this tackle, the fouler not only lunges at the opponent but the hard surface (cleat area) of both boots contacts the ankle area (highly susceptible to injury) of the opponent. As contact is made, the tackler also uses his entire body to go through the opponent in the knee area. Notice the location of the tackler’s feet – raised, off the ground. This is a good sign of a tackle that puts the opponent at a high degree of risk relative to injury and safety.

    This tackle must be sanctioned with a red card for serious foul play. It is possible that the nearside AR and fourth official can help communicate the severity of the foul to the referee. Prior to showing the card, the referee has the time to make eye contact with the AR and the fourth official. By incorporating quick visual contact with his assistants, the referee can get additional opinions/input which can be communicated through prearranged silent signals (like the patting of the back pocket to indicate red card) or through the electronic communication system (RefTalk).
2009 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: New York at Houston (91:49)
    This video clip is an example of a player using excessive force while lunging for the ball in a manner that has endangered the safety of the opponent. The referee is correct in sending the tackler off for serious foul play. Keys to deciphering this challenge are:
    • Despite contact with the ball, the tackle is clearly committed using excessive force and, due to its aggressive nature, endangers the safety of the opponent. Look at the speed and uncontrolled nature of the lunge at the opponent.
    • Not only are the cleats exposed and contacting the opponent, the fact that the tackler uncontrollably lunges at the opponent, the tackler’s entire body goes through him while making contact. The force of the tackle can be seen as the back leg of the tackler even goes through and into the opponent.
    • The tackler leaves his feet from a far distance signaling an uncontrollable challenge and increased force/aggressiveness.
    • The height of the tackler’s foot as well as his body are further signs of the seriousness of the offence.

    The referee is well positioned to make the decision and to “feel” the impact of the challenge. The fact that the game is 1:49 into additional time must not factor into the referee’s decision as the tackle is 100% misconduct.

  • Video Clip: New York at Houston (75:47)
    This clip also involves a lunging tackle that should result in a red card for serious foul play. The lunge for the ball, in this case, is initiated from the side. In addition, the brutal nature of the tackle results in mass confrontation which is handled appropriately by the referee team.

    First, review the tackle and apply the SIAPOA criteria. Using the criteria, it is evident that the lunging tackle satisfies the requirements for a red card. Note that the ball is gone as the challenge is initiated. This is an indication that there is no attempt to play the ball. The tackler makes direct contact with the ankle area of the opponent with his exposed cleats. Match officials can ask themselves: “Did the tackler have any opportunity to play the ball?” Clearly, given the distance of the ball at the time of the challenge and the angle of the challenge, the answer is “no.”

    Second, the handling of the resulting mass confrontation is a good example of teamwork by match officials defusing a potentially volatile situation. Review U.S. Soccer’s 2009 Directive on “Game Disrepute and Mass Confrontation” for more information on the handling of similar situations. The following is a list of factors that make the teamwork effective:
    1. Given the closeness of the foul to the assistant referee (AR), the ARs immediate intervention should be applauded. The AR shows no hesitation in providing a positive presence that is effective in preventing escalation.
    2. The AR uses his body in a positive, non-confrontational manner to shield/prevent others from participating.
    3. The referee’s actions are also effective in separating players and then escorting the player to be red carded away into a neutral area.
    4. Pursuant to the 2009 directive on “Game Disrepute and Mass Confrontation,” the far side AR should come across the field to assist and take notes.

    Overall, the immediate and prompt action by the referee and the near side AR defuses and minimizes the need to form the “Triangle of Control.” In accordance with the “Game Disrepute and Mass Confrontation” directive, the referee cautions a Houston player (orange jerseys) as the “third man in.” In other words, the officials decided that this player’s aggressive actions caused the situation to escalate. Hence, this player should be yellow carded for unsporting behavior.

  • Video Clip: Kansas City at Seattle (8:83)
    The third clip involving serious foul play also provides a solid example of a tackle that contains all the identified SIAPOA components and, therefore, should result in a red card to the tackler. Given the 100% nature of the red card misconduct, the referee cannot be influenced by the fact that the game is in its early stages (just under nine minutes). The referee is close to play and should be able to make the decision and to “feel” the impact and excessive force of the tackle, consequently, the official has no option but to send the tackler off for serious foul play (note, a more strategic position may be to the inside of play and not so close to the touchline). Referees must quickly apply the SIAPOA criteria and decide that excessive force has been utilized.

    The lunging challenge is committed with cleats exposed and up and over the ball. Look at where the contact is made (just below the attacker’s knee). Notice the locked knee of the tackler as well as the exposed cleats that fail to make contact with the ball, this indicates the safety of the attacker is clearly jeopardized.
  • Video Clip: Toronto at Columbus (37:38)
    This clip involves a clear case of serious foul play and, therefore, the tackler must be issued a red card. As the clip is reviewed, the criteria established by U.S. Soccer and outlined above for evaluating tackles should be used to ensure the correct punishment is meted out.

    As you view the clip, consider the following:

    Excessive Force

    • Is this a normal challenge? No. The foot is raised off the ground. If the defender were attempting to play the ball, he would have swung his foot at it to kick it away and not leaped in directly at the opponent.
    • The ball is on the ground and the challenge goes over the top of the ball.
    • Does the defender have the opportunity to play the ball? No. A normal challenge is made with the foot on the ground not raised two to three feet off the ground.
    • The challenge is late.

    Endangers the Safety of the Opponent

    • A hard surface (the cleats) is used to make contact. Direct contact is made with the bottom of the cleats.
    • The area contacted (the knee) is soft. Given that the area involves a joint, severe damage is possible.
    • The tackle is committed straight on.

    Given these factors, the referee must issue a red card for serious foul play.

    In order to ensure the referee team gets the decision correct, the following preventative measures should be considered:

    1. Anticipation and movement by the referee
      The referee must move much faster when the initial pass is executed. Although it is not clear in the clip, the referee does not anticipate nor move when the long pass is made. The referee must “read” the play and accelerate as the long ball is played to the corner. “Reading the play” involves recognizing a one versus one situation on the wing in which the defender is playing catch-up. A one versus one situation in the wide channel is a warning sign and this is especially true when the defender starts from a deficit position behind the attacker. The defender must prevent the attacker from getting around the corner and advancing toward goal. By moving closer to the challenge and gaining a proper angle, the referee will have a better view and will be better prepared to “feel” the tackle and identify the warning signs. Remember the age old adage: Presence lends conviction.
    2. “Feel” the challenge
      The AR and referee must “feel” the severity of the challenge and ask themselves: “Is it normal for a tackle to be committed with cleats up/exposed and contact made in the region of the knee?”
    3. Delay the misconduct decision and observe the outcome
      Before the AR advises the referee (by patting his chest pocket or via verbal communication) that a yellow card is needed, he should delay to observe the result of the challenge. In addition, a slight hesitation in indicating the color of the card will provide the AR the opportunity to confirm where the contact was made (at the knee level). The AR is very close to the tackle and this may slightly hamper his view but the warning signs and especially the area of contact (above the ball on the knee) and the mode of contact (the cleats) should be sufficient evidence that the tackle is a red card offense.

    The referee must not rely on the AR to make this decision. This is a clear challenge that utilizes excessive force and endangers the safety of the opponent. In addition, the challenge is in the open field and there are no obstacles to block the referee’s vision. With swifter movement and acceleration on the initial pass, the referee would enhance his view and give himself a better “feel” for the seriousness of the challenge.

  • Video Clip: Kansas City at Dallas (51:40)
    Using the criteria and concepts provided regarding “endangering the safety of the opponent,” review video clip 4. Take into consideration the location of the contact and the surface initiating the contact.

    Although the force or speed of the challenge is not extremely high, the player (No. 16 on the blue team) committing the foul does:

    • Challenge late. On the last replay, look at the location of the ball. When contact is made, it is nowhere near the challenger (two to three yards away) and the opponent has actually turned with the ball.
    • Leads into the challenge with the sole of his boot (his cleats) which represents a hard and unforgiving surface. Contact is initiated with the cleats.
    • Connects (with his cleats) into the hip, groin and upper leg area.

    Given these factors, the attacker’s safety is endangered and the challenger must be sent off for serious foul play.

  • Video Clip: 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.

    The 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: 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.

  • Video Clip: Kansas City at New England (21:50)
    In this clip, a well positioned referee red cards a player for serious foul play. Unfortunately, the challenge or tackle does not meet the SIAPOA criteria for a red card, nor does it fall under the “excessive force” definition provided by FIFA in the Laws of the Game.
    • Speed of play and the tackle
      The challenge lacks speed or force. There is a clumsy extension of the foot to play a poorly trapped ball that has taken a high bounce off the artificial surface.
    • Intent
      There is no visible intent by the tackler to send a message. The player’s intent is seemingly to play or win the ball in a fair manner.
    • Aggressive nature
      There is no lunging for the ball and the distance between both players is short which leads to a more controlled challenge. The knee is not locked and the player does not jump toward the opponent.
    • Position of the tackler
      Although the player’s leg is high, it is extended in a manner to play the ball. The challenge is not directly into the opponent. If contact is made, it is done with the outside of the shoe.
    • Opportunity to play the ball
      The ball is within playing distance and directly in the line of vision of the opponent.
    • Atmosphere of the game
      The game is less than 22 minutes old. Although not evident to the viewer of the clip, the atmosphere of the game has been positive. There have been no visible signs of frustration or aggression to that point.

    Given the fact that the SIAPOA criteria is not evident, the challenge can be determined to be “reckless” which requires the referee to caution the player for unsporting behavior. The Laws of the Game define “reckless” as:

    “The player has acted with complete disregard to the danger to, or consequences for, his opponent.”

    In other words, the challenge is outside the norm for fair play but the action is not executed using excessive force.

    It should be noted that the fourth official does a good job managing a potentially volatile technical area and coaching staff. The fourth official’s presence and calm demeanor diffuses the situation and lends support to the entire officiating team.

  • Video Clip: Chivas USA at Seattle (70:46)
    Despite the unnecessary protests of the players in which the referee does a good job of deflecting, the player should be sent off (red carded) for violent conduct (the second jab of his cleats into the opponent’s face makes the red card for violent conduct as the ball is not within playing distance at this time). Although not clear in the video clip, the referee is well positioned to have a clear and unobstructed view of the incident. The defender attempts to disguise his violent actions as playing the ball but the referee is not tricked. The location of the defender’s foot is not a natural position and the hard surface of his cleats connects with the soft surface of the opponent’s face. Hence, the defender is in danger of injuring his opponent. Notice the excessive force used to make the contact and how the defender goes at the opponent with a straight leg. The location of the ball makes it almost impossible to play the ball and compete fairly without endangering the attacker’s safety.
  • Video Clip: Real Salt Lake at Houston (30:55)
    This is a late tackle that uses excessive force while placing the opponent’s safety at risk. The tackle also contains all the SIAPOA characteristics. A red card for serious foul play is correctly issued by the referee.

    Watch as the defender makes an uncontrolled tackle that throws his entire body through the legs of the opponent. The speed and force of the tackle does not give the attacker any opportunity to play out of it, avoid the contact or protect himself.

  • Video Clip: Columbus at Chicago (6:25)
    Just 6:25 into the game (a factor that should not affect the referee’s decision), the referee is moving up field and is in a good position to view the ball and any challenge for the ball. As opposed to video clip 1, the referee has given himself an opportunity to make an educated and correct decision as he has created a good angle of vision (refer to Image 1). The referee has shown urgency in his movement and anticipating the ball being played up field out of the penalty area.

    This video clip provides an example of a tackle that should result in a red card for serious foul play. A key to making the red card determination is the distance from which the tackle is initiated. Image 1 provides a still shot of the distance (four to five yards) from which the defender initiates the tackle. Distance leads to increased or excessive force and the inability for the defender to control his challenge.

    Both Images 2 and 3 provide a clear view of the location of the ball relative to the challenger’s leading foot at the time of contact. It is clear that the ball is not within playing distance. Both the position of the ball and the attacker (at the time of the tackle) make a fair challenge, committed with speed, nearly impossible as there is no opportunity to play the ball without going through the opponent. Tacklers have the responsibility to time their tackles in a manner that gives them the opportunity to play the ball without injuring the opponent.

      

    As you view the clip, watch the body language of the tackler as he “pursues” the opponent with the ball. It is aggressive and seemingly has a sole goal: send a message to the opponent. Messages involving excessive force must result in a red card.

    The clip shows the referee immediately pulling out his yellow card as he sprints to the scene. In critical decisions like this, it is best that the referee use the time to arrive at the foul, to consider his options and play the tackle back in his mind. This extra time or pause gives the match official the opportunity to consider the criteria and to replay the action in his mind prior to committing to a decision.

  • Video Clip: Seattle at Houston (28:29 – overtime)
    The focus of this video clip analysis is on the tackle committed and not the associated actions by the players.

    With the score 1-0 and less than two minutes left in overtime, a player on the losing team commits a red card tackle (serious foul play) that meets each of the SIAPOA criteria. Of particular note is the manner in which the defender uncontrollably lunges into the attacker with his cleats exposed from a long distance. As the video clip is viewed, notice that the challenge is initiated even before the attacker has received/touched the ball thereby reducing the defender’s opportunity to fairly play the ball. Additionally, take note of the height of the defender’s leading leg. The frustration level and intent of the defender is to send a message to the attacker.

    Players committing challenges (meeting the SIAPOA criteria) such as this must be sent off for serious foul play as they are a display of excessive force.

2008 (Click to view/hide)
 

  • Video Clip (Added 10/30/2008): Kansas City at New England (41:26) - The tackle illustrated in this clip is a calculated tackle that is intended to, at a minimum, endanger the opponent’s safety.  The tackle is executed with “excessive force” and is “brutal” in nature.  Hence, it is a clear red card for serious foul play.  There should be no question, when applying the aforementioned criteria, that the player committing the tackle should be sent off.

The aggressive nature of the tackle should be the first warning sign.  The defending player initiates his lunge toward the opponent from a long distance and at a high speed.  Hence, the force of contact is tremendous.  The cleats are exposed and the legs/knees are locked and headed straight at the opponent’s leg.  No attempt is made for the ball; solely the opponent.

Aside from a correct red card for serious foul play, the clip illustrates solid assistance by the AR.  The AR not only calls the foul but the AR can be seen indicating that the foul is deserving of a red card.  Watch closely as the AR pats this back right pocket in order to indicate to the referee that a red card is warranted (this is a pre-arranged signal established in the pre-game meeting amongst the referee crew).

The referee does well to bring out the red card immediately.  This urgency dispels any potential frustration and escalation resulting from a perception of inaction on the part of the officials.  By issuing the card quickly, the referee sends a message that he is dealing with the incident and the players do not need to take action into their own hands.

  • Video Clip: New England vs. Chicago (6:05).  Although early in the game, the referee was well positioned to make a determination that the tackle involved “excessive force” and could have injured the player.  Of note is that the referee also cautioned #21 for dissent and showing disrespect to the referee.
  • Video Clip: Columbus vs. NY (80:45).  The decision on the part of the referee was to issue a second caution; however, the National Referee Office prefers a straight red card for serious foul play. The tackle is from the front, over the top, and the speed and distance of the tackle make the likelihood of playing the ball minimal.
  • Video Clip: Real Salt Lake at DC (87:54). Looking at the foul itself, this is serious foul play.  The defender is beat and he uncontrollably lunges at the attacker from a long distance.  The intent is not to play the ball but to stop the attacker and potentially injure him.  The defender has an outstretched leg and sends the rest of his body sliding through the attacker.  Look at the raised nature of the defender’s tackling foot – high and late.
  • Video Clip: New England at FC Dallas (90:00). This foul represents a red card regardless of the time or the score.  This is a late tackle that uses “excessive force” and actually injures the opponent.  Notice the speed of the tackler as well as the aggressive nature of the tackle (lunging with no opportunity to play the ball).  The attacking player’s ankle is exposed to the player’s cleats.  The defender’s intent is to send a message to the attacker.  Hence, the referee must send a message (red card) to the defender and the other players that such action is not permitted.
  • Video Clip: San Jose at DC (37:05 – second half) - Clip 3 provides a clear example of the referee applying the criteria that has been established to determine whether a foul is merely “reckless” (due to its aggressive nature) and requires a yellow card or “using excessive force” (exceeding the necessary use of force and in danger of injuring the opponent) and requires a red card. 
  • Video Clip: Colorado at San Jose (76:45) - This clip represents a tackle in which the tackler/defender utilizes “excessive force” and “endangers the safety of an opponent.”  Both of these components are provided in the Laws of the Game as factors that make challenges serious foul play and offenses for which a player must be red carded.   The defender lunges at the opponent – from behind – using excessive force.  The attacker is unaware of the defender’s uncontrolled challenge and is unable to protect himself from the tackle.  Notice how a scissors-type tackle is used.  The defender’s trailing leg connects with the back of the attacker’s ankles and Achilles.  Consequently, the defender should be sent off for serious foul play.  Keys to identifying the tackle as a red card are:  ball gone, challenge from behind, no opportunity exists to cleanly dispossess the opponent of the ball, and two legs are used in defender’s lunging at the attacker.  This type of tackle does not belong in the game at any level.  Note, the AR should be prepared to provide assistance to the referee as the foul occurs near the touchline.  The AR should feel empowered to use the visual signal referenced in video clip 2 above to signal his opinion of the tackle and to reinforce the seriousness of the foul.
  • Video Clip: Seattle at Portland (32:40) In this clip, the referee applies the proper criteria relating to the correct interpretation of red card tackles and, consequently, makes the correct decision to send the player off for serious foul play.  Below is the criteria:
    • o    Speed of play and the tackle
    • o    Intent
    • o    Aggressive nature
    • o    Position of the tackler – in particular, his legs
    • o    Opportunity to play the ball
    • o    Atmosphere (the referee’s feeling of what has occurred thus far on the field in the match) of the game

The tackle, although not done with the force or speed of many others, does meet a number of the aforementioned red card criteria.  Remember, all the criteria do not have to be present in each red card situation.  The referee is well positioned to judge the defender’s action and evaluate the criteria.

