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So this happened:

And the debate that raged centered in two camps:
1) The goal should be disallowed because the attacker was in an offside position when the ball was originally shot and a deliberate save was made by the defender which pushed the ball into the post.

2) The goal should be allowed because the attacker’s offside position is reset due to the defender’s deliberate play on the ball which pushed the ball into the post.

While there is no debate about the wording of Law 11, the debate really centers around the definition of a save as given by the 2016-17 Laws of the Game (published by the IFAB at

An action by a player to stop the ball when it is going into or very close to the goal
using any part of the body except the hands (unless a goalkeeper within their own
penalty area)

The words “VERY CLOSE” are what are keeping the discussion lively.

Some referees believe that “very close” means balls that are headed toward a position near the goal. Others believe that “very close” means balls that almost enter the goal.

I attempted to find guidelines on the subject from FIFA. What I found first was mentioned in several blogs about “UEFA Guidelines” which state:

Deliberate Save (UEFA Guidelines)

    Deliberate save:

  • made by any player
  • save means "to save a goal from being scored"
  • In cases where the ball was clearly not heading towards the goal, there can be no deliberate save

However, UEFA does not actually place their Guidelines online. I was about ready to give up on the search, and I found this, from Referee Joe McHugh (Ireland, Grade 1 Senior):

“As regards deliberate save the Law is vague on this and we are left to seek interpretation from our associations on this. These interpretations are given to our most senior referees. UEFA has opined that deliberately playing the ball requires a clearly deliberate act of a player making a clear movement towards the ball while the quality of this action is to be ignored by the referee. A deliberate save can be compared to a goalkeeper’s save. It is applicable for every player on the pitch though and means that a potential goal is prevented from being scored by this save.”

Additionally, Referee Richard Dawson (Canada, Class 2) had this to say:

The deliberate save generally involves the keeper but can be attributed to defenders’ goal line clearances that prevent the ball from crossing the goal line under the crossbar and between the posts without the keeper in behind. … [Balls which] DO NOT reset offside must in the opinion of the referee impact the player without his knowledge or at a speed and distance where there is no time or space to react effectively by choice.”

So, did the defender’s actions in the video constitute a deliberate SAVE or a deliberate PLAY? Well, let’s go over the facts as presented in the video:

  1. The original “shot” is from just outside the 18 and about 5 yards wide right of goal. This distance is approximately 18.5 yards from the inside post.
  2. The defender slides and touches the ball at a point a yard outside the 6-yard goal area line and about 4 yards wide right of goal. This distance is just a shade over 8 yards from the inside post.
  3. Another attacker (the one who eventually scores) is directly behind and about 5 yards back from the defender who touches the ball
  4. The GK has moved to take a position on the inside post.
  5. The original trajectory of the ball, had the defender not touched it, would have ended either with the ball wide right of goal by approximately 2.5 yards OR the final attacker receiving it as a pass.

So, does this meet the definition of “very close to the goal” in order for the defender’s touch to be a deliberate SAVE?

Given the information presented, with the guidelines and interpretations above, I’d have to say no, this is a deliberate PLAY. Why?

  1. Distance to goal – The original shot is more than 18 yards out. The defender touches the ball 10 yards later. That is ample distance to choose whether or not to play the ball.
  2. The defender SLIDES to touch the ball – this implies a deliberate action.
  3. The trajectory – can’t be a save if the ball had no chance of entering goal. Wide right is not on target.
  4. The final attacker – the defender’s deliberate action initially prevents the final attacker from receiving the ball directly from the attacker outside the 18.

However, I am simply a grassroots USSF Grade 7 referee. There are many respected refs that have chimed in on the subject of this video from varying parts of the world. Two of the more current authorities on the subject:

Austin Gomez (former USSF National Referee, retired):

In my opinion, this is clearly NOT a ‘Save’ as such —– [due to the Goalkeeper still on/near the Goal line and this Defender NOT even close to the Goal itself, to be considered a ‘SAVE’] —— My belief is that is clearly a ‘DELIBERATE-PLAY’ wherein there was Movement towards the Ball, with Time & Space assisting this Defender! ………. Therefore, (‘Ergo”), this ‘offside-position’ Attacker should NOT be considered as ‘Gaining an Advantage by being in that Position’ (as LAW 11 stipulates)!

Murray Milavsky (current Canadian Soccer Association instructor):

Looks like a deliberate play on the ball by the defender, it’s at least 7 yards from goal where he made a play for it. It wasn’t like he turned around and it hit him. Don’t think you can consider this a save, there was no guarantee that ball was going into the goal.

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So last week I was surprised by the note that I was approved to be a referee at the 2015 State Cup, which is the three week tournament of all the best of the best teams in the state. I was given a U17 girls center and a U18 girls AR.

