Official Publications Related to Law 17





Law 5 - The Referee

Official Publications Related to Law 5

Personality and Presence of the Referee

Successful referees manage the game with more than the whistle and cards using their personality and presence to influence players and to send appropriate messages as a preventative tool before fouls or misconduct occur. Personality can be the most effective tool a referee has at his disposal because it can be used before the game, during down time, while the ball is in play and immediately following a foul. In every situation, the referee is using his body language, his voice, his stature, his visual gestures and/or his physical presence to send messages.

The referee must choose the best way to communicate the message given the player, the situation and/or the “big picture” (including the atmosphere of the game). The referee may choose a “quiet word” or a more stern verbal and visual approach. In any case, the approach or solution should match the “moment” and the player.

Many times the referee must send messages tat are intended for a larger audience. These are so-called “broadcast” messages and are meant to be felt and seen by not only the player to whom the message is intended but to the other players, coaches, spectators and media covering the game. Intended to be public in nature (as opposed to a quiet word or one-on-one solutions), broadcast messages help the referee identify, not only for the player, where the “line in the sand” has been established. Generally speaking, these kinds of messages are the most effective because they resonate beyond the player(s) for whom they are directly intended and have a positive lasting effect for the remainder of the game.

Key phrases, involving the utilization of personality and presence, that have been used in previous “Weeks In Review” include:

As you watch match officials express their personality on the field, ask yourself, “which of the phrases above is the basis for the referee’s action?” Watch and observe the players to see if the referee’s message was received. Did the player or players modify their behavior? Did the referee choose the right mode or method (like smiling, humor, hand gestures) to convey and/or sell the message?

There is an old adage, “The best referee is the one who is never seen and never heard.” However, in the modern game, this is not reality because players seldom just play. Today, a better approach is to say: “The best referee is the one who is seen and heard when the game or situation requires him to be seen or heard.” In other words, referees should attempt to manage the game in the background. When the players are not listening or cooperating, the referee must then make his presence known and his message must be seen and/or heard as appropriate.

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: Toronto at Seattle (1:41)
    The referee’s decision to utilize personality results from a borderline tactical foul. The referee has discretion in evaluating this foul given the location on the field (at the halfway line). Using his discretion, the referee correctly decides to use his personality to establish his presence in the second minute of the game. Players are positively made aware of his presence as a result of:
    • The face-to-face and eye-to-eye contact made with the player
      This conveys confidence in the decision and establishes the referee’s domain.
    • A calm and controlled, visual and verbal message
      The referee’s mannerisms and gestures convey authority in a positive way. The message is seen and felt by more than just the player himself.
    • The referee receiving a confirmation message from the player
      The player’s shaking of his head as he departs, acts as confirmation for the referee that the player (No. 20) understands or acknowledges the referee’s position.

  • Video Clip: Toronto at Seattle (37:39)
    The referee is definitely sending a “broadcast” message. His actions, body language and gestures are evidence of his displeasure. The player being addressed is the same player that the referee spoke with in video clip 1. After the whistle, the player (No. 20) makes contact with the opponent’s ball. The action is not sufficient to caution the player for delaying the restart but it must be addressed. Taking into consideration the player’s behavior thus far in the game (the “big picture’), the referee should explore a more positive way of sending his message by being slightly less confrontational.

    The calling of the player aside and looking him in the eye to communicate the message is good use of personality/presence. However, the referee must take a calmer, more controlled approach based upon the “big picture” or atmosphere of the game. The referee must be in control and above the players. The referee’s actions are “setting up” the next decision due to the visible nature and body language of the referee.

  • Video Clip: New England at Seattle (4:58)
    Just under five minutes into the game, a hard foul is committed. In the referee’s mind, the foul is not unsporting behavior as it is merely careless in nature. A very calm and controlled referee not only whistles the foul but chooses the moment to send a message with his hand gestures and body language. The referee does well to get the player’s attention and makes eye contact with him while visually using his arms/hands to say, “Calm down. Relax.” This is efficient and appropriate use of personality and sending a message that extends beyond just the player who committed the foul.

  • Video Clip: Chivas USA at Los Angeles (6:21)
    Another example of the referee imparting his presence early in the match with the objective of sending a “broadcast message” to the participants that “draws the line in the sand” not only for the offenders but for every participant.

    The referee calls a foul in a very “hot” area on the field (near the team benches). The location of the foul is a warning sign to the referee that the situation has the potential to escalate. The fourth official exhibits awareness and quickly reacts to the situation and lends his physical presence to diffuse the situation and thereby ensure that the two players involved are prevented from further negative interaction. The entering of the field by the fourth official is acceptable in this case as the situation is immediately in front of him and he can be the first match official to lend presence in a preventative mode.

    Once the referee arrives at the scene, his personality and presence are exhibited in a positive manner that sends an appropriate message as a result of his:
    • Calling both players together to convey his message.
    • Matching his stern yet controlled/respectful body language and mannerisms with his feeling of the “big picture” which results from the knowledge of the team rivalry and the intensity and energy of the match to that point. The knowledge of the “big picture” directs the way the referee chooses to communicate his displeasure and set an early tone.
    • Requiring the “third party” player to retreat from the area thereby eliminating any outside interference or influence.
    • Looking each player in the eye and addressing each player individually.
    • Getting confirmation or acknowledgment from the players at the end of the message.

  • Video Clip: Chivas USA at Los Angeles (52:54)
    Another example of personality although this is much more subtle. The referee reads both players “friendly” reaction (helping each other up off the ground) to the foul. Hence, the referee tempers his interaction with the player who committed the foul (red jersey). The referee’s message is subtle and much less “broadcast” than exhibited in the other clips. The referee merely strolls over to the player, looks him in the eye and uses his right hand and a quiet word to convey his message. The referee’s physical closeness to the play and players is a display of presence.
2008 (Click to view/hide)
No material on this topic for this year. Click prior years' tabs below to view information for those years.

Game Control through Flow and Foul Selection

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

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

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

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

“Foul selection/recognition” deals with the referee’s ability to identify the types of small/minor challenges that the players will accept and that are appropriate for the game at that moment. Foul selection should consider the following factors:

Deciding whether a small/minor challenge is a foul or not involves analyzing the factors above and doing a cost-benefit analysis. In other words, when deciding whether to whistle a foul, a match official must ask themselves:

2010 (Click to view/hide)
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2009 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: Chicago at DC United (75:05)
    The “Game Management Model” (diagram to the right) is the focus of this game situation. In this clip, the referee correctly decides to utilize foul selection/recognition and allow the game to flow by applying advantage despite the fact that a foul occurs in the defensive third of the field. This is a calculated risk that works for the game and for the referee.

    In situations in which possible flow/advantage is originating in the defensive third of the field, the referee must do a cost-benefit analysis. In other words, the referee must analyze and quickly calculate the benefits to the team that has been fouled by giving them the advantage versus calling the foul. At the same time, the referee must calculate the costs (to the team retaining possession of the ball) or negative aspects of applying advantage from such a deep position so far from the goal. Consider the criteria in the “4 P Principle” when evaluating situations for the application of advantage.

    Watch as the referee signals advantage to indicate to the players and the spectators that he is aware a foul has occurred. Ultimately, though, the referee is forced to stop play to award a free kick due to a subsequent foul that occurs approximately seven seconds after the foul that leads to the application of advantage. The referee has exhibited a good sense of the “game management model” as the foul leading to the advantage was an upper body hold and the safety of the attacking player was never in question.
  • Video Clip: Chivas USA vs. San Luis – SuperLiga (17:48)
    In this SuperLiga match between Chivas USA (MLS) and San Luis (Mexico), the referee is provided with an opportunity to incorporate flow into the match by applying the advantage clause. Instead, the referee decides to call a foul and must then give an avoidable yellow card.

