Five Best of the First Five Years: I don't know a ref who likes this venue (2003)

May 4, 2009
By TheRef
The more I think about this piece, the more I think about "mind over matter". If you ref, like when you're carrying a full soup bowl, that you think you're going to have trouble, will you? Or are you merely carrying realistic expectations based on not only your own, but others experiences? This is also a great one on the differences of the indoor game versus outdoor; and when the indoor game is done at any old place, as long as people are willing to pay .

I don't know a ref who likes this venue

I woke up this morning to my cell phone going off; I lifted my head slightly, then looked at my cat, curled up next to me with a look in her eye that said the same thing that was going through my head: "Who the hell was calling me on Sunday morning?" And, proving that people choose pets after their own behavior, and what is different begins to merge, we both dropped our heads back to the bed with "Who the hell cares" as the final thought before falling back asleep.

Then the phone rang again.

Usually a second phone call means something is important, so I got out of bed and answered the phone - a number I didn't recognize on the caller ID. It was Michael, who's filling in for the regular soccer coordinator who's out-of-town. "Can you ref this morning? Please say you can. Please say you can."

The fog starts to lift with the thought of soccer. "Ummm, yeah, I think so. I don't think I have anything going on. What time?"


I look at the clock on the microwave, which reads 10:45, meaning it was in reality an hour earlier (and a constant reminder that it's the last clock in my possession that hasn't been updated). I also take a look out the window; snow. At least a good four inches of snow had fallen, and it was still going pretty well. "There's no way I'm going to make 10:30, no matter where it is. I just got up, I hadn't had breakfast," and what I didn't say is that I know the reason why you're hunting for a referee; people around the state may like to see themselves as the next best thing to mountain men, with their SUVs, but the reality is that they're little different than Tennesseans when it comes to the first snowfall of the year (sorry, Tennesseans, one of my boyhood hobbies was watching people going into a panic whenever there was even a hint of snowfall... in Tennessee).

"That's OK, you can start there late."

"No, there's no way I'm going to get there anywhere near for a 10:30; I can start at 11:30."

"OK, I'll find someone for that first one. The games run until 2:30 at the Y, you can park indoors - just sign in at the desk."

Waitamoment... 2:30? Doesn't the MLS Cup start at 2:30? I know I committed to a starting time, but did I for an ending time? No? YES! "I've going to be out by 1:30, I promised to be with my girlfriend before 2:30." Do I feel bad? Nope - I'm bailing them out, and we were planning on watching the MLS Cup together.

"I can work with that. Thanks, man!"

And then it hit me. One little letter pretty much ensured that I had a better than 50/50 chance of having a not-very-fun time. It was the letter "Y".

The group I ref for has three venues they work through during the winter. Two are at college campuses; one is in one of those air-pressure domes and uses AstroTurf (and I had worked there for two years), the other uses the nice synthetic turf (AstroPlay, for those keeping score). The third is the venue that every referee I know that works for this group hates: the gymnasium at the city YMCA. The reason for these are very straight forward: it's dangerous, it's small, and it just invites people doing stupid things.

It's dangerous: take a basketball court, add the usual amenities like drinking fountains, brick walls, etc., and make them all playable. Basically, it's your typical dasher-board soccer on a wooden floor with additional objects thrown in to make play more dangerous. Despite telling all the teams that I will call the play tighter around the walls (I do NOT want to call the office and explain why someone's brains are smeared across them), I will inevitably get people pissed off for calling things too tight. Which is ironic, because they're usually the same people who whine about things getting too rough (but only about their own team.... hmmmmm...).

It's small: It's a gym with limited area, so if someone gets pissed, there's no place for them to go and cool off. It's a problem waiting to happen in terms of man management.

It just invites people to do stupid things: Nobody really wants to play there. The other locations fill up quickly, and this one, despite being half the price per team, is the refuge of teams who filled out their paperwork late, so they really want to be doing half-field games, instead of quarter-field games. The other problem is better described with rugby. If you watch Fox Sports World, you've seen a lot of rugby lately, and I was told by someone from a traditional rugby nation that Americans can't play the game - not because they don't have the skills, but they don't understand the moderation necessary to play it safely. In short, pointy-ball has corrupted us; we're used to so much padding that we're expected to go full-bore into our opponents, and if you did that in rugby, you would risk serious injury to yourself and your opponent. What's the saying? "Rugby is the hooligan's sport played by gentlemen." In the soccer-in-a-gym, you cannot play as physical - the environment is too unforgiving - but we're corrupted, thinking everything has to go full bore no matter where, because it's a sign of weakness to not do (especially when one is lacking in the skills to do otherwise). The size and condition are a powder keg, and all you need is one idiot who doesn't understand how to treat that explosive material for the entire game to blow up. And at that location, it does. Regularly. I refuse to ref there on a regular basis (I'm never too asleep to forget that one), and generally dislike subbing there. But I do, because it helps the group out.

I recognize one of the teams in the first game; gee, let's walk into the ammo dump with burning matches, why don't we? The team name is called the Hooligans, and a better name I cannot think. They have one player in particular who whines continually about everything, and it just pisses the other team off - always. For example, during the game, he got a tiny bit of heel on his shin, sends the ball up-court, then starts winging - I even call advantage, and he's still winging. They score a goal because of the advantage call, and he's still winging!

Here's where it all goes to hell. The Winger boards someone in his own penalty area; I come in blaring his whistle, yellow card already out of the quick-draw pocket, and tell him to get off the court (no real rule for that, but since this league is unaffiliated, there's some leeway), and give the penalty kick.

There is a theory in refereeing that you should obey your instincts when it comes to red and yellow cards; that if you don't know it's a red right away, you'll never sell it, because nobody else does, either, but even more-so, it's probably not worthy of a red. This was my idea at the time, so I pulled the yellow (red never really entered my thoughts); in retrospect, this was the start of the game's deterioration, but you can only change your mind before the first restart; not 10 minutes late. Actually, I still don't think it's a red, but pulling a red probably would have done more for game management than just the yellow.

Few minutes later, player from the other team darts into the wall to take the ball away from someone who already had it, and had position. This player basically throws himself in the wall - but other team wants a foul that I am not willing to give; how could I? If there was a foul, it was against their team for pushing, not boarding. This brings words to the referee.

There is a theory in refereeing that the difference between dissent and abusive language is the word "you". Should someone say to the referee, "That sucks", they would receive a yellow card for dissent; should he, however change one word and one letter to "you suck" and you have a red for abuse language toward the referee. Why do I write about this? Someone decided to use the word "You" addressed to me. Just like I didn't even consider red for the boarding, I considered nothing less for this one. Needless, to say, the team was not happy - all the sudden they want a red card for the boarder and it takes a few minutes before things get settled enough to play (although the red carded player came back out after the game to complain some more, including threatening to complain - something in this league I am NOT worried about - I know the people there well enough that I know they will back me).

