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Ask a Referee Update: Oct. 24, 2010


During our adult state cup our state instructor showed us page 37 of the 2010-2011 Referee Administrative Handbook, we were told that only the new style shirts (as shown) would be permitted for wear by USSF referees. Are the old style shirts on longer permitted? Also we were told that the three striped socks were not acceptable for wear anymore, the new "two stripe" sock along with the old "logo" sock are now the socks acceptable for wear.

Can we wear other badges with our new style shirts (special area badges, high school, college) when not doing USSF sanctioned matches?

Can referees buy the MLS pro referee uniform or uniforms and do lower level games wearing them?

Answer (October 21, 2010):
We hope that you misunderstood the instructor, as there has been absolutely no change in the uniform requirements. The designs shown in the Referee Administrative Handbook (p. 37) are for the new design, but the old uniform may still be worn if it is presentable. Referees are still permitted to wear the three white-stripe sock or the black sock with the old U.S. Soccer Referee Department logo, as both are still USSF-approved.

As to wearing the uniform to officiate high school, college, or other competitions, referees must wear apparel that is approved for the competition in which they officiate. If there is no uniform requirement in a competition that is not affiliated with the United States Soccer Federation, then referees may wear what they like, as long as they do not bring dishonor on the uniform or themselves. The uniforms worn by the professional-league referees are NOT approved for any USSF-affiliated competition other than those professional leagues.

The FAQ posted on the USSF website regarding the newer OSI uniforms remains in effect, referees can still wear the old and the new uniforms:


Player A is in the offside position. His teammate player B is the ballcarrier. Player A realizing he is in the offside position does not get involved in the play and backs off. The Ref and AR are aware of this and let play continue. Player B loses control of the ball to the defender who takes over and starts his dribble in his own end of the field. Player B who is still in the offside position the entire time comes up from behind the defender who is still in his end of the field and player A takes the ball away from the defender and player A begins his attack... possible scoring.

Is player A called for offsides or a delayed offsides? Or is it that once the opposition has taken control of the ball offsides is no longer a concern for player A?

Answer (October 20, 2010):
Note: No player can ever be "offsides." There is no such offense in soccer; a player can only be called "offside."

Please study this excerpt from the USSF publication "Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game." Pay special attention to the second paragraph, beginning "The result . . .."

BEGIN QUOTE 11.14 BECOMING "ONSIDE" The possibility of penalizing a player for being in an offside position must be reevaluated whenever:
1. The ball is again touched or played by a teammate,
2. The ball is played (possessed and controlled, not simply deflected, miskicked or misdirected) by an opponent, including the opposing goalkeeper, or
3. The ball goes out of play.

The result of such a reevaluation, of course, may be that the player remains in an offside position based on still being beyond the second-to-last defender, the ball, and the midfield line. Referees must remember that a player cannot simply run to an onside position and become involved in play. The player's position with relation to the ball and the opponents must change in accordance with the Law.

In the case of the ball leaving the field in favor of the team whose player was in an offside position and actively involved in play (e. g., a corner kick or throw-in for the attackers), it is traditional to call the original offside offense. If the restart would be in favor of the opposing team (e. g., a goal kick or throw-in for the defenders), it is usually preferable to ignore the offside infringement, as the defending team's restart gives them the possession under circumstances not much different than the indirect free kick for offside-and often with less controversy.

It is best to think about taking a "snapshot" of the situation. When the defensive player takes control of the ball the snapshot shows an opponent (Player A) being in an offside position. According to Law 11 this in itself is not an offense. Player A can only be penalized for being in an offside position if, while still in that position, the ball is touched or played by one of his own team. Since the defender is dribbling the ball, player A may challenge the defender for the ball and take control of the ball if possible. There is no offense here. It is best to think about taking a "snapshot" of the situation. When the defensive player takes control of the ball the snapshot shows an opponent (Player A) being in an offside position. According to Law 11 this in itself is not an offense. Player A can only be penalized for being in an offside position if, while still in that position, the ball is touched or played by one of his own team. Since the defender is dribbling the ball, player A may challenge the defender for the ball and take control of the ball if possible. There is no offense here.


If you have some time to clarify the proper procedure for a situation I encountered and am getting conflicting information on, I would greatly appreciate it. I'm a 07 referee working on my 06 badge and was faced with a new situation in my upgrade assessment last weekend that I haven't been able to get a concise answer on.