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

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

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

  • Video Clip: Real Salt Lake at Chicago (90:54)
    As the ball progresses into the attacking third of the field, the referee shows a good “feel” for the skill level of the players (despite the compactness of play) and uses the “4 Ps” to determine that an opportunity to apply advantage is available. This decision is aided by the use of “wait and see.” The result: exciting attacking soccer and a corner kick. Watch as the referee indicates his application of advantage by using the approved arm signal.

    Once the ball is out of play (for the corner kick), the referee seeks out the player who committed the foul and cautions him for unsporting behavior. Remember, the referee must issue the yellow card prior to the restart for the corner kick.

  • Video Clip: Real Salt Lake at Chicago (99:34)
    With the game slightly over nine minutes into extra time, the referee applies advantage as the ball comes out of the defending penalty area. Even though the advantage situation lacks the “proximity to goal” component (it is in the defensive third), the referee does acknowledge that the attackers have clear “possession” of the ball, they have the “potential” for attack through expediency to the opposition’s goal and the attackers have the “personnel” via skill and numbers (in front of the ball) to maintain a clear and effective attack on the opponent’s goal.

    As a consequence, the referee feels comfortable injecting flow into the game by allowing play to continue. Despite the 22 seconds it takes from the time the foul is committed to the ball going over the touchline, the referee does not forget the fact that an act of unsporting behavior has been committed. Once the ball is out of play and before play is restarted, the referee returns to the player who committed the foul and cautions him. Since the referee must issue the caution before play restarts, he holds up play and does not allow the team to take the throw-in until the yellow card is issued and the information recorded. Finally, since a caution was given, the referee (as is the case in this clip) must whistle for play to restart.

2008 (Click to view/hide)
The clips below will provide examples of some of these minor or trifling fouls and show how the risk taken by the referee paid dividends by providing a better product for the spectators and the players.

  • Video Clip: Galaxy at FC Dallas (31:43) - It is relatively early in the game (31:43) and there have been no significant incidents or misconduct – this is part of the “big picture.”  Given his feel for the game, the referee takes a calculated risk by allowing play to proceed.  Let’s quickly evaluate the components of this play:
    • Risk Taking - In this clip, risk is defined by the nature of the foul, the location of the foul and the direction the attacker is facing when he is fouled.  First, the foul occurs on the defensive half of the field.  Second, the fouled attacker is not facing forward when he is challenged and is moving away from his goal.  Third, there is a defender running at the attacker who receives the ball from the teammate who is fouled.  Finally, the nature of the foul is such that the player’s safety is not endangered.  It is in no way reckless and more of an upper body challenge. These four factors decrease the risk of allowing flow for the referee.
    • Flow - By not calling the foul, the referee has allowed the game to have more flow – one less stoppage of approximately 20 seconds.  The fouled team is permitted to continue on the attack that leads to a shot on goal.  Hence, the entertainment value is increased.
    • Game Control - By allowing play to continue, in this case, the referee is not negatively affecting his control of the match.  The foul does not fall into the category of 100 percent misconduct (a situation in which a yellow or red card is mandated) nor does the referee’s decision to allow play to continue increase the overall frustration level of the players.  The referee’s decision to allow flow does not absolve him from dealing with the fouler either during play or at the next stoppage.
    • Big Picture - In making the decision to take a risk on this play, the referee must assess what has occurred previously in the game either between the players or between the teams.  This is the “feeling” and “sensing” aspect of the referee’s responsibility to the match.  Having assessed the big picture, the referee can then add this component to his decision making process.

      A confident and attentive referee, as well as a referee who has a good sense of the big picture, can find several similar instances in the game, can positively influence the entertainment value of the game by giving the game more flow and reducing the time the ball is out of play.  Referees must be positioned correctly in order to be able to scan the field to make a determination as to the opportunity for successful flow.

  • Video Clip (Added 11/13/2008): Chicago at New England (63:30) - Even at the professional level, the idea of “flow” is not always interpreted correctly.  At times, officials take too many risks and, at other times, they play it too safe.  Herein lies the skill of finding the right mix.  In this clip, the referee calls a foul that should not be called at the professional level (this decision may have been influenced by the referee’s poor angle of vision).  It is a hard/fair challenge.  It is a challenge intended to win/play the ball and, in fact, does.  By calling this foul, the ball is out of play for over 30 seconds which negatively impacts the entertainment value of the game for the spectators.

    Despite this being a hard challenge, it is executed in fair fashion.  The tackler cleanly plays the ball and the attacker then falls over the defender’s foot.  The tackler’s challenge is not careless and is intended to win the ball.  Notice that the challenge is initiated from the side so the likelihood of winning the ball, playing the ball first and not making initial contact with the opponent is very high.  Also, watch the tackler’s feet especially on the replay from behind the goal.  The feet are on the ground (not raised and the cleats are not exposed), targeted for the ball not the opponent.  Consequently, this is the type of challenge that is a good candidate for “flow.”  This is a hard but fair challenge.
  • Video Clip: Galaxy at FC Dallas (64:28) - While watching the buildup in this clip, apply the same principles addressed in the clip above:  risk taking, flow, game control, and the big picture.  After applying the principles, it will be evident that this situation is a good candidate for risk taking by the referee.  Despite the tight space facing the fouled attacker, he is able to receive the ball and take a shot at goal.  Once again, the referee has refrained from whistling a foul that is minor/trifling in nature, and therefore has contributed to the entertainment value.  Note:  the referee’s position, close to play, provides him with a good feel for the nature of the foul and for assessing the opportunity for successful flow.
  • Video Clip: Columbus at Houston (39:28) - This flow and risk taking clip illustrates how a referee must be able to read the game and make a determination as to the next phase of play (as contact occurs, what the clear options are for the player with the ball) and make a determination as to how the players will accept the fluidity he is attempting to direct at that point in the match.  Watch as there are approximately five different challenges by defenders attempting to deny the progress of the attacking team.  Despite the number of challenges, the referee reads that the attacking players are willing to play through the minor/soft fouls and determined that there is a next phase of play following each challenge.

    Remember, the Laws of the Game allow the referee to come back and penalize an offense (within a few seconds) if the advantage does not materialize.  Note, at 39.42, the referee announces his intention to allow the play to continue, this gives the referee the flexibility to “read” the player’s reactions (taking them into consideration) to the flow and provides credibility if he decides to return to penalize.

    Watch as the clip starts with upper body contact, and an attacker in possession of the ball with his back up field.  This is followed by more body contact in the center circle in which the referee judges as soft or minor.  Two more mis-timed tackles occur as the attacker breaks out of the center circle.  Despite the defending team’s attempts, the offensive player is able to connect a pass to a teammate in the attacking third.  A well positioned referee is able to sell these decisions to the players due to his presence.  Notice how the flow directed by the referee contributes to the entertainment value.
  • Video Clip: Columbus at Houston (42:28) - Again, there are several bits of contact initiated by defenders.  However, the referee is close to interpret each contact as minor in nature and, therefore, the game does not require it to be called.  Examine the three challenges and make a determination as to why the referee judges it to be trifling:
    • The first challenge involves upper body contact.  The attacking player goes down with minor contact.  The referee is positioned close to the contact and has the correct line of vision so he can make the judgment that the contact did not cause the attacker to fall down.  Key to interpreting this is the attacker’s reaction:  he immediately gets off the ground and chases the ball.
    • The second hard challenge comes from the team just dispossessed of the ball (orange shirts).  The player initiates a hard, solid tackle but it is from the side.  The player slides in and sweeps the ball away.  The challenge is hard but fair.  Contact is made with the ball and not the opponent.  The opponent gets beat to the ball and jumps to avoid the contact.
    • The third and final challenge is, again, upper body and is committed by the defender (at 32:44) to prevent the attacker from running into space on a potential give-and-go.  The referee is stationed adjacent to the foul and can clearly see the progress of the pass and he correctly allows play to proceed.
    Overall, a superb job by the referee by allowing the game to flow without putting the player’s safety at risk and without bypassing 100 percent misconduct situations.  The result:  attacking and entertaining soccer resulting in a goal.
  • Video Clip: Kansas City at D.C. (6:37) - This is an example of a foul that minor/trifling and a good candidate for flow.  The attacking player goes down with minimal upper body.  In fact, the attacker’s turn with the ball causes him to lose his footing and not the contact.  The referee, near the play and with clear view of the contact, decides there is no foul – this is critical to making the proper judgment.  Having decided there was no initial foul, the referee correctly awards a free kick for handling.
  • Video Clip:Kansas City at D.C. (10:05) - A situation where no foul is recommended resulting in game flow.  The attacker, with the ball, is being pressured by an opponent from behind.  There is contact, but the contact is not the cause of the player losing the ball.  The player touches the ball too far in front and loses his footing as he reaches for the ball.  The contact is not the cause of the player going down nor of his losing possession; therefore, the referee should feel comfortable with taking a risk in cases similar to this.
  • Video Clip: Houston at New York (32:25) - This clip provides an example of a challenge that is not a good candidate for flow or risk taking.  Consider the following:
    • Defender’s position - The defender is pinned deep into his penalty area less than five yards from the goal line.  It is very high risk given the proximity to the goal mouth.
    • The direction the defender is facing - The defender is not facing up field where the space to play the ball is located.  Hence, the defender cannot see his options.
    • The position of teammates - Teammates are not positioned such that they could receive a pass from the marked defender.  In other words, there are no outlets or passing options for the player with the ball.