I know some experienced referees (even some with National badges) would say that in the interests of man management, I should have red carded the boarder; I know others who would be aghast as even the thought of putting man management in front of the laws. But it was a call that's "in the opinion of the referee", and it's up the players to decide on what to do next. I wonder if there are things that I could have done before the game to keep it from escalating. It's hard to say, given the nature of the game a the gymnasium. Indoor games, even when the field is half-field (as opposed to a basketball court) seems to have tensions up several notches from outdoor; perhaps the only way to avoid situations like that, if you're a referee, is to not work there. Read More »

Five Best of the First Five Years: Just keep makin' up the rules, Monkey Boy (2004)

April 24, 2009
By TheRef
Refs are human beings - which means on one hand players, coaches, and fans should treat us like one; on the other it means that if you don't, we will do what we need to do. That may mean tossing you, and it may go as far as making fun of you, or even gloating when your behavior finally catches up to you.

This is two parter, about a person who, depending on the time of day, I would either say, "I'm sorry I gloated about his injury" or, "I don't feel sorry about his injury." The guy was just the epidemy of everything that's wrong with sports today. Loud (which isn't bad, unless it's coupled with...), obnoxious, ignorant, arrogant, and overly aggressive. The saga actually started in December of 2003 (Is there a Kobayashi Maru for Refs?), and continued for the rest of that session, which went into 2004.

As for the 2004 entries, here's Just keep makin' up the rules, Monkey Boy which was originally published on January 13, 2004 :

More "playoffs" - only a handful of teams are playing for the coveted league champion T-shirts, but everyone is in bracket play, to determine who they play for the next couple weeks. Even if you're not in contention for the T-Shirts, it's a playoff of sorts, so intensity level is higher; the only downside is that my ability to run is lower, as I'm still recovering from that nasty cold last week. In the indoor game, it's not needed as much, as you're never more than 30 yards from play - and good positioning, coupled with a minimum amount of sprinting, can insure that you're within 10 (I prefer to be more active, but reality dictates that my being lucid is more important).

The Hell team finally showed up! Missing-in-action for three games (although apparently the office knew about it, as there were issues during the holidays), they were back, and I was reffing them. Actually, this was by my own choice: there are two refs in this league, and dealing with refs you don't like is part of life; other teams deal with their demons, this team has to deal with me (besides, I gave them several weeks to cool down).

First half, they keep their happy hats on, and just play. They're playing a team that has some good players, but is having a very poor session - I don't know if they're missing key players this winter or what, but they've been a lot better in the past, but this winter, they've only won a single game. They're up 1-0 at half, and there is little going on. Second half, the problem players show up - literally - they weren't around in the first half, and things get heated again. It was a perfect example of what one or two bad apples will do to a team. First, a yellow card for dissent; "You think I'm going to let you go off again? I don't think so."

So now the whining and whinging begins in earnest: They can't shoulder charge me (says who?)! They can't obstruct me (they just passed the ball, and the attacker ran straight into the defender - that's not obstruction, that's you running into him.)! Wah wah wah!

Second yellow comes after the player I sent off last time takes a mighty whack at a defender who just took possession of the ball. No chance at ball, I was tempted to send him off again because it was totally unnecessary. Out comes the goalkeeper fourty yards to complain - he gets booked, too.

How the goalkeeper shows the effects of LSD usage: A few minutes later, Pink (yup, that's the "other" team's color) trips up, but does not trip a member of the Hell Team - and it was a play for the ball that was just short. Keeper complains that it's "the same foul." Oh, yeah, riiiiight. I have to admit, I was saying in my head, "Just a little bit! Just a little bit more!!. I want to red card you with a great big smile on my face!". This was followed by the keeper trying to make up rules for the penalty kicks that we had to go through; PKs can be frustrating if they're not followed correctly - they're the only free kicks that are a mandated ceremonial restart (kickoffs are not free kicks, if you're being technical, which I am); it absolutely MUST take place after the referee's go-ahead (99.9% of the time a whistle), no if's and's or but's. But this is a rec league, and some people just don't understand - not a criticism, it just is; and a woman took the kick early and it was saved. Guess what, it ain't a valid kick - no no no. Sayeth the Druggie Keeper (who's quickly starting to look and act like Steve Ballmer, aka The Monkey Boy), "They can't re-take the kick!" followed by what would have been deadly seriousness, if he wasn't already in hysterics, (it sounded more like William Shatner's rendition of Mr. Tambourine Man) "Its! In! The! Rules!" I have no idea how I kept a straight face then - but I can't now: Baaahahahahahahahaha! Oh, man, this guy's idiocy is just amazing!

Adding to the humor, the captains for both teams that followed that game both remarked about how much they whined and carried on, and when their team name was mentioned, one of them went, "Oh, yeah them." They've picked up a reputation.

Unfortunately, they did fall just short of picking up the red card (and how often do I say "unfortunately" with regards to an avoided send-off?). So in a unbridled display of referee sickness (shared by the coordinator and other referee, who both agree), I'm getting them again for their next game. :-)

Second game was a playoff game, and it looked to be a blowout; Blue was down 2-0 and their keeper went out after popping his knee following a goal kick. Replacement keeper gave up another in the final five minutes and they were down 3-0 to White. White has a very predictable attacking style: get the ball to #11. That's is - that's all they do, and he bobs and weaves around and find ways to get point-blank shots and Blue was just unable to deal with him in the first half. Second half, they switch keepers again (a woman who was much better), and began double-teaming White's #11 with their two best players. They open with a goal, making it 3-1. White #11 tapped the ball at kick-off and goes directly down the middle of the field and punches the ball in to make it 4-1. Now the double-teaming begins in earnest, and white's attack is flat shut down; what's more, now that they have possession, they start pelting away at a disorganized White defense (that doesn't seem to know what to do, since they can't get anything to #11 anymore). 4-2. 4-3. 4-4. Intensity level for Blue has changed from, "We're dead, let's have fun," to "let's win it!" and is absolutely frenetic. White's intensity level has also increased - keeper is screaming at his players to get organized, get people to stay back defensively, and not give up the game. Blue now goes up 4-5, and tensions are high as both teams, while not highly skilled, ARE highly wired, and every foul and possession are critical. #11 takes a tough foul about 15 yards from the goal (not a PK in indoor - it's outside of the penalty area), and just drills it to tie the game at five; a few minutes later he commits a retaliatory foul (wasn't scoring enough???) and I book him. We have less than two minutes left, and #11 is fouled again by Blue (and Blue is booked) on the left side of the goal, just outside the PA and two yards from the goal line... and he starts mouthing off. I step in, "Hey, he's been booked, and you have a yellow card. Wouldn't it suck to have to sit out the last few minutes when you could have won it?"

I wonder if it made an impression - because he did win it. White won 6-5, and of those six goals, he scored five of them. Yeah, getting fouled sucks, but when you're THAT important to the team, you can't risk doing stupid things.

Followup article, published on January 22, 2004: Does this make me a bad guy?

My first response was, "Yes!" My second was, "It couldn't happen to a more worthy guy." Third, fourth, fifth didn't change a whole lot. And after more than twelve hours after hearing about it, I'm still wishing I could have seen it happen.

Tasteless? Yes. Understandable? Maybe.

I'm talking the bozo who has been giving me so much trouble of late; HE BROKE HIS NOSE!

Sorry, I can't help it, it must come out again...


