Official Publications Related to Law 17





Law 6 - The Assistant Referee

Official Publications Related to Law 6

AR Involvement – Deciding When to Get Involved

Assistant referee (AR) involvement in the game can be of critical importance to the overall success of the referee team. Two questions are presented for ARs to consider prior to becoming involved in making a game critical decision:

These are two valuable questions that ARs must ask themselves in a split second when they observe a game critical situation that they believe the referee has not observed. In addition, ARs are asked to supplement their thought process by asking an additional question prior to raising the flag:

“If I raise the flag, do I interfere with the referee and if I don’t raise the flag, do I fail the game?”

Let’s define two important terms:

  1. Game Critical Decision
    A situation in which the AR is 100 percent certain of what they observed. These are situations in which the AR has clearly seen the action. The actions, however, must be consistent with the manner in which the referee is managing the game to that point.

    ARs should utilize the “wait and see” approach prior to involvement. The referee should be given the first opportunity to be engaged. If, due to the referee’s attention being engaged elsewhere, the referee is not aware of a critical situation, then the AR should be empowered to provide assistance.

    Game critical decision examples:
    • Off-the-ball incidents
    • Foul inside / outside the penalty area
    • Goal / no goal decision
    • Misconduct – yellow or red card
  2. Over-Involvement by ARs
    ARs should refrain from “taking over the game.” In other words: ARs must get into the same “rhythm” as the referee while developing a “feel” for the game in terms of being involved when the referee’s rhythm is not sufficient for the game. Additionally, ARs need to refrain from becoming over exuberant in flagging calls that interfere with the referee’s performance and game flow or game management.

    Over-involvement examples: 
    •  Fouls called not consistent with the referee: Not reading the game like the referee. A violation that the referee would have considered doubtful/trifling. Neither the game nor the referee needs the call.
    • Over-extending beyond the ARs “area of control:” As the ARs distance to the event increases, AR involvement generally should decrease.
    • 50/50 call: Decisions that may be too difficult for the AR to sell from his position. Fouls that are not clear and obvious. Think: If I see this on replay, would I be confident enough to make the call? In all cases, when making a “game critical decision,” the AR must be 100 percent certain of the decision.

Key: Involvement by the AR will make the referee successful.

Officials can review the criteria and the topic of “Assistant Referee Involvement” by reviewing the associated 2009 U.S. Soccer directive.

There is a fine line between over-involvement and providing assistance because the game or the referee requires it. Having a “feel” for the way the referee is calling the game is vital to determining whether to be involved or not as is an ARs ability to ascertain whether the incident/challenge clearly meets the criteria that demands involvement. The two clips that follow will provide contrasting examples pertaining to AR involvement.

2010 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: Philadelphia at Real Salt Lake (16:42)
    Early in the game, the referee and AR are faced with a challenge that meets the criteria for excessive force and should result in a red card. The tackler is late with the challenge (ball gone and no opportunity to play it) while leading with the hard surface of his cleats. As you watch the replay, freeze the clip as the defender makes contact with the opponent. The ball is approximately two yards up field at the time of contact. Image 5 provides a visual picture of the location of the tackler’s contact as well as the location of the ball at the time of the contact.

    The referee needs to be able to identify this tackle and similar challenges as meeting the excessive force definition. However, well positioned ARs should provide much needed help to the referee for the good of the game. In fact, in this clip, the AR does provide the referee with input. Unfortunately, the AR signals that the infringement is a yellow card (watch as the AR pats his breast pocket indicating his yellow card recommendation). The AR is much closer to the challenge than the referee and has a direct line of vision as the contact is made. More importantly, the AR should have a better “feel” for the force of the contact and this should help direct his decision to communicate that a red card is required for violent conduct (ball is not in playing distance).

    Note: In the pregame match official conference lead by the referee, the referee should establish parameters for AR involvement and empower ARs to provide important information when the game requires AR involvement. Although referees should establish the method/mode of communication in the pregame, it is accepted practice for ARs to pat their breast pocket to indicate yellow card and pat their back pocket to signify a red card should be issued.

  • Video Clip:  Philadelphia at Boston (5:38) – WPS
    Just past five minutes into the game, the referee is faced with two decisions in a matter of seconds:  offside and penalty kick (plus misconduct).  Taken separately, each decision may seem simple and standard.  The purpose of this clip is not to focus on whether the offside decision is correct (although stop action appears to put the attacker even with the second-to-last defender when the ball was played and the AR did not err on the side of the attacker) but to focus on the teaching points associated with a missed offside flag and the subsequent awarding of a penalty kick.

    NoteDespite the game being in the early moments, match officials must be focused and prepared to make difficult decisions regardless of the time or what has occurred thus far in the game.  Mental or physical relaxation cannot occur at any moment in a match.  Concentration and focus is paramount from the time match officials enter the stadium until they leave the stadium.

    From a throw-in and subsequent attacking pass, the AR raises the flag for offside (the AR is not seen in the clip).  The referee does not recognize there is a potential offside situation nor does he visually see the ARs flag.  The referee fails to glance at the AR as the forward pass is made.

    The offside positioned player receives the ball and is then fouled in the penalty area by an opponent.  Based upon the contact, the referee awards a penalty kick.  Simply, the missed offside flag leads to a penalty kick decision.   The infringement committed by the defender should be identified as unsporting behavior (reckless challenge) and the defender should be cautioned regardless if the action occurred after the ARs unrecognized signal for offside.

    After whistling for the penalty kick, the referee moves to the penalty mark to signal the penalty kick decision.  During this time, the referee lacks awareness of the pending offside issue. Close to a minute later, the referee finally realizes the AR had raised the flag for offside prior to the penalty kick foul and correctly gives offside instead of the penalty kick.