A player was frustrated with his own team, looking for a sub for a while, and when he finally was able to sub he removed his jersey about 20 yards on the field as he was coming off. The SAR handling the subs for that team (teams on both sides in this league/match) asked him to put his shirt back on and the player's reply was, "no I can't do that." and he walked away still with his shirt off.

The AR (who is a state referee and an assessor) called me over, told me that the player needed a caution and on the advice of my AR I cautioned the player. At the time I knew that something had been said by the player, so I thought the caution was for dissent. There was no objection or argument from players or teammates and everyone accepted the card. The State assessor on the game told me after that he thought all my cards in the game were warranted, including that one.

Upon discussing my assessment with a mentor and area Director of Instruction, he asked me where in the laws/atr/interp/memos is this written that removing the jersey is a cautionable offense other than when its done in celebration of a goal.

To be honest, I don't know the answer to that, and I don't know if it is even written.

My SDA and the AR who is a State Ref and an assessor both said that they were pretty sure they remembered it somewhere, but couldn't tell me where. The SDA said that I can always write that up as Unsporting Behavior or Dissent for refusing to follow the referee's instructions to put the jersey back on.

My questions are, is there verbiage on this type of situation anywhere? What is the correct way to handle this situation? Was the caution even warranted, even though I've been told it was? If warranted, what should it be booked as?

Any clarification you can give me is greatly appreciated.

Answer (October 20, 2010):
Despite diligent effort, we can find nothing in the Laws of the Game or in documents issued by FIFA (or the International Football Association Board) that covers such an act.

1. So, what is out there?
a. As far back as the IFAB (published by FIFA for the IFAB) Questions and Answers 2000 and FIFA have been firm about dealing with players who remove their shirts in excessive demonstration of their jubilation (celebration) of a goal or to taunt or provoke their opponents. Such players are to be cautioned immediately for unsporting behavior. That continues today.

b. As of 2002 players who remove their shirts to display slogans or advertising are to be dealt with through disciplinary measures in accordance with the procedures of the particular competition under which they occur. In addition, when time wasting occurred referees would continue to take actions in accordance with the Laws of the Game. Our guidance to referees is that they must take action against goal celebrations which incite, are provocative, or take an excessive amount of time. Referees must report to the competition authority incidents involving players who uncover slogans or advertising on clothing worn under their uniform but may not take action against players for this reason alone. The Federation also stated on July 23, 2003, that "Simply removing the jersey in a momentary emotional reaction to scoring a goal should not be treated as misconduct unless doing so excessively delays the restart of play or is performed in such a manner that, in the opinion of the referee, it taunts, provokes, or incites opponents. And, of course, any material on the undershirt that is insulting, abusive, or offensive must be punished by a send-off/red card.

c. Nothing in the Laws, but some cultures -- even here in the United States -- do not like to see an excessive amount of skin showing. These are typically religious objections.

2. Where does this leave us?
a. If the player is protesting about something when stripping off the shirt, then the referee may have grounds for a caution for unsporting behavior.

b. If the referee sees the strip begin, asks the player to put the shirt back on, and the player refuses, then the player is dissenting and can be cautioned for that.

c. If the player is simply hot, tired, and ready to pack it in, the act is probably not worth worrying about it. One rule of good game management is that the referee should not do anything that will make any situation worse. Why get someone who is acting in all innocence cranky or upset?

We hope this is helpful to you and to your mentors.


Please help me understand the parameters of a fair shoulder charge -- especially when it comes to skilled players in U16 matches and above.

I believe that when a player approaches another, especially from a near 90 degree angle, with enough force to blast a player off the ball with the shoulder (all other parameters of legal charge are used; feet on ground, contact at shoulder area, in playing distance, no use of elbow/arm) that the charge becomes careless if not reckless. I was taught that "playing the player" prior to playing the ball is a violation of the LOTG. A friend and very respected and talented referee has chastised me for calling charges made with what I believe to be "freight train" force fouls. He states that nothing in the ATR or LOTG supports my belief that aggressive charges are fouls. Here is an exchange we had via e-mail:

What exactly would constitute a careless or reckless charging foul other than one not directed to the shoulder?? And if a charging foul could be committed with excessive force, what would that look like?

