In this week’s Play of the Week we are discussing Serious Foul Play. Firstly, let’s remind ourselves of the Law (12):

Serious foul play

A tackle or challenge that endangers the safety of an opponent or uses excessive force or brutality must be sanctioned as serious foul play.

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

One of the important factors when recognising such challenges that should give the referee a vital clue is the messages from players.

This week’s Play of the Week is from the Houston Dynamo v Portland Timbers game. When Timber’s Sebastian Blanco is cynically and deliberately tripped by Dynamo’s Adolfo Machado, it is clear that Blanco is angry. Despite referee Nima Saghafi awarding the free-kick Blanco obviously didn’t like the cynical and deliberate nature of the foul and the fact that Saghafi didn’t caution Machado. The free kick is taken quickly and immediately Blanco takes revenge by immediately committing a foul on Dynamo’s Eric Alexander for which he receives a yellow card.

Firstly, what we can learn from this play is that referees should never leave a player who is angry, the fact that the referee allowed the quick free-kick is asking for trouble. By managing Blanco and allowing him time to calm down would have avoided his following retaliatory foul and a caution.

Secondly the referee did not read the clues and messages from the player. Knowing that Blanco is irate should be the first clue, then seeing that the ball is moving away from him and that he is late should be the second clue to what in my opinion deserved to be a red card not a yellow card.

Part of the problem is the Law itself.  If you look at the description of the Law above it does not mention the word deliberate or intentional.  That that was removed from the Law in 1995. I understand the reason it was taken out of the Law was because a serious foul play or reckless tackle or challenge doesn’t have to be deliberate, but sometimes it is. That is a fact and it should be a consideration. If the word deliberate or intentional was still in the Law and we go back to the play, Machado would have been cautioned for his deliberate foul on Blanco. Saghafi in applying the written Law doesn’t caution him as it wasn’t reckless or SPA (Stopping a Promising Attack). Why isn’t a DELIBERATE/INTENTIONAL foul as serious as a RECKLESS foul or SPA? If they don’t want to use the term deliberate or intentional then perhaps replace it with cynical? Had Machado had been cautioned then it is likely that Blanco would have been satisfied, would have calmed down and would not have committed his deliberate foul.

Then we look at Blanco’s challenge, and again the referee in applying the written Law doesn’t send him off as it’s not a lunge or unequivocally excessive force, plus referees will often use the point of contact as a criterion (above the ankle, red card, below the ankle, yellow card).  It was low. but it was absolutely deliberate and would have been painful to his opponent Alexander.

Finally, when describing a reckless or serious foul play tackle or challenge in normal language it’s difficult not to use the words deliberate or intentional because quite often that’s what it is.  It’s as simple as that and it differentiates between a SFP/Reckless tackle/challenge that is down to bad timing etc. and one that is deliberate/intentional and adds more substance and meaning to it.

So apart from my ramblings about bringing deliberate/intentional back into Reckless/SFP considerations, what can we learn from this play:

  • Never leave a player who is angry
  • Manage him and restart play when he is calmer
  • Read the clues and messages from players to recognise foul challenges
  • Is he angry and looking for ‘revenge’?
  • Is he chasing the ball and late into the tackle?


  1. A stonewall red card. However the referee should have issued a caution for the first foul very poor from the referee in my opinion.

  2. MLS referees are weak and inconsistent – been to too many matches where they ignore the obvious, and let players get away with this type of behavior – be brave, enforce the Laws, send him off – no excuse for not doing their job.

  3. IMO, the initial trip of Blanco was flat out a YC. As I would have deemed it intentional, I would call it USB.

    As mentioned, give that card, and then Blanco does not commit the next foul. But if he did, I would have deemed that intentional as well and given him the RC for SFP. For get the wording of the laws. He hurt the guy on purpose. In retaliation for previous foul. He’s gone. Otherwise, why are we out there?

    I know that it is often said the we can’t judge or call intent. But all I know is that I often see stuff happening in advance. And then it happens. And then I card it. As opposed to spur of the moment fouls that go un carded as I did not judge intent.


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