    What can be done to improve the referee’s decision-making process:

    1. Recognition of potential offside:  The referee needs to look to the AR as quickly as possible after the initial forward pass is made to the offside positioned player.  Forward passes and through balls to attackers require the referee to “feel” potential offside situations and glance toward the lead AR.
    2. Awarding of the penalty kick:  The referee goes to the penalty mark to indicate the awarding of a penalty kick.  By going to the spot, the referee ensures that he is not facing the AR.  This signal and position, hampers the referee’s ability to visually see the AR or make eye contact.  Watch the video clip from 5:50 to 5:53.  The referee’s decision to immediately move to the penalty spot precludes him from having visual contact with the AR and recognizing the offside flag.
    3. Confirmation with AR:  The referee must be looking to the AR as the penalty kick is set-up to ensure the AR is moving toward or is properly positioned at the intersection of the goal line and the penalty area line.  An early glance to the ARs restart position would signal to the referee that the AR is not there and, hence, a problem exists.

    In situations similar to this, once referees realize that they have missed an offside flag, they must award the offside unless they were positioned appropriately to determine that the attacking player was not in an offside position or the offside positioned player did not interfere, participate or gain an advantage from their offside position.

    Note:  To overrule an AR on an offside decision requires the referee to be 100 percent certain of the facts leading to the decision to overrule.  In some key instances, this may require a quick conference between the referee and the AR to discuss the facts and make the final decision.

    The referee, in this clip, needed to “feel” a potential offside situation and glance at the AR at the time of the attacker’s forward pass.  This would have prevented the penalty kick situation as well as potentially averting the need to caution the defender for unsporting behavior as a result of her reckless challenge in the penalty area.  Even though the referee may have contributed to the reckless challenge by failing to recognize the offside flag, the referee must nevertheless caution the player as misconduct did occur.

    Once the referee determines that he is no longer awarding the penalty kick and, instead, giving the offside decision, he needs to clearly explain to the captains what has occurred and the appropriate restart.  So much time has gone by since the whistle for the penalty kick resulting in the teams setting up for the penalty kick, that the referee must explain that offside preceded the penalty kick decision but that the player will be cautioned for the misconduct that followed the offside.

    Note:  Conveying information, after-the-fact, or reversing a decision is never easy but it must be done professionally and in a controlled fashion.  Additionally, the referee must ensure that both teams are given the appropriate opportunity to adjust so that they do not get caught out of position or are unprepared for the restart.  The referee should take a more personable approach and have a face-to-face conversation with the captains explaining the decision and the appropriate restart.  Such efforts on the part of the referee will ease tensions.  Remember, consider how the situation looks to others who are observing the on-field confusion and ensure the process is managed so that it is viewed as being handled professionally (minimizing the confusion) while ensuring the players/coaches feel it is handled professionally.

  • Video Clip  Dallas at New York (88:26)

    With the game tied at 1-1 and under two minutes remaining in regulation time, the referee team is faced with a decision that could potentially affect the outcome.  Given the circumstances (score and time), ensuring the correct “in or out of the penalty area” decision is made becomes more pressing.

    Once the referee has determined that a foul has been committed by the defending team and has whistled for the foul, the referee must now make the determination as to the location of the foul.

    Watch the referee in the clip.  As soon as he blows the whistle, the referee moves toward the spot of the foul.  As he moves, he makes eye contact with the lead AR.  Through his eye contact, the referee is asking for a second opinion, confirmation and/or reaffirmation that the foul was committed inside the penalty area (on the penalty area line).  By seeking the ARs input, the referee is able to make a more educated decision.

    Note:  In close cases like this, it is not necessary for the referee to make an immediate decision.  Prior to “announcing” his decision to the players and spectators, the referee should get input from the lead AR.  A correct decision is preferred over a quicker but incorrect decision. 

    The AR does not have an easy task in providing assistance as the second-to-last defender is eight to nine yards deep in the penalty area and the AR must be aligned with this player (freeze frame the clip at 88:28 to see the location of the offside line).  However, through a keen sense of awareness and proper body mechanics, the AR is able to advise the referee (using U.S. Soccer’s approved signal) that he believes the foul has occurred inside the penalty area.

    U.S. Soccer has an approved mechanic for ARs to indicate to the referee that the foul has been committed inside the penalty area.  This signal, draping the flag across the front of the body, should be used immediately upon the referee’s whistle and eye contact when the AR is certain the foul has occurred inside the penalty area.  Once the referee has seen the ARs signal and determines that a penalty kick should be awarded (generally by pointing to the penalty spot and moving to a neutral position), the AR should move swiftly to his penalty kick position which is adjacent to where the goal line and penalty area line intersect.

    Overall, the referee and AR provide a positive example of teamwork and cooperation while using good mechanics that lead to a correct critical decision (penalty kick).

  • Video Clip: D.C. United at Columbus (56:34)
    This importance of teamwork is the focus of this clip. A goal is scored as a result of a handling offense that goes unpunished. In this situation, the referee and lead AR did not see the handling. However, the trail AR clearly observed that a punishable handling offense occurred prior to the scoring of the goal. The referee team relied on technology (communication devices) to address the situation but the communication devices did not function as they should. Consequently, there was a lack of communication and messages were not delivered thereby negatively impacting the game.

    Note: When a game critical decision arises, match officials cannot rely on technology (radio communication and beeper flags) especially when communication is seemingly one way (message sent without a reply or confirmation). Without a confirmation or reply, officials should assume the message was not delivered and there was a technological malfunction. Since play is stopped, the referee, AR or fourth official must seek the opportunity to have a face-to-face conversation. The focus must be on making the correct decision for the good of the game.

    Since most games are played without the availability of technology to aid/assist officials, the following should be considered when a game critical situation arises:

    • Prior to signaling a goal, the referee should take the time to make visual contact with the other officials – especially the lead AR. This provides the referee the time to feel and read the situation (like player reactions). If there seems to be significant negative reaction and the situation is game critical (a goal), the referee can then make eye contact with the trail AR and fourth official. In this case, the referee makes a very quick goal signal without first consulting with his teammates.