    Overall, the referee should make the call on the first challenge/foul as soon as possible thereby eliminating frustration on the part of the player with the ball and the potential for the second challenge leading to escalation.  Consideration of the above factors must be made swiftly by the referee.  In other cases where the defender has clear and effective options to play the ball to a teammate away from goal, the referee is permitted by the Laws of the Game to hold the whistle for a few seconds to see if an advantage materializes.  If it does not, the referee may whistle for the foul and award a free kick.

The “4-P” Principle of Advantage

Just as instruction has been given previously for ARs to hold the flag on offside decisions to ensure a correct decision, referees are encouraged to hold the whistle and see how play develops to allow for possible advantages to develop.  In considering whether to apply “advantage,” referee’s can rely on the “4 P Principle” to help them in the determination.

2010 (Click to view/hide)
Video Clip: Philadelphia at Chicago (73:13)
At 73:21 of the clip, the defending team commits a clear foul. Despite the foul occurring 40 to 45 yards from goal and in the wide channel of the field, the referee uses the “4 P Principle” to determine that the application of advantage is warranted. The result of the referee applying advantage is exciting attacking play and, ultimately, a goal. The referee has used the advantage clause to provide flow to the game and to promote entertaining attacking soccer.

By applying the components of the “4 P Principle,” the referee is successful in the application of advantage. The following summarizes the advantage components for this play:

  1. Possession of ball
    The attacking team will have active control of the ball with no defenders in close pursuit or able to challenge for possession of the ball.
  2. Potential for attack
    The attack, immediately following the foul, is credible and immediate. The only player able to retrieve the ball after the foul is an attacker in the wide channel. The attack is dangerous due to the speed of the play and the fact the defending team must retreat to get goal side of the ball.
  3. Personnel
    There are three attackers rushing into the penalty area to support the wide player with the ball. The skill of the attackers certainly make this a credible attack to goal.
  4. Proximity to opponent’s goal
    Despite the original distance to goal of the foul (40 to 45 yards), there is a lot of real estate (space) in front of the attacker who is tracking down the ball. This player is able to exploit the space and advance the ball into the attacking third of the field.

Video Clip: Philadelphia at Kansas City (34:40)
The referee applies an effective and clear advantage near the attacking team’s penalty area. All components of the “4 P Principle” are evident as the referee’s decision results in a goal.

The AR also contributes to the goal through an excellent decision to keep the flag down on a close offside situation. Image 1 provides a good visual depiction of the AR’s decision. The AR is able to make this split second decision because he is aligned with the second-to-last defender and he has positioned his body and shoulders to be square to the field thereby enhancing his visual perspective of the pass and associated attacking run.

Image 1

Note: ARs should look for opportunities to be square to the field when play allows. Lateral movement (sidestepping) gives the AR a broader/wider perspective and a better view of play, players and the ball.

Video Clip: D.C. United at Seattle (58:37)
The referee successfully applies advantage in the attacking third as it leads to a shot on goal. The referee waits a split second (using the “wait and see” principle relating to advantage) to see if the advantage will materialize and he then uses the approved upward wave of the arms to signal his advantage application. Upon indicating advantage, the referee makes a decision that the foul is reckless and, thus, cautionable for unsporting behavior.

Play continues for approximately two minutes and 16 seconds until the next stoppage in play (throw-in). At this time, the referee issues the caution to the player who committed the reckless foul leading to the advantage. During this two-minute span, the referee must log the offending player’s number in his mind so that he can deal with the misconduct at the next stoppage. The fact that it took more than two minutes for play to stop should not influence the referee’s misconduct decision. If the foul leading to the advantage was cautionable, the referee must issue the misconduct regardless of the amount of time it took for the next stoppage.

Note: This clip illustrates the need for all members of the referee team to make a mental note of the offender (the fourth official can write the number down on his notepad). The extended time the ball is in play after the reckless tackle can cause referees to lose track of the offender.

Clip: D.C. United at Chivas USA (29:15)
The referee uses the “4 P Principle” to effectively apply an advantage. Despite the foul occurring 20 yards in the defensive half, the foul is a good candidate for the application of advantage because the team that has been fouled has clear possession of the ball and their potential for attack is very high given the open space in the attack as well as the number of unmarked attackers in a positive position.

Not only has the referee done well to identify and signal the advantage but he also lets all players and spectators know that the player who committed the foul will be dealt with later. Watch as, after the foul is committed and advantage signaled, the referee points to the offender who will be cautioned. The concept of pointing or identifying the player may be supplemented by a quick verbal indication (like: “Number 8, I am coming back to you”) as some players may not be able to see the visual indication.

Pointing to the player to be cautioned when applying advantage is often a useful practice as it sends an immediate message to:

  • The player that his actions are considered misconduct and that the referee will “come back to you” to issue the yellow card.
  • The player that was fouled and his team. By pointing to the player, the referee may prevent retaliation or other players dealing with the foul on their own.
  • Spectators and media that the challenge was severe enough to warrant a caution and thereby reduce potential frustration on their part.

Approximately 30 seconds after the foul and associated advantage, play is stopped for offside. At this point, the referee officially signals for play to be held up and he then issues the yellow card. The card is followed-up with a quick conversation shortly after the player’s emotional response to the card has diminished (this helps to sell the decision and gain the player’s acceptance) and then the resumption of play after the referee’s whistle.

Clip: D.C. United at Chicago (3:20)
Despite the game being in the first four minutes, the referee is presented with two advantage situations in a span of seven seconds. The second advantage scenario involves a reckless foul for which a caution must be issued.

The referee is able to effectively evaluate the two advantage situations by:

  • Using the “4 P Principle.”
  • Using “wait and see” to delay in making a decision to ensure that advantage materializes.

The first opportunity for advantage occurs as the attacking team is transitioning from the defensive third to the middle third of the field. A risky area to apply advantage but one that, in this case, meets the criteria set forth in the “4 P Principle.” The skills of the players also lend themselves to positive advantage application. The referee observes that the attacker, with the ball, is able to break himself free from the hold and continue an effective attack.

Note: The referee uses the correct advantage signal to indicate his decision to the players, coaches and spectators.

The second advantage opportunity follows immediately as the ball is passed and deflected by an opponent but the ball goes to another attacker who looks to continue the progress to goal. At this point, the second foul is committed. It is a reckless foul warranting a yellow card. Seeing another attacker with the opportunity to gain possession of the ball in the wide channel, the referee allows play to continue by applying the second advantage. Since the foul is cautionable, the referee must wait until the next stoppage to issue the yellow card.

