Wednesday, June 30, 2010

A programming note ...

As followers of this blog know, I will be attending the 2010 Region I tournament in West Virginia. During this time I will do my very best to continue to update you on the goings on of the tournament, update comments on the blog, and the like ... provided I can find access to the net.

If for some reason I can not, I have a (3) step backup plan over this time that I will use.
  1. I have scheduled a daily entry in the vein of the Regional Tournament for 7:30 every morning. While these were written in advance, they are as true as they were written as when they will post.
  2. I will be tweeting regular updates on my iPhone. Please follow me here, or at the big button at the top of the page that says "Follow me".
  3. Our friend JAFO will likely be posting up a storm over this time as well, as the World Cup continues to be in full swing.
I will be taking furious notes however and promise for a full debrief when I get back ... or as soon as I can get to the net ... whichever comes first.

"You two are going to Top Gun ..."

"On March 3, 1969 the United States Navy established an elite school for the top one percent of its pilots. Its purpose was to teach the lost art of aerial combat and to insure that the handful of men who graduated were the best fighter pilots in the world. They succeeded. Today, the Navy calls it Fighter Weapons School. The flyers call it: TOP GUN."

Does anyone remember this, or am I really showing my age? Wait a second, please don't answer that ...

So here we are on the cusp of the 2010 Regional I tournament beginning. I found that in my experience as a referee, the tournament took on a heightened flavor when the World Cup was being played. This is based in my experience of 1994 when I was at regionals and watched the USA v. BRA match (match report) with a group of referees that had just worked really hard all week long ... anyone remember the bicycle kick that just missed the post from Balboa? Here we are again, a World Cup, a Regional Tournament, and I am going ... this time as an assessor.

It got me thinking about being selected for such a tournament and the emotions that went into it for me. It is very stirring, exciting and scary all at the same time. Maybe like Maverick and Goose going to Top Gun. Well, maybe like Goose going to Top Gun ...

Now you may have been thinking I was speaking purely about this from a refereeing perspective. I was not. I feel that way today as an assessor. Like referees, assessors are chosen for a variety of reasons, but among them, I would opine, is ability as an assessor to help guide referees.

This is a pretty awesome responsibility when I sit down and think about it. There are a great many lessons learned from the pitch as a referee. Many that I personally carry forward to this day off of my life. To offer such guidance to these developing referees takes some careful thought.

Over the next (6) days we will have a bit of a mini-series in things I learned from tournament play as well as some reporting on the goings on of the tournament itself. These posts are not "do as I do", but to provoke thought about what may make sense in a multi-day tournament context. Each reader is on their own to figure out how to use the information, and I offer it in that vein.

So sit back, relax, and come with me on a 6 day voyage to one of the premier youth soccer tournaments in the United States today, and all it has to offer.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

President: FIFA will consider refereeing questions

FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter stated at a 2010 FIFA World Cup media round table today that the file on goal-line technology would be reopened. President Blatter also gave his views on the standard of football so far and the FIFA World Cup’s lasting legacy in South Africa. 

Full story here, courtesy of

France, and now the Florida Marlins?

Did Vuvuzela-like Horns Cost Marlins a Baseball Game?

France was the first World Cup team to complain about vuvuzelas, the cheap plastic horns that are a tradition at soccer games in South Africa. The team claimed the constant droning, compared to a hornet's nest, messed up their communication. You would have thought that other sports would have realized supplying horns to fans wouldn't be a good idea, but go ask the Florida Marlins.

Full story here, courtesy of

The rats are already leaving the ship

Well, the 2010 World Cup is over for the USA team and the news certainly reflected that. Take a look at the following headlines:
Ghana eliminates the United States in the 2010 World Cup
Ghana with the Win II: a sorry sequel
Africa soaks up Ghana's World Cup win over the USA
Ghana: Black Stars Cruise Into Q-Final, Play Uruguay Friday

I mean, come on. The author of this last piece (Nancy Armour) has to be kidding. This type of vapid reporting about the game in the US is one of the issues, I believe, with the game not reaching its full potential. Take a look at her bio. Wow, she is a figure skating writer too. How much real experience does she have with the game? Or for that matter, any of the sports she writes about?

