Play of the Week 16: Positioning during dynamic play

By PRO Training & Development Manager Paul Rejer

Last week we featured positioning at set pieces. This week we are focusing on positioning in dynamic play and highlighting two penalty decisions, one at New York Red Bulls versus Vancouver Whitecaps and one at D.C. United versus New England Revolution.

Firstly, in the New York Red Bulls versus Vancouver Whitecaps, as the attacking play develops, referee Jorge Gonzalez is in a central position. As the play advances towards the penalty area you can see him move into a more favorable wider position.


This means that when Red Bulls’ Salvatore Zizzo takes the ball into the penalty area and is fouled by Whitecaps’ Steven Beitashour, Gonzalez has a good viewing angle to identify the foul. His proximity allows him to see that the impact took place inside the penalty area. His position also affords him greater credibility when he has no hesitation in pointing positively and confidently to the penalty spot.

In the play in the D.C. United versus New England Revolution game, referee Ismail Elfath’s starting position is also central and he moves wider as the attack develops.


When United’s Miguel Aguilar takes the ball inside the penalty area and is fouled by Revolution’s Steve Neumann, Elfath’s proximity allows him to recognize the foul and his viewing angle allows him to see that the impact took place inside the penalty area.

However, to help give the decision even more credibility after blowing his whistle, Elfath takes another three steps, moving even closer to the angle and further enhancing the decision before he confidently signals for the PK.

As in all critical decisions, viewing angle and appropriate proximity are vital in making the correct call, particularly when fouls take place at the edge of the penalty area.

As the first example took place at the front edge of the penalty area, proximity was the priority for the referee, whereas in the second example, which took place at the side edge of the penalty area, viewing angle was of the most importance.

Positioning is by far the most important consideration when referees make key decisions. It is a well-known fact that statistically when referees make errors, the overwhelming reason is due to not being in the optimum position.

There are two aspects to these types of calls on the edge of the penalty area. There is the actual foul, which is a judgement call by the referee, and the position, whether it is inside or outside the area, which is a factual call.

So when referees make the call they have to be 100 per cent sure that the foul does indeed take place within the penalty area.

In both cases the perpetrators, Whitecaps’ Steven Beitashour and Revolution’s Steve Neumann, do not dispute that they fouled their opponent but simply that it took place outside the area.

This would have actually installed confidence in the referees’ minds of the validity of their calls –  both referees knew that the fouls took place inside and, with the players admitting they committed the fouls, it confirmed to the referees that their judgement calls were correct.