I should have known I was in for a long match when I arrived half an hour before my game only to find that the referee tent was not where it has been for the ENTIRE YEAR. Instead, it was stationed all the way on the southwest side of the fields. By the time I found it, it was about 10 minutes until kickoff. Great.

As my AR’s, I had a grade 7 and a grade 8. Good thing, as I had forgotten one of the key rules for State Cup – once a player has been substituted, then may not return to the game in that half.

Things started off ok, a quick goal by both Red and White teams within the first ten minutes, then it started slowly going downhill. Midway through the first half, I had a caution for Delaying the Restart for a Red girl that took too long with her throw-in. Granted, she did take WAAAY too long – I gave her the usual 6-8 seconds, then told her to hurry it up, then another 5 seconds, then whistled for the caution. After that though, her team’s coach wanted a quicker restart of EVERYTHING White did. That’s when I knew the second half was going to get dicey.

The second half saw six cautions, four of which were to Red, one of those was to the head coach. In order, they were White Unsporting Behavior (#6 late tackle), Red Dissent (#17), Red Dissent (Head Coach), White Unsporting Behavior (#4 late tackle), Red Unsporting Behavior (#21 running through White player from behind), and Red Unsporting Behavior (#3 late tackle). And that last one was more of an “orange” card than a yellow – borderline red, but since the studs of her cleats were down, I chose to go yellow.

The final was 3-3, but after the game I heard parents talk that the White team was eliminated from the tournament due to points. Doesn’t really matter to me, as I have no stake in either team.

The second game had me switch places with the grade 7 ref, and boy that game was physical. And it didn’t help that the ref’s body language really suggested that he didn’t want to be there. He called at least 75% of the fouls against the Red team, but in my opinion, the Black team was the one that should have been called for way more – or at least, more early in the game to set the tone. Instead, it very nearly became a blood bath, with two injuries near the end of the game that could have totally been avoided had the ref maintained control.

The final was 1-1, and Red was lucky to get a tie out of it. As for me, a mental note on what to avoid in a State Cup game in the future.

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This weekend was the San Tan Ostrich Festival Tournament that is no longer just being held in the East Valley. Originally, this tournament was held in Chandler, then it expanded to Chandler/Gilbert, then Chandler/Gilbert/Mesa. Now it is Chandler/Scottsdale/Phoenix, with the fields at Snedigar Sports Complex, Scottsdale Soccer Complex, and Reach 11.

The tournament organizers did us a favor and placed all the U10 and below at Snedigar, with the U11-U14 at Reach 11 (for the most part), and the U15 and above at SSC (with a few U13’s thrown in there due to lack of field space at Reach 11). I got to watch all three of my son’s games at SSC – unfortunately, they went 0-1-2 (one draw and two losses). In between and after the Saturday games, I refereed 5 games, and then spent all day Sunday at SSC doing another 5 games.

Saturday’s games were pretty benign – I had one issue where a player decided to send an elbow into the gut of another player and when I got the center ref’s attention, I was chastised for wasting time with non-important issues. Really? Elbowing players is not important?

Sunday, I finally got to ref two U19 games. One was a consolation, the other was a final. THAT was fun, even if the consolation was at 1pm and hot as blazes.

Monday was my last day refereeing at the Barney Indoor Sports Complex. It’s been four years, it was time. Naturally, it was the final week of playoffs, and the championship game once again pitted Bulwark against Real Madrid. RM had Bulwark by the throat for a bit, even being up 2 goals at one point. But one thing I’ve learned after watching this team win again and again and again is you don’t piss them off, and that’s what happened. Somewhere, somebody said something and the next thing I hear after another RM goal was scored was a Bulwark player saying, “They want to play that way? That’s just gonna piss us off”, and then they went and dominated the remainder of the game. Final was 9-6.

There was a “foul” in the first half that I didn’t see because I was screened (hence the quotes), and I’m sure if I saw it, I would have called it. But since I can’t call what I can’t see, c’est la vie. There was a boarding call in the last minute of the game after it was out of hand. There was a DOGSO-F, but indoor rules state that requires just a Blue card and a PK, instead of a red. There were three other PK’s, there was physicality, there was trash talking, it was a glorious game. ๐Ÿ™‚

The second best game, however, was the game right before, with ENFC (which stands for Extremely Nutmegged Football Club) against Chelsea. With 3:45 left in the game, Chelsea is up 3-0, and they fatally decide to take their foot off the gas. ENFC scores four times in a span of two and a half minutes and wins 4-3. Chelsea did have a last gasp – with 10 seconds remaining, ENFC fouls a Chelsea player, I hurry up and get the ball in place, one pass, one touch and a shot into the bottom left corner, only to have the keeper save it right as time expired. It would have counted had it gone in.