The clip also shows the referee exhibiting concern for the player who was the recipient of the foul leading to the second advantage. The demonstration of concern by match officials for players who are injured and following up with them demonstrates compassion and a sense of caring about their wellbeing.



2009 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: Chivas USA at Columbus (21:57 – second half)
    This clip illustrates the need for referees to maintain focus and concentration as the referee is forced to make four game critical decisions in a span of six seconds.
    • Decision 1: Advantage or Not?
      Play starts with a reckless (cautionable) tackle at the halfway line in which the referee correctly applies advantage based upon his evaluation of the situation based upon the “4 P Principle.” At this point, the referee must remember the offender’s number so that at the next stoppage he can administer a yellow card for the reckless tackle (unsporting behavior). Remembering the number of the offender is vital since it may take a long time for until the next dead ball situation.

      Solution: Applying advantage is a good decision as there is a clear and effective attack toward goal. The referee must also remember to caution No. 12 (red shirt) for his reckless tackle that leads to the advantage. The tackle is reckless (not excessive force and a candidate for serious foul play) in that it is from the side and the second leg is not swung through the opponent and there is no straight leg or exposed cleats.

    • Decision 2: Does the Defender Commit a Holding Foul and is it DOGSO?
      Four seconds after the first decision, during a quick counter-attack, the referee is faced with his second decision: Is a foul committed by the defender and is it DOGSO?

      Solution: A holding foul is committed by the last defender in an attempt to stop a scoring opportunity. Hence, each component of the “4 D Criteria” exists.

    • Decision 3: Is There Continuation of the Holding Foul?
      Although the holding foul occurs outside the penalty area, the strength of the attacker allows him to continue to goal. As a consequence, the defender commits a second foul by tripping the attacker from behind.

      Solution: The referee must use the “wait and see” principle when the initial holding occurs. The attacker is able to continue with the ball and is then brought down (fouled) as a result of a tackle by the defender. This foul also meets the “4 D Criteria” for DOGSO and must result in the defender being sent off for denying the opposing team an obvious goal scoring opportunity. At this point the attacker goes down and the referee must whistle the play dead.

    • Decision 4: Should the Game be Restarted with a Free Kick or Penalty Kick?
      The referee must determine the location of the foul for which he is stopping play. If the foul is inside the penalty area, then a penalty kick must be awarded.

      Solution: By utilizing “wait and see,” the referee is able to penalize the tripping offense. The replays show that although the holding offense occurs outside the penalty area, the second challenge or trip makes contact with the attacker just inside the penalty area. Because there have been two offenses in a matter of a second, the referee must punish the more serious of the two offenses by awarding a penalty kick for the tripping foul. The referee’s decision relative to location can be confirmed by the AR. To indicate that the foul occurred inside the penalty area, the AR should stand at attention and drape his flag across his waist (this is the silent signal to the referee indicating the foul’s location was inside the penalty area).

    Once play has been stopped to red card the defender for the DOGSO, the referee must remember to caution no. 12 for the original tackle from which the referee played advantage before allowing the game to recommence.
  • Video Clip: Real Salt Lake at Los Angeles Galaxy (58:43)
    As in clip 1, the referee in this case is faced with multiple decisions within approximately 14 seconds. Positioning, concentration and focus are all necessary to ensure the correct decisions are made.
    • Decision 1: Foul or No Foul?
      There is a challenge at the halfway line in front of the benches and near AR1. At 58:47, a player in the red jersey is fouled.

      Solution: A foul needs to be called because there is a careless challenge in which the defender does not make contact with the ball but trips the opponent who is playing the ball. Despite the fact the ball goes out for a throw-in, the defender should be penalized with a direct free kick for fouling the attacker.

      The referee misses the foul because, at 58:43, he is positioned too deep in the corner of his diagonal which results in a poor angle of vision and his being too far to judge the foul/challenge at the halfway line as the ball is played out of the corner. The referee needs to be closer. Referees should stay more central when the ball is in the quadrant/corner of their diagonal. This central position will still give them a good angle of vision without jeopardizing their position on a counter-attack or long pass across the field.

      AR1 should provide assistance by raising the flag to indicate a foul. By first making eye contact with the referee or by seeing the referee’s poor position, AR1 should take ownership of the decision and assist by signaling a foul.

    • Decision 2: Advantage and Caution?
      Ten seconds after the missed foul decision, a reckless (cautionable) tackle/challenge occurs off the throw-in. The referee must apply the “4 P Principle” and decide whether the foul is a good candidate for advantage.

      Solution: This is not as clear an advantage as in clip 1 but given the skill level of the players it is an acceptable application of advantage (the is space behind the defenders and the attacker has a single defender to beat directly in front of him). The referee does well to indicate advantage by following the proper arm signal mechanic. Remember, at various age groups and skill levels, this may not be a good advantage candidate and the best advantage may be calling the foul.

    • Decision 3: Foul or No Foul?
      Another foul or no foul decision arises approximately four seconds after the referee has signaled for an advantage. In this case the referee decides to award a foul.

      Solution: No foul exists at this point. There is minimal upper body contact and the lower body tackle is a fair challenge. The shoulder to shoulder contact is soft, minor and trifling and the attacker goes down because he knows he has lost his opportunity to attack. Additionally, the lower body contact occurs as part of a fair challenge in which the defender cleanly dispossesses the attacker of the ball as his left foot connects solely with the ball.

      The referee is close to the play but because there are two simultaneous challenges/decisions committed by separate players and one is upper body while the other is lower body, the referee is not able to correctly focus/concentrate on each as an individual decision.

    • Decision 4: To Caution or not to Caution?
      The referee has played advantage from a reckless tackle (by No. 8 in the red shirt) that is 100% misconduct and thereby must be cautioned. Once he has called the subsequent foul, he must also deal with the dissent exhibited by red shirt player No. 84.

      Solution: Despite the fact that the referee decided to play advantage under Decision 2 above, he cannot ignore the fact that the foul leading to the advantage was cautionable. Hence, at the next stoppage, he must return to No. 8 and caution him for unsporting behavior. Advantage application does not cancel any misconduct that initiated the advantage application or that occurred during it.

      Unfortunately, even though the referee’s decision to call the foul is misguided, he cannot ignore the verbal and visual dissent exhibited by red jersey player No. 84. After raising the card to caution, the referee can be seen (at 59:04) warning No. 84 to cease his dissent. Failing to follow the referee’s request, the persisting player is then cautioned for dissent. The use of a visual “quiet sign” is good preventative refereeing. This places the burden on the player to stop his actions or face further sanctions and it acts as a verbal message of impending action to the other players, coaches, media and spectators.

    The referee’s failure to recognize the initial foul described in Decision 1, leads to two unnecessary cautions (one for a reckless tackle and one for dissent). Through improved positioning and angle of view, the referee could have prevented the last two cautions by calling the first foul. Missed calls can lead to more problems as it did in this case.

