As the fall season heats up, just a couple of scenarios to think through:
What do you do?
Scenario A-1 — what happens if the keeper smothers the ball one bounce before it is in the net?
Scenario A-2 — what happens if the keeper actually gets his hands on the ball as it hits the grounds on the near side six yard line?
Both of these scenarios I just sent into my rules interpreters for USSF and NCAA play.
Red is playing against White. White is the superior team but Red is well coached. White has been playing a very high line for the first 55 minutes of the game. Red’s coach yells out a code word. The next time the ball is getting knocked around in the midfield by Red, their midfielder plays a long through ball. At the time the ball is played Red 1 and Red 2 are both in an offside position by at least three yards. They each take three hard steps towards the general landing area of the ball, and then break wide. At the same time Red 3 and Red 4 make clean runs from onside positions. White’s defenders have stopped and raised their hands looking for an offside call. The AR is sprinting hard to track the ball and has nothing. Red 3 retrieves the ball and shanks it.
Five minutes later, the same scenario occurs but Red #4 buries the ball into the back corner.
The White captain and coach are livid. Do you have anything?
Green #16 grabs Gold #4 shirt and runs stride for stride with her for three steps with the jersey visibly bunched up. Gold #4 then short arm chops Green’s arm. Gold breaks free to open space at high speed with the ball in clean possession. This happened in the seventh minute of play.
You’re an older, experienced referee at a field complex hosting a recreational tournament. They’re running six fields. You have a game on Field 3 in an hour. You’ve grabbed your water and found some shade between fields 2 and 3. The ref on field 2 is a 15 year old kid who is just having a really bad game. No one is going to get hurt on this U-10 game but the ref just is not seeing what he should be seeing and when he sees something he is not recognizing and acting on it. Ten minutes later, the game is over. What do you say to the referee?
Scenario A — The first thing I noticed is that the referee was hauling ass. He was in good position and the surprise did not freeze him. Good job ref! Secondly, if I was in the middle, after I confirm a good goal, I am 100% sure that at least one if not both of my shoes need to be tied. I have the time, and if I can steal an extra five to ten seconds for the keeper to get his head on straight, I am going to do that. I won’t delay much, but I’ll make sure my shoes are tied and that I recorded the goal slowly and correctly in my book.
A-1 and A-2 start at the same point. The keeper would be committing a violation that is sanctioned by an indirect free kick (2nd possession using his hands before the ball is touched by another player) so there is no penalty kick. Play should be stopped unless the referee wants to give a second to see if the ball will squirt free and go into the goal. A-2 I am 100% sure that I don’t have a red card as the ball was not 100% sure going into the net. A-1 is where I need help. I don’t think I have DOGSO but I want confirmation.
Scenario B: I have a damn nice piece of coaching and execution by Red that was taking advantage of a lazy White team therefore I have good goal. Red 1 and Red 2 were never in the area of the ball, they freely took themselves out of play, never obstructed or interfered with White’s ability to recover and never blocked the vision of the keeper. It’s White’s job to run until they hear a whistle and then run two more steps after that.
Scenario C: This scenario occurred in a competitive college game. The referee and the assistant referee both saw the first foul (the hold). The assistant referee looked at the referee and saw that the referee recognized the situation but was waiting to see what happened. The short arm chop was a strong move without a ton of wind-up. The referee decided that both actions were “trifling” and did not constitute a net transfer of advantage. He did not call for a play-on, instead he just moved to a good position to look for anything that would rise to the level where he felt he needed to intervene.
This action in the 7th minute was one of three or four notable decisions the referee made in the first ten minutes to set the foul level for the day. Three no calls and one foul for a hard challenge through the back told both teams where the allowable contact line was. We were going to allow players to work through contact. And it worked. The players accepted the referee’s contact level. The game had twelve fouls total (7-5 Red) with one caution for a smart tactical foul.
Would that decision work in all scenarios?
Hell no. A non-competitive college game played at a low level of skill would see catch and release to become catch and beat down. The analogue to Gold would be neither strong enough or determined enough to try to run through the foul. The analogue to Green would not have been smart or skilled enough to not drag down Gold. Subtle/soft fouling is a skill. That type of decision making would fail miserably in high school play. It would lead to a fiasco game. We might be able to get away with that style of decision making on an older youth State Cup final as they’re the next round of college players but that is riskier.
Foul levels beyond the blindingly obvious cleats through the knee are driven by a shared negotiation between the referee and the players until everyone gets on the same page to produce a safe and fair game.
Scenario D: Unless I know the referee because they either live on my block, babysit my kids or I assign them youth games for my home town club. I am saying nothing. I don’t have the relationship with them to help them. They know if they had a good game, a decent game or a game they wish they had back. Another adult telling them that they sucked (as that is what they will hear from anything that an unknown ref) won’t help them. It will just make refereeing less enjoyable. At the most, point them to where the ref relaxation and rehydration area is so that they can clear their head. If you’re at the ref tent and they are actively trying to figure out what happened, then maybe a few very simple observations can help. But as a referee or just as any adult, let the ref get out from the immediate area of the game.