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Referee analysis: US Open Cup and when a match ends

At the Sounders’ USOC game against San Jose on Tuesday evening, a situation arose that some people had a question about - namely, when does (or should) the game end? When is a ref supposed to end the game, and does he/she have to wait for the ball to be in a non-threatening position on the field?

Sounders players were quite upset when the final whistle blew
Sounders players were quite upset when the final whistle blew
Jane G Photography

The game had gone into extra time and the Sounders won a corner kick towards the end of the second extra time period. The ball went in towards the goal, then was knocked back out and fell to the feet of a relatively unmarked Lamar Neagle who... had to quit playing, because the referee blew the whistle to signify the end of the game almost exactly at 120 minutes, with only a few seconds of added time.

Most of the games we watch, the referee doesn’t do this; if a team is knocking on the door of a potential goal (and an attacking player with the ball on the corner of the penalty area certainly qualifies) the referee will allow the play to carry out before blowing the whistle.

So did the Sounders get screwed by the ref (Mark Kadlecik)?

Well, according to the Laws of the Game… no.

Specifically, Law 7, "The Duration of the Game". It simply dictates the length of each half (45 minutes, unless mutually agreed otherwise by the referee and both teams, or otherwise directed by the competition/league) and that the job of keeping that time is entirely up to the referee.

The same goes for added time.  From the LOTG:

Allowance is made in either period for all time lost through:

  • substitutions

  • assessment of injury to players

  • removal of injured players from the field of play for treatment

  • wasting time

  • any other cause

The allowance for time lost is at the discretion of the referee.

From the interpretation section of the book (FIFA LOTG Interpretation Law 7) to guide refs:

The announcement of the additional time does not indicate the exact amount of time left in the match. The time may be increased if the referee considers it appropriate but never reduced.

The two 15-minute periods of extra time are dictated by the rules of the US Open Cup competition, and again, the "added time" (which would be an allowance for time lost) is entirely at the discretion of the referee.

(Open Cup rules are in the US Soccer Federation’s Policy Manual, which can be found at USSF Policy Manual).

There's an additional resource online that's excellent for USSF ref Q&A at  The questions and answers there were "official" from USSF from 2000 until 2012, and since 2012 while they're not "official" they're still usually technically correct (just not approved by USSF.)

On that site, there's a question about this issue, and the answer is this:

There is no set or particular moment to end a game. Law 5 empowers the referee to act as timekeeper and to keep a record of the match. Law 7 instructs the referee to add time (at his discretion) for time lost in either half of a game or in any overtime period for the reasons listed in Law 7 (Allowance for Time Lost). Referees allow additional time in all periods for all time lost through substitution(s), assessment of injury to players, removal of injured players from the field of play for treatment,wasting time, as well as "other causes" that consume time, such as kick-offs, throw-ins, dropped balls, free kicks, and replacement of lost or defective balls. Many of the reasons for stoppages in play and thus "lost time" are entirely normal elements of the game. The referee takes this into account in applying discretion regarding the time to be added. The main objective should be to restore playing time to the match which is lost due to excessively prolonged or unusual stoppages. Law 5 tells us that the referee’s decisions regarding facts connected with play are final.

Some referees will end the playing period while the ball is in play and there is no threat to either goal, such as allowing a team to take a goal kick and then ending the period. Others will end the playing period at a stoppage. Our advice is to do what is comfortable for the referee and fair to the players.

The referee must always add time lost; however, as Law 7 tells us: "The allowance for time lost is at the discretion of the referee." In other words, the amount of time added is up to the referee.

To that we can only add that we sometimes find that referees abandon good sense in situations such as this.

Finally, what kind of guidance is given to new referees about this procedure? Well, while I’ve been learning, I occasionally ask experienced refs what they do about this.

One grizzled vet told me "look, there’s basically two kinds of refs.  There’s the guy who always decides exactly how much added time he’s going to have, if any, and he blows the whistle to end it on the dot no matter what’s happening on the field.

"Then there’s the guy who will end the game at the first chance AFTER the time he’s determined, as long as there isn’t a goal threatening.  You just have to decide what kind of ref you’re going to be."

I guess we know that we had the first kind the other night.

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