Sunday, June 22, 2014

Soccer needs to be brought into the 21st century

World Cup soccer ball
by Leigh Pomeroy

Watching the World Cup reminds me of all the changes I think soccer needs to make to be more relevant to 21st century sports fans. Here are just a few:
  • There should be two center officials — a leading and a trailing. In high school soccer we often use this "dual system" to officiate games when schools can't afford three officials. It allows the leading referee to follow the attacking action, and the trailing referee to keep an eye on what happens behind the play. The "leading" and "trailing" designations change with the attack of the ball. By positioning themselves in diagonally opposite positions on the field, they have a much better view of the action than a single center official. 
  • There should be four assistant referees, one for each quadrant. The soccer field is wide — usually 80 yards but can be up to 100 yards. That's quite a distance for an assistant referee to see. If there were assistant referees on each side of the field, offsides could be more correctly called. Given the number of close offsides calls I've seen in this year's World Cup, the four assistant referee requirement should be mandatory for this level of match. In order for offsides to be called, BOTH assistant referees in that half need to signal the infraction. What is the other option? Video replay? If so, the video camera should be on the opposite side of the field from the assistant referee in a two-assistant referee system. And the video camera operator should be a certified FIFA referee. While video is fine, a two assistant referee system is much simpler and probably more accurate than relying on the added complexities of technology — at least for now.
A note on the above two suggestions: In American football, which also has 11 players per side on the field, at the professional level there are seven officials on the field plus three on the sidelines. (Professional soccer has only one sideline official, called the 4th official.)

While there are constant breaks in American football for huddles, timeouts, replays, etc., there is no such thing in FIFA soccer. Thus, in American football officials have time to recover physically and reposition themselves for the next play.

For FIFA officials there is no such luxury. A three-man FIFA crew must keep up with the ongoing action, being given breaks only for injuries, substitutions and halftime. Indeed, a FIFA (or any higher level soccer officials crew) must be equally in as good athletic physical shape as the players.

Now onto another, perhaps equally important needed change:
  • Soccer needs to reconsider the position of the penalty mark from which penalty kicks and shootouts are made. Currently, it is 12 yards from the goal line. At one time this may have been a fair distance. But today's soccer players from the high school level on up are stronger and more skilled that those when soccer rules were first devised. Indeed, a shot from the penalty mark almost always equals a goal for the skilled soccer player. This is why the penalty mark needs to be moved back. Officials are very hesitant to call fouls within the penalty area because a resulting penalty kick almost always results in a goal. Thus, attacking players within the penalty box almost always have to be "mugged" — that is, the foul must be egregious — before a call is made. This places too much onus on the officials and not enough on the rules of the game. Perhaps 15 yards would be a better placement for the penalty mark.
There are other changes that might be considered, but I won't go into them now. These are perhaps the most pressing.

Leigh Pomeroy is a current soccer referee assignor, and a former high school and college soccer official.


Blogger Tyler Woelfel said...

You make some interesting points, some of which I would tend to sway with agreeing to and maybe some not so much....
One major issue of concern to the game of soccer in my opinion is this:
Why does the MSHSL think that it can make better (different) rules to the sport than the governing body currently has in place? Is it even logical to have two different sets of rules for the same game that is played daily and worldwide?
I think this needs to be addressed just as soon, if not sooner, than some of the points that you have brought up.
From your friend and a dear lover and advocate for the game and the job of officiating.

8:25 PM  
Blogger Tyler Woelfel said...

I agree to a certain extent and disagree to a certain extent on some of these ideas and issues you have brought up.
Here is my question: Why does MSHSL think that it can make better (different) rule for the sport than are already in place by the governing body on a global level? Is it even logical to have two sets of different rules for the same game ( aside from the max. of 3 substitutions, which I believe should be 4 at the professional level) does it make sense for a small governing body to throw out convention when on a global level there are rules that are recognized by so many players, trainers, coaches, fans and officials?

Yours truly,

A die hard fan of the sport and fellow advocate of officiating.

8:30 PM  
Blogger Patrick Dempsey said...

good points, Leigh. I used to be a HS soccer ref and during the summer leagues here in the Twin Cities for years in both the 2-man and 3-man systems after a long career as a player at both high school and college. I like all of your suggestions. I would even argue the game get rid of offsides altogether.

Instead of just a penalty kick, we could implement a penalty shot similar to how it is in hockey. that would make the penalty less of a guarantee of a goal. I think they do this in some indoor soccer leagues.

1:24 PM  

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