Sunday brought an end to the first round or group phase of the U-17 CONCACAF championships. This means four teams get to stay for the final round (semi-finals, final and third place game) while others must return home. This same is true for the referees. This is a sad time for officials as some of those that will return home have performed at a high level and the team of participating referees will be losing a friend and a “family” member. Many factors go into deciding who the lucky and unlucky ones are. Some of the factors are: the teams that have advanced, the official’s performance, the fit between the refs and the remaining teams and the projected match ups. Despite this being a sad time, it is part of the life of an elite referee.
Because the USA has advanced (and done so in convincing fashion), our representative, FIFA assistant referee Chris Strickland, will be returning to the States. Chris worked his second game yesterday when he was Assistant Referee 1 during Mexico's game against Costa Rica (Mexico won 1-0 on an own goal). Everyone can be proud of the manner in which Chris represented the U.S. Soccer family.
Today, I want to briefly discuss some of the issues that have been covered in the daily briefings with the referees. If you follow U.S. Soccer’s “Week in Review” (the 2008 version as well as this season’s), you will see that that Laws of the Game are truly universal. The issues we face at this tournament, or at any level for that matter, are issues that referees face in the United States. Here are a few of the major topics covered. As I said, most should sound familiar if you follow the “Week in Review” found at ussoccer.com.
1. The importance of details: Little things like the correct completion of the game report is critical. Each member of the referee team needs to review the game report prior to the referee signing and submitting it.
2. Managing the technical areas: Ensuring the behavior of the coaching staff is responsible is a big deal. Coaches must behave responsibly (note, in the U.S. we use the “ask, tell, remove” principle). Also, all personnel on the bench must be dressed differently from the players on the field. Consequently, all players on the bench must wear bibs and coaches who are standing must have a different shirt than either of the two teams. This is important so that Assistant Referee 2 (directly opposite one of the team benches) does not get confused when deciding offside.
3. Getting 100% misconduct correct: In the U.S., we have adopted the concept of 100% misconduct. It is interesting how the concept is applied in a major tournament just as U.S. Soccer is teaching. It has been stressed that a yellow card offense is a yellow card offense and a red card offense is a red card offense regardless of the time and the score. These 100% misconduct situations cannot be managed solely by the referee’s personality. They are situations in which the actions and/or Laws of the Game mandate the issuing of a card.
4. Proper positioning to make the correct call: U.S. Soccer has been teaching the importance of maximizing the referee’s angle of vision throughout the game. At this tournament, we have been stressing that referees must move on the field to ensure they are close to play but they must also be positioned so they have a clear vision of each challenge. Referees should position themselves so they are not looking at the back of players. They should try to position themselves so they can always see space or light between the two opposing players. This will enhance the referee’s ability to get the call correct.
5. Personality and presence: Just as it is taught in the U.S., referees must establish an early presence in the game by sending appropriate message. Lots of time has gone into examining how the participating referees can use their physical attributes and personality to manage the game and steer the game in a positive direction.
As I said above, soccer is a universal game with universal Laws. Consequently, Referees around the world face the same challenges that referees in the United States face. It is interesting to see similar solutions and methods are being taught regardless of national association.It’s been a long and tiring seven days thus far. With the semifinals and final just around the corner, it will be interesting to see how the officials adapt to the increased pressure. There is a young but eager and conscientious group of officials working this tournament. They have been taking positive steps from game to game and match day to match day. They are learning from their games and from the games of other officials. This is critical and is a sign of a solid referee.