In this week’s Play of the Week we are discussing fouls in the penalty area, the problems that referees face and the responsibilities of all members of the refereeing team.

One of the problems in the game is the amount of potential offences and misconduct that occur within the penalty area, usually but not exclusively during corner kicks and free-kicks.

Referees have to be proactive by warning players and let them know they are watching before the ball is in play. This will alert the players to the fact that the referee is aware of any potential misconduct and should come as ‘no surprise’ if penalised. They should then penalise any fouls that occur when the ball is in play according to the nature of the offence.

This could be by the award of a penalty kick, or defensive free kick and depending upon the nature of the offence by issuing a yellow or even a red card. The other match officials have to be alert and aware so there are four pairs of eyes looking inside the penalty area.

The first play we are examining is from Houston Dynamo v LA Galaxy. As a Galaxy corner kick is being taken referee Alan Kelly has taken a central position on the edge of the penalty area and is prioritising a group of players in and around the penalty spot. This is what referees have to do

Referees should never be prescriptive at corner kick restarts, they should adopt a restart position based on the configuration of the players, where the majority of the players are and where they suspect the likeliest chance of misconduct may occur. Kelly moves closer to these players to let them know that he is watching them, to hopefully deter them from any misconduct. Doing this means he cannot see a situation developing between Dynamo defender, Romell Quioto and Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic to his left, which results in Quioto going to ground.

In a crowded penalty area it can be difficult for the referee to see everything and this is when one of his crew should assist, in this case AR2 Danny Thornberry on the half way line. When ARs are situated on the halfway line during corner kicks at the other end they have no other responsibilities so they should be monitoring and surveying any areas that the referee cannot see from his position.

From that distance, I wouldn’t expect the AR to know specifically the reason why Quioto goes to ground but the early warning signs were there. Initially Ibrahimovic swings his arm back to shrug off Quioto, and then raises his arms to try and attract Kelly’s attention. At this point the AR should be alerting the referee over the communication kit that there is a potential problem between the two players that may escalate. This would give him the opportunity to nip it in the bud before there is a potential red card situation.

On further examination it appears that Quioto’s head was in the back of Ibrahimovic and he shrugs him off for the second time. Kelly keeps calm while some players get slightly heated but peace is soon restored. He then holds up the resulting second corner waiting for the VAR to confirm correctly that no further action was necessary and play continues without further incident.

The second play is from the game between Minnesota United and Vancouver Whitecaps. As the ball is played into the United penalty area from the left hand side, Whitecaps defender, Kendall Waston is tightly marking United attacker, Mason Toye. Toye breaks free and Waston goes down clutching his stomach. Referee Nima Saghafi then runs in and brandishes the red card in a confident manner to Toye who accepts his fate with the minimum of fuss and leaves the field. When looking at the replay you can see that Toye elbows Waston in the stomach and is therefore correctly sent off for violent conduct.

When you examine this play you will see Saghafi takes up a good position on the edge of the penalty area but is naturally focussing his attentions on Alexi Gomez, the player crossing the ball, and can can only see the elbow out of the corner of his eye. However 4th official Allen Chapman from his position on the halfway line immediately starts communicating to Saghafi by saying positively “Elbow, elbow, elbow, red card, red card, red card”. This was great communication by Chapman which gives Saghafi the confirmation and confidence he needs to send off Toye.

In summary it is important that the other match officials:

  • Assist by indicating offences that the referee cannot see or is unsure of
  • Add credibility to the referee’s decision

Finally a quote from Helen Keller:

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”


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