The following evaluates the four most obvious of the aforementioned criteria.  Remember, the referee must make the same analysis but in a split second.  Using a quick but thoughtful pause prior to making a decision can assist officials in ensuring all the factors are evaluated.

    • Intent - The defender/tackler comes from behind in a manner that is intended to send a message and “endangers the safety of the opponent.”  There is no need for a challenge of this type.  Watch how the defender starts his run from 10 yards away and has the opportunity to control his challenge (stop his run) and merely contain the attacker.  Instead, the defender decides to continue his run and goes through the opponent’s legs.  The defender’s intent is clear:  take the opponent out and send a message.
    • Aggressive nature - Although the tackler does not leave his feet, he does aggressively make contact near the knee and the Achilles of the attacker.  In addition, the defender continues the motion or swipe of his leg through his opponent thereby taking both his legs out from under him.
    • Position of the tackler - The tackler runs through the opponent, from the side, and the tackler uses his legs then to insure the contact is more severe than just with upper body contact.
    • Opportunity to play the ball - No opportunity to play the ball exists.  The defender starts his run 10 yards from the attacker and is two or more yards from him when the attacker passes the ball.  By the time the defender gets to the attacker, the ball is approximately five yards gone. 
  • Video Clip:  Seattle at Portland (84:37) - Approximately 52 minutes after the red card issued in clip 1 above, another challenge occurs that meets the criteria for a red card.  Unfortunately, the referee fails to correctly apply the aforementioned requirements and decides to caution the tackler for a challenge that endangers the opponent’s safety and thereby is serious foul play.

Pay particular attention to the following and decide, for yourself, under which criteria the actions fall.

    • Tackle is directly from behind.
    • Tackle is initiated from close distance which leads to more hard body contact than just contact with the feet/legs.
    • As the defender follows through with the force of his tackle, he uses his legs to “scissor” the attacker and cut his legs out from under him.

The referee should look for ways to enhance his view and positioning.  In the clip, the referee is standing flat footed (not moving as the ball is moving) and would be better served to move from behind the player that may be obstructing a portion of his view.  Assistant referees (ARs) should be empowered by the referee to assist with identifying the tackle as a red card.  This is a critical game situation.  If the AR is certain the tackle is serious foul play, the AR should provide the information to the referee by either using a pre-arranged “silent signal” (pointing to the back pocket) or by calling the referee over and providing verbal confirmation.


Failure by a referee to correctly identify this tackle as a red card, is viewed as an injustice by the players in the clip (examine their reactions).  The result is frustration.  Frustration often times leads to retaliation as players feel the referee is not protecting them.

  • Video Clip: Chicago at New England (63:43) - Tackles and certain fouls can be disguised by players; hence, it takes a critical and sharp eye to identify the actual result of the player’s challenge.  As this clip is viewed, look at how the first challenge (which goes unpunished) is disguised by the tackler as an attempt to play the ball.  Remember, the Laws of the Game specify the following when evaluating whether a player’s action constitutes serious foul play (use these definitions along with the criteria provided in the two prior clips):
    • The use of excessive force or brutality against an opponent when challenging for the ball.
    • The tackle endangers the safety of the opponent.
    • A tackler lunges at an opponent in challenging for the ball from the front, from the side or from behind using one or both legs, with excessive force and endangers the safety of an opponent.

The referee does not identify the first challenge as a foul and send off and allows play to continue.  The missed first call leads to a second retaliatory foul that the referee is forced to caution as unsporting behavior.

The first foul is a red card challenge.  Unnecessary excessive force is used, the defender comes in late, with a straight leg that lunges at the opponent’s leg/shin, makes contact with exposed cleats and endangers the safety of the opponent. 

The referee needs to identify the first challenge and issue the appropriate punishment which would be a red card for violent conduct.  This would eliminate the second taking-matters-into-your-own-hands-tackle and resulting yellow card. 

Referees must also be aware of violence that occurs when the game is often most vulnerable to such intrusions – on restarts of play.  In particular, the use of elbows to fight for position down field of a restart has become a common issue.

Over the past several years, there have been increasing incidents of elbows on restart services into the penalty area.  These all have similar characteristics that referees should use to their advantage in detecting these infringements: 

  • They are long services
  • Attacking players are attempting to move into an advantageous position
  • Defenders attempt to disguise the elbow as a forearm to the opponent’s chest as a normal run of play. 

Referees, ARs, and 4th officials must be prepared.  On the long services, focus should be on the group of players and not on the ball.  ARs must be given the leeway to intervene.  4th officials should move slightly down the midline to view the collection of players.  Referees need to position themselves so that their main focus is on where the ball will land yet manage the ball with peripheral vision.

  • Video Clip: New England at Kansas City (47:15).  Unfortunate for the referee team, an elbow to the head of the opponent went unnoticed.  Note the referee’s position.  A more advantageous position would be at the top of the penalty area near the arc.  From this vantage point, the referee’s primary focus can be on the players and where the ball will land.  While the ball is in flight, the referee will not have as many players potentially in his line of sight.  Peripheral vision can manage the ball and players surrounding the ball.  The referee’s primary focus should be on the target area for the ball and not on the restart.  The AR should feel obligated to participate in this decision if the AR sees the defender’s actions.

Often violence can occur as a result of a less-serious offense that must also be dealt with by the referee.  Players must be held accountable for their actions, and the “he did it first” mentality cannot be used as a rationale to excuse violent behavior.  In the following video clip, a player is held by an opponent (a cautionable offense), but responds with a violent act of his own before the referee can intervene. In this single situation, the referee makes three tactically correct decisions:  red card, caution, and restart for the first foul.

  • Video Clip: Kansas City at Columbus (35:48). It is still early in the match and the referee displays excellent execution in issuance of a red card and yellow card in the clip.  The red card is precipitated by the innocuous shirt pull and the referee is playing advantage and allowing the attacker to breakaway as there is space in front of him to continue to carry the ball (a case can be made that an early whistle would have prevented the red card but the player’s reply does not correlate to the hold). The attacker’s response to the hold is violent conduct – a shove directly to the face of the opponent with both hands.The referee was not influenced by the time of the game.
    • The referee exhibited a keen awareness of the “big picture.”  He sends the player off for violent conduct but he also cautions the player for the hold (unsporting behavior) and awards the free kick to the team receiving the red

Raising Awareness of “FlashPoints”

Certain situations in games are “flash points” or warning points for potential problems for referees.  One such flash point is the final five minutes in a game where a team has the lead.  Contemporary tactics call for attacking players to hold the ball in one of the attacking corners in an attempt to waste valuable seconds.  The longer the attacker shields or holds the ball in the corner, the less time the opponents have to play.  The longer the attacker shields/holds the ball in the corner, the greater the likelihood an opponent is going to take a shot at him to gain possession of the ball or look at the situation as an opportunity to send their own “payback” message out of frustration.

Examples of flash points include:

2010 (Click to view/hide)
Video Clip: New York at Columbus (88:19)
Although the game has only a few minutes remaining, the referee must not let his guard down. The referee, in this case, is well positioned to make a judgment that a sliding tackle is fair (the ball is played) for this level of play and, therefore, does not whistle a foul. With two players on the ground and their bodies/legs/feet tangled, the referee identifies a potential warning sign or flash point. As a result, the referee continues up field but also maintains vigilant focus on the two tangled players.

After the ball has progressed up the field, the player in the yellow jersey (as he gets up from the ground) kicks/cleats his opponent in the chest. The yellow jersey player hopes that he can disguise the violent conduct as an attempt to get back to his feet (stand-up) and hopes that the referee has turned his focus away from the flash point area (two players on the ground). Fortunately for the game, the referee has not turned his vision to solely track the ball and has kept sufficient focus off-the-ball. This off-the-ball vision, leads to a correct red card for violent conduct and a direct free kick.

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Preventative refereeing recognizes the potential for problems before they occur and ensures steps are taken so the problems might not materialize.  When a referee is faced with a flash point, they should have a tool box of solutions primed to meet the challenge especially since they are typically recurring themes throughout the game at multiple levels.

  • Video Clip (Added 9/25/2008):  New York at Columbus (87:44) - This clip provides an example of one of the flash points noted above:  the attacker shielding/holding ball in the corner in the last few minutes of a match in an attempt to protect the lead.  With just over two minutes remaining in the game and the attacking team leading by two goals, the referee should be prepared for attacking tactics aimed at wasting time while the ball is in and out of play.  Watch the clip and identify the opportunities, as they unfold, that are presented the referee to prevent the eventual red card.
    • The short corner kick played back to the kicker - As the ball is played short and back to the kicker, the referee must leave his normal corner kick position and impose his presence on the players.
    • The short throw-in - Like the short corner, as soon as the referee sees that a short throw-in will be taken, the referee must revise his positioning and move to the ball and the area where potential challenges for the ball may occur.
    • The attacker turns the ball back to the corner instead of taking it to goal - The attacker has the opportunity to take the defender on and potentially beat him along the goal line.  Instead, the attacker dribbles the ball back to the corner flag.
    • The attacker shields the ball facing the corner flag with his back to the defender and the goal - An attacker holding the ball with the defender marking him from behind is a sign that contact with the attacker’s Achilles or the back of his legs is inevitable.  Noting this, the referee should call the first foul/kick to the shielding player’s leg.  In all likelihood, the early whistle would have prevented the last kick that results in the player being sent off for serious foul play.

Additionally, the referee’s presence very close to the ball should be a deterrent.  The referee’s presence needs to be “felt” (physically seen and verbally heard) by the defender thereby serving as a preventative reminder that any negative actions will have consequences.

If these preventative measures do not work and the defender decides to commit the same foul, then the referee has no recourse other than red card the player for serious foul play.  In the clip, the referee correctly sends the guilty player off for serious foul play.  However, the question remains, “Could the send off have been prevented if the referee had used the preventative measures outlined above versus waiting and reacting to the player’s violence?”

Violence in the Game – Use of the Elbow and Forearm

The following taken from the August 31, 2005 US Soccer Memorandum: Use of the Elbow:

"The International Football Association Board (IFAB) has urged referees to be more aware of and to deal properly with the use of the elbow during challenges.  Increasingly, the Board has noted, elbows are being used to gain an unfair advantage and, often, to injure opponents."

USSF shares this concern and notes a growing number of such incidents in professional matches.

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  • Video Clip: (KC Wizards  - Columbus Crew, 7/23/2005), #3 Garcia cynically and with excessive force targets #29 Cameron’s head.  A red card was clearly warranted.
  • Video Clip: (NY MetroStars – Columbus Crew, 5/31/2003), Wolyniec retaliates against #5 McCarty for an earlier foul and uses excessive force to the opponent’s head. Another definite red card.
  • Video Clip: (FC Dallas – NE Revolution, 7/16/2005), #22 Leonard is closely behind #9 Mina and Mina uses his elbow or upper arm to strike backwards.  The action was reckless but not performed with excessive force (the arm was moving naturally as both players were at a full run).  A caution was warranted.
  • Video Clip: (Chicago Fire – LA Galaxy, 8/13/2005), #29 Thiago is closely marked (considerable contact and some holding) by #8 Vagenas and Thiago, in recklessly swinging his arm backward to ward off further contact, strikes Vagenas in the face.  A caution was appropriate.
  • Video Clip: (NY Metrostars – CD Chivas USA, 8/20/2005), #11 Ibrahim jumps up to challenge and, while doing so, rakes a straight arm along the face of #7 Ramirez.  While arguably a foul, it does not appear to have involved misconduct (contact with the elbow was incidental to contact with the entire arm).
  • Video Clip: (NE Revolution – Colorado Rapids, 8/17/2005), #2 Dempsey is jumping up to challenge, leads with an arm extended and bent, and connects with #3 Kotschau. The decision as to whether such foul is seen as reckless or committed with excessive force depends, of course, on the referee's angle and information he may receive from his assistants and fourth official. In all cases the safety of players must be a primary concern and the inherent danger of blows to the head recognized.

Taking these and other clips together, certain generalizations are possible regarding criteria on which officials should focus when evaluating situations involving the use of an elbow (the guidelines below assume that the action occurs during play, on the field, and against an opponent):

  • When an elbow is used, the potential offense is striking and therefore the action must be assessed in the context of Law 12 (careless, reckless, or excessive force).
  • Any form of striking, including the use of an elbow, also carries the high likelihood of being misconduct – if the action is reckless, the player must be cautioned for unsporting behavior but, if excessive force is used, the player must be sent off and shown a red card for violent conduct or, if competing for the ball, serious foul play.
  • Given the impact and likelihood of injury, a player who appears to be targeting the head (based, for example, on the direction of the player’s view) must be dealt with firmly and promptly.
  • Jumping toward an opponent with the arm bent and held above shoulder level must be considered particularly serious since the force is increased by the weight and momentum of the body.  If contact is made with the elbow or forearm, the foul must be called and the offending player’s misconduct dealt with accordingly.  In such cases, the referee should not consider applying advantage except under the most unusual circumstances.
  • Although it is possible for a player to contact an opponent with an elbow or forearm entirely accidentally, this is rare and referees must be prepared to suspect that a foul has occurred unless concretely convinced otherwise.  Instances where the offending player is looking at the opponent or where the opportunity to avoid contact was ignored should draw the referee’s attention and concern.  The natural movement and placement of an arm while running should be taken into account in deciding if contact is reckless or merely careless.
  • The angle of view is critical and referees must expend an extra effort to achieve a position to see the event clearly when their reading of the play and the players suggests that elbow or forearm contact is possible.  Where a poor angle is suspected, the referee must quickly determine if an assistant referee can provide relevant information before making the decision.

When evaluating an aerial challenge for an offence, the decision must move beyond a simple evaluation of the “swinging motion of the arm” and give more consideration to the following three questions:

  1. Does the player lead with the forearm and/or elbow as he jumps at or toward the opponent instead of straight up?  An arm extended from the jumper’s body is like a battering ram (solid, hard and unforgiving).  Think “up and in” toward the opponent.
  2. Is the aerial challenge done in such a manner whereby there is disregard to the safety of the opponent?  When a solid, extended arm makes contact with a player’s face (soft tissue), the player’s safety is endangered.  The referee needs to take into consideration the safety or well being of the opponent.  The fact that the facial/head region is involved should be a signal to the referee that the safety of the opponent is jeopardized.
  3. The result of the forearm and/or elbow contact, not just whether the player swung his arm/elbow to make contact. 