OK, this is odd - in more than three years of reffing, I've never had the kind of vitriol I've reserved for him. I think it's because he is, in equal proportions, a whiner, an idiot, and a provocateur. When I think of people who do a disservice to the game of soccer, this man, more than any coach I've seen (and if you've read my stuff, imagine how serious that charge is!) is the worst. And the worst part about it, is that he's a good player - he does not need to be an obnoxious prick who thinks his immortal soul is riding on the game. But even if it is, it's his own stupid decision to make that deal, I don't give a rat's ass if he fries in hell or not.

I found out last night in one of the leagues I play in (I picked up a second where we get our asses handed to us every night, but at least it's good practice) that one of my teammates was playing against his team, and according to the story, things went along the usual pattern. First half things were fine, but they, the team-o-insanity, was behind by a few goals. Second half, they got chippy, and they got mouthy, and they got nasty. The goalkeeper (the Prickius Maximus) has a tendency to come out of the penalty area, dribbling the ball, driving hard to spark some offense; the only problem is that he also tends to want special privileges when he does that, when in reality, as soon as he leaves the PA he's just another field player in a funny jersey; and in this case he went too hard, right into this guy's shoulder, and broke his own nose.

I was in the building but didn't know it was him. I was busy reffing my own game, and at a stoppage we heard calls from the other side asking if there was a doctor in the building. After nobody answered, I stopped the game to make sure someone there had a cell phone (and if not, volunteer mine) - someone did and said they would call if necessary, so I returned and restarted my game. By the way, in case you're wondering why I did it like that, I come from an acting background, where the show must go on no matter what happens in the audience: during my performances there have been people puking, having seizures and other unpleasantries (I quickly gave up on going professional), but unless there's a fire or other natural disaster, the show, indeed, must go on. If nothing else, it keeps people from standing around, staring at the guy that was hurt.

Besides, if I knew who it was, I probably would have been standing around giggling. How ugly would that have been?

So, now that my game is over with, and the Team of Too Much Testosterone has left the building (we don't have any more week-days leagues for the rest of the winter, and they don't play on weekends), I've stopped gleefully going over the injury (well, no, I just had another gleeful moment - how about we say I'm not constantly in a gleeful state?), and asked myself how appropriate this is. And this is the answer I've come up with; it doesn't matter as long as I keep it in check. Because frankly, I do think something like this was coming, either through his hard playing, or someone busting his nose via a passing fist; he's a disreputable jerk, and now that I won't see him for quite some time, it's safe for me to feel this way. Should I ref them again (which probably won't be for another year), I'll have to package it tightly and put it away (if I haven't forgotten about it by then), and then just ref.

Maybe, with luck, he'll learn that he brought this upon himself. But I'm not willing to give him that much credit.

Post-Script: Just talked to the coordinator, who's finalizing schedules for this weekend. He had just one word to say after he found out who it was: "Karma." Read More »

Going up a level

March 1, 2008
By TheRef
I knew going into this match that it would not be my best; it involved a team playing at a different level, not only with skills, but with acceptable levels of physical play, that I had not reffed before, except for a couple of fourth officials and one line. On the team there was at least one player who regularly started on a USL division 1 squad, one retiree, and a bunch of people who want to make it to that level. I'd have to adjust to tempo, differences in where the play would go, and degree of physical play.

For the first time in a long time, I was a greenhorn. Now why the team that was full of retired USL players garnered a full squad with a National referee at the helm, while I did the active team solo, I don't know - but there it was. And I think, after taking about 20 minutes to get a feel, and making a couple of poor positioning choices (choices that may had been mitigated with proper ARs), I did OK. My biggest mistake? Not asking for an informal assessment, as I really could have learned a lot from someone focusing on me for ninety minutes.

The good news is that it was competitive - especially after the kids (kids being 18-year-olds) scored a very nice goal early. While I tried to let a lot go before then, especially given what I was told earlier - but things were ratcheted up a notch, and I tried to clamp down. Here's the problem I had, and I'm going to split it into three parts:

1. I've been told before that the higher the level of play, the more crap you should allow (after all, these are people who are giving up a lot for the chance at going professional).

2. But you're also told that the players will let you know where the game should be at - if you're too tight or too loose.

3. Finally, MLS players have gone on record that they'll go as far as the referee allows them, and they do try to "work" the referee.

So how the heck am I supposed to actually judge if I let enough, too much, or not enough, go? Assuming item #3 also applies to USL Division 3/NPSL, does that mean #2 is no longer valid? And even if not, item #1 means making that self-assessment on #2 all the more difficult! I suppose you could say it comes with games over time, but I'm unlikely to get a center of this quality anytime this year - which is another reason I'm kicking myself for not asking the referee committee for a coaching session.

The good news is that despite a physical game, both coaches seemed OK with things - both seemed to make good points when I asked them for their own opinions and suggestions (and they even made the same ones, and it's hard to argue against that), and even the players seemed OK. Moreover, I seemed to feel a lot more comfortable in the second half, even as things were heating up (it was 2-1 for the school until late in the game when they iced it with a few minutes left); as players wanted things their way, I was happily smiling as I disagreed (something I didn't in the first half).

Damn, that was fun. Read More »

Crappy game, or an inevitable situation?

August 23, 2007
By TheRef
I'm writing this entry about a week after the fact, because this game just frazzled me. I've done a few games since (all lines), but just haven't felt the desire to ref yet. This game burnt me out.

It was not my best game, either - no doubt about that, but the question is, was a bad game my fault, or because the teams were better off in a cage match than soccer pitch? Here's the quick recap:

Second-division men's team, day after my assessment, second-to-last game until the playoffs (which either team may or may not make). Before the game, one of the players tried working me over saying how bad certain referees were this season, and how he used to referee himself (but wouldn't do it again). I told him what I usually do, that I can't guarantee that anyone will like me, but that I'll do the best I can for this and every other game I get. Probably not a good sign, because he was yelling and screaming all game. Early, within the first few minutes, a hard foul and the person fouled is yelling - I run over to try to diffuse the situation, and he won't hear any of it. I ask a teammate if he could say anything because, "he doesn't want to listen to me." The reply was, "Oh, he never will." Not, good, either.

First card comes about 20 minutes into the game, when a white defender bear-hugs a player from trying to make it through; no DOGSO , but a definite yellow card, of which I heard an earful quite a bit. This should be the biggest "Duh!" of the game (the only argument I expected was from the fouled team wanting a send-off), but instead I hear about how it's an awful call. Lots of fouling by both teams, but the opposing blue team is doing more. Every call has white screaming for a card, and I start looking for one, not because they're vocal about it, but because Persistent Infringement is a legitimate card at this point. I chose unwisely, and carded what I thought was good situation, but turned out not so well - I think I got a little jumpy, and bit too soon.

Halftime and both teams weren't happy at each other, or me. Since we had lights, I planned on giving them as much time as they wanted for the half, and let them cool down. Problem was they were all, both teams, back on the pitch in three minutes - before we get back to our bags and water ourselves. I drag it out a few more minutes, but it's clear they want to keep playing, and PLAY. RIGHT. NOW. Or should I say beat the living crap out of each other. So anyway, my senior AR, who is a better referee than I am, wants me to run to extreme positions (meaning all the way to touch) on both sides to see hand-fouls - I've done it a few times, but it's been drilled into me for several years to not do that (or at least not make a habit out of it, which is what my assistant wants) - I'm not fast enough (he can run 3000 meters on the Cooper Test) to make a habit of it and recover to a good position - I go wider, but not to his satisfaction. He also says there are a bunch of little fouls, and I exhort him to start flagging more if I don't see them, but I don't get a lot of help in the second half (apparently all the traffic was in the other half for the second forty-five), although a few calls, which brought out the same grief I had received in the first half.

