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Ask A Referee Update: April 5, 2010


A player in an Offside Position is fouled by a defender before the attacker can interfere with play by touching the ball. I realize this is similar to the question you answered on June 18, 2009; however, I am still unsure of the correct interpretation.

Does the fact that the attacker was close enough to the defender to be fouled by him automatically make it a case of Interfering with an Opponent? If not, what must the Referee and AR consider to determine if Offside and IDFK by the defense or Foul and DFK/PK for the attackers?

Does it make a difference if the attacker was showing by his action that he had no intention of playing the ball? What if the defender was in a position to play the ball but instead moved to the attacker and fouled (held, pushed, etc.) him?

Answer (April 5, 2010):
We see no reason to depart from the earlier answer: the attacking player is interfering with an opponent and should thus be called offside.

It may be possible that you have misunderstood what it takes to interfere with an opponent as a means of committing an offside offense. Two ways of interfering are to be in the path of the defender at the time (thus blocking or hindering his movement) or to be in the line of sight of the defender -- usually the goalkeeper -- and thus block the defender's vision of the play. These two situations involve only BEING someplace. The third way is to MOVE -- in the opinion of the referee -- to distract or deceive the defender. If a defender goes up to an attacker in an offside position and whacks him in some way (kicks, trips, holds, etc.), this is clearly a foul by the defender and does not, in and of itself, constitute an action by the attacker which was intended to distract or deceive.

Is such a thing possible? Of course, but the probability for being sure about it is very low.


I have a point to make about arm extension and ball control with regard to handling the ball, and my question will be "does my argument hold any water." I'm aware by the answers to numerous questions on the subject that the call is made based on "deliberate" or "not deliberate". I contend that the reason that there are numerous questions on the subject is that there is such difficulty in determining what is deliberate and not. I'm aware that there is a list of items to look for in determining the call, but it seems to me that arm extension and advantageous ball possession are key elements in determining whether the action may be deliberate. Otherwise, its just too difficult to make that call consistently. I'm speaking of occasions where it is not absolutely clear that the action is non-deliberate, but there is otherwise a difficulty in determining that the "handling" meets the specificity of what is deliberate. And for the most part, we're talking about bang-bang plays.

The rule's words are "deliberately handle" which implies control.

The point of the game is to control the ball - which hopefully leads to more goals for your side - and as such, would be the point for any action in the match. Therefore, unless it is clear that the handling action was not deliberate, then control of the ball should be a determining factor in deciding to make a call for deliberate handling (handball). In my opinion, same difficulty can be applied to arm extension, and since arm extension can be a form of ball control, should be applied in the same manner.

p.s. a true "deliberate" handball is a potential send-off, but of course, it is typical for many handball calls to be made during a match that are technically then "deliberate", but for which it would be foolish to warn on each, much less send off for the infraction.

Maybe we can change the terminology on the greater infraction to "intentional", similar to basketball's intentional foul?

Answer (March 31, 2010):
You are trudging a well-worn path, but it leads you in the wrong direction. First, watch out for the notion of "unnatural position," because what is natural for a female player maintaining balance is not natural for a male player maintaining balance under the same circumstances. The mere fact that a player, regardless of age or gender, may have an arm/hand raised does not magically transform accidental contact with the ball into a foul -- it is only one factor to be considered. Next, where does the notion come from that a "deliberate handball is a potential send-off"? Nonsense! No more so than any foul is a potential send-off if the conditions are right.

Our perception is that most whistled handling offenses are not deliberate handling. And many that ARE called could be considered trifling or have advantage applied to them. Unfortunately, many referees who otherwise understand doubtful/trifling and advantage seem not to want to apply either of these concepts to a handling offense.