2008 (Click to view/hide)

In the following video clips, advantage decisions and risk-taking through holding the whistle lead to the ultimate in soccer – goal scoring opportunities:

  • Video Clip:  Dallas vs. Houston (43:55).  Dallas second goal comes off a hard midfield foul.  The advantage is an excellent decision, but considers additional action on the part of the referee. Situations like this should not go unsanctioned. Referees must be creative but they must address the challenge with the player in question. Great advantage but even better with delayed caution or, depending upon the atmosphere of the game, a strong admonishment.
  • Video Clip:  RSL vs. Chivas (31:55).  Not 1 but 2 fouls in midfield are recognized.  Excellent vision, great advantage but even better with delayed caution or, depending upon the atmosphere of the game, a strong admonishment.
  • Video Clip:  Colorado vs. Kansas City.  An advantage applied in the defensive third, against the goalkeeper, results in a long-range goal and assist to the keeper.  Given the foul was in the defensive third, this is taking a risk that worked.  Well done and a piece of top-class refereeing.
  • Video Clip: Columbus at DC (29:00). This is a great example of the referee allowing flow on three occasions.  Each case, taken by itself is a calculated risk that makes sense for the game, at that time.  First game flow situation involves a player that the referee must know has the ability to play out of tight spaces.  The second flow comes when the black team’s defender is held slightly in the penalty area after the goalkeeper’s save.  It would have been easy to call a foul but the referee recognizes the ball is being played (by the fouled defender) to a teammate who is clear of opponents and has an unimpeded opportunity to play the ball forward.  This is a calculated risk, despite being in the defensive third, because if the player is unable to play a clean ball out of the back, the referee can award the original foul.  The final piece of flow comes from the advantage given at midfield.  So, in a span of 30 seconds, the referee allows 3 potential game stoppages to continue WITHOUT jeopardizing the safety of the players involved or control of the game.
  • Video Clip: New England at Dallas (71:46). This advantage illustrates a dream call for a referee.  Instead of stopping play for a foul, the referee holds his decision to see if the attacking team retains possession of the ball in open space.  The referee even delays signaling advantage until he is certain it has materialized.  This is the only goal of the game.  This is refereeing!
  • Video Clip: Houston at Columbus (9:38). The referee takes a risk in this application of advantage because there are two successive applications in a relatively rapid fashion.  First, there is a defensive hold that is aimed at stopping the progression of the attacker (into open space) who has just laid the ball off.  The second is a challenge from behind that sends another attacker to the ground.  In considering the impact of “sequential fouls,” this is a safe risk as the fouls were not endangering the opponent and the totality of the actions occurred in rapid succession meaning you can also come back quickly and penalize one of the fouls.
  • Video Clip: Houston at Columbus (58:30). In contrast to the previous clips, this is an example of the referee failing to read the play, read the players involved, hold his whistle, and apply the “4 P Principle.”  The attacker is clearly held and impeded; however, the referee must recognize his skill level and strength on the ball.  Having assessed this, the referee would be taking a reasonable, calculated risk by holding the whistle to see if advantage materializes.  Look at the frustration level of the attacker off the ball as the whistle is blown.  This would be a safe call as no one is around the player receiving the passed ball.  If need be, the referee can play advantage and come back to address the concerns of the player who was fouled.  This would be a good opportunity to inject personality into the match by letting the fouled player know you saw what happened and talking to the player committing the foul.  Looking at the “4 Ps,” there is the concept of skill, possession, potential, and closeness to goal.
    • A potential factor influencing the referee’s missing the advantage application is his positioning.  From the throw-in, the referee is positioned too tight to the touchline.  The referee needs to be positioned so that he has a broad view/perspective thereby ensuring he can see the player’s options and the potential next phase of play.  Position yourself so you can see where the ball can go.
  • Video Clip: New York at Toronto (3:47). In this case, the “4 P Principle” can be clearly applied.  The result is a good advantage decision by the referee.  Breaking down the “4 P’s:”
    • 1.       Possession of the ball. The attacking team has clear possession of the ball with while under no pressure from the opponent.
    • 2.       Potential for attack. There exists a high probability for a credible attack as the left wing player who receives the ball has no opponent within 15 yards.  Hence, he has the ability to assess his options and make a reasonable decision on the ball.
    • 3.       Personnel.  At the professional level, when players possess 15 yards of space they will have sufficient skill level and time to make a decision on the ball.
    • 4.       Proximity to opponent’s goal. The ball is in the attacking third of the field and the second pass is made to a teammate who is further advanced.  So, the attacking team has the opportunity to continue to move the ball forward toward their goal.
  • Video Clip: New York at Toronto (7:47). The same game as the previous clip but 4 minutes later.  In this case, the referee is better off calling the foul as no clear or effective opportunity is provided the attacking team to continue possession of the ball and advance it toward goal.  The “4 P Principle” does not work in this situation.  There is no clear possession, there is a defender pressuring the ball on each pass, the passes are done in a confined area, and there is no proximity to goal (the players are limited by the fact they are up against the touchline).  Simply, the attacking player is disposed of the ball in a manner that forces a bad pass.  Not only is this not a good advantage candidate, it should not be interpreted as allowing game flow.
  • Video Clip: Dallas at San Jose (82:53). This is a case of Referee – Assistant Referee (AR) coordination relative to advantage and flow.  When deciding to raise the flag or whistle the foul, the officials must consider the “atmosphere” of the match on the field.  The game will be the best gauge to direct your decision.  In this particular game, there have been no conduct issues and, therefore, the “atmosphere” permits more risk taking.  Regardless of whether a foul exists or not, what is clear is that the ball goes directly to the defending goalkeeper that seemingly has the time to play the ball out without undo pressure by the attacking team.  So, it is advisable for the Assistant Referee to hold the flag and the Referee to hold the whistle until it is clear the goalkeeper will NOT have the opportunity to play the ball out of the back.  In other words, utilize a “wait and see” mentality and hold the flag.  If the attacker continues his run to the keeper and pressures the keeper’s distribution, then a late flag or whistle would be warranted.  Referees, remember, you are empowered to wave off the AR or hold your whistle and acknowledge the flag later.  Should the goalkeeper have a reasonable play on the ball, by allowing play to continue, the referee team has contributed to the overall rhythm and flow of the match.
  • Video Clip (Added 10/23/2008): Dallas at Real Salt Lake (76:15) - An attacker, with the ball, goes at a defender.  As the attacker passes the ball, the defender trips him to prevent him from getting behind him.  The referee correctly applies advantage as the ball goes to the left winger who has a clear and effective path ahead of him.  As the ball goes out for a corner, the referee clearly identifies the defender and immediately cautions him for unsporting behavior.  The ability to identify advantage situations involving misconduct but ensuring that giving the advantage does not lead to retaliation is an important component of a professional referee.  Referees must be able to determine if an advantage exists. 

    It is clear, in this clip, that all 4 P’s exist and the referee took a calculated risk by allowing play to continue.  Given there was misconduct involved, the referee must also assess the potential reaction of the fouled player and his team.  If the referee believes he can apply the advantage without any ramifications, then he should do so.  If the referee feels retaliation is eminent and a quick caution will prevent problems, then the referee can stop the play to issue the yellow card.

Note:  It is recommended that advantage not be applied in cases where a red card is warranted unless an immediate and clear scoring opportunity exists.

The Importance of Crew Communication and Pre-Game

2010 (Click to view/hide)
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2009 (Click to view/hide)
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2008 (Click to view/hide)
Thorough preparation can lead to prevention and correct decisions.  The following two clips will provide clear examples where effective communication and coordination leads to quick and appropriate decisions. 