A direct free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a player commits any of the following seven offences in a manner considered by the referee to be careless, reckless or using excessive force:
* kicks or attempts to kick an opponent
* trips or attempts to trip an opponent
* jumps at an opponent
* charges an opponent
* strikes or attempts to strike an opponent
* pushes an opponent
* tackles an opponent

I personally do not believe that it is possible to execute an otherwise fair shoulder charge (feet on the ground, contact with the shoulder to the opponent's shoulder area [due to size difference it may not be possible to be exactly shoulder-to-shoulder and as the ATR notes this is NOT required], and while within playing distance of the ball) in a careless or reckless manner or to use excessive force. The object of such a charge is to knock the opponent away from the ball. In these instances the stronger player is legally allowed to use his body and strength to displace the opponent from his desired position AND THEN go collect the ball. There is certainly no requirement within the LOTG to "play the ball" under such circumstances.
Soccer is a tough game which can often be quite physical. As long as the contact is done in a legal manner, I am never going to deem the charge to be a foul.

I would really appreciate and answer regarding this matter as [my state] has no SRA or DRI and I have nowhere else to turn on this matter.

Answer (October 20, 2010):
We applaud your correspondent, who has an excellent grasp of the fair charge.

There is no other sort of charge than a "shoulder charge"; no hips, no hands, no holds or pushes. A fair charge is shoulder to shoulder, elbows (on the contact side) against the body, with each player having at least one foot on the ground and both attempting to gain control of the ball. The amount of force allowed is relative to the age and experience of the players, but should never be excessive. This is as defined by the referee on the game, not some book definition, adjusted as necessary for the age and experience of the players and what has happened or is happening in this particular game on this particular day at this particular moment. It all boils down to what is best for the referee's management and the players' full enjoyment of the game.

Although often overlooked by spectators, it is important to remember that a player's natural endowments (speed, strength, height, heft, etc.) may be superior to that of the opponent who is competing with that player for the ball. As a completely natural result, the opponent may not only be bested in the challenge but may in fact wind up on the ground - with no foul having been committed. The mere fact that a player fails in a challenge and falls or is knocked down is what the game is all about (and why coaches must choose carefully in determining which player marks which opponent). Referees do not handicap players by saddling them with artificial responsibilities to be easy on an opponent simply because they are better physically endowed in some way.

Fair charges include actions which do not strictly meet the "shoulder-to-shoulder" requirement when this is not possible because of disparities in height or body type (a common occurrence in youth matches in the early teenage range where growth spurts differ greatly on an individual level within the age group). Additionally, a fair charge can be directed toward the back of the shoulder if the opponent is shielding the ball, provided it is not done dangerously and never to the spinal area.

The arms may not be used at all, other than for balance-which does not include pushing off or holding the opponent.

We must add that a player may be off balance and fall more easily because of a "fair" shoulder charge. Charges from behind when a player is shielding a ball that is within playing distance are often deemed to be fouls if the player shielding the ball falls forward. Again the referee is the judge what constitutes fair of foul. But simply causing an opponent to fall does not automatically mean that a foul has been committed.

In addition, some well-meaning but ill-informed leagues make a "no-charge" rule part of their rules of competition. These are the same misguided people who say that younger players should not be sent off for offenses that would merit a send-off and lengthy suspension in advanced youth and adult soccer. How will kids learn to cope with adversity as adults if they are spoon fed only sweetness and light as youths?


A player on Team A asks the ref repeatedly why a foul was called. He didn't respond. The same player for Team A was substituted and asked the ref why a foul was called in passing, again the ref ignored his request. The player while exiting the field said "you're an idiot" not directly to the ref. The ref said "what did you say". Team A player continued off the field and one of the players from Team B said to the referee he said "You are a 'Effing' idiot".

Player 2 from (the sub) from Team A went on to the field. Referee Red carded the player that said "you're an idiot". My question is does Team A have to play a man short?

Answer (October 19, 2010):
Because the referee waited until the substitute entered the field and became a player, the former player's dismissal for using offensive, insulting or abusive language does not result in Team A having to play short. If the referee had acted before allowing the new player to enter, then Team A would have to play short.

The harder question is this: suppose the referee is 100% sure that the second player who provided the answer embellished on the first player's remark. Should the referee ignore the embellishment ("Effing idiot" vs just "idiot")? It is probably best to let it go but let the player know that you know.


Quick question about stickum: Is it allowed or an infringement for a Goalie to use stickum on their Goalie Gloves.

