Monday 8 November 2010

Referee Positioning: Kicks From the Penalty Mark

The following incident occurred during the Columbus Crew and Colorado Rapids 2nd leg MLS play-off match on Saturday 6 November 2010. The match finished 2—1, meaning an aggregate score of 2—2. This tie therefore went to a penalty shootout.

The odd thing was seeing the referee consistently standing 7 yards from the goal line and directly opposite the goalkeeper’s right post during the kicks from the penalty mark. Here is the scene.

[The second kick from the penalty mark]

What is the reasoning for the referee to justify standing in that odd position? And what are the disadvantages against?

The R and AR are both sending out a clear message to the goalkeeper that they are carefully monitoring whether he stays on his goal line until the ball has been kicked. This public show of careful monitoring is admirable (but is it effective or is it just for show?). Everyone knows that the match officials (i.e. two pairs of eyes) are both looking at the goalkeeper. This is an important message to impart on goalkeepers but …

First, what message is given to the penalty taker?
It is the same message; which is the R and AR are ONLY paying attention to the goalkeeper. If the penalty taker chooses to, he could feint as much as he likes, even after he has reached the ball, since the R is not monitoring the kicker’s approach.
The R has NOT considered the new 2010 IFAB LOTG changes where a player can feint as much as he likes in the run-up but once the run-up is complete there can be no further feinting.
Should this happen, that is if the player scores from the penalty spot having illegally feinted, the player must be booked and the penalty re-taken. Should the player miss he must still be booked.

Second, what happens if the ball accidentally strikes the R and then goes in? The goal would obviously stand, but it would be embarrassing for the R since the initial penalty kick would have been heading wide of the goal. As a referee, it is best not to put yourself in any potentially awkward position or situation.

Third, what happens when the goalkeeper does move off his line before the ball is kicked and there is no goal? Will there be a retake, as the rules state? This is exactly what happened during the 10th and decisive spot kick, where Columbus (yellow) had to score to keep the score level. Here are four freeze frames:

Video highlights are shown on the MLS Soccer website (Microsoft Silverlight is required)

Both the R and AR can clearly see that the goalkeeper has jumped off his goal line … but how do they know when, and be absolutely sure, the ball has been kicked at that instant? Does the noise in the stadium (from a crowd of 10,322) mask the sound of the kick?

Since the match officials were broadcasting a clear message that they will not tolerate the goalkeeper moving unfairly off his line, and when the moment they are looking for actually arises, they do nothing. Alas, they can do nothing. This is all very embarrassing.

The majority of the spectators will not be concerned about the positioning of the match officials during the penalty shootout. However, the match assessor and other referees are more likely to be aware of this odd situation.

The match officials were:
Referee: Michael Kennedy
Assistant Referees: Chris Strickland; Philippe Briere
4th Official: Terry Vaughn

NOTE: HKRef can see that the goalkeepers did not move to stand behind the AR on the goal line along the intersection with the goal area boundary line. However, this may be an MLS competition rule (if so, please ignore).
To be clear, FIFA recommends that during penalty shootouts the non-playing goalkeeper should stand in the position 12 yards behind the AR on the goal line, and this is generally adopted by many competitions around the world.


  1. Both keepers can also claim that the referee is a distraction, by standing seven yards away and in their peripheral vision. I wonder if the referee can explain his position?

    1. Law 18 common sense you have two 2 officials in your peripheral vision and their position doesn't change throughout the kicks until a winner has been determined. Fair play