The following video clips provide examples of aerial challenges that should be evaluated using the above criteria for aerial challenges:

  • Video Clip (Added 9/19/2008): Houston at San Jose (38:00) - Following the criteria above, this aerial challenge should be sanctioned as serious foul play and a red card issued.  As the replay unfolds, note the following:
    • Does the player lead with the forearm and/or is the arm extended from the jumper’s body? - The jumper leaps “up and in” to the opponent.  The arm is extended out and he jumps into the opponent leading with the forearm.  Carefully watch how the arm is also moving forward.
    • Is the safety of the opponent endangered? - The solid forearm of the jumper strikes the face of the opponent.  The jumper needs to consider the consequences of putting his arm in that position and the potential result of his solid, extended arm making contact with the soft tissue of the opponent’s face.  The jumper must consider the opponent’s safety as he executes his aerial challenge.
    • The result of the contact - The result of the challenge is contact to the opponent’s head/face. 
  • Video Clip (Added 9/19/2008): Real Salt Lake at New York (86:00) - Similar to the Houston v San Jose clip above, the jumper extends his arm toward the opponent.  This time, the arm involves more “swing” as the opponent is challenging from the side and the jumper leads and swings his arm toward the direction his opponent is coming.  The result is contact with the opponent’s face and an injury.  This challenge should be considered serious foul play and the referee should send the player off.
  • Video Clip(Added 9/19/2008): Chicago at Colorado (10:08 – second half) - This clip shows correct judgment on the part of the officiating team to only caution the defender for unsporting behavior.  Although the defender slows the attacker down by swinging his forearm toward the opponent, the key factor is where the contact is made.  In this case, the contact is below the shoulders in the chest and shoulder blade area.  Although the attacker’s actions seem to indicate that he was struck in the face, the referees, based upon their position and view of the play, interpret the contact was below the shoulders and outside the facial area.  The referees felt that the safety of the opponent was not endangered as the foul was reckless and tactical in nature and not a red card offense.  Note:  If the referee deemed that contact was made above the shoulders in the facial region, the referee would have been correct to give the defender a red card for serious foul play.
    • Given the proximity of the challenge to the AR (assistant referee), the AR should feel obligated to provide assistance to the referee in managing the situation and in deciding whether the foul was a yellow or red card.  On this foul, the AR may have a better view of the actual contact area than the referee as he is closer and can see the front of the players as they approach him down the touchline.  The referee, on the other hand, will have a side or trailing view.  At 10:18 on the clip, you can see the AR using the prearranged “silent signal” (touching his breast pocket) to tell the referee that the foul was cautionable.  The referee crew should be commended for the teamwork utilized to get this decision correct.
    • Also of note is the presence and personality the referee uses in dealing with the defender and issuing the yellow card.  First, watch as he exhibits urgency in sprinting toward the defender after he whistles for the foul.  This establishes his presence and immediately defuses the situation and the potential reaction from the opposing team.  Second, watch how the referee deals with the cautioned player.  The referee uses personality to calmly interact and get his message across.  The players around the ball also respond positively as they sense the referee is in control of the situation.  All in all, the referee has sent an appropriate message.
  • Video Clip(Added 9/19/2008): Real Salt Lake at New York (14:15) - This clip provides more of a challenge to officials.  However, this is an example of a fair aerial challenge where no misconduct action on the part of the referee is warranted.  Notice that there seems to be no contact with the opponent’s face/head by either player; hence, the safety of neither player is in danger.  Plus, both players are jumping with their backs to each other and did not jump “up and in” leading with their arms.  The referee is well positioned to view the contact and to make the appropriate decision.
  • Video Clip (Added 9/25/2008): Chivas at Real Salt Lake (76:20) - The game provides warning signs that misconduct is brewing or warning signs that precipitate or cause player actions.  This clip illustrates such a warning sign that leads to violent conduct.  Whenever a player possesses the ball (especially in their hands) in an attempt to prevent the opponent from getting it or putting it back into play, the referee can anticipate a conflict.  A quick whistle or immediate presence on the scene can send a message that the referee is aware of the situation and will deal with it.  The referee’s quick intervention (with presence and/or audibly with the whistle) lets everyone know that the referee is aware of the gamesmanship and, hopefully, prevents the situation from escalating.  In this clip, the referee blows the whistle only after the contact above the shoulder occurs.  Additionally, the referee should consider quicker movement into the space between the confronting players.

    Watch as the player grabbing for the ball uses his forearm to contact the facial and neck region (under the chin) of the opponent.  Despite the action seemingly in clear view of the referee, the referee only cautions the player.  This should have been recognized as violent conduct (striking an opponent) and the player sent off.  Was the referee’s perspective influenced by his late arrival and his closeness to the elbow at the time the act is committed?  Possibly, but he must “sense,” “feel” or read the situation based upon the reaction of the player (the player’s head, neck and chin go back quickly in an unnatural manner).  If the referee “senses” this action, he can take the time to confer with the near assistant referee (AR or fourth official, if applicable) thereby ensuring that the correct decision is made.

    The AR is approximately 20 to 25 yards from the incident and should feel empowered to draw the referee’s attention to the action of the player.  Like the referee, ARs can anticipate these type of actions given the manner in which the situation plays out (starting with the gamesmanship of delaying the restart by holding the ball).  If the AR sees the infraction, he has the responsibility to bring it to the referee’s attention in spite of the referee already having taken action that conflicts with what the AR has observed.  FOCUS:  Get the decision correct!

    In this clip, the player using his forearm to contact the opponent above the shoulders should be red carded for violent conduct.  The referee should also caution the opponent for delaying the restart of play (withholding the ball from the opponent preventing the opponent from putting the ball into play as well as provoking a confrontation by deliberately touching the ball after the referee has stopped play.

Violent Conduct – Contact Above the Shoulders

Due to the work by officials to eliminate tackles from behind, players have been forced to find other methods to slow opponents and to send messages or intimidate. The use of the arm, forearm or hand to foul opponents has replaced the tackle from behind. In particular, the use of these items as a weapon in aerial challenges has increased. Due to the speed and athleticism that is a characteristic of the modern game, contact with the arm/forearm/elbow/hand (a hard, solid surface) with any part of the opponent’s body above the shoulders (soft tissue areas) makes the incident much more dangerous. The speed at which many of the aerial challenges are committed increases the force and severity of the contact and, therefore, often translates into excessive force which increases the possibility that the opponent’s safety is endangered. Should the referee believe that excessive force is used in a challenge, a red card would be mandated.

The 2009 Directive on “Contact Above the Shoulder” provides a framework for officials to use in deciphering challenges near the neck and facial region. Key is the referee’s ability to differentiate between the use of the arm/forearm/elbow/hand as a “tool” or as a “weapon.” The following table will assist match officials with interpreting whether the use of the arm/forearm/elbow/hand is fair, careless, reckless or excessive force.

TOOL WEAPON
  • Arm used for balance
  • Normal body movement
  • No swing of the arm INTO the opponent
  • Opponent into arm/elbow/hand – not arm/elbow/hand into opponent
  • Arm/elbow was out before the challenge was initiated
  • Not UP and IN – just UP
  • Excessive force used
  • Safety of the player is endangered
  • Hard surface (forearm/elbow/hand) contacting soft surface (facial and neck region)
  • Arm/elbow UP and IN to opponent
  • Arm/elbow/hand is swung toward opponent’s facial region
  • UP and IN – arm used as a ”battering ram”
  • Injury results


When the arm/forearm/elbow/hand is used as a “weapon” as described above, the referee is required to issue a red card. The more it is used as a “tool,” the referee should consider a foul and/or a yellow card. Officials should thoroughly review the 2009 Directive “Contact Above the Shoulder” referenced above.

2010 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip : Houston at Chicago (82:48)
    This “contact above the shoulder” situation had several warning signs that could have assisted the referee by increasing his urgency through anticipation and decreased reaction time. As the clip is viewed, consider the following: approximately two minutes earlier, there was a red card that resulted in game disrepute and further misconduct.

    Considering the circumstances and atmosphere of the game created a few minutes before (a first warning sign), the referee must anticipate increased tensions and be prepared to respond to volatile situations like the one in clip 4. A headbutt is precipitated by late and hard body contact after the ball is gone (a second warning sign). The player on the receiving end of the late and reckless foul then responds with a more intense response of his own, a headbutt.

    As soon as the referee recognizes the late body charge by the Houston player (orange shirt), the referee must move to the spot with urgency with the hope that the player that has been fouled “feels” the referee’s presence and “feels” that the referee will take prompt and correct disciplinary action. As you watch the referee’s response to the situation, notice his first few steps. These initial steps lack urgency and energy, thereby reducing his arrival time on the scene of the crime.

    Given the actions by the two players, the disciplinary decisions by the referee are correct. The Houston player (orange shirt) should be cautioned for his reckless challenge (unsporting behavior) while the Chicago player is correctly sent-off for violent conduct (head butt).

  • Video Clip: Philadelphia at Washington (85:56)
    This clip shows the use of the hand as a weapon. In cases similar to this, the referee cannot hesitate to send the player off for violent conduct (no challenge for the ball). The hand (hard surface) is clearly used to strike the opponent in the facial region (soft surface). Excessive force is used and the opponent’s is at risk for serious injury.

    The referee recognized the following weapon criteria and correctly issued the red card:

    • Excessive force is used.
    • Player safety is endangered.
    • Hard surface (hand) contacts a soft surface area (throat and neck).
    • The hand goes UP and IN to the opponent.
    • Injury results.

  • Video Clip: New York at New England (74:11)
    This clip can be used to compare and contrast with the previous clip. In this clip, the player uses his hand more as a tool than as a weapon. As a result, the referee must feel the situation and decide, after awarding a foul, whether to caution the player for unsporting behavior or use his presence to send a strong message. When the hand/arm/elbow is used more as a tool than as a weapon, then the referee should consider a foul or a foul and yellow card.

    By asking himself the following questions, the referee can assist himself in making the correct decision:

    1. Does the player need the card?
      Since there is gray area in determining whether a caution is needed or just a foul and admonishment, the referee should evaluate the player’s behavior to that point and use that information to assist in the decision.
    2. Does the game need the card?
      The referee’s feel for the temperature and atmosphere of the game can be used to assist in determining the course of action (foul or foul and yellow card).

    Although contact is made with the opponent, it is done as part of normal body movement and the hand is not swung UP and IN to the opponent.

    Note: Contact between a hard surface and soft surface does not mean a red card is mandated. The other tool vs. weapon factors must be considered when determining the appropriate course of action.

  • Video Clip: Philadelphia at Chicago (19:12)
    This clip shows the hand being used as a tool since it involves normal game contact between two opposing players. Although the hand makes contact with the facial region of the opponent, it is inadvertent contact and part of normal contact or actions to play the ball at this level of play.

    Watch the eyes of the player in the red jersey as he leaps to head the ball. They are focused on the ball, not the opponent. Second, the opponent challenging from behind, initiates the contact by jumping up and into the player on the red team. The arm of the red team player goes back, for balance, as contact is made with him. The differentiation between this arm being swung back and it going back due to the situation forced upon the player is vital to correctly interpreting this aerial challenge and deciding that no foul has occurred.

    It is possible that the referee may decide that a careless foul has occurred due to the contact. Although this would not necessarily be the optimal decision, it would be a decision that could be supported due to the inadvertent injury suffered by the player jumping from behind. As a result, depending upon the referee’s read of the challenge as well as the “big picture” or atmosphere of the match, either no foul or a simple foul would be appropriate in this instance.

  • Clip: 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.

2009 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: New York at Chicago (47:32, second half)
    Using the “tool” versus “weapon” criteria, it is clear that the player in the white jersey uses his elbow as a “weapon.” The aerial challenge is committed with excessive force and endangers the opponent’s safety. Consequently, the player on New York (white jerseys) should be sent off for serious foul play. Watch as the player runs at the opponent with speed thereby increasing the force and severity of the aerial challenge.

    The assistant referee (AR) should provide assistance with indicating the severity of the foul. The AR has a clear view of the incident which is 100% misconduct (red card). The referee team needs to get this call correct for the good of the game.

    Using the “weapon” criteria above, the follow warning signs should be recognized by match officials:
    • Excessive force is used
      The speed of the run toward the opponent increases the force and severity of the challenge thereby endangering the safety of the opponent.
    • Hard surface (forearm/elbow/hand) contacting a soft surface
      The elbow is used to contact the facial region of the opponent which increases the risk of injury and the seriousness of foul.
    • Arm/elbow UP and IN to opponent – leads with the arm
      The New York player leaps/jumps into the opponent and initiates the contact. The elbow is used as a weapon and is raised above shoulder level. This is not a natural position. Watch the player’s head and eyes. Neither is focused on playing the ball.
    • Arm/elbow/hand is swung toward opponent’s facial region
      The New York player cocks his arm and elbow and swings it into the opponent’s face as he leaps.
    • Location of the ball
      There is no opportunity for the New York player to play the ball based upon his angle of challenge and the location of the ball as contact is made with the opponent. It is a late and uncontrolled challenge.

    Recognizing similar warning signs, referees must issue a red card to players who use their arms as weapons. At times, these fouls are not easily recognized as players work hard to disguise them. Frequently, referees tend to concentrate on fouls committed by the feet or legs and may miss upper body fouls.

  • Video Clip: Dallas at New England (33:21)
    This clip also involves use of the arm as a “weapon.” As you watch the clip, use the criteria to evaluate the manner in which the contact with the goalkeeper is initiated. Additionally, the result of the contact (injury to the goalkeeper) should be considered as one of the identified warning signs that the contact exceeded the force needed to make a fair challenge for the ball.

    The referee’s ability to recognize the subtleness of the foul and the factors that make the challenge fall in the “weapon” category is paramount. First, the referee must be positioned to have a clear view of the New England player (dark blue jersey) so that he can see that this player turns his upper body and elbow area in to the goalkeeper’s facial region. This indicates a deliberate act to make contact and intimidate the opponent.

    Secondly, the tardiness of the contact must be recognized. The New England player had every opportunity to avoid the contact and change the direction of his run or his body. Contact is made well after the goalkeeper has possession of the ball. This player makes no attempt to avoid the contact because he knows that he will be protected by the hard surface area of his arm. The player attempts to disguise his challenge by his innocent reaction.

    Note the player’s eyes. There is no focus to play the ball. The New England player seems to “line up” the goalkeeper just prior to the contact.

    Finally, the referee should consider the result of the contact – injury to the keeper. Because an injury results, there is downtime that can be used by the referee team to get the decision correct. As the goalkeeper is tended to by the medical staff, the referee can consult with the other officials and get their assessment of the foul.

    This challenge is done to intimidate the goalkeeper and meets the criteria for using the arm/forearm/elbow/hand as a “weapon.” Hence, a red card for serious foul play should be issued.
  • Video Clip: New York at Kansas City (58:21)
    The challenge by the attacker (white jersey) is one whereby the player leads with the forearm to protect the space for him to play the ball (using it as a tool). The forward motion takes him into the defender (blue shirt) and there is contact. This is a reckless challenge and should be recognized as such as the contact is not severe or excessive. Also, consider that the attacker does not swing his arm back into the opponent (this would increase the severity and the force). The inaction of the referee in this clip results in visual dissent from the Kansas player.

    Referees, in circumstances such as these, must take appropriate action. Doing nothing or a simple foul call in these circumstances are not options. A yellow card for unsporting behavior is appropriate for this foul.

  • Video Clip: Kansas City at Toronto (36:04)
    Here it is clear that both players use their arms as a tool to leverage space. The player in the red jersey jumps higher, leads with his forearm and makes contact with the side of the opponent’s head. Play was allowed to continue with no recognition of the action. Pursuant to the directive on “Injury Management”, the referee needs to stop play immediately as one player has sustained a serious injury (contact to the head/face area). Additionally, the red jersey player is deserving of a yellow card for the reckless manner in which the challenge was executed.

    Look at where this aerial challenge takes place. The fourth official and AR1 both have a part to play in this situation to ensure that the referee is apprised of the actions specifically since he has misread the severity of the contact. At the professional level, where the referee team has access to a communication system, the fourth official and/or AR1 should immediately inform the referee to stop play as a serious head injury has occurred. When play has been stopped, further communication should occur to review the challenge and associated contact thereby ensuring the player on the red team is cautioned for unsporting behavior.

    For those officials without communication devises, AR1 should raise his flag to get the referee’s attention to stop play. Once play has been stopped, AR1 and/or the fourth official can call the referee over to discuss the severity of the aerial challenge so that the correct official action (caution) can be administered. Match officials need to maximize teamwork in these type of situations and do it in an expedited manner whereby the correct decision is made with as little down time as possible.
  • Video Clip: Chivas USA at Toronto (79:00)
    While the prior two clips involved contact above the shoulder involving an aerial challenge, this situation takes place while a defender is challenging an attacker from behind. The well positioned referee makes a decision that the defender fouls the attacker by shoving him in the upper back with his forearm. This foul was reckless in nature and the player should be cautioned for unsporting behavior. The referee does a good job sending a strong message to the player. The use of personality to send a message in fouls like this is important as there is a fine line between the foul being reckless (a caution) or excessive force (a red card). Remember, according to the Laws of the Game, “reckless” means:

    “The player has acted with complete disregard to the danger to, or consequences for, his opponent.”