      Note: Match officials must have the ability to feel and read situations in the game especially when they have not clearly observed what has occurred. This includes reading players’ reactions and having the ability to decipher information because reactions may be telling a story. The referee does not have to act on the messages being sent but can use them as a signal to check with other crew members.
    • If the trail AR is 100 percent certain that he observed a handling offense, he should get the referee’s attention and confer with him prior to the restart of the match. This can be done with eye contact and a hand motion or by the AR raising the flag vertically to get the referee’s attention. Since the AR is fully confident of what he saw, he must insist that the referee come over for a conference.

      Note: While conferring with an AR or fourth official, the referee should keep the field and players in full view. Additionally, the referee should ensure there is no outside interference (players and team staff) in the area so that the officials can communicate without interruption.
    • If a fourth official is involved, the trail AR can also quickly seek his input.
    • If the lead AR observed the handling offense, the AR should stand at attention with the flag held straight down at the side and should not run up the touchline to indicate a goal.
2009 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: Chicago at Chivas USA (22:28)
    The first clip is an excellent example of a situation in which AR involvement is justified given the criteria outlined above. In addition to illustrating successful “involvement,” the clip also provides examples of two other items of interest: dissent and bench decorum/behavior.

    AR Involvement
    Cooperation and involvement go hand-in-hand. Video clip 1 shows good cooperation between the referee and the AR. It also allows the viewer to see positive and correct “AR involvement” in a “game critical decision.”

    On a free kick service into the penalty area, the defending team commits a direct free kick offense (holding the opponent’s shirt) that eventually results in a penalty kick being awarded by the referee. The AR recognizes the hold and is 100 percent certain a foul has been committed that is worthy of a penalty kick.

    Upon seeing the hold/foul, the AR asks himself:
    “If I raise the flag, do I interfere with the referee and if I don’t raise the flag, do I fail the game?”

    In this case, the referee’s position is not optimum. As the ball is played/served into the penalty area, the referee does not adjust his position so that he will have the best angle of vision to judge any eventual challenge. So, for this challenge, the AR is best positioned to clearly see the resulting foul. Aside from asking the aforementioned question, the AR correctly decides:

    • He has a better view than the referee.
    • The foul is clear and obvious. The length and exaggerated nature of the shirt pull coincides with the fact that the attacker is prevented from playing the ball. Such obvious and clear actions help to sell the decision. The defender prevents the attacker from having unimpeded movement to the ball. It is not a 50/50 call.
    • The challenge is not doubtful or trifling.
    • The call is in the same “rhythm” as the referee. It is consistent with the way the referee has called the game to that point. This is not to say that 100 percent situations should not be addressed by ARs.

    Once the AR has communicated the foul to the referee by raising his flag, the referee must then decide whether to whistle for a foul or not. The referee must decide if he clearly observed all aspects of the incident or not and, in some cases, depending upon how much of the incident he observed, consider his “gut” feeling, instincts or inner feelings if he does not agree with the ARs attempt at involvement. By raising the flag, the AR is drawing attention to a “situation” that will then draw attention to the referee team. Hence, it is important that the AR be 100 percent certain and consider the guidelines outlined above.

    Once the referee has whistled to stop play, he goes to the AR to confer regarding the awarding of a penalty kick. This is a valuable step due to the critical nature of the decision. This will give the referee the opportunity to compare what he saw with what the AR observed and make the final decision.
  • Video Clip: D.C. United at New England (88:14)
    Like the previous clip, this decision comes directly off a free kick service into the penalty area. Like the prior clip, the referee’s movement to the next phase of play or the “drop zone” (where the ball will land) is not anticipatory. The referee has the opportunity to improve his angle of vision and be closer to play. Improved positioning could be accomplished through more urgency and by not relaxing in the last minutes of the game. By taking a better position, the referee can control the situation and, eventually, provide a presence that might deter AR involvement and create the opportunity for the referee to take ownership of the final decision.

    Compared to clip 1, this is an example of over-involvement on the part of the AR. Using the criteria outlined in this section, the AR calls a foul that leads to a penalty kick that should not be called. Several factors should be taken into consideration:
    1. There is minimal contact. The contact is doubtful, soft and trifling. It does not prevent the attacker from playing the ball nor does it cause him to misplay the ball.
    2. The attacker is falling backward on his own volition. The minimal contact by the defender does not contribute to the attacker’s fall.
    3. This is a 50/50 call that must be left to the referee who is positioned much closer.
    4. The AR is not in “rhythm” with the referee’s decisions as they have developed throughout the match. In other words, the decision is not clear enough to differ from the management style exhibited by the referee to that point in the match.
    5. Although not the best line of vision, the referee does have a decent perspective and is much closer to the situation than the AR. Given the unclear nature of the contact, the challenge should be considered “beyond the ARs area of control.”

    As a consequence of this evaluation, the AR should leave this decision to the referee. If the AR does flag this challenge, the referee must consider his view of the play. If the referee is uncertain of the call and he has stopped play, the referee should go to the AR and discuss what each has observed. Based upon this quick conference, the referee can then decide if the call is warranted. In this clip, look at the response of the players from the attacking team that has been awarded the penalty kick. The attacking players continue to play and show no signs of discontent after their teammate goes down. This is a sign that can help confirm any instinctual feelings the referee may have. Overall, if the referee feels that the challenge was trifling or doubtful, he should wave off the AR and continue with play.

  • Video Clip: Galaxy at New England (30:30)
    This clip illustrates a situation that requires AR involvement. In this clip, assistance involves not only calling the foul but also the ARs use of personality to communicate with a player who has an “emotional outburst.” Two factors can be highlighted that should lead to an ARs empowerment in the decision-making process:
    • The proximity of the foul to the AR
      The foul is clearly closer to the AR than the referee. The infringement occurs approximately 13 yards directly in front of the AR. Remember, the closer the infringement is to the AR, the greater the likelihood for AR involvement. Additionally, the further the referee is from the infringement, the greater the likelihood for AR involvement.