Contrast that with someone like Grant Wahl (bio) who has been around the game and, in my opinion, actually takes the time to understand what is going on. Take a look at his blog here. This is great stuff. Insightful. Hard hitting. Asks the right questions generally. In short, he and SI care about what is going on.

This is not to call out any particular reporter (it just worked out that way), but to make the point about how incredibly fickle the United States is to the game, and in particular the international game. There are a number of issues here beyond the press that include, FIFA, US Soccer, US Youth Soccer, MLS, WPS and the performance of the teams, the US press, how we are seen in the world, and yes, us as referees. Any one of these acting alone will not get the US on the world stage, and keep us there as so many of us want to be, but rather it has to be a team effort with all of these forces acting in concert, knowingly or not.

This particular rant just touches on how in general it would seem the US press are like a bunch of rats, now leaving the SS World Cup as the USA exits from the tournament. What concerns me more is those in the press who never got on the ship in the first place.

Monday, June 28, 2010

I got the call last Friday. My Dad wanted to know if I had watched the USA game against Algeria. “It was a very exciting game!” he says. And then, the question that all referees dread: “Can you explain that offside rule to me?”


See, my Dad is a good guy. He is a sports fan and was a former college athlete. When I was a kid, he did what all good dads do, he got my brothers and me into sports. We had all sorts of sporting equipment in a big box in the garage: baseball gloves, bats, hockey sticks, footballs, basketballs, tennis rackets, and even an old set of golf clubs at our disposal. Notice anything missing? Right, no soccer ball. Soccer was an unknown to him, and remained that way for most of his life.

So now we are in the midst of a World Cup, and everyone is paying attention, even my Dad. And suddenly, we are all patiently fielding questions from our non-soccer-breathing friends and family about offside, injury time, and of course today's hot topic following the England v Germany match: the need for instant replay. A little here and a little there. The message spreads.

I remind myself to keep smiling. We are all ambassadors of the game.

New Poll @ Kicking Back - Instant Replay?

Vote early, vote often! You have until the final!

Bye - Bye Uruguay?

We've all see this image or some form of it by now in the refereeing world from the GER v. ENG match (report here). A relevant question may be, is this the end of the Uruguayan penta-refereeing team? (All 5 are from Uruguay) Will we see them again in this World Cup?

Similar to before, I'm not going to answer, nor am I going to go into (right now anyway) the howls for technology to become more a part of the modern game. I will also not go into depth of some of the absolute ludicrous commentary that is floating around. One piece of note is here. There were two quotes from this article that I found interesting.
Fact: Espinosa should have seen it. Practically everyone else did, without the need for video technology. It was visible with the naked eye. 
Okayee ... the juxtaposition of "Fact:" and "... should have seen it." are odd to me as clearly the JAR did not see that the ball crossed the line. I would be interested to know where the author was sitting for that one. Granted the ESPN coverage I was watching did clearly show it, but you had to be looking for it.
The non-goal was also edited out of a 2-minute highlight reel of the match on FIFA's website.
Ewwww ... I am with the author on that one, I don't like that at all. Yeah the refereeing team got it wrong, but hiding it does not help.

In the spirit of learning, what could we as referees change in this case?

When the ball was played the JAR was in the exact correct position, level with the second to last defender just about on the edge of the 18 yard box. The referee too seemed to be in a good position, with the play mostly penned in between he and his AR, trailing about 10 yards behind when the ball was struck.

It was at this point that LAMPARD struck the ball which rang off the crossbar, the ball deflected down, over the line, by about the diameter of a ball ... or about 9 inches, maybe a smudge more, but not much, then right out to the goal keeper.

Now the timing. The clock at the shot was at 37:43. This was when the JAR and referee were in the positions see above. By the time NEUER had the ball in his hands after bouncing out of the net, it was 37:45 as see below.

So, the JAR had to travel 18 yards in 2 seconds ... that is about 18.41 MPH or 29.63 KPH, faster than the fastest player on the ENG side, which happened to be LAMPARD at 29.41 KPH (report here). Keep in mind, this is from a dead stop as the JAR was in exactly the correct position at the taking of the shot. Is this even possible? Also, the time the ball was over the line was about half of that 2 seconds, really meaning we are talking about an AR moving 18 yards in a second, or at about 60 KPH to be in the perfect position. Now THAT is not possible. From the tape and the commentary the JAR was able to get about 10 yards from the goal line by the time the goalkeeper had the ball in his hands.