So what happened in the second half? A PK my senior AR didn't agree with, a red card for a player who kicked an opponent who was face first on the ground, after he (the kicker) just fouled him, and a dissent card for words toward my junior AR. So my question is, did I really muck this thing up? Or was this another situation of a game at the end of the season, and both teams are going to vent their frustrations out on each other, with soccer being the excuse? Even a week later, I still don't know.

I do know this, I've had two games in a row where I've been told to talk more, instead of just whistle. Maybe I'd been overcompensating from when I thought I talked too much, but chances are it's not. Both my senior AR and the assessor said I need to talk about the foul (even if it's just "This way") after the whistle, to emphasize my position to the foul and make myself a bit more visible to the players. My next center is a game in the same division - I'll be using it and will have to see what happens. Read More »

What is referee control?

August 15, 2007
By TheRef
An interesting game yesterday - another foray into the middle of a first division men's game (although this was in the "B" bracket of the first division). For a period in the second half things got very chippy, I issued four cards in ten minutes, including one that was very nearly a send-off - but after that, things went well. And it brings up the question of just what is control. I see similar situations at the professional level, and players and fans think the referee has lost control, but ask my AR (who assessed me when I wanted to upgrade to a seven), and the cards are a method of keeping the control.

This is where it all started: A white player about to go into red's penalty area gets tripped up but stays upright, takes the ball into the area and scores. In the process of getting his footing, he has contact with one of red's defenders, who's leg is outstretched (in my humble opinion, no foul); what sets off the smörgåsbord of cards is what happened after the goal - or what may have happened. A white player said he was nailed after the goal - it wasn't the goal-scorer, so it was off the ball and I didn't see anything - the AR didn't see anything either (actually, he said that there was nothing there - but I'm willing to acknowledge that something happened that neither of us saw). White player starts arguing about the lack of a call - since I saw nothing that even looked like a post-goal confrontation, it's clearly a one-sided argument, and red gets steamed because they want a call for the guy with the outstretched leg, and because they think the guy's a prat for complaining after they scored a goal. The white player refuses to disengage, and he's keeping me from restarting the game - I end up having to book him, because it's the only way to get him to shut up. The AR, my former assessor, said I was being awfully nice, but knew a card was forthcoming - I did, too - but I gave him several chances to save himself from a booking, but nonetheless he was shocked - shocked I say, when it came out.

A few minutes later, another white player, coming in on a hard run into the area, purposefully jukes into a defender, looking for a call, which there is no way I'm going to give. Frankly, it was pretty pathetic, but it sets off the team in a rage, and another attacker on the other side makes a late tackle in his offensive third, claiming that since it wasn't a foul on one side, that shouldn't be either. You know, most of the first half they whined, but now it shifted from whining to acting out. And if it sounds like I'm using childish terms to refer to these "adults", you're correct - they were acting like kids having a tantrum.

So we now have two bookings for white, but it's apparently not enough for red, because they want to get into the action, and one of their players has his own very late tackle, earning a yellow card; and another where the player just plowed into another - and I very nearly went red. The tantrum continued, however, because in the last case, the guy's out-and-out saying that there's nothing in the Law that says a "too hard" tackle can be fouled, let alone carded. He was lucky I ended up going with "reckless" (which is in the book, in case you read this), instead of "excessive force" (which is a send-off). Strangely enough, and this is more sarcasm, he didn't take me up on my offer to show him in the Law book after the game. Funny - they almost never do that.

What's really strange is, even though the fouls (and cards) have been escalating, suddenly the game goes back to normal - almost like a switch. Even the PK my AR called (the keeper went off his line to snatch a lose ball, but apparently grabbed his opponent first - the AR said he knew I didn't have the angle for it, which was probably true - and I've known him long enough to know he wouldn't call a PK from the line unless he really deserved it) was pretty calm. The keeper wasn't happy, especially when I didn't explain the call (because I wasn't sure, as I said above, but trusted my AR), but the kick was taken (and scored), and the game moved on.

So after the game, I asked my AR, the one who assessed me, for suggestions, and he brought up that I used the cards to control the match when things started escalating; that the players saw it as a match going out-of-control, but he saw it as me drawing the line, and booking those who crossed it. I supposed it's another instance of how referees see the game differently. Read More »

When I warn you about "taking a walk" I mean it!

August 10, 2007
By TheRef
Early on in the season, when I was reffing an adult game, I could hear on another field the sounds of vigorous dissent, and a lot of it. At the time, I thought two things: the first was, that I hadn't had a game like that in a very long time; and the second was wondering, given how long it had been, how I would handle it. As referees we all get games like these, sometimes they're avoidable, sometimes they just come with the game and what you do won't matter one bit.

The game I had wasn't like that, but it did have two things I hadn't done in a long time: carding a player for dissent, and ejecting a coach. In these situations, I always like to go over the game, the good and bad points, to see if or what I could have done better. Here were the things I couldn't control:

The Teams: 19-boys, probably the last game of their regular season. Both in the middle of the table, and if you look at the numbers, matched pretty evenly. The winner of the game might get some benefit going into the district tournament, but maybe not.

The Field: Small. Really small. Unfairly small for 19-year-old boys. This means players will be bumping into each other a whole lot - probably more than they're used to, and it may not be foul-worthy. It also presents a serious problem with my positioning: if I get caught too deep, there's no wiggle room for me to catch up to play on a quick turn-around and long-ball. It's also harder to cross the field to the other side, given the same ease to switch as there is in a long-ball, and trying to dodge players as they try to get into their own positions.

The Coaches: One set of coaches were not happy with one of my ARs, who added a minute and-a-half of stoppage time at a tournament game that weekend; during that 90 seconds, their opponents scored, knocking them out of the tournament. They made a real show in front of their players to point him out. The other set of coaches weren't that old themselves; I had one player-coach on a U19 earlier this season, they looked like they could easily do the same if they wanted.

The History: I centered the home team once before, issued a card and had some temper issues.

What I did good: Despite the last entry about positioning worries I had from the last two games, I didn't have the same problems this game. Yes, there were issues in positioning - but that was from issues I already knew of. I didn't get in the way of players or the flow of the game, like last time - I just had to delay my own runs and positioning myself from time-to-time out of necessity.

What I'm unsure of: I'm not sure if this is controllable or not - because in a field this size, contact is going to happen. So things either happened off the play, intentional or not, that I didn't see; and there were a few things that I didn't get as good a look as I would have liked, because I could see no good way to get into the position I wanted to be at, short of cutting off passing or dribbling lanes. There were several calls I would have liked to take a second look at, but had to make a decision based on what I saw and where I could get to.