      Diagram 1Diagram 1: Assistant Referee Primary Area of Involvement, depicts the primary areas in which ARs should consider involvement in assisting the referee in control of the match. Incidents in the shaded area are strong candidates for AR involvement. As the action moves from the green areas to the light blue areas, the action is moving closer to the referee and infringements in these areas may be best observed by the referee. Hence, the referee should be given the first option in managing the offense. Note: This does not limit AR involvement outside the “area of assistance” when there is a “critical game situation” and the game requires the AR to be involved. Refer to the 2009 U.S. Soccer directive on “Assistant Referee Involvement” for further information regarding AR responsibilities.
    • AR line of vision
      The AR has a direct line of vision to the handling offense. There are no players that could negatively affect his sight and view of the foul. Additionally, the body and arm of the player committing the offense are facing the AR and, due to the angle and position of the opponent, are blocked from the referee’s view.

    Once the AR decides his involvement is required, the AR uses the proper mechanics to indicate a foul by vertically raising the flag in the hand appropriate for the restart direction and giving the flag a slight wave. Then, after making eye contact with the referee and following the referee’s whistle, the AR points the direction of the restart with the flag held at 45 degrees.

    After making the correct foul call, the AR takes his involvement a step further by positively using his personality to communicate with the player who has a couple of “emotional outbursts.” ARs should not hesitate to use personality to defuse and prevent situations from escalating.

    When players go after ARs or the fourth official, referees must quickly intervene. Players and coaches recognize the referee as the “final authority” and, consequently, usually modify their behavior as soon as the referee becomes involved. Referees need to protect the integrity of the referee team by immediately intervening when “emotional outbursts,” dissent or offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures are being used. Upon recognizing a player is “having a go” at a referee teammate, the referee must take preventative action.

    If play is stopped, the referee should make his presence known by moving between the player and the AR (acting as a buffer), by using his whistle to get the player’s attention as he moves to intervene and, finally, by taking official action by verbally addressing the player, channeling the player away and/or by taking the appropriate misconduct action. It is advisable for referees to show urgency when “emotional outbursts” or more are directed at other members of the referee team.

  • Video Clip: New England at New York (47:36)
    Anticipation leading to proper positioning which thereby creates the optimum angle of vision is a factor that is missing in this clip. The referee must “read” the play and the corresponding warning signs that a position with close proximity to the action and the next phase of play is critical. The second half is merely 2:36 old and referee teams cannot come out of the locker room unprepared or with a low intensity level. Awareness, focus and concentration for the entire 90 minutes or more must be present.

    As you watch the clip, you will notice that the referee is never in the picture frame when the attack is entering the penalty area with a 1-0 score line. When the ball is around and preparing to enter the penalty area, this is a warning sign to the referee that presence is needed. This is amplified by the fact that the attacker may end up going to goal with the ball and the defender may need to make a challenge to dispossess the striker of the ball.

    As the ball moves, the referee must move. As the play unfolds and builds, the referee must anticipate and move to ensure he has the best sightline to any potential challenge. This was not the case in this clip and the result is a missed penalty kick decision which could have tied the score. Remember, closeness to a play while maintaining an optimal angle of vision, without interfering, facilitates the referee making correct and educated decisions while aiding in the “salesmanship” of the decision. In this illustration, there is a clear trip of the attacker which should result in a penalty kick.

    Given the fact the referee is improperly positioned which results in a poor angle to view the offense, the AR must then decide whether his involvement is needed in this game critical decision.

    Initially, the ARs primary focus is on an offside positioned teammate who is ahead of the attacker with the ball. However, that focus needs to shift between the two attackers to determine the last touch by a teammate.

    The close position of the two attackers should make the shifting of views and focus easier than if they were further apart across the field or as a result of one attacker being further ahead of his teammate.

    The AR needs to see the defender's contact prior to the attacker playing the ball.

    The AR has the best angle of view and is not obstructed by any players.

    Upon viewing the challenge, the AR needs to quickly assess the referee's position and view of the contact. The AR can accomplish this through eye contact with the referee to determine whether his help is needed by the referee.

    If eye contact indicates the referee is looking for help, the AR needs to assist by raising and giving a slight wave of the flag (indicating that a foul has occurred). Once the referee whistles, the AR moves the flag to the position indicated in the picture to the right. As the referee signals for the penalty kick, the AR should smartly move toward the corner flag to take up a position along the goal line and 18 yard intersection for a penalty kick.

    If eye contact indicates the referee is not looking for help and does not recognize the foul, the AR must make a decision whether assistance is needed to help the referee or if the game demands the ARs involvement. Given this scenario, the AR must ask, “If the referee had clearly seen the action and contact by the defender from the ARs view, would the referee have determined a foul was committed and awarded a penalty?”

    If the answer is “yes,” as it should be in this clip, the AR must then make the determination that his involvement is required to serve the game. Consequently, the AR must provide assistance to the referee and indicate a foul has been committed by the defender inside the penalty area using the same mechanics described above.

  • Video Clip: New England at Dallas ( 89:38)
    This clip provides an excellent example of referee/AR teamwork and cooperation to get the decision correct. In this scenario, the ball has left the field of play for a throw-in next to the AR. As the throw-in is being executed, two opponents are involved in an altercation. The altercation is not observed by the referee but is close enough to and in the clear vision of the AR that his involvement is justified. The AR becomes involved by raising his flag and giving it a quick wiggle to indicate a foul has been committed and play needs to be stopped.

    After flagging the altercation, the AR calls the referee over by motioning to him with his hand. This is an appropriate step as the actions to be recommended by the AR are significant and require clear face-to-face communication.

