As part of ongoing training and development of officials in PRO over the past 12 months, there has been much discussion and analysis on the subject of tactical fouling, linking this to the appropriate disciplinary action as per the IFAB Laws of the Game and FIFA Considerations.
Officials look closely in their analysis at what a tactical foul constitutes, and as part of their education, closely examine situations from both around the world and from their own games in MLS, to come to consistent and credible outcomes.
So, what aspects and considerations are officials trained to use when deciding in that split second on the field, whether or not an offense has a tactical element to it?
The IFAB Laws of the Game separate tactical fouling into two main categories in Law 12 (Fouls and Misconduct): Denying an Obvious Goal Scoring Opportunity (DOGSO) and Stopping a Promising Attack (SPA).
On Denying an Obvious Goal Scoring Opportunity:
‘Where a player denies the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by a handball offense, the player is sent off [red card] wherever the offense occurs.’
Example 1: SKC v LAFC (Allen Chapman)
‘Denying a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to an opponent whose overall movement is towards the offender’s goal by an offense punishable by a free kick (unless as outlined below)’
Example 2: NYC v CLB (Ramy Touchan)
Where a player commits an offense against an opponent within their own penalty area which denies an opponent an obvious goal-scoring opportunity and the referee awards a penalty kick, the offender is cautioned [yellow card] if the offense was an attempt to play the ball
Example 3: CHI v MTL (Chris Penso)
In all other circumstances [within their own penalty area] (e.g. holding, pulling, pushing, no possibility to play the ball etc.), the offending player must be sent off.
Example 4: MTL v LAFC (Allen Chapman)
Officials are trained to use the following considerations when deciding whether an offense constitutes DOGSO:
• Distance between the offense and the goal – Normally (but not exclusively), the nearer the goal when the offense occurs, the more likely an Obvious Goal Scoring Opportunity was denied.
• General direction of the play – ‘General direction towards the Opponents Goal’ is the main consideration here for officials
• Likelihood of keeping or gaining control of the ball – The more likelihood of controlling a ball (was played in front of them, within playing distance, easily controlled), the more likely an Obvious Goal Scoring Opportunity was denied.
• Location and number of defenders – If there is no more than one defender (a goalkeeper is classed as a defender) present when the offense occurs (provided they are not able to possess or control the ball before the attacker would have), normally this indicates a Goal Scoring Opportunity was denied. If there is more than one defender present in front of the attacker when the offense occurs, they must generally not be able to retreat or become part of the goal-scoring phase, in order for this consideration to be met.
On Stopping a Promising Attack:
Officials also analyze the main differences between DOGSO and SPA with the use of the IFAB Laws of the Game, FIFA Considerations and many game scenarios.
If one (or sometimes more) of the criteria above used to identify DOGSO is immediately missing at the time of the offense, the officials may consider Promising Attack was prevented
1) Was the distance to goal too far/angle to goal too wide to make the goal scoring opportunity an obvious one?
2) Were other defenders in the vicinity or ahead of the attacker who would have a chance to intercept or challenge for the ball and make an obvious goal-scoring opportunity less likely?
Example 5: COL v ORL (Joe Dickerson)
Under cautions [yellow card] for Unsporting Behavior in the IFAB Laws of the Game, the following categories exist:
• ‘handles the ball to interfere with or stop a promising attack’
Example 6: HOU v SJ (Baldomero Toledo)
• ‘commits a foul which interferes with or stops a promising attack….’
Example 7: HOU v LA (Jair Marrufo)
However, it is important to realize (as with the downgrade of the disciplinary action under DOGSO if the offense was an attempt to play the ball in the penalty area) that if there is a challenge on the ball in the penalty area which is considered a foul and which stops a promising attack, the disciplinary action is downgraded from caution [yellow card] to penalty kick only.
Example 8: COL v MTL (Chris Penso)
Understanding of tactical trends and player or team behavior is also vital to ensure the correct decision is reached.
Officials look at scenarios such as:
When a team loses the ball in the opponent’s half and, before the counterattack is even launched, commits a foul to stop play immediately.
Before a team gets to counterattack with the ball that has been given away, does a tactical foul stop the momentum and slows down the game, abandoning the counterattack?
Example 9: RBNY v SKC (Kevin Stott)
Therefore, officials are trained to understand that by giving a free kick, they may in effect be stopping the game to the benefit of the team or player who committed the foul. Was an attack likely to develop in the next few seconds had it not been stopped by an offence, perhaps towards a goal-scoring opportunity? In such circumstances, the Laws of the Game provide accommodation for stronger individual punishment with a caution for Unsporting Behavior (‘commits a foul which interferes with or stops a promising attack’).