What the players didn't understand: Advantage. On several occasions for both teams, player starting having a fit, as I waited for advantage to materialize. I'd even tell them I saw it, and I'm waiting, then either call the advantage or blow the whistle. Neither team seemed to "get" it, even though one of those situations resulted in a very pretty (and game winning) goal. There also seemed to be ignorance on when and where you could charge another person. Charging another player 10 feet away from the ball? Foul. Charging another player 1 foot from the ball shoulder-to-shoulder? Not a foul. One team didn't seem to get this - and this lead directly to the ejecting of the coach.

What I blew in the middle: I opened my mouth once when I should have. One of those delayed whistle situations, with no advantage. One team wanted obstruction, one team wanted (and I gave them) holding when the defender was all over the attacker; I ended up explaining the wrong thing - no matter how I try to correct it, that's not going to help my credibility at all.

The coach ejection came after two calls for impeding that were pretty textbook: ball nowhere near playing distance, and a player trying to shield the ball from an opponent. Then, inside the penalty area, where the attacking team is always going to want a PK, a defender from the visiting team make a hard but clean shoulder charge, dispossessing his opponent. The home coach goes bonkers: the defender hadn't actually touched the ball (but was in clear playing distance) during the challenge. How can I put this? It doesn't matter. He had a reasonable chance to play it with the charge, and didn't - that doesn't make it illegal. In any event, the coach was starting to go over the top, and was getting pretty close to saying something that might require an immediate ejection, so I ran by, and simply said, "Coach, this ends, or you'll find yourself taking a walk."

Of course, it didn't. He actually ramped up the language a knock, and my mental switch flipped from warning, to "goodbye coach". I actually delayed it a bit - I was not going to interrupt the game for a coach's rantings, but once the ball went into touch, I held up the throw in, and simply said, "Coach, take a walk."

There's a tendency for people to think that when a referee ejects a participant, be it player or coach, that he's lost control of the game. And maybe in cases that's correct. But in this case, I would have to disagree - the decision on the play (right or wrong) had been made, and the coach had overstepped his bounds. The coach was warned and he chose to continue. Maybe I could have let it go when I decided to let play continue rather than stop it and eject him immediately (if it was a player, I would have stopped it), but that would have just given the coach further license to go off; same with issuing him a further warning (maybe he ratchets it down a notch - he's still being abusive, but not as much - what then?). No, if you issue a warning like that, you have to be willing to back it up, and he was at the point where it wouldn't take much to cross the line, which he did.

I ended up carding another of his players for dissent, but that again is mostly crossing the obvious line of decorum (you'll notice from a couple of games ago, I'm willing to let some slide, given the game - this was not the game from a couple of days ago) and keeping control. The visiting team took the first card of the night early on, with kicking the ball away after a foul to prevent a quick restart.

So my questions are: could I have gotten in better position? I didn't think so at the time, but it that true, or was my own visibility off? Maybe if I was in better position for some of those tough calls I could have avoided this, but that's a big maybe. Just as much a maybe, maybe this was the last game for these players before the playoffs, before taking on a team that's ranker higher than they are in the standings. A winnable game that they ended up losing by shutout.

This helps me separate out the issues a bit, but I'm still hazy on a conclusion. Read More »

"There is not one bit of you that I like"

August 31, 2006
By TheRef
Two ARs cannot carry the game if the center isn't strong enough - I know, I tried, and it just didn't work. I had a feeling things wouldn't be good as soon as I found out who the center was; he's a nice enough guy, but he's not a terribly forceful personality, tended to be out-of-position when he ran the line, and hasn't shown me a good eye for detail (he messed up a roster during check-ins for me twice). When it was done (a fight that ended up with three red cards, and refs from other fields trying to break things up), his response at half-time (yes, half-time!) was, "Well, these things happen every once in a while."

Yes, these things happen - but you should not be blasé about it, nor should it come out like this is a semi-regular occurrence. Ack!

I had a sinking feeling in my stomach within the first five minutes - both teams were yelling at him, and at each other, and he seemed blissfully unaware. Play was mostly in the opposite half from me, and I could pick up that the other AR (a State) was trying to carry the center. When play came in on my half, I did much of the same - I've never flagged so many fouls in my life. But ARs just cannot carry the game - even if we could keep it in control in our quadrants (and we both expanded ours quite a bit), it's up the center to work his, and card appropriately. He did card, but he also wrote people's numbers in the book when he wanted to remember them for later - yes, there's nothing wrong with that, except everyone (including me), thought he booked the guy - which made it a problem when the guy actually was booked later.

Then, the fight. I ended up flagging another foul in my area, and down came a foot on the fouler's ankle. It wasn't an accident, it was a stomp - and all hell broke loose. It was quickly apparent that breaking things up wasn't going to happen, so I ended up taking numbers; I ended up sending a guy off, who wasn't even involved in the initial fracas for punching another guy, and another for a caution - the other AR named two others players to be sent off; I'm not sure if the center had any of his own - we both sort of stepped in and said, "Here's who you need to discipline." And because we couldn't get him further away from the players to go over this, they ended up overhearing, which started a whole new round of crap between them and us. One player, a good foot or more taller than me, got in my face, after I listed one player to be ejected, was rather forceful in saying (I wouldn't call it yelling, but was he trying to intimidate me, hell yes), "There is not one bit of you that I like. Not one bit. Can you call anything against Green? I don't think you can. I don't think you can." Actually, I did (it wasn't a red, because the guy throwing punches was right in front of my face, and despite all the other players in the melee, he was the only once with a closed fist. But he wasn't in the mood to hear it, and frankly, I wasn't, either; if I cared what he thought, then I'm in the wrong job.

Now, I don't know if myself, or another referee would have been able to stop it. Being a playoff, if both teams are going in with the win-at-all-costs mentality, something will have to give. The closest thing I can think of happened in a professional game I saw later in the day: in my opinion, the center did a great job keeping things under control, no major mistakes - but there was one incident that I thought he fell a bit short. The home team was up 2-0 in the first half, and the visiting team scores a goal - a defender goes into the goal to collect the ball, and the goalscorer also goes in, and starts going after the ball. As a referee, you don't want this to happen, because it's a recipe for something violent, so you want to, if at all possible, get in between the guys and let the defender take the ball. Why? Because the attacker's not going to lose time even if the defender walks the ball the entire way to the center. Instead, it did get violent (not as much as in our game, but the attacker was thrown down to the pitch), and the defender was cautioned. Did he deserve it? Yes. Could the referee have done something to help mitigate the situation? Yes. Had the two still wanted to go at it, could the referee had stopped them? No. But was it more likely that the card would have been necessary had he gotten involved quicker? Probably.

But I don't think things were doing well enough in my game to help mitigate these things. As much as I ached to get in and do it, I can't from my position on the line - that's the center's job, and all I can do is second guess. Read More »

A terrible way to end a game

June 12, 2006
By TheRef
I always thought that the worst way to end a game was by penalty kicks - I know now that I was wrong. I'm centering the 16-boys State Cup Final - a game that because of numerous cancelled dates due to poor weather, was being played at the last possible date - a result was needed, and the tournament director was willing to wait most of the night to get it.

The first game for me was a line on the 16-Girls final; a game that sent one of the coaches in a rabid froth - the center nearly ejected him at halftime - what was amazing was that he actually kept his word that he'd behave in the second half - we didn't get a word from him.