    When information is exchanged between match officials and misconduct is involved, the information provided must be succinct and should cover, at a minimum, the following items:

    • A brief description of what has occurred using language from the Laws of the Game as much as possible.
    • The team, number and name (if known) of the player(s) involved. 
    • A recommended course of action for the referee that identifies the type of misconduct or action the AR is recommending to the referee. For example, “Red card to player No. 16 for violent conduct, striking an opponent in the head during the dead ball.”

    The referee and the AR confer. As they do so, they correctly ask other players to leave the vicinity so that the two officials can communicate without undo interference or distractions. Officials should always attempt to exchange information in an isolated area so as to dispel any notion that their decision(s) may be influenced by a player(s). Notice that, during the communication between the referee and AR, both officials are facing the field to monitor any further altercation.

    After clear and succinct communication, the referee calls the two players together and issues the misconduct in accordance with the input received from the AR. One player is sent off for “receiving his second caution in the same match” while his opponent is red carded for violent conduct (striking an opponent above the shoulder in the facial area).

    In making the decision to red card the player for violent conduct, the referee team applies guidelines specified in the 2009 directive, “Contact Above the Shoulder.” In this situation, the player uses his arm/elbow as a “weapon” when making contact above the shoulders of the opponent. Deliberate and intentional contact to the face or back of the head of an opponent, while the ball is out of play, with the hand, arm, elbow or fist requires a player to be sent off if the referee determines the act is:

    • Deliberate 
    • Intended to intimidate 
    • Insulting 
    • Offensive 
    • Provocative 
    • Done in an inciting manner

    Consideration, in this clip, is given to the fact that a hard surface (hand and/or forearm) is used to deliberately intimidate an opponent by contacting them in a soft tissue area (the head and facial region) which puts the opponent’s safety at a high risk and can potentially lead to serious injury. Given these factors, the referee (with the ARs information) correctly takes the appropriate official action.

    It is important to note the fourth official does a commendable job being a calm influence on the upset technical area. The fourth official’s demeanor is not inflammatory and gives the technical area personnel a “reasonable” amount of room to vent their frustration without becoming irresponsible.

2008 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: NY at Dallas (52:00).  This is an exceptional piece of teamwork.  This is BIG TIME work by the AR, referee, and 4th official.  Watch how the referee, AR, and 4th work as a unit to prevent escalation.  THIS IS REFEREEING! Look also how the referee immediately gets the yellow card out to show everyone he is taking action.  The action on the part of the referee team probably saves the Dallas player from being booked for misconduct also.  Did the referee need the ARs assistance? Yes.  If the referee team does not make the call, will game control be negatively affected? Yes.  So, ARs and 4th officials: be INVOLVED in this one!
  • Video Clip: Chicago at San Jose (32:25).  In this case, the AR flags a foul that is not needed for the game (game is well in control and it is a trifling foul).  The referee is well positioned to see the action and, actually, has waved “play-on.”  The referee is empowered to wave off these type of flags but the best solution is for the AR to leave it to the referee.  ARs must FEEL THE GAME as the referee is feeling the game.
  • Video Clip: Chicago at San Jose (40:05).  The foul decision by the AR is over-ruled by the referee.  The referee has a clear line of vision to the foul and the defender has the inside position.  These type of decisions can lead to player frustration and to eventual yellow cards for dissent.
  • Video Clip: Chicago at San Jose (83:00).  The ARs flag comes up well after the referee’s whistle.  Question: why so long for the flag?  Assistance is good here but it must be timely.  No need for the flag if it comes after the whistle.
  • Video Clip: Real Salt Lake at Colorado (81:15). This clip illustrates excellent teamwork by the referee and the AR as well as an AR who has instantaneously asked himself the questions above.  Because of the position of the players and ball, the referee is unable to have a clear view of the defender intentionally playing the ball with his hand.   The AR has the best angle of vision and decides that the referee and the game need his participation.  Note, that although it is not evident in the clip, the referee and AR make eye contact thereby indicating that the referee needs help.  Having made this assessment and visual contact, the AR raises his flag and follows the proper mechanics to signal the foul and the associated penalty kick.  Once the AR has raised and wiggled his flag, notice how he drops it and holds the flag across his waist at arm’s length (similar to the substitution signal but across the waist – in the soon to be released version of the “Guide to Procedures for Referees, Assistant Referees and Fourth Officials” this mechanic will be introduced as the new penalty kick signal replacing the flag between the legs and the running to the corner flag).  The referee then sharply and convincingly whistles the penalty and points to the penalty spot – a courageous and correct decision on the part of the AR.
  • Video Clip: Dallas at Kansas City (21:13) - First, this play patterns those found frequently in other MLS games: a long, quick counter attack which often leads to long distances between the referee and the ball or the next phase of play.  This is the first sign to the AR that his intervention may be required and his realm of control may be extended.  The AR must recognize the referee’s position relative to the play as contact is made.  Hence, the answer to the first question:
    • Does the referee have a clear view of the incident and was he positioned correctly? - No.  The play is closer to the AR than the referee.  Given the long pass out of the defensive end, the referee’s sightline, most likely, would be to the backs of the players involved. The AR must then ask the second question:
    • Did I clearly see the infraction? - The AR in this clip has an excellent view of the incident.  He has the side view which that gives the AR the best possible angle to see the contact and the resulting foul.

    So, as the play builds, the AR must anticipate that his participation may be needed (given the long ball and the referee’s position) and prepare his position to observe and assist.  In this clip, the AR calls the foul after the referee whistles the infraction from a long distance.  The AR cannot let the referee make this call on his own.  Referees should not have to make a decision of this caliber based upon “gut” feel.  ARs must take ownership of this and similar critical situations. 

    In addition to making the correct foul call, the referee also appropriately cautions the defender for unsporting behavior.  Not only should the AR have signaled the foul but the AR should feel empowered to signal to the referee that the foul was cautionable.  The next clip provides an example of an AR who does just that: assists the referee with the misconduct decision.
  • Video Clip: D.C. United at New England (63:04) - Once again, the two questions governing involvement are relevant.  Watch the quick transition and movement of the ball and the players toward the AR – a signal to the AR that he should identify the referee’s position as well as heighten his awareness that involvement may be necessary.  Additionally, notice how close the foul is to the AR (five to six feet away) as opposed to the referee (approximately 25 yards away).

