By Dan Lauletta, EqualizerSoccer.com
So you think you can be a referee?
Here’s a quick scenario. A ball gets sent through to an attacking player overlapping on the left side. She crosses it toward traffic but the keeper comes out to punch it. The attacking team wins the second ball and sends it back toward the goal. It changes direction with a glancing blow and is then cleared off the line. The ball then bounces off the arm of a defending player to the feet of an attacker who sticks it in the goal just as a defending player crumples to the pitch.
All of that can happen in less than five seconds. The example did not include whether the through ball or cross were offside, whether the glancing blow eliminated offside of the return ball, if the ball of the arm should have been a penalty or the how, when and why the player went down. Oh, and there is also the matter of whether the line clearance happened on time or if it should have been a goal.
Those decisions alone represent more than one per second during the sequence. Get them all right and no one much cares. Miss one and catch scorn from everyone from players and coaches to fans and media.
“Decisions happen very, very quickly. It’s easy to sit and watch the replay, but referees get one shot at the decision,” Matt Franz, who was in the middle for the 2016 NWSL Championship, says.
Each of those decisions by the way, carries with it a dozen or more factors the referee, assistant referees (ARs), and fourth official must run through their heads and process, all in a split second, in order to arrive at the right call.
“It happens in real time and you have to put yourself in the best position to succeed,” Franz continued. “Every referee is giving everything they have to get the decision right, but you still only get one chance at it so it’s all about setting yourself up.”
The first integrated camp
At the PRO camp in Phoenix last month, more than 50 referees and ARs representing NWSL, NASL and USL gathered for their own special preseason. It was the first time officials from all three leagues were together at the same time. For parts of three days, they covered everything from fitness and nutrition to player management and, of course, specifics about important calls – what PRO calls Key Match Decisions.