There is perfectly good and clear guidance out there in the USSF publications "Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game":
The offense known as "handling the ball" involves deliberate contact with the ball by a player's hand or arm (including fingertips, upper arm, or outer shoulder). "Deliberate contact" means that the player could have avoided the touch but chose not to, that the player's arms were not in a normal playing position at the time, or that the player deliberately continued an initially accidental contact for the purpose of gaining an unfair advantage. Moving hands or arms instinctively to protect the body when suddenly faced with a fast approaching ball does not constitute deliberate contact unless there is subsequent action to direct the ball once contact is made. Likewise, placing hands or arms to protect the body at a free kick or similar restart is not likely to produce an infringement unless there is subsequent action to direct or control the ball. The fact that a player may benefit from the ball contacting the hand does not transform the otherwise accidental event into an infringement. A player infringes the Law regarding handling the ball even if direct contact is avoided by holding something in the hand (clothing, shinguard, etc.).

NOTE: In most cases in the Laws of the Game, the words "touch," "play," and "make contact with" mean the same thing. This is not true in the case of deliberate handling, where the touch, play, or contact by the offending player must be planned and deliberate.

and in the Directive on Handling the Ball:
BEGIN QUOTE Handling The Ball
2009 Referee Program Directives
February 2, 2009

Keys to Identifying Handling the Ball
There are several key criteria referees should use to determine whether contact between a player's hand/arm and the ball constitutes a foul for handling. Many of the criteria have formed the foundation of referee identification of handling offenses for years. Despite this foundation, handling criteria continue to be applied inconsistently.

Going forward, additional criteria will need to be considered by officials in determining if contact by the ball with the hand/arm is, in fact, a handling offense. For example: Did the player make himself bigger?

The following 3 criteria should be the primary factors considered by the referee:
1. Making yourself bigger
This refers to the placement of the arm(s)/hand(s) of the defending player at the time the ball is played by the opponent. Should an arm/hand be in a position that takes away space from the team with the ball and the ball contacts the arm/hand, the referee should interpret this contact as handling. Referees should interpret this action as the defender "deliberately" putting his arm/hand in a position in order to reduce the options of the opponent (like spreading your arms wide to take away the passing lane of an attacker).
* Does the defender use his hand/arm as a barrier?
* Does the defender use his hand/arm to take away space and/or the passing lane from the opponent?
* Does the defender use his hand/arm to occupy more space by extending his reach or extending the ability of his body to play the ball thereby benefiting from the extension(s)?
2. Is the arm or hand in an "unnatural position?" Is the arm or hand in a position that is not normal or natural for a player performing the task at hand.
3. Did the player" benefit?" In considering all the "signs" described above, the referee should also consider the result of the player's (usually a defender) action. Did the defender's action (handling of the ball) deny an opportunity (for example, a pass or shot on goal) that would have otherwise been available to the opponent? Did the offending player gain an unfair tactical advantage from contact with the hand/arm which enabled him to retain possession? In other words: Did the player benefit by putting his hand/arm in an "unnatural position?" The referee needs to be able to quickly calculate the result of the player's action to determine whether an offence has been committed.
After applying the aforementioned criteria, if the referee is still uncertain as to whether handling the ball has occurred, the referee should then incorporate the following two criteria as part of his decision making process:
4. Reaction Time The less time a defender has to react, the less likely there has been a handling offense. For example, a ball struck from a close distance, or a very fast moving ball, or a ball coming in from a direction which is outside the defender's view gives little or no time for the defender's reaction to be "deliberate." The referee must take into consideration whether the defender's reaction is purely instinctive, taken to protect sensitive areas of the body as the face. Distance is a factor in determining "reaction time." The further the ball, the more reaction time a play may have.
5. Hand/arm to ball Referees must be ready to judge whether the player moved his arm to the ball thereby initiating the contact. Additionally, the referee should evaluate whether the player deliberately readjusted his body position to block the ball thus intentionally playing the ball with his hand/arm. END OF QUOTE

We strongly urge that you not allow the word "benefit" in item 3 of the Directive to confuse you. It clearly states in that paragraph that this benefit can only result from a deliberate action. Any "benefit" that accrues to a player who has NOT deliberately handled the ball is purely and simply a serendipitous event and must not be confused with a planned action. And also review the guidance in our first two paragraphs.