    The AR enhances his support of the referee by also indicating the need for the referee to caution the player for unsporting behavior (reckless challenge in a dangerous area near the signboards).  Focus on the AR after he signals the foul.  Focus within the highlighted circles and watch as the AR pats his breast pocket with his free hand – the prearranged signal to the referee that offers the AR’s silent opinion that the foul requires the player to be cautioned.  Notice also how the AR moves toward the two players as they go to the turf.  The AR’s presence should discourage the players from retaliating.

    Overall, a good display of teamwork and involvement starting with the flagging of the foul to the AR’s signaling for misconduct.
  • Video Clip (Added 10/9/2008): Toronto at New York (75:35) - A situation of game disrepute arises in which the referee uses his presence to positively channel the players away from each other and into neutral space.  In the background, you can see an AR observing, making mental notes and ensuring he is positioned to have a broad view of the action.  The referee may directly intervene until such time as the situation has escalated to a point that he cannot handle it and then he must step back and observe like the AR.  The referee’s intervention prevents the situation from turning into mass confrontation.

    As you watch the clip, take notice of the teamwork utilized to get the misconduct correct (unsporting behavior).  Once the situation had calmed and players were channeling themselves to neutral locations, the referee and AR confer.  During this quick conference, they identify the player, decide upon the punishment (yellow card for unsporting behavior), and then act (display the card) accordingly.  Positive teamwork in which the AR felt empowered to provide information and the referee was comfortable seeking the ARs input.  The result is a correct decision.  To improve the process, the referee should have consulted with the AR while facing up field toward the players and not with his back to the majority of the players.  In this manner, should there be any further issues, the referee would be able to observe and act.

    Note:  The decision by the referee to caution the above player is correct as no elbow was thrown above the shoulder and the player’s actions were not done with excessive force or in a manner that would endanger the safety of the opponent.
  • Video Clip (added 10/16/2008): Colorado at Galaxy (86:45) - This clip provides a fantastic illustration of an AR becoming involved in a critical decision because the game and the referee needed it. ARs were asked to think about the following question prior to raising the flag:  “If I raise the flag, do I interfere with the referee, and if I don’t raise the flag, do I fail the game?”
  • Video Clip (added 10/16/2008): DC at Houston (75:12) - A deliberate handling of the ball by the goalkeeper outside the penalty area is the focus of this clip.  A 40 to 45 yard pass has been made that is mis-trapped by the defender.  As a result of the faulty control, the ball ends up at the feet of an attacker.  The goalkeeper has charged outside of the penalty area to close down the attacker.  The attacker, however, gets to the ball before the keeper and touches the ball over the goalkeeper’s head.  As the goalkeeper (the last defender) goes down, he “makes himself bigger” by extending his arms above his head to prevent the ball from getting behind him thereby using his arms to take away the attacker’s space/options.

    Unfortunately, the referee team misses the handling offense by the goalkeeper that should have resulted in a red card for DOGSO and a free kick.  Several items may have been done to increase the likelihood that the referee team gets the call correct.
    • Referee’s position - Starting with the throw-in, the referee begins too close to the touchline.  By starting further to the center of the field, the referee would have a better view of the play as it progresses and, ultimately, of the handball.  Because his starting position is so close to the thrower, as a result of the 40 to 45 yard service, he is immediately in a deficit position.  The referee’s position only allows him to see the back of the attacker whereas a wider position would enable him to have a better perspective (side on view) of the goalkeeper and his contact with the ball.  As the play builds, the best view is between the attacker and the defender on the left (the space between these players gives a clear angle of vision of the offense) which could have been facilitated with a wider starting position beginning at the throw-in.
    • ARs position - The AR is trailing the play by several steps.  This is an unfortunate result of the long pass.  By trailing play, the ARs view is not optimal.  He is forced to look through the right defender and, as a consequence, the ARs view of the contact with the ball may be obstructed.  A more level view, if possible, would provide the AR with a better chance of observing the handling offense by the goalkeeper.  In similar cases, ARs must possess keen sprinting ability in order to close down the distance between the ARs position and the play.
    • Referee and AR contact:  eye and/or electronic flags - If the referee and AR sense or “smell” an offense but are not 100 percent certain, eye contact must be made.  Such eye contact would be confirmation that both officials have a “gut” feel that an offense has occurred and therefore the referee can feel more confident that a whistle is required.  Another tool is the signal or beeper flags.  ARs with these electronic flags should use them to beep the referee to indicate that they feel an infringement has occurred but that they are not 100 percent.  Therefore, without committing the referee to a decision by raising the flag, the AR can send a message about his “gut” feeling.
    • Recognition of the warning signs - In this case, there are a few warning signs that a handling offense has occurred:
      • The manner in which the ball continued forward albeit at a changed trajectory.  If the ball would have hit a solid, hard object like the goalkeeper’s feet, it may have popped up or just stopped.  In this case, the pace of the ball is reduced but it continues forward which is the likely result from it striking a softer, more flexible surface like the goalkeeper’s hands.
      • The reaction of the defender on the left.  He initially starts to reach for the ball but then stops after the ball hits the keeper’s hand.
      • The reaction of the two attacking players.  It is immediate and they point to their hands.

Any of these warning signs alone may not be sufficient to call a foul but if the officials “smell” an infraction, these signs may help to direct the decision.