    In cases similar to this clip (challenge from behind), however, when the forearm contact occurs above the shoulders and excessive force is used, the referee must red card the player for violent conduct (as there would be no challenge for the ball and the ball not within playing distance).
  • Video Clip: Real Salt Lake at Colorado (79:25)
    This first clip illustrates “contact above the shoulder” that is clearly a red card for serious foul play (the ball was being challenged). Unfortunately, the referee fails to recognize the actions and “connect the dots.” Let’s examine the play and provide a basis for match officials to get this decision correct:
    1. Warning signs
      • The defender (white jersey) steps in front of the attacker running into space because he is beat and wants to prevent the attacker from gaining possession of the ball in an advantageous position.
      • The referee must work to focus not only on the legs of the players but also the upper bodies.
      • Notice the upper body action of the defender. He is reaching in front with his forearm and leading with his elbow.
      • The referee must ask: “How did the attacker stop so suddenly when there is no foot contact?”
      • The height of the defender’s arm and elbow. Why are they so high? To stop the attacker, the defender could make contact with the midsection of the attacker but to stop the attacker in the midsection is much harder than a blow to the head. The defender is attempting to disguise his actions.
      • Reaction of the attacker: His body goes up in the air not straight back or to the ground. This shows the defender has used the “up and in” weapon criteria forcing the opponent into the air.
      • The attacker immediately grabs his face and his head snaps back. His midsection or body does not stop or snap, it is the head.
      • The result: The attacking player is clearly injured. His immediate reaction must send a message to the referee that the contact was outside of the norm.
    2. Referee position
      • Given the speed of the play and the proximity to goal, the referee needs to be closer to the action. A quick burst of speed once the referee observes there is an attacking advantage would put him several yards further into the penalty area and allow him to “feel” any potential illegal use of the arm/elbow.
      • Closer position will place the referee in a location to sell a potential penalty kick decision as the defender is beat and the play is approximately eight yards from the near post.
  • Video Clip: Seattle at Chicago (47:37)
    This video clip shows an aerial challenge in which the player’s elbow (hard surface) is used to make unnecessary contact above the shoulder into the opponent’s face (soft surface). In this case, the referee correctly “connects the dots” and is able to use his databank of criteria to make a decision to send the player off for serious foul play.

    The referee can make this decision with confidence because he is properly positioned and sufficiently close to play so that he can “feel” the action and observe the contact. The assistant referee (AR) should also provide confirmation of the referee’s decision or, in the event the referee has not identified the contact as a red card offense, the AR must provide this information if his databank recognizes the actions as excessive force.

    The following weapon criteria, as outlined in the “Contact Above the Shoulder” Directive, are evident in this aerial challenge:

    • Safety of the player is endangered
    • Hard surface (elbow) contacting a soft surface (face)
    • The arm/elbow is up and in to the opponent. The player leads with the elbow.
    • The arm/elbow is above the jumper’s own shoulder – not a natural position.
    • Injury results.
  • Video Clip: Washington at Boston (50:56) – WPS
    This is an example of “contact above the shoulder” that must be sanctioned with a red card (serious foul play) as the arm/elbow is being used as a weapon. The force and severity are not only evident but the excessive nature of the action should resonate with the referee, assistant referee and the fourth official. The player is “establishing territory” by using her elbow in an aggressive manner. This player could have merely held off the opponent by restraining her with her arm/hand in the chest area but, instead, chose to use excessive force by going up and in to the opponent’s facial/neck area.

    When officials see that an attacker is shielding the ball with a defender marking tightly from behind and there is body contact involved, the officials should recognize this as a warning sign of a potential situation involving “contact above the shoulder” as attacking players may feel compelled to create space between themselves and the opponent (“establish territory”). A quick whistle may be considered by the referee to penalize the defender for holding the opponent if the referee feels that such holding is outside the normal flow of play and expected contact for the level of the game/players.

    In this clip, the referee needs to position herself better by moving to a more strategic location so that she has a clear line of vision to the players. This is possible considering the attacker is shielding the ball and the players are stationary. If a referee recognizes and anticipates the “establishing territory” warning signs, then urgency can be used to maximize positioning to see the actions by both players.

    The AR should also be involved. The AR should have a good deal of her focus on the two players as the play is near her, the ball is not moving, and the players are playing with their backs to goal so a quick pass forward is not likely. Hence, the offside line is less critical given these factors. Additionally, similar to the referee, the AR must also recognize the “establishing territory” warning signs.

    Finally, a third set of eyes (the fourth official) may be able to provide valuable information to the referee in this “game critical situation.” Although the foul is a good distance away, if the fourth official observes the violent nature of the contact, then he should feel compelled to bring it to the referee’s attention by moving quickly down the touchline to make contact (verbally or visually).

    In this clip, it is a clear red card due to the excessive force used.

  • Video Clip: Chivas USA at Kansas City (68:00)
    The first clip is an excellent example of the referee identifying a player who uses his head as a “weapon” to make contact with the facial region of an opponent. The use of the forehead, in this case, not only puts the opponent’s safety in severe danger but it may also lead to serious injury depending upon where contact occurs. Head butting an opponent must be punished with a red card for violent conduct as the act demonstrates excessive force and brutality. Remember, FIFA’s “Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees” states that “a player is guilty of violent conduct if he uses excessive force or brutality against an opponent when not challenging for the ball.”

    In addition to red carding the player for violent conduct (using his head to strike the opponent), the referee may choose to caution a player for unsporting behavior if he believes this player was the instigator or caused the situation to escalate. This decision must be made based upon the referee’s feel of the situation at the moment and what he believes is required to maintain game control. This decision can be aided by asking yourself:

    • Does the player need the card? or Does the game need the card?

    Prior to the head butt, at the start of the clip, the referee decides that there is no foul committed on the player who is eventually sent off. In order to better make this decision, the referee should position himself in a location that gives him a better view of the challenge. First, the referee should attempt to get wider. This broader view will improve the visual perspective as the challenge is committed. Also, the wide angle of vision ensures that no players can cross into his line of vision to the ball and challenge and possibly obscure his view of the challenge. Referees must be active by constantly moving their feet and moving before the ball or as the ball moves to ensure they are able to maintain the optimum angle of vision.

    ARs or fourth officials who clearly see the act of violent conduct (the head butt) should not hesitate in communicating with the referee and conveying the incident as they observed it. ARs and raise the flag to get the referee’s attention while the fourth official can move down the touchline and converse with the nearside AR and then request that the AR get the referee’s attention.

  • Video Clip: Los Angeles at Dallas (25:12)
    This situation begins with a player withholding the ball from an opponent who should have possession of the ball on the throw-in restart. The withholding of the ball is a classic warning sign of impending trouble.

    As the ball leaves the field for a throw-in, the player who last touches the ball (and who is not entitled to the restart) picks the ball up and prevents the opponent from taking immediate possession and potentially putting the ball into play quickly in the attacking third of the field. A quick whistle on the part of the referee and/or voice intervention may be able to deflect player actions or, minimally, make them psychologically cognizant that the referee is aware of the tactic and is going to take action. This prompt whistle and/or prompt word is the mark of a proactive official. In this case, the assistant referee (AR) can also utilize verbal intervention.

    The hustle shown by the AR moving to the spot of the “contact above the shoulder” is good work. However, because he must come from a long distance the voice becomes the most effective initial tool to prevent the unnecessary contact.

    The “contact above the shoulder” occurs during a dead ball situation when there is no challenge for the ball. This makes the contact premeditated and deliberate. Despite the defender’s actions to withhold the ball and, thereby, delay the restart (which must be cautioned) the attacker cannot make contact with the opponent in the head and/or facial region. Pursuant to the 2009 Directive “Contact Above the Shoulder”, the referee is required to judge the force used by the player in making contact with the opponent’s head. Depending upon the referee’s judgment of the intent and the force used, the referee may red card the player for violent conduct.

    In this clip, the referee correctly judges that excessive force was utilized and that the intent was to “send a message” to the opponent. The intent can be evaluated using criteria:

    • Deliberate and/or premeditated
    • Intended to intimidate
    • Endangering the safety of an opponent
    • Insulting and/or offensive in nature
    • Potentially inciting further action on the part of opponents
    • Done in a provocative, inciteful manner

    Careful evaluation of the contact shows that the criteria mentioned above is evident in the contact and, therefore, the referee is correct in deciding the contact should be punished by a red card.

    Not only should the player making “contact above the shoulder” during a dead ball situation be sent off (violent conduct) but the referee must caution the opponent for delaying the restart for his actions to withhold the ball from the player whose team should have the ball on the ensuing throw-in restart.

  • Video Clip: Chivas USA at Galaxy (89:25)
    This use of the arm/elbow (hard surface) illustrates the use of both as a “weapon” when contacting the opponent in the face (soft tissue area). As you watch the clip, focus on the player’s (No. 5) face and eyes and well as his body movement.

    First, it is clear that No. 5 “lines up” the opponent. As the opponent approaches from behind, the player with the ball looks over his shoulder to see the approach of the white jersey player (No. 10). He then deliberately places his arm and elbow in the path of the opponent.

    Second, in the last replay, look at the body movement of No. 5. As No. 10 approaches, the player (No. 5) steps off the ball and into to opponent. This shows he is not playing the ball but is deliberately playing the opponent.

    Third, the Laws of the Game require players be sent off for “excessive force” and “endangering the safety of an opponent.” It is important for officials to know that the amount of force that needs to be exhibited depends upon the area being contacted and the item making the contact. In this case, not much force is needed to endanger the opponent’s safety when the facial region (soft tissue) is involved along with the hard surface of an arm or elbow. Consequently, the action exhibited by No. 5 in this clip is serious foul play and the player must be sent off for using his arm as a “weapon” due to the excessive force and the fact that the “safety of the opponent has been endangered.”

  • Video Clip: Galaxy at New England (71:22)
    As you view the video clip, use the criteria above as a checklist. Put a mark next to each criteria that you identify in the clip. Once you have completed the exercise, see whether you have checked more items under “tool” or “weapon.”

    Upon review of your checklist, it is evident that there are more “weapon” criteria present in the challenge than “tool” criteria. Here are the “weapon” criteria that can easily be identified which should, therefore, result in a red card being issued for serious foul play:

    • Excessive force used
      Because the player is jumping into the opponent from such a distance and the contact involves a hard surface (elbow) connecting to a soft surface (the facial region of the opponent) excessive force is prevalent. The distance of the jumps adds to the speed of the contact and the inability of the defender to control his actions. In order to play the ball, the defender has to go through the opponent. Look at the position of the opponent and ball.
    • Safety of the player is endangered
      The likelihood for injury is very high and, thus, player safety is jeopardized. Contact in the facial area with a hard object like the elbow can easily lead to injury and puts the safety of the receiving player at risk. During the replay, watch where the defender’s head is as compared to the ball – it is not close. The defender has no opportunity to play the ball. Going through an opponent is not a normal movement or method to win the ball either on an aerial challenge or a tackle.
    • Hard surface (forearm/elbow/hand) contacting soft surface (facial and neck region)
      The replay clearly shows that the elbow contacts the facial region of the opponent.
    • UP and IN – arm used as a ”battering ram”
      The defender leaves his feet (takes off) four to five yards from the opponent. This leads to lack of control and increased force. The defender leaps forward, up and into the opponent. Additionally, the player leads with the elbow – this is the “battering ram.” The player is not merely jumping up to win the ball. He is jumping into the opponent in an uncontrolled manner.
    • Injury results
      The result of the challenge is the final piece of the puzzle needed to determine that serious foul play is involved. The receiving player is injured by the contact made by the player’s elbow.

    Given the fact that the arm/elbow is being used more as a “weapon” than as a “tool,” the referee must issue a red card for serious foul play.

    There are a few other important lessons from this clip for all officials.

    1. AR involvement/assistance
      AR involvement and assistance in making this call is appropriate as he has sufficient vision. The infringement is in his area of control and the nature of the offense can be supported by a flag.
    2. Referee urgency
      The referee “smells” that the foul may create a mass confrontation situation and immediately sprints to the location in order to defuse potential retaliation or escalation.
    3. Referee conferences with officiating team
      The referee solicits assistance in making the correct decision by conferencing with the nearside AR and the fourth official. The referee effectively uses the stoppage in play to confer with them without the interference of players.

    Unfortunately, despite the conference, the referee team incorrectly decides the red card offense only merits a caution. This is a situation where the referee and the fourth official have the best angle of vision to the aerial challenge. The nearside AR is looking at the back of the challenger and may not see how the contact is made. The referee and fourth official, on the other hand, should have the perspective of seeing the contact and identifying the “weapon” criteria noted above. Understanding and comprehension of the criteria is critical to proper execution and identification.


2008 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clips (Added 9/25/2008): Carolina at Charleston (28:44) - In this USL-1 clip, mass confrontation arises that leads to two players making contact above the shoulder with their opponent.  In both instances, the players should be sent off for violent conduct (striking an opponent) as required by Law 12, Fouls and Misconduct, within the Laws of the Game.  As the play unfolds, the referee whistles for a foul and sprints toward the spot of the infraction anticipating issues.  As he approaches the spot, the situation escalates to mass confrontation. 

    Despite the effort of the referee to defuse the situation, by getting to the infraction early, splinter groups erupt.  As the referee is initially moving to admonish the player committing the foul, he should observe the surrounding situation.  As the splinter groups gather, the referee should adjust his tactic and change his focus from the fouler to the larger situation.  The referee can and should come back and address the fouler once everything else has settled.

    By changing his direction and tactical approach, the referee should be better positioned to see the actions of the group as opposed to being focused on a single individual (the fouler).  The nearest AR can also move into the field and begin forming the “triangle of patrol.”  As he does in this clip, the near AR should not turn his back to the bigger situation.  Instead, he should step back and observe.  The far side AR should begin to sprint across the field in the event his presence or intervention is required.  If need be, the far side AR can form the third point on the “triangle of patrol.”  The fourth official remains at the bench area to monitor behavior.  All officials should position themselves so they can observe the “hot spots.”

    Once the situation has settled down and the teams have retreated to neutral/non-confrontational positions, the referee team can convene and decide on the appropriate action.  By utilizing the “triangle of patrol,” the officiating crew should be properly positioned to identify the perpetrators and take action. 

    As indicated by the yellow circles, players from both teams make deliberate contact above their opponent’s shoulders.  As a consequence, each player should be sent off for violent conduct as they have endangered the opponent’s safety and used excessive force toward the facial area.
  • Video Clip (Added 10/3/2008): Kansas City at Chivas USA (54:43) - The second situation commonly associated with elbows is illustrated in this video.  An attacker picked up speed, pushed the ball by the defender and passed the defender on his run with the ball.  As the clip proceeds take note of the warning signs:
    • Speed of the attacker.
    • Lack of speed by the defender because he has to change direction and play “catch up.”
    • The ball is pushed by the defender.
    • The defender must find a way to slow the attacker’s progress and keep him from the ball.
    • The elbow/arm go in an upward motion not horizontal.
    • The attacker holds his throat.

Once the referee has recognized the warning signs, he must be prepared for a potential elbow or extending of the arm into the opponent to impede his progress.  Once, the elbow/arm is extended, the referee must then be prepared to identify the area of contact (above the shoulder or at chest level).  The area of contact then determines the referee’s sanction. 

As the replay is shown, it is clear that the area of contact is above the shoulders and the safety of the player has been endangered.  Hence, a red card is in order.

In this clip, the referee’s view of the contact is hampered by his position directly in line with the play, trailing it from behind.  However, the referee does know that an arm/elbow has been extended.  Having this information, the referee should take note of the attacker’s reaction (holding his throat) as this may be a valid warning sign.  Once the referee has noted the warning signs and has determined his line of vision was not optimum, he should take his time in deciding the punishment and ensure he consults with the rest of his officiating team to determine the appropriate punishment.

The warning signs point to a CRITICAL GAME SITUATION.  The referee must recognize this and ensure he takes all the necessary steps to get the decision correct.  This includes consulting with the nearby assistant referee (AR) and the fourth official as they are the two referees who have the optimal view of the situation.  Of these two, the fourth official has an even better perspective.

  • Video Clip (Added 10/23/2008): Dallas at Real Salt Lake (21:14) - Following the definition above and found in other “Week In Reviews,” the contact above the shoulder and in the facial region of the opponent portrayed in this clip should be dealt with as violent conduct (red card).  In watching the deliberate slap to the opponent’s face, ask yourself the following:
    • Was contact to the face necessary?
    • What was the player’s intent?
    • Why not a push to the chest?
    • Why did the player go for the facial region when a greater area of the opponent’s body is exposed and easier to contact?

