by Ryan Ottele
Scanning around the acceso Showare Center half an hour before game time, eager fans of all ages are finding their seats and getting ready to cheer on the Tacoma Stars in MASL action. The Stars and their opponents are on the field warming up, but there’s a third team on the floor getting ready, the referee crew.
Rewind the clock back to ninety minutes before game time which is when the crew arrives. The first thing they do is inspect the field, ensuring the playing surface is safe and set up correctly. At a recent game the corner flags were placed incorrectly so one of the referees talked with the stadium staff to get those fixed. The crew will also meet with the game day staff such as the scoreboard operator and statistician.
Most of the time there are five officials on the crew for Stars games, with two more are added for playoff games, each with different responsibilities. The Senior Referee is the crew chief and ultimately has the final say on everything surrounding the game. They will lead the pre-game talk between the officials, going over weekly updates and recent incidents sent out by the league. Also there is a second floor Referee who calls the game with the senior referee.
Next, after the game day rosters are exchanged during the team warm ups, the Fourth Official goes to work preparing the game sheet. This official’s role is to record everything that occurs in the game, including goals, assists, fouls, penalties, injuries, and time outs. When the match is over, the Fourth Official completes the penalty sheet and the game report. Both are verified by the Senior Referee and submitted to the league as the official record.
Arena soccer’s rules are complex, so during the game the Assistant Referee stands between the penalty boxes and is in charge of making sure all the technical parts of the rules are followed. The game won’t start until the assistant referee drops their arm, signaling that everyone is ready to go. Other duties for the Assistant Referee include watching for illegal substitutions, three-line violations, making sure the clock is correct and that all procedures are followed.
Finally, there can be one or two Penalty Box Attendants, who do not wear a referee uniform, and are responsible for making sure the time penalties are correctly administered. Goal Judges added to the crew for playoff games as well.
Throughout the game the floor referees communicate with each other and the assistant referee. Likewise, the off-field officials all work with each other, the time-keeper, and league statistician during the game to make sure it runs smoothly. Everybody backs each other up and none of the crew leaves the arena after the game until all of the paperwork is properly recorded. Sometimes after the game is over and the paperwork is taken care of the crew will get dinner together to decompress after working what is usually a high intensity match.
Currently there are around two dozen Washington referees working arena soccer games with the MASL and WISL. Usually one or both of the floor referees will fly in from out-of-state for MASL games, but occasionally the crew will be all Washington referees. A few Washington referees get assigned to MASL games in other areas as well. John Snyder, who works as a floor referee for both the MASL and WISL, noted that “The speed is the draw for me, everything happens at such a fast pace, you have to be focused and on your toes constantly.” Snyder also has the job of assigning the local referees, a balancing act between making sure experienced officials work the games while developing newer (or new to arena soccer) officials, giving Washington a deeper bench of officials to pull from.
The next time you are at a Tacoma Stars game and having a great time enjoying MASL action, hopefully you don’t notice the third team which means that they are doing their job making the game run smoothly. They, along with the teams themselves, are working to provide an exciting experience that only arena soccer can deliver.