  • Video Clip: Chivas USA at Galaxy (76:51) - In this clip, the referee team correctly disallows a goal as the ball fully crosses the goal line.  The referee and the AR provide many examples of silent communication that is appropriate for the situation facing them.  The following summarizes the correct procedures followed by the referee team:
  • Ball over goal line - The AR follows, as close as possible, the ball all the way to the goal line.  The final replay on the clip shows his position.  The AR then correctly signals to the referee that the ball has left the field of play and a goal kick should be awarded.  In this case, the AR can first signal the ball out but raising the flag straight up prior to using the flag to signal goal kick.  This would be advisable in this case due to the quick return of the ball to play after having crossed the goal line.
  • Goal disallowed - Seeing the ARs signal, the referee disallows the goal.  The referee makes a definitive visual signal that the goal is not valid leaving no question as to his decision.  Notice the referee’s position as he disallows the goal.  He is close to play and also has a good view of the action.  The referee’s visual signal and position helps to “sell” or clearly articulate the decision.  In other words, the referee is able to make the call in a manner that communicates confidence and certainty in decision making.  Selling a call through presence makes the decision more acceptable to players, coaches, and the general public.
  • AR moves up the touchline - As soon as the AR sees the attacking player rushing toward him, the AR attempts to put distance between himself and the dissenting player.  This is an appropriate mechanic for the AR to use as this makes the player’s action more noticeable, more visual. 
  • AR motions for a caution - After the AR has begun his run up the touchline and the player fails to stop, the AR correctly stops and signals to the referee that the player must be cautioned.  The AR uses a silent signal by patting his breast pocket thereby indicating the attacker should be cautioned for dissent by word and action.
  • Referee supports AR - Referees must support their ARs.  In cases where players rush toward ARs to dissent, the referee must attempt to intervene and “cut them off at the pass” preventing the escalation of the dissent.  In this case, notice how quickly the referee is in the picture.
  • Issue a caution - The player’s actions (visual and verbal) are sufficient and should be penalized by a yellow card for dissent by action and word.
  • Video Clip: TFC at Chicago (35:36) - Once again, the AR provides valuable assistance to the referee in terms of misconduct identification.  Watch as the play develops.  The final challenge/tackle occurs approximately ten yards from the AR so his assistance with the foul and the misconduct is appropriate.   The AR decides that the foul is “reckless” in nature and, thus, the challenge deserves to be cautioned.  The foul lacks the speed and the force to be considered a red card.  Watch closely as the AR uses his left hand to pat his left breast pocket thereby signaling the player should be cautioned for the reckless challenge/tackle (unsporting behavior).
    The silent and visual yellow card signal (touching of the breast pocket) used by the AR in the previous two clips should be discussed and its implementation planned during the pregame meeting between the referee team.  Officials would be advised to also discuss the silent, visual signal for a red card (pat to the back short’s pocket).

Stretchers and Injury Management

U.S. Soccer’s 2009 Referee Directives (Injury Management Directive 2009)advised match officials to be more aware of stopping play for serious injuries. The directive requires that stretchers enter the field concurrently with trainers and medical staff in professional games. If the stretcher is not needed, then the player may walk off the field on his own. However, in cases of non-serious injury, the removal of the player from the field should be expedited in a positive way by the referee. Referees are reminded:

One of the other 2009 directives deals with the stopping of play for serious injury. Remember, head-to-head contact is a sign of serious injury. In such a case, the referee must be proactive and attempt to determine the nature of the contact and stop play immediately if blood or other signs of injury are present.

Injuries to goalkeepers, while the ball is in play, are a special situation and often require further attention. Since the goalkeeper is the “last line of defense” and is the only player who may use his hands in his own penalty area, the referee must be on alert for any injury the keeper may suffer.

In a general sense, if a referee determines that the goalkeeper is seriously injured or cannot perform his special duties, the referee should stop play immediately. This ensures the Spirit of the Law is preserved and prevents the attacking team from having an unfair advantage. If the goalkeeper is injured and immediately the attacking team takes a shot on goal with the opportunity to score, the referee may use discretion and briefly await the outcome of that play but, should the ball not immediately enter the goal, play should be stopped. On the other hand, if the referee believes there will be several touches of the ball before a shot can be taken, the game should be stopped immediately.

In July of 2010, the Laws of the Game were revised relative to the temporary removal from the field of an injured player(s). When dealing with injured players, referees must adhere to the following procedure (this has not changed):

There are four times when an exception to this ruling [team personnel entering the field to attend to an injured player(s)] may occur:

  1. When a goalkeeper is injured
    An injured goalkeeper does not need to leave the field of play. 
  2. When a goalkeeper and a field player (regardless of team) have collided and need immediate attention
    Neither the goalkeeper nor the field player needs to leave the field of play. 
  3. A severe injury has occurred
    For example, a player has swallowed his tongue, there is a concussion or broken leg.

    The 2010 modification/addition to the Law:
  4. Players from the same team have collided and need immediate attention
    When two players from the same team need attention on the field because they have collided, neither player needs to leave the field of play until the game is restarted. It was considered unfair for two players on the same team to leave the field of play to receive treatment thereby leaving the team at a numerical disadvantage.

In the event the referee stops play due to a serious injury (the ball was in play), the referee must restart play with a dropped ball from the position of the ball when play was stopped (Exception: If play is stopped when the ball is in he goal area, then the restart is a dropped ball on the goal area line parallel to the goal line at the point nearest to where the ball was located when play was stopped).

2010 (Click to view/hide)
Clip: Columbus at Colorado (71:19)
Clip 3 provides a vivid example of the recent injured player Law modification. In this situation, two players on the same team collide and are injured. Medical staff (team staff) is called onto the field to attend to the players. As a result, neither player is required to leave the field and reenter when the game is restarted.

The referee is encouraged to use common sense. Although one player is not as severely injured as the other, team staff is called on due to a collision in which teammates sustain an injury. As a result, the referee should not require either player to leave the field. Once treatment is swiftly provided, both players should be allowed to remain on the field of play as the game is restarted.
2009 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: San Jose at DC United (4:06 – second half)
    This clip provides a clear example of a serious injury to a goalkeeper who has left his goal line to play a ball. The seriousness of the injury is evident by the goalkeeper’s reaction after he plays the ball and hits the ground and, ultimately, by the fact he is substituted out of the game.

The goalkeeper plays the ball and, as he goes down, the ball goes to an opponent who takes an immediate shot. This shot is blocked by a defender. At this point, the referee must stop the play and see to the goalkeeper. Should a goal have been scored directly off the shot, the referee would be within his rights to award the goal if he judged, based upon the immediacy of the opponent’s shot, that the injury did not prevent the goalkeeper from stopping the shot.

Once play has been stopped while the ball is in play and medical attention given to the goalkeeper, the referee must restart play with a dropped ball as he does in this clip. The drop ball should be given in the approximate location of where the ball was when the referee whistled to stop play.

The mechanics the referee uses to drop the ball in this clip requires refinement. First, the ball is dropped from too high a spot. This gives the players too much time to play the ball before it hits the ground. Remember, dropped balls are not in play and may not be played by players until they hit the ground. In this clip, the ball is played prior to striking the ground and, therefore, the dropped ball must be retaken if identified by the referee.

Solution: Drop the ball closer to the ground. U.S. Soccer’s “Advise to Referees on the Laws of the Game” suggests the following procedure for dropping the ball:

“A dropped ball must be dropped, not thrown. The referee should hold the ball in the palm of the hand at waist level with the other hand on top of the ball. At the proper moment, the referee should then pull away the hand beneath the ball and let it drop. . . .”

Referees may also consider talking to the players to get their attention just before the ball is dropped which may then increase the chances of the ball hitting the ground before it is played.

Second, the referee’s position at the time he drops the ball is not optimal. The position taken by the referee interferes with a potential clearance of the dropped ball by the defenders while also potentially interfering with a touch or pass by the attacking team to the center of the penalty area.

Solution: A better position would be for the referee to stand on the goal side of the two players. In this position, he is not blocking a defending team clearance or an attacking team pass or shot to the center of the penalty area. In other words, the referee should take a position that ensures he does not interfere with the potential next phase of play.

Video Clip: Real Salt Lake at Chicago (114:41)
Video clip 3 provides a good example of a “serious injury” that requires the game be stopped immediately regardless of which team has possession of the ball. Player safety is in jeopardy and the referee must ensure his injury is addressed without delay.

In this case, the referee allows play to continue for 45 seconds while the player goes unattended. At the time the player goes down to the ground, as a result of contact with the opponent, the referee must be aware of the warning signs that a serious injury has occurred:

  • There is head-to-head contact. At 114:49, both players grab their heads. 
  • The unnatural movement of the player on the ground. This is the movement of a player that has been seriously injured. 
  • The fact that the player subsequently raises his hand while lying on the ground indicating his needing immediate attention (114:56). 
  • The amount of time the player is on the ground.

