Interview and Insights from a Major League Soccer Referee

Filed under Football (Soccer), Tips and Insights

I saw an interview posted in the examiner, and thought I’d share it here. Even though the referee stays anonymous, there are still some great insights. A lot of what the referee says is exactly what I’m thinking when I’m in the center, but wouldn’t necessary admit (like the crowd having an effect on me, whether positive or negative)! The interview is posted below.

Source: The Examiner

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An MLS Referee and Freddie Ljungberg at Qwest Field in Seattle

Do referees use atmosphere / crowd excitement to maintain adrenaline like players do?
MLS Referee: Oh, yes. The adrenaline starts to build during warm-ups and peaks in the tunnel, right before you march out with the teams. There is a lot to do in the tunnel leading up to that, like quickly checking the players uniforms, shin guards, jewelry, etc., and talking a bit with the key players and maybe the coaches to get a feel for how their mind-set is that day, so we are rushing to get that done. And then when we are ready, and we pause for the music to start, the adrenaline really kicks in. Qwest field is amazing that way – the rhythmic clapping to bring the teams on is outstanding, and the noise seems to keep you going all the way through the 90th minute and beyond. The crowd energy carries you and you really don’t feel tired until you hit the locker room. That’s when your body starts asking what you did to it.

What makes your job harder, and why?

The main source of frustration is deception. When a player dives trying to get a call, that’s cheating the game. Unfortunately, some are very good at it and can make it look very good at the angle and distance the referee tends to see the play. So that’s where input from an AR or the 4th official can be very helpful. But that’s the main cause of frustration, and I know efforts are being made to stop such behavior league-wide. The other difficulty is simply the travel involved. Every match involves a three-day commitment – one day to fly there, one for the match and one day to fly home. Most of the referees hold full-time jobs and the time required to referee at this level as well means personal and family time suffers.

When will you overturn an AR call?
First of all, the AR position is much tougher to carry out than people think. Their movement, positioning, and most of their reactions are dictated by the players actions, so they are under a lot of pressure to constantly adjust their angle of view, speed up, stop, sprint, run, etc. And on top of that, they need to be looking several places at once. It’s not easy to do. In the MLS, we tend to be assigned as a full crew all season long, so we get to know each other very well, build up a great level of trust, and I very rarely find a need to overrule an AR’s call. They make their calls because they are in a better place to see them than the referee and can give us quality information. For offside, they are the only person on the planet that is looking at the play from the correct angle to make the decision. And so very often, the slow motion replay proves they were right when at first glance spectators cannot believe the call. So the answer is “not very often at all.”

What’s it like going through the MLS referee match review process?
It’s actually a good process, and it varies depending on whether the match inspector is at the stadium or not. If they are present, we have a de-brief immediately after the match. If they watched it on TV from another city, the match inspectors will call us the next day for a de-brief. We normally get a DVD of the match before we leave the stadium, and get a chance to watch it and second-guess our decisions from a different angle during the flight home. People may think that we get yelled at, but that’s not true. The focus is always on how to get the job done better and making our next match a successful one.

What is your opinion about using electronic means to help make calls?
There is no question that the game is becoming faster and faster, which makes our job more difficult. However, the electronic goal-line technology just isn’t there yet, and needs more work before it’s 100% effective. As for instant replay or some version of that, it’s very difficult to incorporate into the game because play flows back and forth and may go for several minutes without a pause. In the MLS, we use the RefTalk communication system and that’s a good tool during high-stress moments. It appears that the best way to go, so far, is not with more electronics but instead to add the goal-line assistants like they have experimented with in UEFA Champions League. But that’s all still being evaluated, so we don’t expect any major changes coming soon.

How does the Qwest Field playing surface compare to others you’ve reffed on in MLS?
The Qwest turf is not bad, actually. You don’t get the high bounces that previous generations of artificial turf seemed to create. Passes on the ground travel a little faster and farther than on grass, so there is an adjustment players need to make, especially when it’s slightly wet – the ball tends to skip a bit and slide along faster than when it’s dry. That’s why Seattle likes to wet it down before the match and at halftime; they have the speed on the flanks to benefit from such conditions. Also, most players also don’t like to slide tackle as much on turf because it creates more skin irritation, but that makes my job a bit easier.

How important is it to know player and coach tendencies when reffing a match?
Very important. So much of refereeing depends on getting a good angle on the plays that we try to get as much information on the teams, the players and the coaches as possible. This lets us identify where they like to attack, how they move the ball, and who we need to keep an eye on. This in turn affects where we position ourselves on the field. The referees share a lot of tactical information among our peers, especially the latest tendencies seen in recent matches, as we prepare for the next match. We probably spend 10 hours reading about and studying videos of the teams we will see on our next match.