By Randy Vogt
In many game situations, I could make a case that the ref's best position varies but there is only one position that works for assistants. During normal play for nearly the entire game, the assistant referee's position is parallel with the second-to-last defender as that is the perfect position for determining offside. The first defender is almost always the goalkeeper.
It is very challenging for new assistant referees to have the discipline to stay with the second-to-last defender instead of watching play develop 40 yards upfield, especially when the ball is in or near the other penalty area. Half the challenge of being an assistant referee is having the discipline to be exactly in the correct position and I cannot stress that enough. Even me with lots of experience, I sometimes struggle during the game of being exactly in line with the second-to-last defender.
You will notice that with instant replay, unless the camera is exactly in line with the second-to-last defender, you do not know if the player was offside during very tight plays.
Being exactly in line with the second-to-last defender can be quite challenging when the ball is near your touchline and the defense is moving. You as the AR need to watch the ball to make sure that it does not go out of play while also watching the defense to remain parallel to the second-to-last defender.
Should 21 players be in the other half of the field with only the goalkeeper in your half, the assistant referee’s position is not with the second-to-last defender in this instance but at the halfway line.
Another exception to being parallel with the second-to-last defender is when the ball is closer to your goal line than the second-to-last defender is. Your position would then be parallel to the ball.
Other exceptions are during the taking of a corner kick and penalty kick. The assistant referee’s position both times is at the goal line.
On a corner kick, the assistant ref is behind the corner flag no matter whether the kick is being taken near the AR or in the opposite corner.
On a penalty kick in a game situation, the AR is at the intersection of the 18-yard line (side of the penalty area) and the goal line. During a shootout, the AR is at the intersection of the 6-yard line and the goal line. The reason for the change in position is the AR is closer to the goal in a shootout (called “kicks from the mark” by referees) and closer to the touchline during the actual game in case a goal is not scored off the penalty kick and play continues so the AR needs to assume the normal position by the touchline.
For good goals, the AR sprints up the touchline 15 yards or so, watching the players on the field at all times. Should the ball go into the net but the AR spotted a foul or some other problem that the referee did not see (that would nullify the goal), the AR should wait at the corner flag and the referee comes over. They then can briefly discuss what happened and determine whether the goal is valid.
This does not include offside with the player in the offside position scoring the goal, as the AR should have already raised the flag and the referee spotted it, whistling for offside.
If the ball goes over the goal line and comes out in one of those bang-bang plays that happen once or twice a year and it’s a good goal, the AR raises the flag to get the ref’s attention -- as soon as the referee sees the flag, the AR sprints 15 yards upfield. This is the only time that the ref blows the whistle for a goal.
I consider the assistant referee to be similar to a goalkeeper in that in some games, the AR and keeper will be very busy and in other games, there is little for them to do. As one example, with teams that gamble by often using the offside trap, the ARs will generally be busier than the ref. It’s particularly in these games that the AR must be exactly in the correct position.
(Randy Vogt has officiated over 8,000 games during the past three decades, from professional matches in front of thousands to 6-year-olds being cheered on by very enthusiastic parents. In his book, "Preventive Officiating," he shares his wisdom gleaned from thousands of games and hundreds of clinics to help referees not only survive but thrive on the soccer field. You can visit the book’s website at www.preventiveofficiating.com/)