The referee was about 25ish yards back when the ball deflected down over the line and back out. He was also coming in straight on and had the worst possible angle.

So what do we do here?

Here is my prophetic answer ... I don't know.

This is tremendously unlucky for ENG and the refereeing team, and tremendously lucky for GER ... and honestly extraordinarily well played by NEUER to not let on at all what may, or may not have happened. I don't think that even he knew where the ball had been.

To me this is the ARs call all day as the referee has to trail the play here. If this was off a corner kick or other close set piece, my answer is very different, but quick counter attacking play moving forward like this, it is the ARs call.

This is, in my opinion, the single hardest and consequential out of bounds decision an AR has to make. Goal-line in/out is fairly routine albeit consequential, but ball struck on a rope 18 yards away, no defenders nearby and make that call in 2 seconds or less ... well that changes things. All the AR can do is run as fast as they can to the goal line while looking inside the field and see if you can catch a glimpse of the ball going over the line.

We know the AR can not give up his offside position. They have to follow the ball, so the JAR was where he was supposed to be. This leaves it to getting in the correct position just as quickly as possible and hope to get lucky. I'm sure the AR was trying to read the keeper to help determine if it was in or not ... and as stated above NEUER played it perfectly from that regard.

A guess then? No way. You have to be sure. Unlike the offside decision which I would opine has a preponderance standard (if there is doubt, let them go), a goal has a higher standard to bear and must be beyond reasonable doubt. Very plainly the JAR had doubt, so he had to not call it a goal.

Now a further note on mechanics for the referee. If a ball gets played deep as it had in this case, and the AR follows the ball, as they need to, it is imperative that the referee follow up and cover the offside, and remain there until the AR resumes their position. The team can not leave the offside position uncovered at any time in the match when the ball is in play. If the AR is otherwise engaged, the referee must cover.

So back to the match at hand. Was it a goal? Yes. Should the AR have seen it? Tough to say. One thing I know for sure, is that he is going to be thinking about it for a long, long time.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

... and the winner is ...

... Viktor Kassai?

Yes. His performance in USA v. GHA was very good in my opinion. Let's take a closer look.

One of the first things I noticed in looking at the report (here) was the number of fouls ... 30 to be exact. Mind you, this was after 120 minutes of play, not the typical 90.

Also of note was that there was only 5 cautions and no send offs in the match. Again this is over the 120 minute span in a knock-out round of the biggest tournament in the world.

Here is the timeline courtesy of

Each caution was very good and served a purpose. Kassai did not "throw any away". Of particular note was the caution to BOCANEGRA in the 68'. While the foul seemed fairly innocuous, and was his only one of the match, take a look at the position on the field ... it was right in front of the benches ... and KASSAI wanted to make sure that one was taken care of for sure.

Decisions on fouls were accepted by players on both sides. There was not obvious dissent ... there was discussion. Players were talking to the referee and vice versa. Many cut away scenes were of the referee talking or communicating without talking, with a stern look, or a "knock it off" gesture, to players who were accepting the decisions.

Case in point, and the referees moment of truth ... the USA penalty. There was no drama, no whining, no acting from anyone. It was a foul, they went to the spot, and everyone lined up for it. Simple, right? Right! (There is that luck is the residue of hard work thing again) Simple foul, simple call. Had KASSAI not called that one, the match was over, as was his World Cup I would opine.

KASSAI is a players referee. He talks, and works with the players to manage them through the match. He is proactive about dealing with issues (like the caution to BOCA) before they become an issue. He was fit, he was close to play, and he let them play ... can't ask for anything more than that.

Finally he protected the integrity of the game by allowing for extra time when it was being wasted by GHA. Imagine, here is a referee who gave +3 in extra time after 120+ minutes with the losing team pressing hard. GHA may not have liked it, but fans of the game did. KASSAI gave all the players a full opportunity that day.

