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EducationPlay of the Week

Play of the Week 13: Handball

By PRO Training & Development Manager Paul Rejer

In Play of the Week 13 we are having a change from offside! As there were so many penalties awarded for handball – five in total – it would be remiss of me not to focus on handball.

Law 12 clearly states that a direct free kick should be awarded to the opposing team if a player handles the ball deliberately (except for the goalkeeper within their own penalty area). A penalty kick is awarded if a defending team player deliberately handles the ball inside their own penalty area (except for the goalkeeper within their own penalty area).

The handball offense is so very simple, yet it is so universally misunderstood. Determining what a deliberate act of handball is often causes the most problems and provides referees with one of their most difficult challenges. It is important to stress that not every deliberate handball is punishable by a yellow or red card and a direct free kick or penalty kick is sufficient punishment.

The difficulty for referees in a match situation is trying to determine whether a handball act is deliberate. In deciding whether the handball is deliberate, referees are effectively influenced by the following five criteria:

1. The proximity of the offending player when the ball is struck. The closer the player is to the ball, the less time they have to react – less time to move their arms out of the way or even towards the ball. The ball struck at close range onto the arm or hand of an opposing player is less likely to be considered a deliberate act than a ball struck from distance, where a player has more opportunity to move their hand out of the way of the ball.

2. The movement of the hand or arm towards the ball or away from the ball to prevent a handball offense occurring.

3. Consideration of the hand or arm in the unnatural position and distinguishing whether a player is merely using it to protect themselves, or unable to move their arms out of the way as the ball was struck from close range. However, when a ball goes to the side or above a player, where the hand or arm moves towards the ball, that is not a natural position or a defensive reaction and in these situations it is likely to be more a deliberate act of handball.

4. Whether the players use their hands or arms to make themselves bigger to prevent the ball from going past them, towards goal or towards the penalty area. This action is a deliberate attempt to handling the ball giving the defending player an unfair advantage.

5. The consequences of the handball offense.

The five examples from MLS:

Los Angeles Galaxy v Real Salt Lake (5:03) 


Galaxy were launching a promising attack into Salt Lake’s penalty area with Ignacio Maganto being denied possession by the outstretched hand of Jamison Olave, who went to ground. It can be argued that his arm was in a natural position as he went to ground and he didn’t have time to move his arm away due to the close proximity.

You can see referee Baldomero Toledo explaining his decision by moving his arm in a sweeping motion and if you look closely you can see that is exactly what Olave does, so it certainly falls into the category of hand moving towards the ball. Also, the consequences of his actions prevented his opponent from gaining possession of the ball. Referee Toledo, from a good position, was confident and positive when pointing to the penalty spot.

Toronto FC v San Jose Earthquakes (22:38)


The ball is crossed into the penalty area by the Earthquakes’ Shea Salinas, to Chris Wondolowski, who heads the ball onto Toronto defender Ashtone Morgan’s outstretched arm.

Again you could argue that, due to the close proximity, Morgan did not have time to move his arm out of the way but certainly Morgan’s actions fall into making himself bigger to prevent the ball going past him. From the optimum position, referee Fotis Bazakos shows confidence and conviction when making the call.

D.C. United v Philadelphia Union (83:25)


From a cross into the penalty area by United’s Chris Korb, Union defender Zach Pfeffer has his arm in an unnatural position and steers the ball away from attacker Chris Rolfe. On this occasion, the offense occurred on the blindside of referee Ted Unkel but he is ably assisted by his AR James Conlee who correctly signaled for the call.

New York City v Houston Dynamo (44:04)


From another cross into the penalty area, NYCFC’s Adam Nemec heads the ball onto the outstretched arm of Dynamo’s Raul Rodriguez, whose arm is raised above his head – completely in an unnatural position. Referee Sorin Stoica, who has a clear view, has no hesitation in making the call.

Orlando City v Columbus Crew (14:52)


From a corner kick, Kaka’s shot is on target and is blocked on the goal line by the arm of Crew’s Michael Parkhurst. The defender’s arm appears to be in a natural position down by his side but is there movement towards the ball? Referee Silviu Petrescu decides there is and takes decisive action by awarding a PK and sending off Parkhurst for denial of a goal.

I would like to hear from you…

It was an extraordinary week with five PK handball calls. I have given you PRO’s verdict on four of them. In the final one – from Orlando versus Columbus – to demonstrate how contentious these handball calls can be, I will let you decide what the decision should be. Send your views in on Twitter via @PROreferees or click here to send them via email.

RESULTS >> Play of the Week 13 results: Michael Parkhurst handball decision

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