In this state, there are two traditional power-clubs (they don't quite hit the definition of Super Club, which had been bandied about by some of the national powers), one for the girls and one for the boys. I had the boys team, and another more standard, city-based team. I felt good in the first half, I wanted to get deeper (so did one of my ARs, who was a State Referee), but they were transitioning quickly, and I didn't want to get caught too far behind; both teams seemed responsive to any verbal items I brought up (one player used way too much, and I fouled him repeatedly for it, as well as a few minor things). The second half proved more interesting.

It started with a pass mix-up: in the State Cup (and in the tournaments that follow it, for the winners), substitutions are very similar to college: if a player subs out in the first half, they can return in the second; basically we take the passes of the starting eleven at the beginning of the game, then the passes as players sub-in, and finally return them at half-time where the process starts anew. Apparently there was a mix-up, and a player who was on the field didn't get his pass in the starting eleven, and another player's got in the pile instead; the good news (as opposed a couple years ago) was that the fourth official knew who the two players who were mixed up. The coach then wanted to put the player who he thought was supposed to start into play - which was fine if he wanted to sub the original player out - when he realized the condition, he kept the original player on the field, and the fourth obtained the correct passes (and gave the other pass back to the bench player).

The city (or rather, suburb) team put in a rather ugly goal - the keeper made a stop, the rebound bounced off the crossbar, and another player was able to head it in - there were a couple of injuries in the melé, but nothing foul-worthy (nobody complained, either); just an example of why you crash the goal after a shot.

Then the rains started - hard. If you turned in one direction, it went straight into your eyes, making it very difficult to see; you had to blink several times after getting a face-full, leaving time where I couldn't do my job properly - I was also afraid of one of my contacts falling out. Now you may wonder why I didn't just suspend the game there - and that's because of a common tournament rule where it's the tournament staff that decides when to suspend play - usually they have more equipment than refs: laptops with internet connections, lightning detectors, and so forth. So we soldiered on, and the power club earned a free kick about 25-yards from goal.

The kicker asked for the wall to be set.

I told him to wait for the whistle, both verbally, and by raising the whistle over by head and pointing at it.

I received an acknowledgment from the kicker.

Two players inside the penalty box started getting into a pushing contest - I abandoned the wall and dealt with the players. No cards - just warning for each (one player was wasting his own time, the other needed to keep a clear head with a one goal lead).

I go back to the wall, set it, point to my whistle again.

The kicker takes the kick, which is bobbled by the keeper in the sheeting rain, and it goes into the net. Fans cheer, his teammates embrace him, and they start working their way back to their half.

There was one problem: I hadn't blown my whistle. Some team was not going to be happy about this. I elected for the correct response: I ordered the kick retaken; since I made the kick was ceremonial (and my trail AR saw my pointing to the whistle, the universal symbol for, "Wait for it."), the ball would not be in-play until I announced it so; that announcement being the whistle.

To the coaches credit, when the game was suspended because of the weather, he asked me why I disallowed the goal, and his reply to my answer was a simple, "Fair enough." His players we all over the map in pissed-off (one player earned a caution for a forearm jerk - I could have went red, but decided it was toward the call, and not me. Do I really want to send someone off for something that stupid in such an important game? No, although in High School I would be required to. He got his temper out, he was warned, the rest was up to him.

The re-taken free kick went wide, and shortly after the game was suspended. We already had one suspension on the first game, so our scheduled 8pm start-time was set back to twenty after the hour; and because the tournament staff were against the wall as to get a result, and because 52 minutes out of an 80-minute game really isn't a good thing for a final, the tournament staff waited until 10:45pm to call the game - with the score and result standing.

It sucks - it would have been a good game, but what else could they do? Read More »

Following through on a threat

March 9, 2006
By TheRef
Referee enough and you've heard of the tactic of taking one's yellow card(s) and handing them off to someone. It's saying that things have reached a certain point in the game were cautions have become meaningless. It's a threat to both teams: do anything wrong at all, and you're out of the game. I've heard of maybe half-a-dozen people use this tactic on SocRef, and a few more in person. The thing is, I've never known anyone who's had to follow-through on this threat... except me.

I had three games, the first a playoff game that went relatively well (a shooting gallery on both sides, with one side shooting better than the other); the only issue was that one of the goalkeepers liked to carry the ball to the edge of the penalty area and then carry it along with his feet - several players thought he was taking the ball outside of the penalty area, but then it became clear than they were used to playing at the other facility where the PA is smaller. Once that was settled, it was a pretty intense, but extremely clean game.

It was the second game that was interesting, and the key was one single player on the blue team. A woman who excelled in pissing off people. Over the course of the game, she got two PKs called in her favor, and two people were given cards for blatant shoves. The cards came in quick succession within the first five minutes of the game, the PKs were one in each half. The one team (the one without that particular woman) started figuring out what was going on, and after the two cards, really weren't that big of a problem, the problem was that the woman and the rest of her team, decided on a tactic of, "Piss the other team off", because it worked so well in the first half.

The problem was, that I quickly lost my sympathy; they instigated, even if they got worse in return, and when the other team stopped buying, they started exaggerating - especially that one female player. She'd bounce around, and it would look absolutely dreadful, but she also went in specifically looking for that, exaggerating and using her size to make things look worse than they were - and I stopped buying it as well. Eventually things did come to a head, and after a dissent card from the blue captain, I really started tightening the game - much tighter than I normally call, and it seemed to go well for a while; except for no discernible reason, a blue player came up behind an opponent, and grabbed him by the neck from behind - I really can't figure out what set him off - it was a goal-kick restart, he hadn't been particularly nasty, nor had the person he did it to.

Despite the relatively few cards at that point (four, including the red for violent conduct), I could tell that tensions were high and about to boil over. I called over the captains for both sides, and tried to lay it out as plainly as possible: "I want a quick discussion on whether you guys want to finish this game or not. If you both want to walk away, that's fine by me and I think we'll all be happier for it. But if you want to play, I need to make sure that everyone's calm, and nothing will happen for the remainder of the game [five minutes]." The Blue captain said he didn't want to play, at first. I said that's fine, but if there was no consensus, I'd have to make a note that he walked out - not that it was a big deal, he was losing by a substantial margin. The other captain was emphatic that he'd like to finish the remainder of the game, and promised that there would be no problems from his players; the Blue captain agreed, and before broke up, I game them the ultimatum:

"One thing, if you're going to play, then I am done with yellow cards. If I see anything happen, they will be red-carded. Anything. Make sure your teammates knows this, because I will red card them for any infraction." I made very sure to repeat the red card threat, and the nearby players also heard it too, including Instigation Woman. Referees, usually the same ones who mention doing something like this, also say that you should never every issue an ultimatum unless you're willing to carry it out. Since I've never heard of anyone testing their metal after issuing the threat, I can't say if it was contradictory or not - but for me, I was ready to carry out sentence should I be tested.