So for all this was there anything at issue? My big picture answer is no, he was excellent. There were a couple of minor, one very minor things that caught my eye.

First, in the 63' DONOVAN and PRINCE (really BOATENG) were really going at it and in a series of back to back fouls pretty clearly kicked each other pretty freaking hard. Did the players accept it, yes. Did the referee need to get involved more than he did, no. Could it have gotten worse, I though so. This was right in front of the JAR and may have been worth a word, maybe he did. Either way, the decisions were accepted and the players dealt with it.

Second, KASSAI was in a passing lane more than a few times. Don't get me wrong, his fitness was excellent ... maybe too good as he was able to get in behind the play fairly easily. A few players had to either pass, or make a run around him to get at the ball. This seemed to happen most in the middle 1/3 as play was settling in around the 18 yard box. Not a real effect, just noted ... as did the fact that he was not hit with the ball.

Third, I would have *loved* to see KASSAI get more animated when the GHA players were slowing it down or lying around in the 2nd ET. While they likely would not have picked up the pace, and it would not have changed the amount of extra time given, a more public gesture may have gone that much further.

Finally, and I am picking nits here, why were the ARs wearing long sleeves, and the referee short? I know, I know, silly little point and certainly does not take away from anything ... it just looked weird to me and would have expected the ARs to follow the referees lead. Those guys were working hard too, figured they migh enjoy the shorter sleeve. This from a guy who always wears long.

All and all, KASSAI was very good, and I believe he secured himself a place in the 1/4 finals with that performance. While to me he has only an outside shot of doing the final for reasons I will share later, he has certainly done well to advance himself on the world's stage.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The day has come ...

United States vs. Ghana - Some prematch facts, quotes, and some more links

OK, I have to thank US Soccer for doing a good job during this World Cup of providing quality information on their site and via their media email updates,
lets start today with the latest from Studio 90, which features a look at how fans have been celebrating the US matches in Africa, the UK, and here in the States:

 Full article here, courtesy of

Opinion: Allow the Vuvuzela

Following are (2) posts from FIFA (one re-reported) defending the use of the Vuvuzela at the 2010 World Cup. It is offered as a contrary opinion to the opposing post previously published.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Opinion: Ban the Vuvuzela

Following is an excerpt from a engineering eMagazine I subscribe to that shared an opinion about the Vuvuzela, albeit in a software test/risk management sense. The following is courtesy of

Just a summer romance?

The US takes the World Cup to its heart, but will this dalliance last?

The US has loved soccer before, but Landon Donovan and company hope to form a longer-lasting bond.
Full story here courtesy of

Is Viktor Hungary for USA v. GHA?

All puns intended, our referee for the USA v. GHA match on 26-JUN is Hungarian referee Viktor Kassai. (FIFA bio here)

A FIFA referee since 2003, Kassai hails from Tatabanya and has worked the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup where he served as referee for (2) matches. Kassai also served in the 2008 Summer Olympics and was the referee for the final between Nigeria and Argentina (report here), as well as serving in UEFA Euro 2008.

Kassai does have a lucky star shining on him (some would say it is the resedue of hard work - I am among them) as in 2007 he was assigned to the U-21 Eurpoean Championship Finals in the Netherlands, but had to decline, as noted above he was also asked to attend the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup.

Kassai is a travel agent by trade and in a notable moment he was criticized for sending off Lisbon's Simon Vukcevic in a Champion's League match after Vukcevic scored the equalizer. Some circles believe that Kassai is a book referee unable to bend the book when needed.

Here is what I could find regarding statistics:

So while at the helm of 47 matches, he had 140 cautions (~3 per match) and 5 send offs (~.1 per match). Again these are just numbers, but given the match breakdown, it would to me be a strong indicator militating AWAY from the opinion he is a book referee.

Note however, he is clearly not as experienced as the USA's last referee Frank De Bleeckere, but I would opine is clearly a up and coming star on the international scene.

This next match will be an interesting test of how high that star may climb.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Just one thought ... KISS

So the USA v. ALG match is in the books and the tournament moves on. (Report here) Our summa rudis,  De Bleeckere, I personally though did very well. He was clearly able to stitch together the fabric of a very exciting match. While there may have been a couple of stitches out of place, as a whole, he produced a beautiful tapestry.