The referee and/or AR and fourth official must take the time to correctly assess the “seriousness” of the injury. If the referee allows play to continue and it is clear to either the fourth official or AR that there is a serious injury, then they should get the referee’s attention by using the communication devices available to them (RefTalk or the beeper flags) or raise the flag to indicate that the referee must stop play. The fourth official can have the near-side AR raise his flag. At the youth and amateur levels of play, it is also acceptable for the officials to verbally get the referee’s attention by calling his name.

Due to the seriousness of the injury combined with the extended time the ball was allowed to be in play, once the referee does stop the game, players dissent and one player is required to be cautioned. When play is stopped for an injury, the following is a good approach by the referee to defuse any potential conflict:

Assess the injury, signal for assistance from medical or coaching staff and then leave the area so that the player can be handled by team personnel. Once the injury has been assessed by team personnel, the referee may return to facilitate the removal of the player from the field for treatment. In the case of a serious injury, the referee must work with team officials regarding treatment and removal.

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

Positioning of the Referee

U.S. Soccer’s publication entitled, “Guide to Procedures for Referees, Assistant Referees and Fourth Officials” provides general guidance to officials relative to positioning during dynamic and static play. In general, referee positioning must be “flexible and intelligent.” It must be flexible enough to observe active play yet intelligent enough to position the referee for cover potential “next phases of play.” Often times, the referee must position themselves so that they can cover the greatest number of future areas of action. Extreme positions can leave some potential “next phases” of play uncovered which can lead to incorrect or missed decisions due to poor positioning (poor angles of vision, too far from play, etc.).

Proper positioning requires the right balance of fitness and reading the game (anticipation) as depicted in the image.

The ability to sprint and be agile while moving around the field of play can benefit referees as the speed of the game has increased. Speed/quickness allows a referee to “close down” quick counter attacks and long balls. Fitness also provides the referee an opportunity to add presence to action/decisions around the ball without interfering with play or players.

Reading the Game (Anticipation)
Referees must read the game and anticipate the next phase of play. In other words, referees must think like players and have a vision of the field and the opportunities that exist for the player with the ball. This vision and understanding of player options, lends itself to movement to the next phase of play before the ball is actually played/passed/dribbled.

Often times, referees who possess a strong ability to read the game and anticipate do not need to rely on their speed and quickness to place them close to play or give them the optimum line of vision to a situation. Early movement and the ability to think like a player can enhance the referee’s overall decision making by improving sightlines and providing added presence to a situation.

2010 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip1: Seattle at Toronto (56:52)

    The focus of this clip is taking an optimal position through reading play and identifying the options facing an attacker with the ball.. Because the referee does not recognize the warning signs associated with the attacker’s possession of the ball, the referee gets hit by a pass (cross into the penalty area) on the edge of the penalty area. The deflection off the referee may then contribute to the game’s first goal (the ball goes to a defender who misplays it). Referees must understand the options facing players with the ball and take a position that permits them to have an optimal line of vision to play without taking away the options of a player or team.

    In this case, the referee runs into the attacker’s passing lane instead of reading the warning signs that should influence the referee’s understanding of the next phase of play (the options facing the player with the ball). The referee needs to read the options facing the attacker based upon the fact that two defenders are in close proximity to the attacker with the ball and the fact that these defenders are stationed between the attacker and his potential progress. The potential options facing the attacker are:
    • Take on the defenders by dribbling around them.
    • Pass the ball back to the attacker’s supporting wide player.
    • Cut the ball back and cross it to teammates inside the penalty area.

    Given his reading of the options and play, the referee should not take a position in one of the passing lanes of the attacker with the ball. The referee’s movement, in this clip, puts him directly in the crossing lane of the attacker and, consequently, the referee is struck by the ball. The approximate correct position for the referee is shown in Diagram 1. This position takes the referee out of the passing lane while providing him with a good line of vision to any potential challenge as well as placing the referee in a solid position for the next phase of play whether it be the cross, the pass back to the supporting teammate or the dribble to beat the two defenders.

    Referees must anticipate the next phase of play by reading play and players as well as by understanding the technical and tactical options available to players based upon factors like skill level. This will lead to optimal positioning and optimal decision making.

  • Video Clip 2: Seattle at Dallas (13:57)
    It is early in the match and the referee has an opportunity to send a positive message that he is in-control. Through urgency in movement, the referee not only sets the tone for the game but also builds his aura through his “command presence.” Additionally, the referee’s strong and immediate reaction can also prevent or deter retaliation or escalation of the situation.

    In this first clip, the referee must read three warning signs:

    1. A challenge in front of the technical areas.
    2. A player on the ground with an opponent standing over him.
    3. There was non-foul contact immediately preceding the foul.

    Upon recognizing the warning signs, the referee should sprint to the spot of the foul. The energy exerted by the referee will be not only observed by the players/coaches and this will translate into an acknowledgment of the severity of the pending situation. As the referee sees a potential challenge near the bench area, the referee should be prepared to intervene with a physical presence. Upon calling the foul and recognizing a player is on the ground, the referee should sprint to the spot with the hopes that his actions prevent escalation or, in this case, the retaliation by the player on the ground. As the play develops, focus on the referee. He is too casual in his movement and body language.

    The fourth official’s presence and immediate presence assists in ensuring the situation does not escalate. By immediately moving to the infringement, the fourth official takes preventative action. The fourth official’s intervention or his proximity to the situation should not, however, deter the referee from reading the warning signs and urgently moving to the players.

    Note: It is permissible for the fourth official to enter the field of play since the situation is directly in front of him. The fourth official must “read” the situation and determine if his immediate presence will act as a deterrent. If so, then lending his presence will be a positive contribution and is encouraged.

    The foul called by the referee, committed by the Seattle player (green shirt), is merely careless. If the referee believes the action by the fouled Dallas player (red/white shirt) is reckless in nature, then the referee can caution this player for unsporting behavior.

  • Video Clip 3: Seattle at Dallas (84:02)
    Later in the same game as video clip 2, the referee is faced with another case requiring urgency in action on the part of the referee. Once again, the referee is faced with a situation directly in front of a team’s technical area and additional similar warning signs: player on the ground, opponent standing over him and the ball in playing distance.

    The intensity and body language of the referee does not match the pending seriousness of the situation. As the clip is viewed, first focus on the situation and visualize the potential outcome like game disrepute, mass confrontation, technical area involvement and more. Then, view the clip while focusing on the referee’s action and movement. Ask yourself: Does the referee’s action match the severity or potential explosiveness of the situation?

    The actual foul is preceded by a good no-call (trifling and normal contact by the Dallas player just on the other side of the halfway line) by the referee.

    The referee is not taking preventative action by taking such a casual approach to the infringement. Actions by less disciplined players and/or teams could have caused havoc and resulted in game disrepute, mass confrontation or serious acts of misconduct resulting in yellow or red cards.

    Note: Understanding and recognizing potential warning signs and reacting swiftly (with urgency) can defuse and de-escalate situations that have the ability to explode. The referee’s sense of urgency must match or exceed those of the situation, players and/or game. Responses must always be done in a positive and controlled manner.

2009 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: Chicago at Toronto (56:54)
    The referee in this clip steps off the field of play some 10 yards in advance of a throw-in. Once the throw-in is taken, the referee runs along the touchline a yard or so off the field. Taking a position like the one utilized by the referee limits options when consideration is given to potential “next phases of play.”

    In the “Guide to Procedures for Referees, Assistant Referees and Fourth Officials,” referees are encouraged to remain on the field to the inside of the thrower. A diagram of the correct position is included in the “Guide” for your reference. From this position, the referee can cover multiple potential “next phases of play:”
    • Balls thrown to the corner flag
      The referee can trail play into the corner.
    • Balls thrown in and then immediately sent/crossed over to the other side of the field
      The inside position allows the referee to gain 10 or more yards as the ball is switched to the other side of the field and will give him a better angle of vision. If the referee were off the field of play, he would have to work hard to recover the distance lost as the ball is switched across the field.
    • Long throw-ins into the penalty area
      A central position allows the referee to be closer to the landing zone or target zone in the penalty area if that is the intended objective of a long throw-in.
    • Counter-attack after lost ball by the attack
      An off field position puts the referee in a poor position to respond to a throw-in that is won by the defense and quickly played up field to initiate a counter attack.