Assistant Referees also need to be aware of the guidance provided to Referees in regard to applying advantage via the “4 P Principle:”

  • Possession of ball:  control by team or player.
  • Potential for attack:  ability to continue a credible and dangerous attack.
  • Personnel:  skill of attackers, numerical advantage.
  • Proximity to opponent’s goal:  closeness to goal.
  • Video Clip: San Jose at New York (44:40, second half). Over involvement by ARs has been a repeated issue.  This is clearly the case in this video clip. This is an obvious case that cannot be missed at the professional level.  All the elements of the “4 Ps” are present.  Not only are the “4 Ps” present but the AR and referee must have a sense of what has occurred previously in the game and know the player(s) in question.  In this game, the attacker has gotten the ball behind the defense on previous occasions and has shown his quickness, agility, and strength.  So, as the play develops in front of the officials, they should be able to pull from their databank of game/player history and react appropriately.

AR Intervention to Prevent Game Disrepute

ARs have the responsibility to read the temperature and atmosphere of the game similar to the referee.  ARs should “feel” situations in the game and be prepared to intervene with a flag and/or with positive presence (physical or even verbal) when the situation requires.  Often times, ARs are closer to volatile situations than the referee and, therefore, better equipped/positioned to prevent escalation.  This scenario of being better positioned is not reserved only for the ARs.  Fourth officials may also be more strategically placed to intervene in situations that flair up in front of the bench area.  Such intervention by ARs and fourth officials must be tempered and used only in situations in which the referee’s presence will not be there in time to address the immediate needs of the game.  It is critical that officials not overreact but, at the same time, be prepared to intervene should the moment call for the positive use of presence aside from the referee’s. 

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  • Video Clip: Chivas USA at Los Angeles (81:44)
    This clip involves an off-the-ball “game critical incident.” The ARs focus and concentration are tested and he passes with flying colors. As the ball is passed up field, away from the offside line, it would be easy for the AR to follow the ball and take his focus off the defensive line and, as a result, miss any potential conflict.

    In the situation that plays out in the clip, quick intervention by the AR and the referee’s quick whistle act as deterrents to the possible escalation (into mass confrontation) of an act of violent conduct – striking an opponent.

    Watch the replay and look at the ARs focus and concentration. The AR has the referee’s back and is covering the area of the field not visible to the referee as the ball has been played up field approximately 30 yards. As soon as the attacker strikes the opponent, the AR raises his flag to get the referee’s attention. This is immediately followed by preventative and anticipatory work on the part of the AR as he begins to enter the field of play. This entry lends his presence to a volatile situation. In fact, the AR can verbally shout so the players know that he has witnessed the event and that he is taking action. After consulting with the AR, the referee correctly decides to red card the attacker for violent conduct.

    The game is correctly restarted with a free kick for the defending team at the spot of the striking offense as the ball was in play at the time the foul was committed.
  • Video Clip: Colorado at Toronto (64:28)
    The focus of this clip is not on the foul but on the actions after the foul is called although, seemingly, the first foul (holding the opponent’s shirt) is missed.

    Once a foul has been called by the referee, the AR does an exceptional job of “feeling” the situation and anticipating the response by the players. As a result, the AR quickly responds by entering the field (in close proximity) and intervening between the two opponents in a positive manner that defuses a “game disrepute” scenario and prevents escalation into “mass confrontation.”

    By interposing his body between the two players by walking up field with them, the AR acts as a “cushion” and prevents further negative behavior. The AR is able to channel the players and assist in the management of their actions. Officials must be careful in reading situations like this to ensure that they do not get too close when the situation may present a danger (like unwarranted physical contact) to the match official.

    As the AR is intervening, the referee is given time to move to the scene. Through his presence, the referee is then able to send the appropriate message to the players which acts as a preventative measure. Warning sign of potential conflict between two players which also exists in this clip: One player on the ground and one player standing over the player. The AR correctly “reads” this warning sign and takes appropriate corrective/preventative action by intervening in a positive, non-confrontational manner.

    Due to the teamwork of the AR and the referee, the situation is well managed and does not require a caution to be issued.

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  • Video Clip (Added 10/23/2008): Dallas at Real Salt Lake (59:34) - In this clip, the volatile situation occurs approximately 10 yards from the AR and in his immediate quadrant.  Consider not only the location of the incident to the AR but the following additional factors that lend themselves to AR intervention:
    • The referee is a much greater distance from the two players;
    • The physical contact between the two players does not resolve immediately and will, most likely, not be resolved on its own; and
    • The intensity, environment and atmosphere of the game on the field.  The game has playoff implications; a single goal separates the two teams and frustration levels of players may be high.

    The intervention by the AR prevents game disrepute (two players negatively involved with each other) from escalating to a situation that would require the referee to issue cautions for unsporting behavior.  Concurrently, the ARs preventative work is able to ensure the situation of game disrepute does not escalate into a scenario of mass confrontation (more than two players involved) that is much more difficult to manage/control.

     The AR takes the following positive steps that result in a beneficial impact on the game:
    • Quick and prompt intervention.  AR gets there before it escalates.
    • Positively uses his presence to separate the players.
    • Channels one of the players away from the “hot spot” and into neutral space.

      Overall, the prompt work by the AR prevents the referee from having to issue two cautions for unsporting behavior.  The situation called for intervention and the AR responded with positive actions that contributed to the control of the game.

AR Involvement on Free Kicks

ARs should not enter the field to manage free kicks (spot the ball) or move the wall back unless prearranged with the referee during the pre-game discussion.  ARs must be cognizant of a team’s need for quick restarts and early entrance onto the field by the AR will put you out of position should the quick restart be taken.  Note the following important aspects:

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  • Video Clip:  San Jose vs. Galaxy (2:00).  Off a free kick near the AR, a goal is disallowed because the AR entered the field to manage the restart and SJ took a quick restart.  Note that the ball is NOT touched by the sliding player.  The AR is out of position to make the correct decision due to prematurely entering the field, and thus a legitimate goal was disallowed 2 minutes into the game.

ARs Contributing to Game Flow

ARs need to be cautious of “over-involvement,” and, as the referee must, ARs need to continue to “feel” the game as the referee is and quickly ascertain “did the referee see it and does the referee need me?”  First crack at the call belongs with the referee.  If at all possible, look to see where the referee is prior to raising the flag. 