How did he do that?
I have an opinion ... the KISS principle.
Which stands for: Keep It Simple Stupid.

I would opine that one way to control a match is to work on the simple fouls first. No crazy advantages, no stretching the laws in early stages of the match. Just some plain-jane, run of the mill fouls. Get yourself in a groove, get the players into a groove. You are there, they are there, everyone is getting along, no problem.

This very much goes for ARs as well. It is always great to get a couple of out of bounds and an offiside decision under your belt early to get you "into" the match, and lets players know that you are there and are with them. Now, this is not an excuse to invent something just to get attention as a referee. It has to be there, and be real. Your credibility will plummet otherwise, so don't play make-believe ever with a decision on the pitch.

Think about it like climbing a mountain. You start at the bottom, its flat, easy terrain. Everyone is just getting started and wants to stretch their legs a bit and work on setting a pace. From there you go up a level in difficultly. Things get a little harder, and maybe a little faster. You may stop at a point to catch your breath, and take a rest, not for you, but to give others a break. Eventually to succeed you will be on a gradual pace up, but only as fast as the slowest climber, because after all you must do it as a team.

Same is true in refereeing. Start slow, let players and your refereeing team acclimatize to their surroundings. Simple fouls at first and work your way up. If players are concerned or do not feel secure in what is going on, take a few steps back and evaluate. If players are frustrated and want to climb higher and play more, you should let them, as they dictate the level of play.

When you climb a mountain you don't start at the top and run down, you have to start slow and move up. Now don't be fooled, sometimes it turns into a sprint up to the top, and if the players are up to it, you should be accommodating so long as they are climbing safely. If they are not, slow them down just enough to make the point that having everyone be secure and go from there.

De Bleeckere did this during this match, he started simple, got everyone in a grove and used only enough force  necessary to control the situation. This gave him options later down the road as he need them to control the match. Note the progression used in these cases.

Whistle ==> Quiet Word ==> Public Admonishment ==> Caution ==> Stern Word ==> Send Off

He managed the players and took them up one step at a time allowing them to dictate the match, until it was too much for the rest. They then rested for a minute (with a word, or a caution), and they went from there. It is clear that things will get elevated in a match, that is the nature of sport. To do so in a step by step fashion, in a controlled fashion and starting with simple fouls may be one of the best ways to get to the top.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

USA v. ALG Needed a referee after the match ...

World Cup 2010: Saifi 'slapped female journalist'

A female journalist has claimed Algeria footballer Rafik Saifi slapped her in the face after his side were knocked out of the World Cup.
"I was waiting for the Algerian players. When Saifi came I just moved away. I felt a hit," Asma Halimi told BBC World Service.
The journalist, who works for Algerian newspaper Competition, said she had a disagreement with Saifi a year ago.
"I will make [a] complaint with Fifa and the police," she added.
The BBC World Service's Richard Connelly witnessed the incident in the mixed zone - an area where journalists and players congregate - after the match.
"Rafik Saifi slapped the face of journalist Asma Halifi," said Connelly.
"She hit him back as a reflex.
"He then threw a bottle of sports drink which missed and had to be restrained from attacking her again."
The BBC understands the altercation comes after a year of bad feelings between the pair.
"Saifi took exception to an interview that she translated and published in her newspaper," explained Connelly.
"There was a similar incident between the two last year. She's going to complain formally to Fifa and to the police later on tonight."
Halimi says that Saifi threatened that she will come to harm in Algeria.
An Algerian federation spokesman said he had no information about the incident and so could not comment.
There was nobody immediately available from Fifa.
The Algerians had just been knocked out of the World Cup after losing to an injury-time goal by Landon Donovan of the United States.
Article courtesy of the BBC (link here).
Note that the authorities indicate that it is likely that this player will be tried in a "World Cup Court" as players are apparently not exempt from the jurisdiction of these courts. As part of the study of these courts I will include any further updates to this case, at that time.

FREEDOM !!!!!!

Some of you may remember the post of the ladies in orange dresses that FIFA detained and arrested for suspected "ambush marketing".

Well justice has been served.