Contact in the facial region of the body is not necessary, not justifiable and is not defensible by the receiving player.  It is done to intimidate, send a message and to potentially injure the opposition by endangering the player’s safety. Watch as the player’s head goes back with the contact.  For these reasons, a red card is warranted.

In watching the clip, several other areas of instruction arise.  First, the AR does a good job indicating the handling offense by the defender who has “made himself bigger” by positioning himself with his arms extended out and taking away portions of the passing lane.

Secondly, a caution is correctly issued to the defending player for delaying the restart of play.  The defender interposes his body in front of the attacker with the ball thereby preventing him from putting the ball into play quickly.  The defender not only makes one attempt to interpose his body but he does it a second time. 

Thirdly, the AR does an effective job of intervening and getting to the scene after the first bump (body contact of the two players).   The AR can hope that his action is a deterrent.  The AR is also close enough to observe the contact above the shoulder.

Sensing the AR has also potentially observed the contact above the shoulders, the referee should strongly consider consulting with the AR prior to deciding upon the official, formal action.  By consulting with the AR, a “team” decision will result.  Plus, additional time can be used to consider all the options and for the referee team to replay the action in their minds.  Empowerment of the referee team begins in the locker room but is executed on the field during the heat of the match.  Referees should focus work on recognizing those situations where it is wise to consult with the AR or the fourth official prior to pulling a card.

In clear situations like this, officials cannot let the time of the game, the participants, or the importance of the game be factors in the decision to refrain from sending the player off for violent conduct.

Violent Conduct – Initiation and Retaliation

As defined in the U.S. Soccer publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game,” violent conduct occurs when the following is present:

2010 (Click to view/hide)
Clip: Columbus at Los Angeles (8:00)
This clip provides a clear example of violent conduct that occurs when a player is not contesting for the ball. The referee seems to have the challenge (stomping/jumping on the opponent) in his sightlines. But, the referee must refrain from the tendency to merely follow the ball.

The referee must “read” the warning sign of a player on the ground and an opponent jumping up to avoid the challenge. Upon acknowledging this scenario, the referee must anticipate a potential next step – the player disguising his violent conduct as an attempt to merely avoid the challenge or to jump out of the path of the opponent.

This challenge is excessive force as the player deliberately drives his cleats/feet into the opponent on the ground. The referee must immediately stop play and issue a red card for violent conduct and restart the game with a direct free kick for the team in the black jerseys.

It is also important to note the manner in which the referee manages the game disrepute (players coming together). Although the presence of the referee is a positive step and prevents the gathering from escalating, the referee must not make strong physical contact with the players (pushing them away). Physical contact with players can place the referee in a volatile situation and should be avoided. A strong whistle, verbalization and physical presence (without contact) can be used as preventative tools.

2009 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: San Jose at New York (58:22)
    In this clip, the referee calls a foul and immediately starts his movement toward the spot of the foul. As an opponent runs over the top of the player that has been fouled, he deliberately runs his foot across the player’s face. This is 100% misconduct and must result in the player being sent off for violent conduct (ball out of play and no challenge for the ball). The one-sided score and the time of the match cannot influence the referee’s decision.

    The referee must “feel” the potential for this type of action given the warning signs mentioned above. This violent conduct occurs near the fourth official. The referee, sensing a problem (the injured player’s reaction is also a warning sign), should make eye contact with the fourth official or hold the game up so that the two can consult. If the fourth official is not immediately consulted but is certain that he saw the act, he must contact the referee and provide the appropriate information so that the referee can have the player sent off.
2008 (Click to view/hide)
 

  • Video Clip: Kansas City at Toronto (91:57 – additional time) - As this clip illustrates, the defending player strikes the back of the opponent’s head with his arm.  Despite the fact the ball is in play, neither the defender nor the attacker are playing the ball (the defender is not contesting for the ball).  Consequently, the referee correctly red cards the defender for violent conduct.  Referees must act quickly and decisively in such cases for the safety of the players and to maintain the Spirit of the Game. 

    Notice that the referee’s decision to send the player off was not influenced by the time of the match (only minutes left) nor the score (0-0).  The defender’s action was a 100 percent send-off offense and the referee did not hesitate to issue the red card.

    It is important to note the referee’s position on this decision.  He is close to play in his corner quadrant.  It is as though he is anticipating the act.  The referee also exhibits keen skills in that he does not follow the ball as it is played out of the back by the attacking team.  The referee keeps the “after play” in view so he can detect any potential acts that would normally be out of view of the referee if he turned his back to the play too soon.

Normally, violent conduct between two opponents requires a player to initiate the action and, then, a player who responds to the initial action by way of some calculated retaliation.  Often times, the initial action is much more subtle or disguised and, therefore, more difficult to identify.  Retaliation usually comes after some sort of prior commotion where everyone’s attention is already drawn to the players and usually retaliation comes with greater force.  As a result, retaliation is normally more visible and easier for the referee team to identify.  For these reasons, referees, ARs, and fourth officials must be certain to identify and deal with the originator as well as the retaliation.

Identification and Prevention

2010 (Click to view/hide)
No material on this topic for this year. Click prior years' tabs below to view information for those years.
2009 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: Seattle at New York (53:56)
    This clip provides an example of two incorrect decisions on the part of the referee and AR: foul decision and misconduct. On the positive side, the officiating crew uses appropriate mechanics. Unfortunately, they do not lead to improved decisions.
    • Foul Decision
      As the two opponents are chasing the ball to the end line, the defender (No. 2 in the white jersey) has the inside track and is playing the ball. No. 2 is pushed from behind by Green #1 which causes him to go down initially.

      At this point, the AR must flag a foul on the green jersey player.

    • Warning Sign
      The foul results in a warning sign. Once No. 2 gets up and stands over his fallen opponent, the referee and AR must recognize this as a warning sign for potential problems. Referee and AR focus should go to the both players’ feet. At the least, the AR must recognize the act and provide the appropriate information to the referee.

      The standing player may now feel comfortable taking a chance of stepping on or kicking his opponent because he feels it can be disguised or hidden.

    • Act of Violent Conduct
      Maybe because of frustration in not being awarded the foul, No. 2 steps on the ankle (using his exposed cleats) of the opponent on the ground. This action meets the characteristics of violent conduct: excessive force, ball out of play and not a challenge for the ball. As a result, No. 2 must be red carded.

    • AR Intervention
      The AR begins to quickly enter the field in case the situation requires his presence. This action may have prevented the situation from escalating into game disrepute and/or mass confrontation.

    • Referee and AR Confer
      In order to attempt to make the correct decision, the referee and AR confer and discuss what each has observed with the goal of identifying any misconduct and the restart. The referee does well to keep players away so the conversation is as private and uninterrupted as possible.

      After their conference, the referee team decides not to issue any misconduct to No. 2 – clearly a mistake.

    • Direct Free Kick Restart Incorrect
      Since the original foul was committed by the team in the green jerseys, the officials mistakenly give the direct free kick restart to the wrong team. Notice, a corner kick was not awarded. Go back and watch the clip. You will see that the AR puts the flag up late and does not recognize the initial offence committed by the green team.

      As part of their conference, the referee and AR should have discussed who committed the first foul and ensured the appropriate restart was taken.

    In summary, the referee shows good judgment in conferring with the AR to ensure he has all the information to make the best possible decision. Despite their conference, the referee team decides not to issue a red card for clear violent conduct. It must be noted that the offense is 100% misconduct and No. 2 must be sent off despite the score or the time in the match.

    The AR does well to move quickly onto the field to prevent escalation. However, he does not recognize the warning signs and, therefore, is unable to correctly identify the violent conduct. Additionally, the AR should have flagged the original foul committed by the player in the green jersey. This early flag may have prevented the subsequent contact and violent act.
2008 (Click to view/hide)
Failure to handout the appropriate misconduct to the individual initiating the actions will result in increased frustration levels among the players and possible further retaliation as the game progresses.  In order to help identify instigators, it is critical that some of the game officials keep their eye on play after the ball has left the area.  Leave the next phase of play and following the ball to the referee and the lead AR.  The trailing AR and fourth official should “cover the referee’s back” by keeping their focus on the action that might occur off the ball.

  • Video Clip: Colorado at Galaxy (42:50) – Although this clip is shown under the heading of violent conduct, it also is a fantastic exhibit of team work to ensure the call is correct.  Watch as the player on the ground initiates contact with the opponent by kicking him.  The opposing player then retaliates by kicking back at the player on the ground.  The referee immediately indicates a red card for violent conduct to the player who retaliates.  This swift action on the part of referee prevents escalation and further actions by opponents towards the retaliator. 

While the initiator is on the ground injured, the trail AR moves onto the field (this is not pictured).  The trail AR and the referee confer and the referee decides the player on the ground will also be sent off for violent conduct.  However, the referee delays showing the red card to the injured player because he is on the ground and standard practice has been to refrain from cautioning or sending off a player who is injured and on the ground.

In cases, however, where the potential for further escalation and misconduct exists on the part of the players, the referee should consider actions that make it clear that the injured player is also being sent off.  U.S. Soccer recommends either displaying the red card immediately or pulling the red card out and holding it at your side so that there is a visible signal that the injured player is also being dealt with.  Depending upon the referee’s read of the game, the referee may consider showing the red card in the air and indicating that the injured player has been sent off.  This procedure should be used when the potential for escalation is high and a quick message must be sent that official action is being administered. 

  • Video Clip: DC United at Chicago (54:00) – Once again, violent conduct on the part of two opponents and teamwork are the theme.  In this case, the fourth official is able to communicate the actions of the two players to the referee in order to enable the referee to take the appropriate action and send the two players off.  In a situation like the one displayed in this clip, the fourth official must be certain of what he observed.  This is especially important given the distance between the fourth official and the actions taking place.
  • Video Clip 1 | Video Clip 2: Columbus at Kansas City (81:00) - Crew  #4, Robin Fraser, kicked Wizards #22, Davy Arnaud, in the 80th minute.  Fraser and Arnaud had been competing for the ball and, as a result of tactics by Arnaud which Fraser thought were unfair, Fraser lost the challenge.  At this point, Fraser kicked Arnaud as Arnaud was pulling away with the ball.  The kick was
    • Delivered from behind
    • To the upper leg of the opponent
    • In retaliation
    • With no intent to play the ball.

A kick is an inherently violent act and, under the above circumstances, was clearly the sort of misconduct under Law 12 which must be handled by sending the offending player from the field and displaying the red card.   Referees must act quickly and decisively in such cases for the safety of the players and to maintain the Spirit of the Game.

When the referee is seeking information from one of his fellow officials, the official who witnessed the actions should follow the following steps:

  • Get the referee’s attention - At the appropriate moment, get the referee’s attention by either raising your flag (for ARs) and/or by verbally calling for the referee.  The fourth official may need to move toward the nearest AR and ask for assistance in getting the referee’s attention by having the flag raised.  During this time, the AR and the fourth can consult and exchange information about what each has seen.  Note:  the severity of the offense(s) should guide officials in determining how quickly the referee must be notified.  It is recommended that for any intervention requiring a red card the referee be notified immediately and the game be stopped immediately.  In instances in which a yellow card(s) will be issued, depending upon the severity, it may be acceptable to get the referee’s attention at the next stoppage.
  • Face the field and the action - Once the referee approaches the other official, every effort should be made for the two to face the field and the players thereby putting themselves in a position to see any further action on the part of the players.  In some cases, the exchange may take place on the field because one of the officials has had to enter the field to provide game control assistance.
  • Separate from the players - As the officials confer, they should make every attempt to separate themselves from the players and coaches so that an uninterrupted exchange of information can take place.  In other words, find a neutral spot where you are not under the pressure of the players and coaches to make a decision.
  • Provide information - The official(s) who observed the actions should specifically tell the referee what they saw including the player’s number, the player’s team, and the specific actions they observed.  This exchange should be short but distinct.  The official should provide a recommendation to the referee, using the specifics of the Laws of the Game, as to whether a red card or yellow card should be issued.  As information is exchanged, try to refrain from pointing at players.
  • Take action - Based upon the information provided and their own perspective of the situation, the referee should then take action by administering the appropriate form of misconduct.

The F-I-R-E Principle for Dealing with Above-the-Shoulder Challenges

Actions aimed at the face of an opponent must be dealt with severely REGARDLESS OF THE FORCE USED if the actions are:

The following lists some specific examples (but not all examples) of the manner in which the contact can be initiated are:

To assist referees in recognizing and properly addressing these situations, the acronym F-I-R-E was provided to assist officials with the identification of elbows that should be defined as red cardable offenses (violent conduct):

When applying the aforementioned examples, the use of force becomes increasingly important as it relates to contact with the back of the player’s head as the likelihood for injury is somewhat lessened as compared to contact with the face.  Consequently, some discretion may be exercised on the part of the referee as it relates to contact with the back of the head depending upon the intent and the force used.

2010 (Click to view/hide)
Video Clip: New England at Real Salt Lake (19:53)
This clip involves violent conduct as a result of a player striking an opponent by head butting him. The player uses his head (hard surface) to contact the opponent in a very vulnerable area (the soft surface of the face). In addition, the act falls under the guidelines provided above and in the “Contact Above the Shoulder” directive. The player’s actions are: deliberate, intended to intimidate, endanger the safety of the opponent, incite further action on the part of opponents and are executed in a provocative and inciteful manner. As a result, the player must be sent off for violent conduct.

Referees can attempt to take preventative actions when similar situations arise. Although the referee attempts to provide flow to the game by allowing play to continue as the goalkeeper gains clear possession of the ball (despite a bridging/tripping foul being committed by the attacker as the keeper goes up in the air to gather the ball), the referee must be cognizant of the actions that follow and their potential impact on the game. In this case, a quick whistle on the part of the referee to stop play as soon as the players go chest-to-chest would potentially prevent further action. Given the attacker’s immediate actions, the referee could stop the game and eventually restart with a free kick for the defense. The free kick could result from the tripping/bridging foul as advantage did not materialize or for unsporting behavior for bringing the game into disrepute (review the “Game Disrepute and Mass Confrontation” directive. This would require the referee to caution the attacker for unsporting behavior and restart with an indirect free kick. By taking either of these actions, the referee is using common sense and is using preventative techniques to manage/control the game.

Once the referee has stopped the game, he should immediately sprint to the area of the confrontation. The referee’s presence could act as a tool to prevent escalation of the situation. Upon quick arrival, the referee could separate or channel the players thereby defusing the situation.

Pursuant to U.S. Soccer directives and guidance, the attacker in this clip should be red carded for violent conduct.

2009 (Click to view/hide)
No material on this topic for this year. Click prior years' tabs below to view information for those years.
2008 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: Los Angeles at DC (41:05) - When viewing this situation, apply the standards set forth above.  This clip does not depict the more frequent violent conduct for the elbow (cocked and thrown) but illustrates a deliberate slap to the opponent’s face that is intended to intimidate as well as endanger the player’s safety.  Additionally, such action, unless dealt with promptly, can lead to further misconduct/retaliation on the part of the opponents and jeopardize match control.

    The offence is initiated by the defender holding, from behind, the attacker with the ball in order to prevent his advancement.  When situations like this (defender holding from behind) unfold, the referee team should be prepared for the attacker to take action to “release the defender” and create space to continue their path with the ball.  The “release the defender” action is frequently done with above the shoulder contact or an elbow.  Anticipation and a quick whistle on the part of the referee may assist in preventing the violent conduct.

    As the slap to the face unfolds, notice the position of the referee, AR, and the fourth official – all seem to have clear views of the action from different angles.  If any of the officials clearly see contact with the hand to the opponent’s face, they must bring the violent action to the referee’s attention if the referee on his own does not identify the offense as a red card.  Notice the eyes and head of the player committing the slap just prior to the hand going back:  he looks over his shoulder to see the position of the opponent thereby ensuring the success of his slap.  The eye and head movement of the player is a sign that the action was deliberate.  Additionally, the evidence of blood from the player’s nose should be another sign (most obvious) that unnecessary force and contact was made.

    The correct action by the referee team in this clip would be to send off one player for violent conduct (slap to the opponent’s face) and issue a yellow card to the other player for unsporting behavior (tactical holding foul).
  • Video Clip: New York at Chivas USA (25:33) - This situation involves incidental contact albeit with the arm/elbow. 

