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EducationPlay of the Week

Play of the Week: Playoffs – Positioning

Positioning overwhelmingly continues to be the number one contributory reason affecting decision making. Therefore it is an appropriate way to finish this season’s series of Plays of the Week. I would like to examine some examples of excellent positioning during the MLS Playoffs.

The first play is from the Chicago Fire versus New York Red Bulls match. From a corner kick, referee Ismail Elfath stands just inside the penalty area to put himself in the best possible position to see all the players who are likely to commit fouls.

You can never be too prescriptive when taking your position on set pieces. You must be smart, look at the setup of the players and decide where your optimum position is for that particular situation. Then, you cannot afford to remain stationary when the kick is taken. Move so you can see the dropping zone/players movements and obtain a clear view. This is exactly what Elfath does when he moves swiftly to see potential misconduct and then has the presence to diffuse any escalation.

The next play comes from the Toronto FC versus New York Red Bulls match. Referee Chris Penso changes his position to create the best possible angle for himself, highlighting the importance of sacrificing distance from the play for angle. He keeps moving, and when he awards a defensive free kick he is very close to the action.

Often, moving inside the penalty area can create problems by actually being too close and not getting the whole picture, or getting caught up in play. On this occasion, due to his proximity, arguments from the Toronto players are minimal and it helps ‘sell’ the decision.

The next play is from the match between New York City and Columbus Crew. As a long ball is played towards the edge of the penalty area, referee Kevin Stott correctly moves wide towards the far edge of the penalty area. When the ball is played inside, he is in a close position with an unobstructed view. As in the previous play, his proximity results in no argument from the players.

So now we move to the MLS Cup, Toronto FC versus Seattle Sounders, where Allen Chapman’s movements were akin to perpetual motion. His work rate was phenomenal and his anticipation of play showed great vision and an excellent reading of the game. He was creating angles to obtain optimum positions.

All of this ensured that his decision making was of a very high standard, and dissent and misconduct from the players was kept to a minimum. To all aspiring referees who have ambition of making the professional level, watch and learn from Chapman’s movements and positioning in this game.

To achieve this standard, referees need the following attributes:

  • Fitness
  • Work rate
  • Reading of the game
  • Anticipation
  • Instinct

Relative to these specific plays, the IFAB Laws of the Game offer the following advice for referees: “The best position is one from which the referee can make the correct decision” – confirming the fact we can never be too prescriptive. Within the recommendations, it states:

  • The referee should be close enough to see play without interfering with play
  • The referee should also pay attention to – possible offenses in the area towards which play is moving

All of these plays highlight the effective positioning of a top-class modern referee. The positions enable the referees to obtain the optimum viewing perspective relative to where the incidents took place, rather than prescriptive positioning at set pieces or on a diagonal from penalty area to penalty area.



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