While serving as an AR, I witnessed a flagrant foul in which an attacking player used his cleats to rake the back of a defending player’s calf & knee after a ball had been cleared away from the goal. The referee, having turned back up field to follow the developing play, did not see the foul. Of course, I (and the spectators) immediately got the attention of the referee, but as I took my eyes off of the player to make eye-contact with the referee, I lost the offending player in a crowd of players. What really complicated the issue was that both teams had uniforms with numbers only on the back of their jerseys and the offending player was facing me on the far side of the field so I was not able to get his jersey number before he intentionally ‘disappeared’ into a group of his peers. Obviously, this player should have been sent off and the team should have played short for the remainder of the game, but we didn’t know who to send off. The referee made the decision to award the direct kick (and a goal was subsequently scored), but did not send anybody off.

After discussing this incident with other referees after the game, there was a suggestion that, though we didn’t know who exactly committed the offense the team should still play short a player so, perhaps, we could have had the coach or team captain pick a player to be sent off and attributed with the foul. Would this have been an acceptable course of action?

USSF answer (May 30, 2011;
Although it seems unjust, the simple answer is, no, the referee cannot arbitrarily make a team play short under these circumstances. A team may voluntarily play short for as long as it wishes for a variety of reasons, but there is no authority under the Laws of the Game for the referee to enforce such an action except in the specific, limited circumstance of sending off a player from that team and displaying the red card.

Among other things, your loss of focus on the perpetrator (at least based on the description you provided) was due to taking your attention away from the participants in the foul and we trust you now understand that this is not a good idea. As an AR and in the absence of beeper flags, you “get the attention of the referee” by raising your flag and then relying on the AR on the other side of the field to do likewise (called “mirroring” or “cross flagging”) if the referee is not looking in your direction. It is one of the responsibilities of the referee to periodically make eye contact with either or both ARs to ensure that, at any given moment, one or the other of them is not trying to communicate a problem, and it is a good idea to discuss such situations in the pregame.