    When evaluating this clip, it is evident that the defender did not intend to intimidate, retaliate, or unfairly establish territory or space.  Notice the defender’s focus – on the ball.  He does not look back to “size up” the attacker.  Contact is initiated by the attacker who jumps up and into the defender.  Also take note of the fact that the attacker does not leap as high as the defender.  In fact, his jump takes him only as high as the defender’s elbow and forearm.  Given these factors and the fact that the defender does not cock and throw his elbow, the actions should not be considered as misconduct.
  • Video Clip: Chivas USA at Toronto (45:00+) - During additional time of the first half, off a long and high clearance by the goalkeeper, two opposing players jump to head the ball.  As they go up, one player swings his arm out, away from his body and contacts the opponent in the face.  The initial contact by this player is caused by an aggressive and deliberate swing of the arm.  This deliberate arm swing is intended to “establish territory or space” as noted above in the F-I-R-E criteria above.  Hence, the referee should issue a red card for violent conduct.

Upon observing the player’s action/challenge, the referee must immediately ask himself, “Why did the player have his straight arm extended so far out and why did he swing it?”  In this situation, the referee determined it was to “establish territory or space” to win the header and to intimidate the opponent by preventing him from a full, fair aerial challenge.


After the initial arm swing and contact, the player on the receiving end of the elbow, retaliates by striking an opponent.  The referee has no choice but to also send this player off for violent conduct (striking).  This elbow and forearm swing also meets the criteria of F-I-R-E in that it is done in “frustration” and as “retaliation (payback)” for the initial player’s action.

 It is interesting to note the referee’s perspective and view of the situation as it transpired: 

“The first indicator to me regarding the first contact was the distance the player was from his opponent with his straight arm sticking out.  The first elbowed player’s reaction and retaliation was immediate and then he grabbed his face”

Overall, the referee correctly applied the Laws of the Game and issued two red cards.  Remember, retaliation is not permitted regardless of the severity of the first offence and the referee must also deal with any form of retaliation by players that is a cautionable or red cardable offense.

Denying Obvious Goal Scoring Opportunities - DOGSO

The 4 D’s of DOGSO

The Laws of the Game (Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct) require referees to send off players who deny an obvious goal scoring opportunity (DOGSO). U.S. Soccer has established the “4 D Criteria” to evaluate whether a foul meets the DOGSO definition and should result in a red card being issued. The following is a summary of the “4 D Criteria:”

Remember, the offence that denies an opponent an obvious goal scoring opportunity may result in either a direct free kick (ex: tripping) or indirect free kick (ex: obstructing an opponent). In either case, the offender must be red carded for “denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity to an opponent moving toward the player’s goal by an offence punishable by a free kick or penalty kick.”

2010 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: Real Salt Lake at San Jose (52:12)

    This clip is a good test for not only the referee but also for the lead AR. In this situation, the referee and AR must make two quick decisions: DOGSO and location of foul (inside or outside of the penalty area).
    • DOGSO
      In this case, all “4 Ds” are present and a red card is correctly issued for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity. The attacker has made his touch on the ball and is behind the defensive line going directly to goal (the attacker’s touch was toward the goal) and is near the top of the penalty area (a short distance from the goal). If it were not for the holding foul committed by the defender, the attacker would have had an obvious opportunity to score a goal.
    • Location of Foul
      The referee correctly decides that DOGSO exists due to the holding offense committed by the defender. Now, the referee must decide whether the location of the foul was inside the penalty area (and would result in a penalty kick) or outside the penalty area. In order to properly evaluate this call, the referee must coordinate with the lead AR. The lead AR has the best view of the top of the penalty area and, as a result, can provide valuable information regarding the location of the foul. In this situation, the holding starts and ends outside the penalty area and the game should be restarted with a direct free kick.

      FIFA’s “Interpretation of the laws of the game and guidelines for referees” provides valuable guidance to match officials relative to holding offenses. The guidelines state:

      “If a defender starts holding an attacker outside the penalty area and continues holding him inside the penalty area, the referee must award a penalty kick.”

      In this situation, good cooperation and communication between the referee and his lead AR determine that the holding did not continue inside the penalty area. As a result, a direct free kick should be awarded outside the penalty area. Pursuant to U.S. Soccer guidelines, the AR should stand at attention, with the flag at his side, to indicate to the referee that the foul has occurred outside the penalty area.

  • Video Clip: Kansas City at Dallas (90:48)
    This clip involves a potential DOGSO event that requires teamwork, communication and an understanding of the criteria that leads to an occurrence of DOGSO. In reviewing the clip, ask yourself:
    • Is there an obvious opportunity to score based upon the “4 D Criteria?”

    This is not an easy decision due to the fact that there is a defender running into the penalty area and it is not clear whether an obvious opportunity to score has been denied. The dynamic movement and speed require the officiating team, on the field, to determine the appropriate punishment. Image 1 provides a good perspective of the defender’s position at the time the handling offense is committed. The referee team must judge whether the defender rushing in would have had a reasonable opportunity to deny a scoring opportunity and whether the angle of attack would have provided the attacker with the opportunity to score. Hence, the decision facing the match officials: A yellow card for unsporting behavior due to the tactical nature of the handling or a red card for DOGSO.

    When making the decision, match officials should ask:

    • If there was NO HANDLING, would a goal have been realized?

    If the answer is “yes,” then DOGSO exists. If the answer is unclear or “no,” then a caution is warranted for unsporting behavior. Consideration should be given to the “4 D Criteria” and how they affect the opportunity for an obvious goal scoring opportunity.

    When evaluating the running defender’s position, officials should note that he is too far from play to influence the outcome. On the other hand, the attacker is in clear possession of the ball and in close proximity to goal. Plus, the attacker has a positive direction/angle to goal and his path will be uninterrupted. Given these “4 D Criteria,” the best decision is DOGSO and, therefore, a red card should be given.

  • Video Clip: San Jose at Philadelphia (46:29)
    This clip involves a dynamic decision on the part of the referee. The referee is faced with two options: Call a foul and red card the defender for DOGSO or apply advantage and then caution the defender at the next stoppage of play. Either decision has it merits and the decision as to which option is the best can only be decided by the referee at the moment of the decision. This involves a “feel” for the game, the situation, the players involved and a quick analysis of, at that moment, which option will benefit the fouled team the most.

    Examine each option and then decide, for yourself, which of the two options you would chose at this moment of the game:

    1. Apply advantage and then caution the player committing the foul at the next stoppage
      As the holding offense is committed just outside the penalty area, the referee must assess the “4 P Principle” and determine whether the application of advantage is most beneficial to the attacking team. Of importance is the potential for attack. The referee must ask himself, “Does the attacking player/team have a credible, immediate and dangerous attack on the opposing goal?” If the referee believes that the shirt pull is enough to place the attacker (with the ball) in disadvantageous position in terms of a clear opportunity to score a goal, then the referee should not apply advantage. On the other hand, if the referee believes that the attacker has a clear path to goal and the holding offense has no impact on his ability to have an opportunity to score, then the referee should apply advantage. In this case, the referee is required to caution the defender (at the next stoppage) for unsporting behavior due to the tactical nature of the shirt pull.
    2. Deny obvious goal scoring opportunity and red card
      If the referee believes that the foul (shirt pull) prevents the attacker from progressing cleanly with the ball and therefore from having an effective goal scoring opportunity, then the referee should stop the play and send the defender off for “denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity.” Remember to utilize the “4 D Criteria” for DOGSO to aid in the decision.

    Given the dynamic nature of the situation, the referee must “feel” the game and the situation and make a decision based upon the options available. The referee’s position and understanding of the players involved (in particular, the skill level and technical ability of the attacking player) will play an important role in this evaluation.

2009 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip 3: Seattle at Toronto (86:00)
    This is a DOGSO situation that is created by the referee missing an initial foul (handling the ball by the attacker who is substantially denied a goal scoring opportunity). A wider angle of vision by the referee should provide a better perspective of the initial handling offense. This is particularly important on quick counter attacks. Referees should make their initial movements into a wider position that provides a side view of the play. In this case, the referee’s view of the handball may be negatively affected because he is running directly behind the play and attacker, and only has a view of the player’s back.

    The last defender on Seattle commits a tactical foul to bring the attacker down just outside the penalty area. This situation meets all the “4 D Criteria” that referees should use to evaluate whether DOGSO exists. Despite the fact that the final foul is not a hard challenge, nonetheless, the referee must take action and send the defender off for DOGSO.

  • Video Clip 4: Kansas City at Seattle (28:26)
    The referee correctly judges that DOGSO by handling has occurred in this clip and, consequently, the goalkeeper must be red carded for “denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball” according to the Laws of the Game. The keeper is the last defender and the attacker is heading directly to goal just outside the penalty area. If the goalkeeper does not “make himself bigger,” the attacker would have an obvious goal scoring opportunity given the:
    • Distance to goal
    • Distance to ball
    • Defender position/location and number
    • Direction to goal

    Watch the AR in the bottom of the screen as the clip is played. The AR provides key assistance to the referee by signaling the handling offence as well as providing a silent signal (patting the back pocket) to indicate that the keeper’s handling was a red card offence. The ARs signal provides further assurances to the referee that a DOGSO has occurred.

    As the clip is viewed, also take note that the ball rebounds directly from the goalkeeper’s hands to another attacker who gains possession of the ball in a potentially advantageous position (no one in the goal). Given the time and game situation, the referee may utilize the “wait and see” principle and hold the whistle for a few seconds to see if the attacker is able to take a shot and score a goal from the shot. The application of this skill requires tactical awareness on the part of the referee as well as teamwork on the part of the AR. While using the “wait and see” approach, the referee should not signal advantage unless the advantage materializes (in this case, advantage would only materialize if a goal was scored directly from the shot). By not indicating/signaling advantage in that short period of time, the referee may come back to the original handling offence and send the goalkeeper off for DOGSO.

    If a goal were to be scored directly from the shot because the referee has applied the advantage during a DOGSO, despite the handling of the ball or fouling an opponent, the player cannot be sent off but may still be cautioned.

  • Video Clip 4: New York at Kansas City (1:34)
    With only 1:34 into the game, it is easy for match officials to be relaxed (both mentally and physically) and unprepared to make difficult decisions. This situation highlights the need for all officials to be prepared mentally and physically from the opening whistle. A mindset to “expect the unexpected” will be a significant aid in ensuring the referee team gets early decisions correct.

    In this video clip, the referee team has the appropriate mindset and is ready to make a tough decision that could potentially influence the outcome of the game. The “potentially influence the outcome of the game” factor must not be a negative consideration in this case as the foul is 100% misconduct in the form of DOGSO. As a result, the defender must be red carded, as he is, for “denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity” and a penalty kick must be awarded as the foul occurred in the penalty area. This clip provides an excellent example of awareness and alertness on the part of the referee.

    Key considerations for the referee in deciphering the call are:
    • If the attacker was not fouled, he would have gained possession of the ball and would have had an obvious opportunity to score.
    • Although there is a defender parallel to the fouled attacker, this defender would not have been able to close down on the attacker and prevent the attacker’s opportunity to score. In other words, the defender’s position would not have prevented the opportunity to have an opportunity to score a goal.
    • The referee must understand “why the defender committed the foul.” The defender miss touches the ball and must foul the attacker because he knows the attacker will have the opportunity to score a goal if he is not taken down. It is not a hard foul but a foul nevertheless.

    If the assistant referee (AR) has a clear view of the challenge, he should be prepared to provide information to the referee regarding whether DOGSO occurred or not. Given this is a game critical decision that the referee team must get correct, should the referee have any question as to whether the foul met the DOGSO criteria, the referee should make eye contact with the nearside AR and the AR should feel compelled to provide a silent signal (patting his back pocket) to indicate the foul requires a red card for DOGSO. Because of the critical nature of the situation, the game and the referee require AR participation in getting the decision correct.

  • Video Clip: Bermuda at Real Maryland (83:00) – USL2
    In this USL2 match, the referee judges that a DOGSO has occurred. However, under closer review, an “obvious” opportunity to score does NOT exist. Consequently, a red card should not have been issued. Why? Because three of the “4 D’s” have not been met.
    1. Distance to goal
      The foul occurs approximately 36 yards out from the goal. Given this distance, the inside defender may have had the opportunity to contain the attacker and prevent an “obvious” opportunity to score. In addition, the wide defender would have had the chance to catch up to the attacker given his distance to goal. Remember, distance means time and time means a defender may be able to regain an advantageous position.
    2. Direction to goal
      The attacker’s direction to goal does not provide him with an “obvious” opportunity to shoot or score. There are two factors to consider here: (a) The play is wide on the field which provides a poor angle for the attacker going to goal and an opportunity for other defenders to track him down and prevent a shot; and (b) The attacker’s touch on the ball is away from the goal to an even wider position.
    3. Defender position/location
      The fact that one defender is running directly alongside the attacker must be taken into consideration. The second defender, to the inside of the attacker and the ball, may also have a chance for the ball or to close down the attacker given the attacker’s touch on the ball (away from the goal) and the distance to goal.

    Two other items need to be reviewed in this clip. First, the goalkeeper definitely commits a foul. The foul is worthy of a yellow card for unsporting behavior because it is not only reckless but it is also tactical. The challenge lacks the intensity/severity to make it excessive force.

    Second, watch the referee instead of the ball as the long pass is made. The referee does not anticipate the need to move rapidly up field. Notice how the referee is walking (lacks energy) and does not begin advancing forward until the counter-attack pass has traveled approximately 20 yards in the air. The referee’s lack of urgency in movement causes him to be too far behind play and in a recovery position. When the ball is first passed back by the yellow team, the referee must not be flat footed and must quickly begin his movement up field. Move with the anticipation of the play. Do not wait to react. Attempt to move before the ball is played forward.

  • Video Clip: D.C. United at Dallas (55:48)
    Note: The focus of this clip is the potential DOGSO event and not whether a foul actual exists. Hence, when viewing the clip, assume that the defending team has committed a foul.

    Using the “4 D Criteria” and the understanding of “obvious,” this clip does not fit the red card criteria for DOGSO. Which of the “4 D Criteria” or factors preclude this from being a DOGSO event?

    1. Direction to goal
      Although the attacker is close to goal, the attacker is too wide and, as a result, does not have an “obvious” angle to get an effective shot on goal.
    2. Defender position/location
      In this case, the proximity/closeness of the goalkeeper to the attacker and the ball eliminates the “obvious” opportunity to score. If the foul would not have occurred, would the attacker’s shot have presented him with an “obvious” opportunity to score? No, given the nearness of the goalkeeper to the ball and the attacker. The goalkeeper’s position relative to the ball, makes the goal small (very little space to execute an effective shot).

    The proximity of the goalkeeper to the ball combined with the acute/sharp, poor angle of the player’s approach to the goal, makes the goal too small for the attacker to have an “obvious” opportunity to score. Visualize: Move the attacker further from the goalkeeper/goal and more to the center of the penalty area and the likelihood for an “obvious” opportunity to score is greatly increased. In this more central angle to goal, the goal would be bigger and the attacker would have a clear, evident and observable opportunity to score.

    A red card for DOGSO is not warranted in this situation. When faced with potential DOGSO scenarios in the game, referees should take the appropriate time to evaluate and analyze the situation prior to issuing the red card.

  • Video Clip: D.C. United at Kansas City (89:56)
    Just as the game edges into “additional time,” the referee is faced with a DOGSO by handling decision. A defender, on the goal line, “makes himself bigger” by extending his reach with his right arm/elbow. Because the defender is on the goal line, his handling clearly prevents the ball from entering the goal. As a result, the referee must red card the defender for “denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal scoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball.” In addition, the referee must award a penalty kick as the handling and DOGSO offenses occur within the penalty area.

    The referee is able to make the correct decision on this subtle handling offense because he is well positioned at the top of the penalty area and has a clear line of vision to the action and to the players positioned on the goal line.

    The last replay provided in the video clip shows the defender not only “making himself bigger” but moving his elbow/arm to the ball (readjusting his body to block the ball thereby causing the ball to play his elbow/arm). This “elbow/arm to ball” motion is a clear indication of the defender initiating contact with the ball.

    As you watch the video clip, notice the proper mechanics by the assistant referee (AR) after the referee signals for a penalty kick. The AR swiftly moves to the restart position for the penalty kick that has been awarded: on the goal line and the intersection of the penalty area line. This is the position the AR must take to assist with the monitoring of the penalty kick.

