Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Poor Teamwork

The following incident occurred during the MLS match between NE Revolution and NY Red Bulls on Saturday 20 August 2011. The match finished 2—2.

In the 44', with NE Revolution leading 2—0, NY Red Bull attacker Dax McCarty (white) is through on goal. The Revolution goalkeeper (green) comes out, does not get the ball, and the NY Red Bull attacker goes down. This incident was a significant moment in the match because, had the penalty decision stood, then the Referee would have had to show his mettle and send off the goalkeeper for DOGSO. Here are the freeze frames:

Penalty … no penalty

Referee (Juan Guzman) whistles long and hard, runs into the penalty area and points to the penalty spot. By this time, AR (Fabio Tovar) has reached the corner flag, and stands to attention there. The Referee has begun to reach toward his left breast pocket but then the Referee stops and tells the players to wait. He goes over to the AR. After consulting with his AR, the Referee overturns his decision and cautions McCarty for simulation.

This is poor officiating and also gives the impression of weak refereeing. Decisions have to be made confidently, calmly and competently.

First, the Referee has made a decisive call (foul in the penalty area). Second, although he has made the decisive call, the Referee has not taken any steps towards giving sanctions. Third, this appearance of indecisiveness is further fueled by hearing a call from his AR, which means the Referee had to tell players to wait. Four, the Referee approaches the AR to confirm what he has been told over the comm system.

This is poor teamwork. The AR has undermined the Referee's authority and credibility. When the Referee whistled and signalled to the penalty spot, the AR had continued his run to the corner flag thus indicating that he was not at odds with the Referee's foul identification in the penalty area. If the AR had believed it was simulation by the attacker, the AR should have taken appropriate action instead of running towards the corner flag. Therefore, why did the AR overrule the Referee's decision so late?

This incident is very similar to the one made by Russian match officials in a Champions League match in December 2010. In that match, the AR undermined the authority and credibility of the Referee too.

Another factor for Referees to consider is to understand what would the attacking player have gained from attempting to deceive the Referee as opposed to the potential consequences in failing to deceive the Referee.

Successfully deceiving the Referee would mean a player gaining a penalty (which does not necessarily mean a goal will be scored) and getting the opposing goalkeeper sent off.
Unsuccessfully deceiving Referee means losing out on scoring a goal in a one-on-one situation and getting cautioned.
All this should be weighed against the attacking player successfully rounding the goalkeeper and scoring a goal to take the match to 2—1 going into the halftime break.

That is, would the attacking player jeopardize the likelihood of scoring a goal in a one-on-one situation with the goalkeeper, which would have helped haul his side from being two goals down to 2—1, all for the risk in attempting to gain a penalty and getting the goalkeeper sent off just before the halftime break?

Granted, Referees will not realistically be calculating (all) the odds over in their minds during the heat of the match. But this thought experiment can be taken as a useful reflective exercise and also helps us to understand why, in this instance, there was poor decision-making and poor teamwork by the match officials.

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