Play of the Week 26: Offside dialogue

We have discussed on many occasions in previous Plays of the Week the importance of dialogue between referee and assistant referee on offside situations, which we call the “Jigsaw effect.”

This is where the AR knows whether players are in an offside position, and the referee has other information from a closer or better angle that the AR doesn’t.

We have usually focused on situations that highlight good practice. This Play of the Week highlights the danger when there is no conversation between AR and referee. The play is from the game between New England Revolution and Orlando City.

As the long ball is played forward by Revolution’s Claude Dielna, there are two of his team-mates in an offside position, Teal Bunbury and Lee Nguyen.

Orlando’s Leo Pereira jumps in a vain effort to head the ball, which sails over him to Bunbury, and he passes to Nguyen for him to fire the ball home. Due to the initial lack of communication, the decision on the field was not offside.

At this point, the VAR – in this case, Mark Geiger – must intervene. Sibiga conducts a formal review and they are informed that there was no touch on the ball by Pereira. As this was factual and not a subjective situation: no play on the ball – FACT, Bunbury in offside position – FACT, there is no requirement for Sibiga to go over the Referee Review Area and the goal is subsequently disallowed.

The correct decision was finally made but really this was a play that should have never resulted in a formal review. The AR should be aware of players who are in an offside position and, if there is any doubt, should immediately inform the referee via the communication kit.

“Offside, offside, offside; was there a play by the defender?” The referee, who had a great view, should reply “no, no, no” and give the offside decision in a timely manner. Officials are trained to repeat certain key messages three times so that their comments or questions are clearly understood by the rest of the crew.

There are two possibilities in this play. One being that an incorrect goal would have been awarded, but the second — and more likely possibility — is that the prescribed dialogue procedure may have occurred immediately if there was no VAR.

This highlights a potential danger with Video Review that officials delay making decisions, knowing that they will be corrected. This is not why VR was introduced — decisions should be made naturally, and clear errors in game changing incidents corrected. The VAR is not there to referee the game and the on-field officials should be able to make a real time decision on offside situations.

Our ARs are among the best in the world as they prove week in week out, and do not need to rely on VR to make decisions for them.