Now, the astute of you may ask the question if referees can legally up anything from yellow to red, and it's a good question. The answer, like much of the Laws, is shaded in gray areas, and Law 18 (aka "Spirit of the Game" or Common Sense. Most physical fouls that would garner a yellow card can pretty easily be stretched to Serious Foul Play and a red, because aside from some mandatory situations for a send-off, FIFA is pretty vague (the USSF goes a bit further to say that Serious Foul Play involves the change from a reckless foul to one with excessive force, but still not difficult to stretch if the circumstances are correct). If the regular caution was for mouthing off, it's also not difficult to stretch things to, "uses offensive or insulting or abusive language and/or gestures" - four letter words are not a prerequisite.

So when Instigation Woman started mouthing off to another player, essentially calling into question his masculinity and honor, it was pretty much red card her for abusive language, or watch a bench clearing brawl break out after she was slugged. I stretched, and darn it, I stand by my stretching. After all, she knew I said everything was going to be red, she was trying to provoke the other person, and I think my biggest mistake was not sending her off sooner.

The really dumb, but totally expected result was they all complained to the coordinator, who was thankfully totally on my side this time around (no idea what B.S. she spouted to them), but to me, she was totally supportive, and even went as far as saying, "I hate that team," and, "they're always instigating things", and "they're always like that." The first guy (the one who grabbed another guy by the neck from behind) had the balls to complain about his red card, and Instigation Woman tried to use that she was a woman to get around the card - that never ever works on me. I've done too many games with high level women to buy that they never foul or commit misconduct. It sounded like the coordinator was rather happy they got what they got, even if it meant suspensions going into the playoffs.

The other thing, which it'll be interesting to see if the coordinator follows up on, was that the team captain refused to give me the names of the players who were red carded. Because there are no passes, teams are required to give up the names of players who were sent off. We talked about what could be done about that, and I mentioned that USA Cup has a procedure (because coaches, unlike in league games around here, keep their passes during the game) which is a referee asks for the send-off player or coach's card, and if it's refused, he fills out a missing pass report, and the team is punished by the tournament. I made a couple of suggestions: upping the team's yellow card points for each player's name that was refused (last year if a player was sent off, the team played short in their next game; that was scrubbed, but now if a team gets so many yellow cards they'll be forced to play their next game short), or even put a suspension on the captain (this was from years ago, when the previous coordinator said that if a guest player gets a red card, the captain had to sit out a game).

I had a few days to sit and stew about the last game with a red card, but so far I feel pretty darn justified in both, and pretty darn good in how I handled it. Blue had many many chances to take control of themselves, but refused, and instead tried to bait the other team into getting players sent off, and in the end getting it themselves. I think in all honesty, it serves them right. Read More »

Confession time

March 5, 2006
By TheRef
I have a confession to make, and I'm not particularly proud of it. It wasn't productive, it wasn't helpful, and if it was in an affiliated league, I'd have a new butt-hole ripped into me. I actually wondered if I was going to add this into the blog, but I decided that if I was going to have the be an honest account of the ups, downs, and realities of being a referee, it needs to be included: I insulted a fan today. Blatantly. "You're a filthy piece of distended rectum" kind of blatantly. OK, the guy specifically came up, after I worked my ass off on a very difficult game and proceeded to call me an asshole several times; but I also took the time to think about if I wanted to let it fly, and decided that, yes, because there would be no lasting consequences, that I would show that just because I'm wearing a ref's jersey does not make me fair game for his ignorance. I was not angry or lost my temper (I was more amused), it just seemed like an opportunity to do something I otherwise could not have done. Of course, I know full well that this won't change his behavior, so the only thing I can say is that it made me feel a little better, and if nothing else, I got it out of my system.

I've been told to only try new things in safe environments. It's done, it was a safe environment, it really didn't do anything (I find this far more therapeutic), so I think it's out of my system.

The game were the top two teams in the top bracket; and they started the game out in an all-out sprint, and kept it up for fifty minutes (the length of the game). Most of the time in this league, one team may go all-out like that, but it's rare that both do, and in small-sided soccer that run like this, every result from every contact is going to be magnified to double what you're used to. That does not mean that those contacts are twice as likely to be fouls (they're not), nor are they twice as likely to be given cards; as a referee you watch out for more of the reckless variety, but the reality is that you often see a higher level of regular fouls. What's even more likely is that one or both teams has trouble dealing with this intensity. To put it simply: both teams give it, but can they take it?

To answer for this game, one team could, one team could not. It shouldn't be too necessary to say that most of this missive will be focused on the team that could not. The team that could not also fell behind 2-0 very quickly, and started playing very physically. I knew at half-time that if the intensity level kept up, that we were going to have a very interesting second half, and when a referee says, "Very interesting," keep one eye on his back-pocket, and another on your cell phone, in case you have to dial security.

Actually, the game boiled down to pretty simple things: blue (the team that lost), were committing fouls much more blatantly than white; when you bowl someone over ass over tit, you're far more likely to be called on for a foul than someone who commits a touch foul. Saying, "She pushed me first", meaning someone not even involved with the play, really isn't going to earn a lot of pity when you just sent another player flying five feet before giving him a light meal of rubber pellets. Item number two was a tendency to exaggerate their contact (an obvious example was, right after issuing a yellow card to a white player, a blue player happens to fall down right in front of him, screaming for a card. Ahhhh.... no.)

This attitude, coupled with both teams jamming themselves very tightly right in front of the goal, means that sometimes things are going to be missed, and tempers will flare further. Blue becomes very upset with me, although I'm not terribly sympathetic with them, because they haven't shown any desire to calm down to work me with me, nor have they changed their antics. All-in-all, I think I did a pretty good job, and given that most of the referees in this league don't leave the center circle (I see a bunch on the opposite end on a regular basis), I think I handled it better than anyone else in this league, either.

Naturally the team that won was very happy with the officiating (it's amazing how keeping one's head lets you focus on your game), and the team that wasn't was not. However, it wasn't the referee that fell behind 2-0 in the first half, and played a strategy of drawing cheap fouls instead of trying to beat them on the field. If they're pissed because the referee saw through you, that's your problem in strategy (not to mention integrity), not mine.

The real question for me is did I do what I could to manage the game properly? There was one red card; really dumb, I delayed a whistle for a second for blue, because if the player stayed upright he had a clear shot on goal - but apparently that second was just too long for him, because he started yelling like I personally removed his arm. There was no question of a card, and apparently he just didn't card after the dissent card. After he was sent off they scored on the free kick (he was so emotional, I think they played better without him). This is what I do know:

  • There were some things that happened behind my back; but since it's a one-referee system, there's little I can do about that, if nobody brings it to my attention (because apparently it was done quietly).
  • When you jam 8-10 people inside the tiny penalty area of this field (go back a couple of days and look at the diagram), there's just no way to see everything, especially the ways people were moving, maybe if I was Brian Hall (who allegedly give the Portland Timbers' fan club the finger a few years ago) I could have, but I'm not and have to plans to be.
  • I kept the physical play in check, and nobody got hurt.
  • There were some calls blue took serious objection to (like some slides that were not tackles, one of which led to a goal), but they didn't have any basis in understanding the rules of the game, either with FIFA's Laws, or the house rules.