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  • Video Clip:  Colorado vs. Kansas City (52:25). A challenge occurs near the AR but in clear view of the referee (the referee is close, has a clear line of vision).  The defender seemingly plays the ball and the challenge is part of the normal flow of the game.  The question, however, is:  “Can the referee make the decision to award a foul or not?”  The ARs call leads to a caution for dissent.  ARs must read the situation and not be involved unless the referee needs you.

AR Work Rate

ARs must be extremely cautious not to become lackadaisical, forgetting to chase balls to the goalkeeper or to the goal line especially when there exists the opportunity for another challenge or a goal line situation.  ARs need to chase the ball all the way to the goalkeeper on back passes and need to chase balls to the goal line on shots that are on frame or may be played by the keeper.  There have been instances when the goalkeeper has slipped on a back pass due to poor footing or a wet field.  There have been many instances where a back pass has been made to the goalkeeper who is forced to play the ball with his feet inside the goal box and the AR is more than 15 yards from the play and has stopped tracking the ball.  There have been instances where the goalkeeper misplays a ball with his feet.  There have also been instances where seemingly trivial shots end up with goal line decisions.

ARs cannot relax and be complacent.  Remember your role and the importance it plays in the overall management of the game.  The perception of hustle must be evident at all times.  Fitness and mobility levels need to be high enough that ARs can chase balls and stay in the correct offside position for the entire duration of the game.  Remember, normal positioning requires the AR to be in line with the second-to-last defender or the ball whichever is closest to the goal line.  Common sense should also be used in that once it is clearly determined that a shot is obviously wide of the goal and no challenge will be made, the AR may slow his progress; however, this should not occur until such time as it is evident that the ball is safely wide of the goal.

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  • Video Clip: Galaxy at Dallas (18:20). In this case, there is a seemingly innocuous long shot on goal from 40 or more yards out.  At first, it looks as though the goalkeeper will have an easy play on the ball and will be able to control it without issues.  But, the keeper is unable to secure the ball and the ball goes over the goal line for a corner kick.  Look at the position of the AR at the bottom of the screen – he is not sprinting to keep up with the ball.  Although the AR will never be able to match the speed of the ball, the AR must sprint with the ball until such time as the ball is safely in the keeper’s possession or out of harm’s way. 

    The AR in this clip is not smartly sprinting to minimize the distance between him and the ball.  AR work rates must attempt to match the rate/speed of the game.  Consider this:  what would have happened if the goalkeeper parried the ball while standing in front of the goal line and the ball went over his head?  Without sprinting and attempting to close the gap between the ball and the ultimate decision, the AR would have an even harder time selling his decision.  Remember, ensure that we work as hard as possible to match the speed of play or the ball and work to ensure we close the gap between our position and the correct position as rapidly as possible.


  • Video Clip (Added 10/9/2008): Chicago at Kansas City (28:53) - This clip provides a clear example of an AR who is too comfortable and who has failed to follow the guidelines of following the ball to the goalkeeper.  Watch as, during the throw-in, the ball is directed to the opposing goalkeeper.  The AR stays with the second-to-last defender and does not follow the ball to the keeper who is stationed just outside the goal area some six yards from the goal line.  Initially, it looks to be an innocuous, harmless or safe decision on the part of the AR to remain approximately 22 yards up field from the next phase of play.  However, this innocuous decision becomes questionable when an attacker rushes into the picture to pressure the goalkeeper to play the ball with his hands.  Even as the attacker runs to pressure the keeper, the AR is comfortably standing and observing and not moving to cover the danger zone.

    If the AR had followed the guidelines and stayed with the ball as it was in route to the goalkeeper, the AR would have been positioned to monitor any issues that may have resulted from the challenge or a goalkeeper error.  Leaving the second-to-last defender makes the offside line vulnerable.  However, as the ball is played out by the keeper, the AR will have sufficient time to recover and return to a position to monitor offside decisions.

    ARs must be physically and mentally prepared to chase every ball to the goalkeeper and to the goal line.


The following clips provide two examples of ARs who fail to maintain the offside line and who do not chase the ball all the way to the goalkeeper thus putting themselves in a poor position to make the next decision should the game require it.

  • Video Clip (Added 11/20/2008): New York at Real Salt Lake (46:32) - In this clip, the AR is out of position (not in line with the second to last defender) and would have jeopardized the validity of the offside decision if he were called upon to make it.  Freeze the clip at 46:32.  The AR is not in the correct offside position as he is not directly in line with the second to last defender who is positioned at the top of the penalty area.  As the ball is further advanced by the attackers, the AR struggles to close the gap with the second to last defender.

    Part of the cause of the positioning issue may be a result of the ARs running style.  The AR is caught between sidestepping (being square to the field) and running forward.  Additionally, the AR seems to be too focused on the ball causing him to lose track of the position of the second to last defender.  The combination of these two issues contributes to a positional issue.

    ARs must work on running mechanics so that they are able to sidestep at high speed which keeps their bodies square to the field and enables them to better observe the offside line.  The ability to sidestep at a fast rate must be supplemented by the ability to transition to a different running style (sidestepping to forward sprint or forward sprint to sidestepping) without losing much speed.  This is an art that must be trained and practiced.
  • Video Clip (Added 11/20/2008):  New York at Real Salt Lake (64:33) - Simply, ARs are required to chase every ball to the goalkeeper and/or goal line.  This is not optional.  This clip illustrates an AR who fails to follow the procedures established by U.S. Soccer and FIFA and that have been reiterated in multiple “Week In Reviews.”  By not following the ball as required, the perception is that the AR is exhibiting a lack of hustle and is placing the officiating team in a compromising position should there be a challenge on the goalkeeper or the goalkeeper misplays the ball.  By the time the ‘keeper receives the ball, the AR has stopped his run and is 18 yards up field.  Every attempt must be made to keep pace with the ball and the play.