School of Rules: The four Ds

Two incidents occurred during the match between the MetroStars and D.C. United on Aug. 10, 2005, which highlight the need to understand and properly implement when a player is sent off for interfering with an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.

In both situations, the player was fouled while attacking the opponent's goal from within 20 yards. The referee must quickly and accurately assess the criteria for a goal-scoring opportunity (the "four Ds"):

  • Distance to the goal
  • Distance of the ball
  • Direction of play
  • Number of defenders

    He must then respond firmly with a red card when all four criteria are not only present, but "obviously" present.

    In the 60th minute, Eddie Gaven of the MetroStars played the ball several yards forward and to the right of the goal when he was fouled by United's Jaime Moreno ( View the play). At the time, both the United goalkeeper and at least one other United player were between the foul and the United goal and therefore capable of defending if Gaven had kept control of the ball. Given these facts, several of the criteria (direction, number of defenders, and distance to the ball) were not concretely obvious.

    In the 70th minute of the same match, United's Brian Carroll was tackled by Chris Leitch of the MetroStars, tripped, and then kicked by Leitch from behind ( View the play). At the time of these fouls, Carroll was running from left to right across the top of the penalty area. Due to this direction of play, an obvious goal-scoring opportunity was not present.

    In these two situations, proper action by the referee required a steady and accurate evaluation of each of the four conditions required to send off a defender for interfering with an obvious goal-scoring opportunity.

    The foul by Moreno against Gaven was certainly close to meeting all the criteria but giving the red card requires that the conditions must be obvious. In the fouls by Leitch against Carroll, two and possibly three of the criteria for a goal-scoring opportunity were not clearly present.

    Accordingly, a red card in either situation would not have been justified for this type of misconduct.

    Alfred Kleinaitis is the Manager of Referee Development and Education for U.S. Soccer, the governing body for soccer in the United States, which administers, certifies and assigns all referees and assistant referees for MLS.


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