When the Assistant Referee is Vulnerable in the DSC

By: Bill Wagner, National Clinician; National Assessor

(Editor’s note: This article also appears in our column “For the Intercollegiate Referee,” since the DSC is used in both high school and college soccer games and the information herein is pertinent to both games.)

Every NISOA official has learned of the need for teamwork among the members of the Referee Team assigned to a college game. This article looks at the need for teamwork from the perspective of the Assistant Referee (AR) instead of the perspective of the Referee. There are situations that arise during the course of a college game where the AR is placed at a distinct disadvantage. It is at these moments that the AR is vulnerable and may need some help from other members of the team.  I will present some quite common situations and offer some preventative measures that can reduce the vulnerability of the AR.

Envision the scenario where a player is bringing the ball down along the touchline. As play progresses, the AR is faced with the responsibility of maintaining a position with the second to last defender and observing the position of the ball near the touchline. Both are important and must be handled correctly. Two techniques quickly come to mind that can assist in this situation. The AR needs to be able to: (1) side step along the touchline to maintain position with the second to last defender, (2) while constantly moving the head and eyes back and forth between the defender and the position of the ball. By doing so the AR is able to judge either offside or ball out of play when required.

Another common event involves the goalkeeper in possession of the ball inside his/her own penalty area. With the goalkeeper moving to put the ball back in play the AR notices the second last defender is in a position several yards outside and forward of the penalty area. Faced with the responsibility of ensuring that the goalkeeper doesn’t cross out of the penalty area while holding the ball, and maintaining a position with the second last defender, the AR is again vulnerable.  For this situation, experience plays a strong role. The AR should be aware of the goalkeeper’s tendencies during the game. Goalkeeper’s who constantly bring the ball to the edge of the penalty area may need more watching than those who release the ball earlier. The first case requires the AR to observe the goalkeeper until just prior to the release of the ball and then sprint to be in position to judge offside and prepared for a quick counterattack. In the latter case, the AR may be able to move into position with the second to last defender and disregard the goalkeeper for the moment.

During the pre-game conference, I hope you have discussed how to manage free kicks near the opponent’s goal.  That is, distances within 20 – 25 yards of the opponent’s goal. Who assumes responsibility to be goal judge and who assumes responsibility for deciding offside?  It is probably best to have the AR take up a position on the goal line to judge whether a goal is scored and for the Referee to temporarily assume responsibility for offside during a quick clearance and counterattack. Once the defense has clear possession and is moving away from its goal, the AR can reclaim responsibility for offside decisions from the Referee.

Has this ever happened to you? You are assigned the position of AR2 and during the course of the game, players from the bench begin warming up in the area between the bench and the goal line. As you look across the field while maintaining position with the second last defender, you now see several more players moving within your field of vision. Your eyes begin to question who is or is not on the field of play. Bench control is another topic for the pre-game conference among the officials. In this situation, either the AR1 or Alternate Official needs to enforce bench control procedures to aid the AR2 in performing their assigned duties.

Consider these scenarios where the AR has taken a position at the goal line. The first involves a penalty kick. The kick is taken and saved by the defense. Who is watching for offside? Once again, the AR is not in a position to immediately judge offside so the referee must temporarily assume that responsibility until the AR can move into position by cutting diagonally across the corner of the field to the touchline. The second example involves the role of the AR as a corner kick is about to be taken from their side of the field. The AR sees that the opponents fail to respect the proper distance. The AR or the Referee should advise the kicker to wait. That allows the AR time to step on to the field to quickly move defenders beyond the hash mark placed along the goal line and then return to take the proper position for the taking of the kick.

How about the time that the Referee fails to recognize the AR has signaled for offside? Think back to the pre-game conference. I hope the Referee advised that you should hold that flag until waved down, the whistle is blown, or the defense gains clear possession of the ball. Should an apparent goal be scored, the AR needs to make eye contact with the Referee and stand at attention or otherwise communicate to the Referee that the goal should be disallowed due to the offside infringement. This procedure should also be followed by the AR in other situations where a goal is disallowed such as fouls committed by the attacking team prior to the goal, or a teammate of the goal scorer being in an offside position and interfering with play.

Controversy often surrounds decisions made by the team of officials. How should the AR respond when approached by players following a decision to award or not award a goal; decisions involving fouls indicated by the AR; or offside decisions? Quite often the boundary lines are your friend. You can move toward the halfway line or away from the touchline to avoid those players. Look for some help from the Referee and make sure to provide the Referee with all necessary information to reinforce the decision in question and to aid in restoring order if necessary.

Unfortunately, it does happen that players are injured during the course of the game. Once play is stopped all members of the Referee Team must be prepared and alert. The Referee makes a decision whether medical personnel need to be beckoned on to the field for treatment. Until that decision, the AR or Alternate Official must be enforcing bench control procedures. Once medical personnel have been beckoned on to the field, the ARs must be alert to others entering the field improperly; players who may move to their bench area for water or to converse with teammates; or players seeking retribution. The AR should also be prepared to advise the Referee of the appropriate restart and ball placement.

Consider this final scene.  A shot on goal is taken toward the far goalpost. The goalkeeper makes a diving save but covers the ball with their body thus screening you, the AR, from being able to judge whether a goal has been scored. This situation requires the Referee to assist rather than be assisted. The Referee needs to be in a position to “read the play” and get into the proper position to be goal judge. The need to “be there” is even more critical in a strongly contested and close game.

The situations mentioned all provide instances where the AR is placed into a more vulnerable position than normal. The Referee Team needs to be prepared to adjust and respond by taking preventative measures to offset these potentially embarrassing situations. Preventative measures must be discussed in the pre-game conference. Cooperation between the Referee, Assistant Referees, and Alternate Official, if assigned, is critical to success. The team sinks or swims together and must communicate well throughout the game. Using the techniques that have been suggested will go a long way toward ensuring successful outcomes from these stressful conditions. Give them some thought and have a great next game!