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Clips will show several different opportunities for the referee to deal with DOGSO.
  • Video Clip (Added: 9/19/2008): Houston as San Jose (78:33) - This opportunity for DOGSO results from a quick counter attack.  It is a counter that requires the referee to close down play quickly and a counter that requires heightened attention on the part of the AR.  Upon review of the situation, it is clear that all “4-D’s” exist.  The foul is seemingly also clear.  Both the AR and the referee must be able to identify that the attacker goes down quickly and sharply to the side – the same side as the challenge by the defender.  Additionally, both officials should be able to see the shirt collar being grabbed.  The result of the foul should be a red card for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity and a penalty kick as the holding foul continued into the penalty area.
    • Watch the replay from behind the goal.  The referee is following straight and immediately behind the play.  By moving to a wider position and angle of vision, the referee may have enhanced his view thereby providing a better perspective of the defender’s foul.  Trailing play directly behind the two players does not provide the optimum view.  Get wider sooner.
    • Despite his distance from the foul, the AR needs to share ownership of this situation and similar situations with the referee.  This is a critical decision that the referee team needs to get correct.  Given the attacker is a step ahead of the defender, the AR should be able to see the reach of the defender and the grab of the shirt collar.  Again, watch the replay from behind the goal.  Look at the two player’s position as the attacker finally goes down inside the penalty area.  The attacker is a step in front.  The defender’s arm is now grabbing/reaching out in front.  The AR should be focusing on the upper body as he sees the defender reaching out.  The side angle should provide the view of the defender’s extended arm, the collar grab and the space between the attacker’s and defender’s bodies.  An AR who makes this decision would be serving the game and the referee.
    • If the referee were to make the call, the AR must then provide assistance by indicating that the holding foul finished in the penalty area therefore a penalty kick is in order.  Upon hearing the referee’s whistle, the AR would stand at attention and drape the flag across his waist (similar to the substitution signal).  This would be the “silent signal” to the referee that awarding a penalty kick was needed.
  • Video Clip: Toronto at Galaxy (69:40).  The Toronto attacker is clearly behind the defense and in possession of the ball.  The Galaxy defender, knowing he is beat, grabs the arm of the attacker.  This foul is made with the hand/arm.  The referee must recognize the tactical nature of the offense and “feel” the speed of play.  Based upon the speed, it does not take much to knock the attacker off the ball.  This is DOGSO and a red card must be issued.  The following is a quote from Galaxy head coach Ruud Gullit:  "I think we were lucky there.  It was the only luck we had the whole game."
  • Video Clip: Chicago at San Jose (52:23).  The attacker is moving to goal with speed and is behind the defense.  However, the defender catches up and the attacker loses possession of the ball on a fair body challenge.  Both players are using their body but not with undo force. It is a matter of the defender’s speed surpassing that of the attacker.  A no foul call is appropriate.  Well done and a good feel for the situation is exhibited by the referee.
  • Video Clip: Chivas at Houston (83:02). A red card is issued for Denying an Obvious Goal Scoring Opportunity (DOGSO).  This is a clear cut example of DOGSO.
    • Defenders:  there are no defenders between the attacker and the goal.
    • Direction:  the attacker is centered on the field and moving directly to goal.
    • Distance to goal:  as the attacker plays the ball he is at the top of the penalty area; hence, his proximity to goal is approximately 18 yards.
    • Distance to ball:  the attacker is playing the ball with his head.
  • Video Clip: FC Dallas at Houston (75:27) - An attacking player makes a penetrating run through the center of the defense.  At this time, a pass is made that precedes the runner behind the defense.  Just as the runner is prepared to gather the ball and take off for goal, he is taken down, desperately, by a defender.  Now, apply the four principles outlined above to determine if this is a case of DOGSO.  It is clear that there are no defenders between the attacker and the goal that have the ability to track down the ball or the attacker.  Second, the direction of the ball and the attacker’s run is clearly headed up the middle of the field, to goal.  Third, the foul occurs approximately 25 yards from the goal which provides a reasonable chance to score.  Finally, the attacker is only a few feet away from the ball as the ill-timed challenge is made.  Given these factors, a red card should be issued for “denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the player’s goal by an offence punishable by a free kick or penalty kick.”
  • Video Clip: FC Dallas at Houston (89:31) - In the same game as clip 5, another instance of DOGSO arises.  This case is a bit more subtle but still holds up to the principles of analysis set forth.  Again, apply the four principles of defenders, direction, distance to goal, and distance to ball.  The defender’s challenge meets all four of the standards that are required for a DOGSO to exist.  The uncertain factor is whether the defender’s challenge is fair or not:  Did the defender commit a free kick offense?  In other words, did the defender cleanly play the ball or did the defender go through the opponent and thus make contact with him to play the ball?  In making this determination, the referee must take notice of the position of the ball relative to the attacker in possession of it as well as the direction of the tackle. 

Notice that the attacker’s body and legs are between the ball and the chasing defender.  The ball is on the attacker’s right foot and the defender is initiating his tackle from the left side of the attacker.  Additionally, the tackle is committed from behind the attacker.  Watch as contact is made just as the attacker begins his shooting motion.  Close review of the last replay shows that contact may be made with the ball but only after the defender has made contact with the attacker by going through the attacker’s legs.  Each of these positions point to the fact that the defender must first make contact with the attacker in order to play the ball.  If this is the case, then the referee must award a direct free kick (tripping) and red card the defender for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity.

  • Video Clip: Galaxy at FC Dallas (24:31) - This clip provides an example of where the defender denies the attacking team an obvious goal scoring opportunity (DOGSO) and should result in the defender being sent off.  In this game, the referee and the AR misjudge the challenge and determine that there is no foul and, as a result, they fail to identify that the defender’s actions meet all the criteria of DOGSO.  This foul is a moment of truth for the officiating team and between the referee and AR.  The team must get the decision correct.

In cases like this, the decision is critical in nature and the AR must feel empowered to assist the referee in making the decision if the AR is 100 percent certain that a foul has occurred.  Both the AR and the referee must read the challenge and be able ascertain the intent of the defender and make a determination that the defender’s actions constitute a foul.

As the clip is viewed, the following items should aid understanding and interpreting the defender’s challenge and then in making the determination that a foul has occurred and that the situation involves DOGSO:

    • Anticipating the pass up field - The referee is slow to react to the pass up field and, thus, is too far behind play.   A referee nearer to the play will have a better feel and view of the contact.
    • Gut feel - The referee and AR must recognize the characteristics of the players involved.  In this case, there is a very fast forward and a slower defender.  The referee and AR must see that the defender is beat and trailing the attacker.  Ask yourself:  “How can the defender get the ball?”  Because he is challenging from behind, his only recourse is to go through the attacker.  Look at the position of the ball and the attacker.  The attacker’s body is interposed between the ball and the defender.  The referee and AR must feel this.
    • Defender’s first action - The officials must recognize that the defender first attempts to throw his upper body/arm into the speeding attacker.  Then, seeing the attacker is pulling away and this tactic/challenge will not stop him, the defender decides to make a last second tackle.  The referee and AR must see that the first attempt (upper body) does not work and then anticipate the second attempt – the tackle from behind.
    • The tackle - Both the referee and AR should see that the challenge is from behind and there would be no chance - at that speed of play and at that angle of challenge - to play the ball without going through the attacker’s legs.  Contact is made with the attacker’s right leg.  The defender ends up with the ball but that is only because the attacker has been illegally tackled off the ball prior to the defender gaining possession.
  • Video Clip: Chicago at New England (15:33) - This clip shows a long ball that goes approximately 40 yards in the air and results in an attacker isolated on goal, in the middle of the field being chased (from behind) by the last field defender/opponent.  As you view the clip, ask yourself:  “If the foul does not occur, does the attacker have an opportunity to shoot on goal or score?”  In this case, the answer is yes.  Therefore, DOGSO exists and a red card as well as a penalty kick should be given as the foul occurs in the penalty box.  The early time of the match is inconsequential.

As situations like this develop, officials should take note of the following:

    • Referee anticipation - Referees must anticipate the long pass and start their movement up field before the 40 yard pass is executed.  Secondly, once the pass is made, the referee must sprint to follow the pass and close the gap between himself and the ball.  Referees cannot relax nor assume that the defender or goalkeeper will win the ball.  Misreading play by not sprinting will cause the referee to be too far from the challenge in the penalty area.  Failure to anticipate by sprinting to get a good side view of the contact and failure to close the gap between the referee’s initial position and the drop zone of the ball will lead to poor positioning and may lead to poor judgment.
    • Location of the ball - The ball comes down on the attacker’s left foot/left side.  The defender is approaching from behind but from the right shoulder of the attacker.
    • The challenge - The defender’s challenge is from behind and from the attacker’s right side.  The attacker’s body shields the defender from the ball which is on the left foot of the attacker.  Consequently, it would be very difficult for the defender to cleanly play the ball without contacting the opponent.  The defender’s left foot makes contact with the right leg of the attacker at high speed causing the attacker to go down.
    • Assistant referee (AR) involvement - An AR who clearly sees the incident/contact can participate in making the call as the foul is critical in nature.  Parameters of such involvement should be discussed and established in the referee team’s pre-game conference.

By quickly assessing the items above and being strategically positioned, the referee can aid in his ability to clearly identify the contact as DOGSO.

  • Video Clip (Added 10/30/2008): Houston at Chivas USA (49:02) - Only four minutes have ticked off the second half clock.  With 41 minutes left in the game, a referee decision to award a penalty kick and simultaneously send the goalkeeper off for DOGSO would certainly have an impact on the game as would not making the correct decision.  Despite this potential game impacting scenario, the referee in this clip makes a correct decision in deciding the goalkeeper’s foul meets the DOGSO criteria listed above.

This play starts from a long counter attack in which the ball is played in the air more than 35 to 40 yards.  In this situation, the referee must read the play and notice the streaking attacker and the two defensive players closing down on the attacker.  The fact that the ball hits the ground is another warning sign that the attacking team/player has an advantage over the onrushing defenders.  Recognizing these warning signs, the referee must increase his work rate and speed so that he can make up as much ground as possible as quickly as possible. 

Once the attacker is behind the defenders, the referee team needs to read/anticipate the next potential phases of play and put themselves in the best possible position to see the next phase of play and/or the next challenge (ARs need to be prepared to assist the referee in identifying whether the ensuing event involves DOGSO).  The fact that the attacker is behind the two defenders and is headed toward a one-on-one confrontation with the keeper should heighten the awareness of the referee and near side AR.

Assessing the situation, the officials must realize that the following three decisions are a possibility:
  • Foul or no foul - Will there be contact with the goalkeeper and will the resulting contact be a foul or a fair challenge?
    • The challenge by the goalkeeper meets the criteria for a foul.  The keeper, who is the last defender, is beat.  The goalkeeper dives in a manner intent on preventing the attacker from reaching the ball he has pushed by the keeper.  The goalkeeper extends his body in front of the attacker making contact and preventing the attacker from getting a shot off.  The goalkeeper does not play the ball, his body and arms/hands are off the ground in unnatural positions since the ball is rolling on the ground.  The goalkeeper seemingly raises his left hand in an attempt to make it more difficult for the attacker to hurdle him to get to the ball.  It is important to note that just there is no requirement that the attacker must fully fall to the ground in order for a foul to be present
  • Penalty kick or no penalty kick - As the attacker rushes toward the penalty area, the referee and AR must be ready to determine the location of the challenge and contact by the goalkeeper.  Often times, the AR will be better positioned to assist as they will have a better view of the top of the penalty area.
    • In this case, it is clear that the foul occurs inside the penalty area.  In close situations, the AR must be prepared to provide information to the referee regarding the location of the foul.  If the foul occurs inside the penalty area, the AR, after the whistle from the referee, would stand at attention and hold the flag across his waist mimicking the substitution signal.  This would indicate to the referee that the foul the referee called was inside the area and a penalty kick should be awarded.
  • DOGSO or not - Does the foul meet the criteria for DOGSO?  The referee must also scan the field as the whistle is blown to ascertain the positioning of the defending players in relation to the ball.
    • Defenders:  With the exception of the goalkeeper, there are no players who could have dispossessed the attacker of the ball or prevented the goal scoring opportunity.  All opponents are well behind the attacker and ball at the time of the goalkeeper’s foul.
    • Direction:  The attacker is headed directly to goal.  The attacker’s touch of the ball positions the ball directly in the middle of the penalty area toward the penalty mark.
    • Distance to goal:  The attacker is in the penalty area; consequently, distance to goal is not a question.
    • Distance to ball:  The ball is under the attacker’s control and he is only hampered from playing/shooting the ball as a direct result of the keeper’s unfair challenge.  No other player would have gotten to the ball before the attacker.

Given the clarity of all these factors, the referee should award the foul and a penalty kick as well as send the goalkeeper off for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity.

Mechanically and procedurally when calling the foul, the referee placed himself in a poor position.  As the referee signaled the foul, he ran toward the penalty spot thereby allowing players to surround him in mass confrontation.  Referees should consider improving their mechanics by blowing the whistle and pointing to the penalty spot as they run to neutral space on the field.  By taking this course of action, players would be required to chase the referee in order to surround him.  By creating distance between himself and the upset players, the referee not only ensures he does not get surrounded but he is better able to control and warn the players as they approach him from the front.

The red card to the goalkeeper does not need to be displayed immediately.  Within a reasonable time, once the referee feels that the situation is under control, he may then show the goalkeeper the red card.  This provides two benefits.  First, the players have calmed slightly and, second, this gives the referee time to visualize and mentally review the DOGSO decision.  If need be, the referee can also make eye contact with the AR to receive any pertinent information regarding the ARs perspective on the DOGSO.  In the pregame meeting, the referee team should discuss DOGSO and designate a clear signal (normally a pat to the back pocket by the AR) to indicate that the challenge requires a red card.

Finally, the referee must deal firmly with the dissent exhibited by the players.  Referees are advised not to take the abuse being demonstrated by several of the players.  The referee should identify the main culprit and caution him for dissent if the referee has taken appropriate action to defuse the situation.  Persistent and demonstrative dissent should not be tolerated.

Two incidents occurred during a match between the NY MetroStars and DC United on August 10, 2005, which highlight the need to understand and properly implement the send-off for interfering with an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.  In both situations, the player was fouled while attacking the opponent's goal from within 20 yards.  The referee must quickly and accurately assess the criteria for a goal-scoring opportunity (the "4 Ds") and respond firmly with a red card when all four criteria are not only present but "obviously" present:

  • Video Clip: In the 60th minute, Gaven (MetroStars # 24) played the ball several yards forward and to the right of the goal when he was fouled by Moreno (United #99).  At the time, both the United goalkeeper and at least one other United player were between the foul and the United goal and therefore capable of defending if Gaven had kept control of the ball.  Given these facts, several of the criteria (Direction, number of Defenders, and Distance to the ball) were not concretely obvious.
  • Video Clip: In the 70th minute of the same match, United #16 (Carroll) was tackled by MetroStars # 3 (Leitch), tripped, and then kicked by Leitch from behind.   At the time of these fouls, Carroll was running from left to right across the top of the penalty area.  Due to this Direction of play, an obvious goal-scoring opportunity was not present.

DOGSO – What if the Goal is Scored?

Given a foul judged to be an interference with a goal or a goalscoring opportunity and given the referee’s decision to apply advantage, the following scenarios should be considered carefully:

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The following video clip provides for examples of these situations:
  • Video Clip: Chivas at New England (May 13, 2006) - Twellman (Revolution #20) was fouled by Llamosa (Chivas #11) at the 39th minute.  The referee applied advantage (though this is not evident from the clip).  Several seconds later, the referee judged that the advantage had been lost (the foul slowed Twellman sufficiently that an opponent was able to catch up to and challenge him).  The referee stopped play for the original foul and, prior to the restart, cautioned Llamosa.  If the original foul had been considered an interference with an obvious goalscoring opportunity (all elements for this misconduct – the “4 Ds” – were present), the correct referee action would have been to send off Llamosa for “denied goal by foul” (DGF).
  • Video Clip: Arsenal at Barcelona (May 17, 2006) - In the Arsenal-Barcelona clip, the referee stopped play after the Arsenal goalkeeper, Lehmann, fouled Barcelona’s Eto’o at the 18th minute at the top of the Arsenal penalty area.  Just after the whistle was blown, Barcelona teammate Giuly came streaking in from the right and struck the ball into the net.  The goal was canceled and Lehmann was sent off.  If the referee had allowed the advantage to develop, the offended team would have scored and, prior to the kick-off, Lehmann should have been cautioned.  The goal, regrettably, was not valid because the referee decided the advantage had not continued and stopped play before the ball was struck into the net.  Under these circumstances, the referee had no choice but to return to the original decision that a goalscoring opportunity had been denied – Lehmann was sent off and shown the red card.