After a proceeding in a "World Cup Court" the ladies were freed as apparently FIFA did not want to proceed with the action. [My personal opinion is that there was absolutely no basis for the charges, so they had no choice]

A settlement was reached during the proceedings [My personal opinion is they had to pay the court costs and not speak to the media - FIFA likely got nothing] and the ladies were on their way ... just in time for the upcoming Cameroon match.

Any bets they will try this again? I mean who is going to wear orange at a Netherlands match ... what are the chances?

Full story is here, courtesy of Mail & Guardian.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

New yellow-card rule: Good for the game

Two yellow cards in two games still result in a one-game suspension, but FIFA has changed the stage at which a player's yellow-card slate is wiped clean. The new rule on accumulated yellow-card suspensions was designed to prevent stars from missing the final, but it could have an even deeper impact on the tournament. 

At past World Cups, a single yellow card received during the group stage was deleted before the knockout stage and the count began anew at the round of 16. At the 2010 World Cup, a yellow card isn’t expunged from a player's record until after the quarterfinal.

A player who receives his second yellow of the tournament in the quarterfinal will be banned from the semifinal. But players face no consequence for a single yellow card in the semifinal. FIFA wants to ensure that teams in the final are at full strength.

The example commonly cited on this issue was Michael Ballack missing 2002 World Cup final. Germany’s best player received his second yellow of the second round in the semifinals, forcing him to miss the final, a 2-0 Brazil win.

(Under the new regulations, Ballack would have missed Germany’s quarterfinal against the USA, in which he scored the winner, because he was cautioned in the final group game and round of 16 game. And Germany may not have gotten to the final. But anyhow ...)

Under the previous format, the longest stretch a player would have to go without getting cautioned twice was three games (either in the first round or knockout stage). That shouldn't be too difficult.

Now a player must go five games without two yellows to avoid a ban.

There's big positive to the new format: it could rein in thuggish defenders.

The majority of yellow cards are handed out for fouls that stifle an attacking player. We know well enough that most defenders will scythe down a threatening dribbler if the consequences aren’t dire.

Among the promising aspects of the tournament during the low-scoring first 16 games of the group openers was that referees didn’t hesitate to pull yellow cards for the cynical fouls that plague the game.

As the tournament progresses and the cautions become more costly, defenders will have to rely on fair means to battle the skillful and creative players. That should give us more entertaining soccer and more goals.

Article courtesy of Soccer America Daily.

FIFA brings out the big stick

Ladies and Gentlemen, your referee for the pivotal 3rd group match between USA and Algeria, Mr. Frank De Bleeckere. A referee since 1984, and FIFA since 1998, and appointed to the 2006 World Cup. See here for his FIFA profile.

He is one of the most respected referees in Europe and has several international and international friendlies to his credit. This includes 2002 World Cup Qualification, UEFA 2004 Qualification, 2003 FIFA World Youth Championships, UEFA Euro 2004, 2006 World Cup Qualification, 2005 FIFA World Cup U-17 Championship, 2006 FIFA World Cup. UEFA Euro 2008 Qualification, UEFA Euro 2008, 2010 World Cup, and a host of international friendlies.

A complete list as well as other details can be found here.

So what kind of referee is he? Well it would seem clear that discipline is critical to him. Take the following statistics into account:

From the 2006 World Cup:
EventGamesBookedBooked Yellow cardRed cardRed card
2006 FIFA World Cup41900

From European play since 2007:
Booked Yellow cardRed card
Red card


This is an average of 4.22 cautions per match and .26 send offs per match.

Keep in mind, this is just a number. More importantly, by the respect he is given in European circles, he knows how to use the misconduct to manage the players.

What may show more is his approach to the game on Wednesday. Here is a quote from him:
“I don’t look at reputation or anything that has gone before (...) I will watch the previous games of USA and Algeria to help me understand their tactics and work on my positioning. But I will watch ‘Gladiator’ first.”
(Full article from Yahoo sports is here).

Clearly both FIFA and De Bleeckere are preparing for a Gladiator style match on Wednesday as the USA takes the grounds against Algeria. We shall see who comes to fight that day, where De Bleeckere will act as summa rudis. One shall be named victorious and awarded a palm branch, possibly even a rudis, the other, likely goes home.