    Below are the positions recommended in the “Guide to Procedures for Referees, Assistant Referees and Fourth Officials” as they relate to throw-ins taken from the referee’s end of the touch line.
  • Video Clip: Galaxy at Chivas USA (2:55)
    In this clip, the referee combines good fitness with good movement on a counter attack that starts deep in the defensive half of the field and moves to the far left channel of the referee’s diagonal. As the ball is played out of the defensive third of the field, the referee must track the ball and play as it advances. As he moves up field, the referee must also concentrate on maintaining the best angle of vision to play. The optimum angle is achieved, in this clip, by the referee’s run. Notice that the referee does not follow directly behind the ball or play/players. The referee takes the most economical route up the middle of the field (and not into the wide channel) so that he has an angle to see through any potential contact/challenge and not through the back of the attacker with the ball. The referee anticipates any potential challenge and sets himself up to make the right call but ensuring the optimum line of vision. Referees should attempt to place themselves at angles so that they can see the “light” between the two opponents challenging for a ball and not at the back of a player(s).
  • Video Clip: Galaxy at Chivas USA (8:48)
    The referee exhibits excellent feel and read of the game through proper movement and positioning to ensure that he has the best possible view of the next phase of play. In video clip 3, the referee shows his ability to read the game by advancing forward of the play as it develops. As the referee reads that the ball is transitioning, he moves before the team that has won the ball is able to advance it with speed. As a consequence of his anticipation, the referee gains about 10 yards on the ball/play. The referee’s movement also takes him out of the passing lanes and allows him to have as many players in view as the ball is passed up and across the field.

    Many times, referees remain flat-footed when the ball is transitioned from one team to the other. This lack of anticipation and movement puts the referee in a deficit position – a position that must be made up later (if it can be) by fitness/sprinting. Watch, as one team wins the ball, how the referee swiftly moves up field and then utilizes backpedaling to ensure that he keeps the ball and play in full view.

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

Outside Agent Interference

Law 5 – The Referee, empowers the referee to “stop, suspend or abandon the match because of outside interference of any kind.” The term “outside interference” is broad but relates to issues not associated with infringements of the Laws.

An “outside agent” can be:

Anything that enters the field without the permission of the referee and plays or misdirects the ball or otherwise interferes with the game.

This means that outside agents can be animals, coaches, spectators, or items tossed onto the field of play. In this case, the “outside agent” is a beach ball thrown on to the field of play.

Interference by any outside agent other than a substitute legally on the field will result in the referee declaring a stoppage of play, restarting with a dropped ball where the ball was when play was stopped. The referee may not allow a goal based on where the ball might have gone in the absence of such contact or interference.

2009 (Click to view)

In a 2009 MLS playoff match between Houston and the Galaxy, the referee (Terry Vaughn) was forced to “suspend” (temporarily halt) the match twice due to the lights going out in the stadium. This “outside interference” was deemed to be a safety hazard to the players and, as such, forced the referee to suspend play until the situation was rectified.

Immediately upon the lights failing, Vaughn stopped play. According to Vaughn, the first thing that entered his mind was the safety of the players, as well as, whether the outage was more than just an issue with the stadium lights. Fortunately, the electronic signboards surrounding the field of play and the security lights were functioning, which allowed for an orderly assimilation and assessment of the situation. Vaughn then ensured that the players were channeled to a safe area around the team benches. Having the players in a controlled area facilitated communication within the officiating team and with operational personnel regarding the outage. The following summarizes the key information discussed and the actions taken after obtaining that information.

Communicationduring the outage is a critical component to ensuring a smooth restart and overall cooperation amongst the participants. Components of successful communication during this stoppage included:

  • Finding out what caused the problem.
    Based upon communications with operational personnel, Vaughn learned that the lights went out due to a power surge in the immediate area. 
  • Finding out how long it would be until the lights would be back on.
    Vaughn was informed that it would take 18 minutes for the lights to power up. 
  • Obtain all the information on other issues that could now be affected due to the delay.
    During unusual stoppages, especially at the professional level, there are many logistic issues that need addressing. For example, many professional stadiums have curfews – a time in which the game cannot go beyond. In this playoff game, prior arrangements had been made to allow the game time to exceed the curfew time. In addition, logistics associated with television can cause havoc if not dealt with correctly. With the game being on national television, the sooner it could be resumed, the better for the television audience. 
  • Communicating with the match officials.
    Not only did Vaughn communicate with his ARs and fourth official about the situation, he used the stoppage as an opportunity to chat and revisit what had occurred during play up to the two stoppages (similar to the approach used by referee teams at halftime).

Having an action plan and executing that plan also plays a vital role during situations such as a lighting outage. In this game, there were several key action plans that assisted the match officials in the smooth execution of their responsibilities. The key actions taken included:

  • Communicate the circumstances surrounding the delay with the coaches and keep an ongoing dialog with them during the delay.
    Keep the coaches informed. As the situation changes, communicate the changes with the coaches thereby ensuring there are no surprises. This allows the teams time to prepare their players to restart the game.
  • Develop a plan to restart the game as quickly as possible while still ensuring player safety.
    Given the teams knew it would take 18 minutes for the lights to return to full power, it was agreed that the teams would remain on the field. Both teams indicated they would need five minutes to be fully warmed up. Consequently, the referee team agreed to notify the coaches five minutes prior to the restart of play. There was sufficient light on the field for the players to properly stay warm and warm-up during the 18 minutes needed for the lights to return to full capacity.
  • Reset the game clock.
    As soon as play was stopped, all four match officials made note of the time that had been played and the location of the restart (where the ball was when play was halted). This ensures the proper amount of time is played and the game is resumed in the correct manner. 
  • Restarting play.
    The restart of play was easy because the referee team did its job by recording the time the game was suspended and the location and method of restart. As the lights returned to full power, due to the proactive work of the referee team, the game was able to restart promptly and the players were properly prepared. Remember, ensure that the game is restarted with the same players on the field or, if the rules of competition permit, take note of the substitutions.

Although the “suspension due to outside interference” was caused by a lighting failure, there are many other causes which affect the game at all levels. The process used by Vaughn in this professional game can assist officials with the management of a suspended game for various other reasons like: lightening, inclement weather and severe player injury.

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

Referees: Showing Urgency at the Right Time

Feeling the game comes in many forms whether it be identifying persistent infringement or sensing trouble spots or trouble situations in a match. The ability to anticipate these “flash points” or warning signs is vital to preventative officiating. For example, feeling a situation or “flash point” can lead to a referee modifying his position or to initiating communication with a player(s) all in the hopes of prevention.

A referee’s presence is often a key component of urgency. The speed and energy a referee uses to get to a spot or to be around the ball or play can play a vital role in helping to channel player behavior in a positive, preventative manner. Players can feel or sense a referee’s presence and this can influence their decision-making process.

2010 (Click to view/hide)

Video Clip: Houston at New England (90:00 + 1:56)
Almost two minutes into added time, a throw-in is being taken by the team winning 1-0. The throw-in is deep into their attacking half. The thrower plays the ball toward the corner flag. This is a warning sign or potential “flash point” for the referee. The referee senses that the attacking team will work to hold the ball near the corner flag in an attempt to waste time, get a corner kick, get another throw in or be the benefactor of a foul.

As the clip unfolds and the throw in is played toward the corner, the referee can be observed increasing his work rate. He is not standing and watching. He is moving with the ball feeling a potential “flash point.” This anticipation allows him to be close when calling a foul and then the referee exhibits even more urgency as he recognizes a second “flash point:” Two players on the ground and attempting to get up.

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