And finally, I got to play in the final game of the night – Past R Prime vs. The Barn team. PRP was short a player, so I got to jump onto the field and play. It was fun to be out there as a player instead of a ref, and I got a good workout for it – made no mistakes as a defenseman, stepped up and took away balls that the other team was not expecting me to do so, and in the second half, played as GK – the ref gave the other team a goal that I saved on the line because he knew it was my last day and was trying to needle me a bit. (He also gave me a red card after the game was over for failing to leave in a timely manner ๐Ÿ˜‰

I was sad to go, but also knew that I had put in a lot of work and set a standard for years to come for that league, and for that I am happy.

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So Isabella had her first cheer competition on Saturday, and her team came in first place! Granted, it was a “prep” division for teams that were half-year, not full-year, but it’s still a win, and it still counts! Her team was pretty much awesome. Nearly flawless routine – but of course the judges have to deduct points for anything at all – and it was actually fun to watch all the other routines too. (Even the Tohono O’Odham Nation had a cheer team entered!)

Afterwards, home, then off to Reach 11 for Dominic’s second game of the Sereno Showcase tourney (his team, Alliance, won the morning game 5-0). This one ended in a 1-1 tie, but they definitely had at least three bonafide chances that should have been converted. There was also a controversial no-call in the penalty area by the center ref – Dylan was attempting a cross from left into the the center and was knocked down as he was making the attempt. For me, that would have been a call, not sure why the CR didn’t make the call unless he was still in high school mode (NFHS games tend to be a LOT more physical – mostly because the majority of the refs are not 100%-year-round soccer refs but multi-sport refs).

Today, three games for me at Quail Run park, then back home. The last game was memorable because it was Sereno Nogales vs Sereno East (Chandler) – and one of Dom’s old teammates from indoor (Georgie) was on Sereno East. Seven yellow cards in this game – five for Nogales (unsporting behavior – late tackle from behind, unsporting behavior – undercutting an opponent in midair, persistent infringement, failure to respect distance, and unsporting behavior – off-ball hip check), two for East ( late tackle, dissent). There was also a concussion in the first half, and the East team tried to substitute the player back into the game about ten minutes after it happened (um, not). East won, 1-0.

Didn’t make it to Dominic’s third game (also a 1-1 tie), but apparently Dom’s team spoiled the tournament shutout bid by their opponent, being the only team to score on them while playing with 10 1/2 men (one of the Alliance players was injured and they had no subs available due to injuries and suspensions).

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As a referee, I don’t know what it is that draws a certain type of person to my games.

Maybe these people have always been there – and by that, I mean players that have always been simmering under the surface and just needed the right catalyst to boil over.

Or maybe it’s the style of refereeing I do that brings out the “reactionary” player – players that just have to have the last word or argue with calls they don’t like.

I think it’s probably a combination of both – my “style” isn’t really a style, per se: I call the fouls the same everywhere on the field, anytime of game. If it’s a foul in the first minute, it’s a foul in the 89th. If it’s a foul in the center circle, it’s a foul in the penalty area. I’m not shy about it, and I make no apologies or excuses for it either.

I’ve had coaches tell me that they absolutely love the way I ref because (pick one) it forces teams to play on talent and coaching, rather than just bullish physicality; it eliminates the cheaters and hacks, the players that try to get away with as much fouling as possible when they think I’m not looking (protip: I’m always looking, and I make sure my trail AR is looking behind the play); it places the safety of the players as first; it allows for a much faster paced and wide-open game because I look to play advantage as much as possible, but I also don’t broker consistent attempts to slow down the “flow” of the game – the yellow card will come out for persistent infringement, and usually all it takes is one of those for the teams to know I mean business.

I also don’t broker dissent – I tell the kids straight away, “stop complaining,” and “zip it.” Players’ arguments are not going to change my call, all they are going to do is make me remember who they are.

Sunday was the last day of the AYSO Crossroads Cup, so I stepped in to ref a game while Dominic was performing volunteer hours. During that game, I had to send off a player (he earned not one, but two dissent cautions) who had identified himself early in the game as a referee! He took exception to the fact that his team was losing and a long shot on target did not end up as a goal (my AR was perfectly positioned and made sure I knew that the ball did not completely cross the line), so he began to verbally and demonstratively dissent. Not even 30 seconds later, time expired, so as he walked off the field, he turned and said very loudly “Ref, you suck!”, which earned him a 2nd caution and a send-off. Several of his regions’ referees were in attendance, and after I explained what had happened, they were very emphatic that they would ensure his region’s assignor knew of his conduct.

All in a weekend’s work, I guess!

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