Contact With Game Officials – Where is the Line?

Any player who makes deliberate physical contact with an official in order to dispute a decision, must be sent off for violent conduct. The referee should not tolerate physical contact by a player (including a substitute, substituted player, or any other person under the authority of the referee) which:

Dissent at all levels continues to be an issue that needs attention by match officials. First and foremost, officials must take a proactive role and deal with dissent early in the game and send strong messages before the dissent steamrolls out of control and degrades the authority of the referee team and ruins the enjoyment of the game by spectators. Early action does not necessarily mean issuing immediate cautions. It does mean addressing (versus ignoring) situations of players and coaches who either verbally or visually protest the referee’s decision. Referees can utilize their personality and presence to influence the actions of those that choose to dissent decisions. By imparting personality and positively addressing early occurrences of dissent, referees can “draw the line in the sand” and send a message that anything beyond reasonable emotional outburst will be dealt with as misconduct.

Once an official has determined that presence and early messages are not acting as a deterrent, the referee must escalate the approach in terms of firmness. This may mean cautioning perpetrators for dissent. Remember, referees are not required to initially warn players prior to cautioning for dissent if the player’s actions are not manageable or if they immediately and blatantly bring the referee’s authority into question.

Under no circumstances can aggressive, unwanted physical contact with officials be tolerated and all instances must be dealt with firmly both by the appropriate action under the Law (red card for violent conduct) and by including all details in the match report.

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  • Video Clip: Chicago at Colorado (79:05)
    This clip involves two forms of misconduct demonstrated by the players: dissent and physical contact with a match official. Both forms of misconduct threaten (in various degrees) the authority of the referee and must be dealt with according to the directives and position papers referenced above.
    1. Dissent
      The referee calls a foul that No. 9 on the red team does not like. The player protests the referee’s decision both verbally and visually. Due to the extreme and aggressive nature of the dissention, the referee must caution No. 9, even if that player had previously been cautioned. In a clear case of verbal and/or visual dissent like that illustrated in this clip, the fact that a player has been previously cautioned must not influence the referee’s decision to issue a second caution for dissent which must then be immediately followed by the issuance of a red card for “receiving a second caution in the same match.”

      The following are telling signs of the aggressive nature of the dissent and must be recognized by officials as actions that require a caution:
      1. Waving hands to show disgust.
      2. Stepping into the body space of the referee.
      3. The loud and combative voice of the player.
      4. Pointing of the finger (multiple times) at the referee.

      The actions in this clip meet all the criteria for dissent and, hence, the player must be cautioned. If the player has previously been cautioned in the match, the player must also be sent off for receiving the second caution in the same match. Referees must also be cognizant of remaining under control and not exhibiting frustration with dissenting players. The referee in this clip, shows his frustration instead of remaining calm and collected. In all cases, referee’s must be aware of not entering the player’s personal space or zone when sending appropriate messages.
    2. Physical Contact with a Match Official
      Players cannot make deliberateand aggressive physical contact with an official as is done in this clip by No. 8 on the red team. No. 8 must be red carded for violent conduct. Using the guidelines provided in the 2009 “Dissent” directive and the 2006 position paper, the following actions on the part of No. 8 should be considered deliberate and aggressive:
      • Use of the arm/elbow to prevent the movement of the referee.
      • The extension of the right arm/hand making contact with the referee’s chest thereby hindering his movement. This is done after the referee takes preventative measures by attempting to change his direction and move away from player No. 8.
      • Subsequent quick contact with the referee’s right arm as he passes No. 8.
      • The following are reasonable measures/recommendations for avoiding the confrontation on the part of the referee:
      • Once the referee has decided that No. 9 is to be cautioned for dissent (this should occur seconds before his teammate enters the situation at 79:12 as No. 9 goes face-to-face with him and as he starts pointing with his finger), the referee should take one step back and then hold his ground to create space between him and No. 9 thereby diffusing some of the aggressiveness.
      • After additional space has been created, the referee should quickly issue the yellow card. The hope is that this quick and controlled issuance of the yellow card would prevent the eventual physical contact by No. 8.
      • If this process does not prevent the physical contact, then the referee must send No. 8 off for violent conduct.
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The four video clips associated with this memorandum provide useful examples of how these guidelines can be applied.

  • Video Clip: NY Red Bulls and FC Dallas (July 8, 2006): the referee’s hands are slapped down by a player.  This is aggressive contact and must be dealt with severely (USSF advises a red card).
  • Video Clip: Chivas and Colorado (July 20, 2006): a player grabbed the referee and forced him to turn around.  Again, this entirely unnecessary and aggressive contact requires a very strong response (USSF advises a red card).
  • Video Clip: Kansas City and Los Angeles (July 1, 2006): the referee is aggressively pursued despite attempts to indicate that the player should not approach further (preferably, some sort of warning gesture in addition to moving away would have sent this message even more clearly to the player).  This is covered by the second bullet point (the player had already been sent off so his subsequent impermissible actions need to be described in detail in the match report).
  • Video Clip: Colorado and Real Salt Lake (June 9, 2006): The player’s actions are aggressive and unwanted.  Even more importantly, they were directed toward the assistant referee who was then forced to call upon the referee for a response.  This behavior also needs a firm response under these guidelines (USSF advises a yellow card).

Interfering with Goal Keeper Distribution

Within FIFAs “Interpretation of the laws of the game and guidelines for referees,” the topic of “offenses committed against goalkeepers” is addressed. There are three areas mentioned relative to such offenses:

  1. It is an offense for a player to prevent a goalkeeper from releasing the ball from his hands.
  2. 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.
  3. It is an offense to restrict the movement of the goalkeeper by unfairly impeding him (e.g. at the taking of a corner kick).

The Laws of the Game instruct the referee to award an indirect free kick to the opposing team if, in the opinion of the referee, a player “prevents the goalkeeper from releasing the ball from his hands.”

U.S. Soccer has further explained and supplemented FIFAs position with directions provided in the 2009-10 publication, “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game.” The guidance provided in this publication states:

“An opponent may not interfere with or block the goalkeeper’s release of the ball into play. While players have the right to maintain a position achieved during the normal course of play, they may not try to block the goalkeeper’s movement while he or she is holding the ball or do anything which hinders, interferes with, or blocks the goalkeeper who is throwing or punting the ball back into play. An opponent does not violate the Law, however, if the player takes advantage of a ball released by the goalkeeper directly to him or her, in his or her direction, or deflecting of him or her nonviolently.”

On April 14, 2010, U.S. Soccer published a position paper which also provides an overview of “Interfering with the Goalkeeper’s Release of the Ball” and serves to supplement the guidance provided in this “Week In Review.”

What does all this mean to match officials?

A player who moves in front of, or attempts trickery to hamper or influence the goalkeeper’s distribution and release of the ball from his hands (from any direction), should be judged to have committed an offense. Feigning or trying to negatively influence a goalkeeper as he attempts to release the ball is NOT permitted. The closer the proximity of the opponent, the increased likelihood that the goalkeeper has been interfered with.

Note: Contact with the ball or the goalkeeper is not needed for an offense to occur. The mere act of attempting to play the ball or influence the goalkeeper’s actions as the goalkeeper releases the ball is a violation.

Note: Helpful to referees is the idea of goalkeeper “possession” of the ball. While the ball is in the goalkeeper’s “possession,” the keeper may not be challenged and the ball may not be played by an opponent. “Possession” includes when the goalkeeper is:

This means that an opponent cannot hinder the goalkeeper’s attempt to distribute the ball as the goalkeeper releases it to punt it or drop kick it.

Referees should be aware of cases in which a player attempts to interfere with or block the goalkeeper’s release of the ball, from his possession, into play but is unsuccessful. In such cases, the referee can decide to continue with play if he determines that the release of the ball was not negative affected or impacted. However, the referee needs to use their command presence to address the issue with the goalkeeper’s opponent at the next appropriate moment in the game.

2010 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: D.C. United at Philadelphia Union (68:52)

    The referee, in this clip, is faced with an attacker who uses trickery (feigning or simulating) to interfere with and negatively influence the goalkeeper’s release of the ball from his hands.

    On the replay, carefully observe the attacker’s action. He steps toward the keeper twice. The second attempt is calculated and timed precisely to correspond to the goalkeeper’s release of the ball from his hands. This should be interpreted as:

    “Hindering, interfering with, or blocking the goalkeeper as the keeper attempts to release the ball from his hands.”

    Using the spirit of the Law as a reference, this clip involves:
    • Preventing a goalkeeper from releasing the ball from his hands; and
    • Restricting the movement of the goalkeeper by unfairly impeding him.


    As a result, an indirect free kick should be awarded against the attacker. A caution, for unsporting behavior, is not mandated in this instance and is up to the discretion of the referee. The referee has the option to decide upon the appropriate action: Show distain, warn or caution. The options will depend upon the atmosphere of the game as well as the referee deciding whether the game or the player needs the caution. Because there are options and this is not a 100 percent misconduct situation, the referee must ensure his response matches the needs of the game and the player.

    Note: Due to potential incidents like this, it is critical that referees do not turn their back to the ball when it is in the goalkeeper’s possession and opponents are in the vicinity. Assistant referees (ARs) must also be cognizant of such situations and help the referee manage potential infringements of the Law.

  • Clip: Los Angeles at Seattle (92:04+)
    This clip begins with a legal pass back by a defender to his goalkeeper who handles the ball inside his penalty area. This is a legal pass back because the defender uses his head and not his foot.

    Once the goalkeeper has possession of the ball in his hands, the opposing player may not impede or hamper the keeper’s movement as he attempts to release or distribute the ball from his hands or from his feet.

    It is important to note that it is not necessary for the attacker to contact the ball for a foul to occur. There mere attempt to prevent the goalkeeper’s distribution can be considered an offense. For this reason, it is important for the referee to take preventative action. For example, in this clip, there are many “warning signs” of a potential situation involving interference:

    1. The score and time. The attacker’s team is losing 1-0 and there are approximately two minutes of additional time left in the match.
    2. The attacker positions himself right next to the goalkeeper.
    3. As the keeper moves to his left, the attacker immediately tracks him or shadows him, even to the point of changing direction as the goalkeeper changes direction.

    As the “warning signs” unfold, the referee should consider preventative action with physical presence and verbal acknowledgment/warning prior to having to stop play for a violation of the Law. Should the attacker continue to track the goalkeeper or prevent him from releasing the ball into play from his hands, the referee should then award an indirect free kick to the goalkeeper’s team. In this case, the referee decides to caution the attacker (unsporting behavior) based upon the referee’s feel for the game at that moment. However, the referee has the option to chose the most appropriate course of action (warn or caution) after judging that interference has occurred.
2009 (Click to view/hide)
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2008 (Click to view/hide)
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Goal Keeper Possession

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:

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:

2010 (Click to view/hide)
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2009 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: 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.
2008 (Click to view/hide)
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The Passback

Over the years, U.S. Soccer has addressed the issue of the “pass back” in various publications:

Law 12 – Fouls and Misconduct defines the “pass back” as:
“A goalkeeper is not permitted to touch the ball with his hand inside his own penalty area . . . if he touches the ball with his hands after it has been deliberately kicked to him by a teammate.”

In U.S. Soccer’s May 21, 2008 position paper, “The Pass Back Violation,” three criteria were provided match officials to interpret potential “pass back” violations. The three criteria which must occur in sequence are:

  1. the passbackBy Foot: The ball is kicked (played with the foot) by a teammate of the goalkeeper,
  2. Deliberate: This action is deemed to be deliberate rather than a deflection, and
  3. Handling by the Goalkeeper: The goalkeeper handles the ball directly (no intervening touch of play of the ball by anyone else).

Each of these three events must occur in order for a “pass back” offense to have occurred. If the referee decides that all three events have taken place, then an indirect free kick should be awarded at the spot the goalkeeper handled the ball (exception: if the handling occurred in the goal area, then the indirect free kick is taken on the goal area line parallel to the goal line at the point nearest to where the infringement occurred).

The diagram to the right gives a graphical depiction of the three factors that must be present for a “pass back” offense to have occurred. Although seemingly a simple Law, the fact that it happens infrequently means officials have little practice or experience implementing the Law. Additionally, a “pass back” offense involves an indirect free kick within a close range of the goal and, hence, a high opportunity for a shot on goal.

2010 (Click to view/hide)
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2009 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: San Jose at DC United (47:12 – second half)
    This is a subtle clip that takes concentration to correctly identify. As you review the clip, carefully watch the ball and its contact with the foot of the opponent immediately after it is played to the goalkeeper by his teammate. Consequently, using the three criteria presented in Diagram 1, a “pass back” does not exist as the deliberate event did not occur due to the deflection by the opponent (No. 19). This is a difficult call for a referee but provides an example of a situation when the deliberate criteria does not exist as the ball touches an opponent (an “intervening touch” as specified in the “Pass Back Violation” position paper) on its way to the goalkeeper. If it were not for the ”intervening touch” of the ball by the defender, this would be a candidate for a “pass back” decision.
  • Video Clip: Real Salt Lake at Dallas (74:50)
    This “pass back” example takes thought and analysis as well as a thorough understanding of the three components of the triangle in Diagram 1. Let’s examine each element of the triangle to see why a “pass back” has not occurred.
    1. By Footexists
      • The defender runs from behind the opponent to fairly challenge and win the ball.
      • The defender (teammate of the goalkeeper) plays the ball with his foot. As he does this, contact is made with him by the opponent.
    2. Deliberatedoes not exist
      • The defender’s eyes are down on the ball as he tries to gain possession of the ball – this is one of the multiple factors for the referee to rapidly consider. The defender is not looking to pass the ball to anyone. He is merely trying to gain possession of the ball from the opponent. Compare the defender’s eyes in this clip with those on the defender in the previous clip (clip 2).
      • The defender does not deliberately play the ball. The ball plays off the defender’s foot as he is being contacted by the opponent. There was no deliberate pass.
      • The ball is accidently misdirected.
      • Similar to the definition used in “played” the ball when making offside decisions, this is a deflection rather than a deliberate ”play” of the ball. Hence, no offense can occur. Consider a shot on goal that deflects off the defender’s foot but goes to his goalkeeper. This is not “deliberate” and should not be considered a “pass back.” On the other hand, a player who receives a ball, looks up to see where his keeper is and then plays it (passes it) to his goalkeeper has made a “deliberate” action to play the ball and may be penalized for a “pass back” should the goalkeeper handle the ball.
      • “Deliberate” is a controlled action with an intended conclusion like a pass intended/targeted for a teammate or the goalkeeper.
    3. Handling by the Goalkeeperexists
      • The goalkeeper does handle the ball by picking it up.
      • The keeper is initially trying to legally waste time by holding the ball at his feet until challenged because his team is winning and there are about 15 minutes remaining in the match.

Given the fact that the “deliberate” element of the triangle does not exist, play should be allowed to continue as a “pass back” has not been executed.

  • Video Clip: Kansas City at Houston (19:34 – second half)
    In this clip, the deliberate criteria does not exist. Despite the ball contacting the foot of the defender and the goalkeeper handling the ball, the ball deflects off the defender’s foot. Given the high location of the ball and the abnormal and extra effort needed by the defender to contact the ball, there is reasonable doubt as to the deliberate nature of the defender’s contact.

    In this clip, the ball plays the defender rather than the defender deliberately playing the ball to his goalkeeper. The ball is accidently misdirected as opposed to deliberately played. If there is any doubt as to the deliberate nature of the defender’s action, the referee should refrain from punishing the pass back.

2008 (Click to view/hide)
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Fan Invasion and Obscene Gestures by Players

Due to the close proximity of spectators to the fields, there has been a recent trend of fans invading the field and there also exists the possibility of players reacting to comments made by spectators.  In the case of a spectator entering the field, referees and players must be aware that players may be held accountable for their actions and any acts of violence toward a spectator may be handled as violent conduct and, therefore, result in a red card.  Remember, according to U.S. Soccer’s “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game,” violent conduct includes:

 “. . . aggression towards any other person (a teammate, the referee, an assistant referee, a spectator, etc.). 

 The ball can be in or out of play.  The aggression can occur either on or off the field of play.”

Referees must be able to distinguish between players reasonably protecting themselves versus players who use excessive force, aggression, and extreme measures towards the spectator.

Referees must also be aware of players using obscene gestures towards spectators.  This is particularly an issue as new stadiums place spectators very close to the action on the field.  Consequently, comments by fans can be readily heard by players.  Gestures by players, towards spectators, that are obscene must be dealt with as “using offensive, or insulting or abusive language and/or gestures” and, therefore, as a red card offense.