Answer (October 19, 2010):
This answer from back in 2001 is still applicable. The citation from the Advice to Referees has been updated to the current version.

Answer (September 6, 2001):
Artificial aids such as "stickum" are not part of the basic compulsory equipment of the player, which is comprised of a jersey or shirt, shorts, stockings, shinguards, and footwear. With the minor exception of the goalkeeper, players are not permitted to use any "tool" other than their natural ability to participate in play.

As to equipment for the goalkeeper, here is an excerpt from [2010/2011 edition of] the USSF publication "Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game":
Under Law 4, goalkeepers must wear a jersey color distinct from the players of both teams and the referee and assistant referees. In addition, goalkeepers traditionally wear items of clothing besides those prescribed under Law 4. These items include soft hats or caps, gloves, training suit bottoms, pants with special hip or thigh pads, jerseys with pads along the elbows and arms, and separate pads for knees or elbows. There is no problem as long as these items of clothing do not present a danger to any players, are of a color distinct from the uniforms of players of either team and are, in the opinion of the referee, clearly related to the goalkeeper's function. The referee should prevent any player other than the goalkeeper from wearing an item of clothing or equipment that is permitted to the goalkeeper under these criteria.

Please notice that the exceptions for the goalkeeper are designed strictly for protection of the goalkeeper, who is often expected to dive quickly to the ground. Law 4 is meant to ensure player safety, not player superiority through artificial means. There is no provision for the goalkeeper or any other player to wear artificial aids to enhance their ability to play. Therefore tacky substances on the hands or "sticky" gloves are illegal equipment and, if used, constitute unsporting behavior for which a caution should be given.


This question arose this weekend during a regional game event.

Team A defender #1 receives the ball, he then plays the ball in the air (operative word here) to Team A defender #2, who then decides to head it back to his keeper. Thus circumventing the pass-back to the keeper. First of all, does this constitute a pass-back to the keeper?

And then does this fall into the 'trickery' clause as defined in Law 12, and you caution defender #1 for initiating the trickery? Or do you caution defender #2 for knowingly deceiving the other team.

I have gone through a series of links online to which it's only addressed a single player flicking it up to his own head, and the other talking about a throw in to a teammate's head who consequently heads it back to the keeper.

Answer (October 19, 2010):
When calling "trickery" on passes to the goalkeeper we look for contrived and unusual plays. Heading the ball to the goalkeeper is part of the game; we see it every weekend at all levels of play. This play appears to have been entirely normal and involved two players who were simply trying to keep the ball away from their opponents. That is not trickery.


In the context of a protest which R&D will have to decide, we have a Law 14 question to resolve. The ref called a PK. The kicker was identified, etc. He blew the whistle for the kick to be taken. Before the ball was struck, a teammate of the kicker ran into the box. The kicker struck the ball. Seeing the teammate streaming in, the ref blew the whistle. The keeper hearing the whistle made no play on the ball and it went into the net, having only been kicked by the kicker. The ref awarded an IFK to the defending team.

Law 14 doesn't exactly cover a dead ball that goes into the net from a PK. Had the ref not blown the whistle, it would be either a retake if it went in the net , etc. One school of thought that has emerged is under advice to referees it tells us the ref determines when the PK is complete, and having done so by his whistle, the restart is governed by the team that committed the violation, thus the IFK was correct. The other is the kick was not complete at the time of the whistle, so retake. While not stated, some refs have earlier whistles in youth games if for no other reason to reduce likelihood of injury. With the infringing player coming on strong, a decision to shut it down sometimes occurs.

Thoughts? Thanks.

Answer (October 19, 2010):
The whistle was blown but the ball was not yet in play when the teammate of the kicker entered the penalty area. No goal was scored because of the infringement by the teammate of the kicker. Warn the teammate (if it was his first infringement of Law 14, or caution if it was a second offense) and retake the penalty kick.

U.S. Soccer thanks Jim Allen (National Instructor Staff and National Assessor ret., assisted by National Instructor Trainer Dan Heldman, for their assistance in providing this service. Direction is provided by Alfred Kleinaitis, Manager of Referee Development and Education, with further assistance from Paul Tamberino, Director of Referee Development; David McKee, National Director of Assessment (assessment matters); Jeff Kollmeyer, National Instructor, indoor and Futsal; and Ulrich Strom, National Instructor and National Assessor (matters in general).

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