I did try a couple times to get the blue players to calm down, but I think they became far too focused on the game (or me as part of it). I'm very happy with the cards I issued, and the fouls I called. The question was, could I have calmed down the situation before the guy who got the send-off lost his temper? Call it self-validation (where you see what you do as correct to avoid criticism), but I think people have to willing to calm themselves down - I can give them the opportunity, which I did, but only they can take it. Read More »

10 Best of 2005: Almost my turn

January 3, 2006
By TheRef
Despite my stated hope that I don't do USA Cup this year (which means that I'll be doing Regionals, instead of the Cup, instead of dissing or blowing off the USA Cup), I still had a lot of fun, like I do every year. Despite the smaller number of teams, and the dramatic drop in overseas participants, it's still a great place to expose yourself to different styles and tactics of play. It's a pretty common occurrence to see teams with expectations on how the game should be played, or reffed, get along with teams with very different expectations. The most striking example is when you have an English or Latin American team or referee on the pitch: stereotypically, one sees the game as, no harm/blood/exposed broken bones, no foul; the other any contact is a grievous attack and should booked immediately. Exaggerations, to be sure, but it demonstrates the point, and when you're a referee dealing with teams that have vastly different expectations, you're in for, at least in my case, an interesting juggling act (some refs can pull it off by sheer force of personality, but for-better or for-worse, that's not me).

Such distinctions also exist in the US, although you can argue how applicable they are. East Coasters brad about how much more physical their game is than in the midwest, and, given you see a lot of teams from Minnesota in the USA Cup, you tend to see that played out. Strangely enough, I haven't seen a whole lot of West Coast teams, maybe because they have this impression of Minnesota that requires gloves when it drops to 70-degrees.

I had my first playoff center, and it was a East Coast (Maryland) team versus a Midwest (Minnesota). And everything was peachy, nobody complaining about the physicality of the match, until the stereotypically more physical team falls behind. At least one thing is consistent, no matter what part of the country (or world, even) you coach in: when you fall behind, things become crystal clear that it's been the ref's fault all along.

USA Cup 2005 Day 7: Almost my turn

Another sizzler of a day. We often joke about "USA Cup weather", but it would be awfully nice to have a little rain and some cooler weather for a day or two. My second game of the day was a center (which is a pleasant surprise, considering that in the last four years at the USA Cup, I'd never centered a playoff game, and this was a semi-final), and it was beastly hot. Why it was still a green flag I have no idea, because by the time I was done with the game, every part of my torso was covered in sweat, and the pool was rapidly going outward.

I desperately wanted to toss a coach from this game, too. It was a 13-boys semi with a team from Minnesota, and one from Maryland (I'm thinking it was Trophy Flight, the middle rung, but I'm not sure). The team from Maryland dominated the game: they had great passing, good vision, better speed - but they couldn't get the ball into the penalty area, and they limited themselves to two shooters. While they were big, fast, and had good ball skills, they lacked tactics; it's one thing to work your way down the flanks, but another to get past several defenders waiting for you at the penalty area's borders. The Minnesota team, for all their inadequacies when compared to the Maryland side, as two major advances: they pressured up front into the penalty area and they had a diversified attack. The Minnesota team took advantage of defensive and goalkeeping mistakes by Maryland, and made up a 1-0 deficit in just eight minutes, off a great cross from the goal-line that a defender mishandled and played into his own net. In the second half, they scored goals in two consecutive minutes simply by mixing things up inside the penalty area.

Maryland wanted the perfect shot; Minnesota would take nearly any shot. Perfect shots rarely happen, and while Minnesota's goals weren't

pretty, they don't need to be.

Shortly after their third goal, Minnesota slowed down the pace dramatically... while the ball wasn't in play, and I started

considering how much time I wanted to add onto the game. This was something, given the heat and the age of the kids, I didn't really want

to do a whole lot of, but on the other hand, I didn't want to gyp the Maryland side, either. Maryland started a frenetic pace, which netted

then another goal in the 52nd minute (game length was 60 minutes). Then their coach started going nuts.

I thought I had called a pretty consistent game, and one that was vocal enough that people would have a good idea of what I would call and what I wouldn't. Furthermore, the USA Cup is pretty well known (and if you don't know, you find out pretty quick) for allowing physical play. A Maryland player had the ball along the near side (to the benches) in Minnesota's corner, and the striker and defender were battling it out for possession; since it was out of my AR's corner, I came very deep, into touch, only a few yards away in great position, and then the coach started screaming about being played on the back. Yes, the striker was shielding the ball, and that usually happens with the back, but no, the defender wasn't grabbing, kicking, or otherwise doing anything illegal to him. I let it go to the next stoppage (he didn't), which was a throw-in on the opposite side, stopped the throw in, and made it very clear that his continued comments were unwanted. "Coach: You will not argue my calls, you will only talk to your players. End of story."

But of course, coaches, never one for actually understanding the Laws of the Game when gamesmanship, testosterone, or plain simple insanity will do, didn't stick with it. A few minutes later, he started screaming about something else (and once again, about something where he was 100% wrong). I was ready to kick him out, normally I would have because he had been already warned once, but one thing stopped me: there were no other coaches there. So if he got the boot, the game ended, and I didn't want to tell a bunch of thirteen-year-olds, let alone the tournament staff, why I had to terminate a game that had been well under control for the first 90% of the game; so I pulled out a trick that others had used, but I never had: the, "Warm up your assistant" card. "Coach, do you have an assistant here? I hope you do, because if you don't and I kick you out, this game comes to an ignoble end."

I wish I could say that it shut him up for the remainder of the game (about seven minutes total, five and two added for stoppage), but it still did the job enough to finish it: he had one more yelp, but nothing sustained or worth the trouble over. I was satisfied when the game concluded with no additional scoring. Of course, the coach turns around and leaves after the handshakes with the players, ignoring the referees, but that's the kind of good example I expect that fine man from Maryland to set. He's certainly not doing anything to help change my predisposition toward New Englanders (that short while in Connecticut was bad enough).

The next game, which I had a whole ten minutes to change shoes, was on the I-fields; the most crap fields at the National Sports Center. I

know most of the fields take a beating, but according to the locals, the I (or Italy) fields were garbage to begin with, and were certainly

some of the worst I'd worked on all year. I-3 was taken out-of-service in the first couple of days because both teams and referees refused to play on it, and my line on I-2 had a number of holes, including one that caused an ankle-twist. Thankfully, I anticipated poor footing, and put on an ankle brace (one of the serious ones with surgical steel), and ran a good yard-and-a-half behind the touchline. When the almost inevitable ankle-twist did come, I uttered a few choice words that little kids should never hear, hopped for a few minutes - shortly thereafter, I was fine. After the game, I was asked to do another game at referee headquarters, but simply said that I just did a line on I-2, twisted my ankle, and would be lucky to walk the next day. I think I was given the "Oh, say no more" speech as soon as I said I-2.

We also came within thirty seconds of extra time as well. Yellow flags came up following my center for this game (and then went to red

only a few minutes later), so when a goal was scored in the second half, ending a 0-0 deadlock, the center told me that he thought it was

scored too early, and that an equalizer would happen, which was exactly what did happen. Extra time looked inevitable, but thirty seconds after he gave me the signal that he was adding one minute of stoppage, the tie was broken, and it was nearly time to hit the showers. Read More »