We wanted to highlight one referee’s decision from this past weekend’s MLS game. In a game between Columbus Crew and Montreal Impact, Mr. Mark Geiger, called a foul on a Montreal Impact player, Jeb Brovsky, for elbowing the opponent. The infringement occurred roughly in the middle of the field and early on in the game in the 19th minute. For these reasons, many referees would be inclined to “look the other way” and only caution the offending player. However, Mr. Geiger correctly sent off the Montreal player who, as replays clearly showed, made no real attempt to play the ball (see video below).
Indeed, Mr. Geiger’s decision was precisely what the Laws of the Game required. IFAB’s Interpretation of the Laws of the Game specifically state that “a player is guilty of serious foul play if he uses excessive force or brutality against an opponent when challenging for the ball when it is in play.” Furthermore, “a player who is guilty of serious foul play should be sent off…”
USSF further explained that “when dealing with aerial challenges, the referee must pay strict attention to challenges above the shoulder.” The referees were advised to consider whether the elbow was used as a “tool” (which is permissible) or a “weapon” (which is strictly prohibited). The elbow is used as a “weapon” if, for example, it makes contact with “soft surface (facial and neck region).” Because the use of the elbow during aerial challenges is so dangerous, the USSF issued at least two lengthy documents - August 31, 2005 Memorandum and February 2, 2009 Directive. Specifically the February 2, 2009 Directive stated that during situations when the ball is in play - as it was in the game that Mr. Geiger refereed - the referees should asked themselves whether the challenge was made because of (i) frustration, (ii) intimidation, (iii) retaliation (payback) or (iv) attempt to establish territory or space. The Directive further stated that “when evaluating aerial challenges referees should consider the following:
DOES THE PLAYER LEAD WITH THE FOREARM AND/OR IS THE ARM EXTENDED FROM THE JUMPER'S BODY?
Does the player lead with the forearm and/or elbow as he jumps at or toward the opponent instead of straight up? An arm extended from the jumper's body is like a battering ram (solid, hard and unforgiving). Think "up and in" toward the opponent. Generally speaking the following guidelines can be applied:
- Up, Not In: A player who jumps straight up, with the arm in, is generally attempting a fair challenge.
- Up and In: A player who jumps toward the opponent, landing a far distance from where they initiated their jump with their arm extended thereby initiating contact above the opponent's shoulders is generally attempting an unfair challenge and the referee should consider misconduct.
IS THE SAFETY OF THE OPPONENT ENDANGERED?
Is the aerial challenge done in such a manner whereby there is disregard to the safety of the opponent? When a solid, extended arm makes contact with a player's face (soft tissue) or neck region, the player's safety is endangered. The referee needs to take into consideration the safety or well being of the opponent. The fact that the facial/head region is involved should be a signal to the referee that the safety of the opponent is jeopardized.
THE RESULT OF THE CONTACT.
The result of the forearm and/or elbow contact, not just whether the player swung his arm/elbow to make contact. The consequences of a solid object (forearm, palm of the hand, elbow) connecting with a soft object often results in injury, broken jaw, broken nose, blackened eye.
Do not focus solely on the swinging of the arm. Referees need to modify their approach and consider the three factors above. By including these factors in the decision, officials will be better prepared to take the appropriate action.
Think before you act: A good officiating technique to aid in recognizing the severity of the "contact above the shoulder" involves delaying the ultimate decision a second or two in order to give the referee time to visualize and process the information.
After considering these factors, if the referee believes the safety of the opponent is endangered or would have been endangered, then a red card is mandated. The idea of "excessive force" is important. Contact with a solid object (forearm or hand) with a soft object (the face) often should be interpreted as "excessive force," as the amount of force necessary to injure the opponent is significantly less. Also, consider that when contact above the shoulder is initiated, players do not have the opportunity to defend themselves; as a result, the player receiving the contact is extremely vulnerable.”
In the game at issue, Mr. Geiger concluded -- correctly -- that the Montreal player used his elbow as a weapon and seriously endangered safety of his opponent. Therefore, the send off was the only correct decision that could have been made in this situation.
We are current and former USSF referees with a combined refereeing experience of over three decades. We have officiated over 1000 games including professional level matches. While we consult and seek advice from a number of other referees, assessors and soccer officials, the website's content is primarily edited by Mr. Rafal Wlazlo and Mr. Artur M. Wlazlo. Rafal is a freshly retired National Referee from Eastern New York and a current State Referee Assessor. He began his refereeing career in 1998. Artur began his refereeing career in 1990 and retired in 2005, after nearly 15 years of refereeing. We sincerely hope that our knowledge and experience will help you in all aspects of refereeing, coaching and playing, as well as provide a platform to explore the beautiful world of soccer.