During a match a while ago, a very unique situation occurred - one that I have never seen nor heard of before. I was observing a close under 14 girls mid-level match on a wet day while I waited for my ride after my last match of the day and I did talk to the Referee after the match to pin down some of the details.

So, here we go. A defender was dribbling at speed into her own penalty area playing for time to pass the ball to the outside to a team mate who was running into position to accept the pass. The dribbling defender had an attacker just off the back of her left shoulder. The defender touched the ball forward and then ran up on it. As the defender's right foot moved forward to kick the ball, the attacker lunged forward with her own leg between those of the defender, missing the ball, and causing the defenders kicking leg to impact with the attacker's ankle, at which point the defender tripped, and fell awkwardly with the attacker falling next to her.

The Referee blew the whistle, and awarded a direct free kick to the defender (for tripping) and pulled the yellow card from his pocket to award a caution for Unsporting Behavior.

Let's leave questions as to the correctness of the decision up to now, because what occurred next was the strange part. The Referee had the card in his hand held straight down by his side, presumably to show to the attacker once she regained her feet. However, the attacker was more seriously injured than she had upon first glance, and she apparently had dislocated her knee when the defender's legs scissored her own as the defender fell. Now to add to the strangeness of the situation, I know that the Referee, a friend of mine, is a certified Emergency Medical Technician in the State of Colorado. As such, when he observes a serious injury to someone, he is required by State law to render assistance to the best of his ability. To this end, he quickly stuck the card back into his pocket, called both coaches onto the field (the defender was shaken up on the play as well), yelled for the lead AR to enter the field to keep and eye on the players, identified himself to the running coaches as an EMT and knelt to begin examining the attacker. He quickly determined that an ACL tear was likely and had a parent call for an ambulance.

He remained with the attacker until the ambulance arrived and he could hand off custody of the case to the arriving paramedics. After the ambulance left, but before play was restarted, he informed the attacker's coach that his player had been cautioned for UB, before restarting play with the direct free kick for the defender's team.

Under these very narrow facts and circumstances, were the Referee's actions correct? While his personally tending the player is not in line with USSF policy, State law regarding medical professionals clearly overrides USSF policy. Secondly, when the Referee officially removed his EMT hat and put back on his Referee hat, the girl was in the ambulance already. In both of our opinions, he would have looked foolish showing the yellow card to the back of a moving vehicle. He would have looked equally foolish, not to mention cruel and uncaring, if he had shown the card to the player while she was curled up on the ground in tears. He had already pulled the card out, and the foul, in his opinion, most certainly warranted a caution. Could he simply take no action at all? Or, as he actually did in this case, could he consider pulling the card out to be "showing" it and verbally inform the coach of the caution? We both agreed after the match that things would have been simplified if he had left the card in his pocket and used the "slow" carding method (book then show), in which case he would have seen the extent of the player's injury before the card was ever out. However, he was still determined to caution the player, as in his (and my) opinion the self-injury did not wipe out the reckless tackle and injury to the defender. Had he gone the slow path, when would the correct time to show the card be? While the player was on the stretcher? Finally, a hypothetical situation - if a referee was not an EMT in this same situation, and therefore left the player to the attention of the local athletic trainers, when (if at all) should he or she show the card? In this case, there is not the eminently justifiable reason of needing to tend to the player's injury, but there also does not appear to be an opportune moment to show the card. We both agreed that in a higher-level match we would just show the card in the general direction of the player while they were on the stretcher, but at this age, we both felt that such an action would necessarily outrage the protective instincts of the watching parents, and cause the referee an even worse headache in the long-term.

Hope you can help sort this one out with me.

Answer (March 31, 2010):
The referee's grasp of procedure appears to be quite good. As to exercising his skills as an EMT, if it has to be done, it has to be done, particularly if by not doing so he would have placed himself in legal jeopardy. Clearly a quick request for someone in the crowd with similar skills would have been good, but, . . ..

The referee will normally wait until the player has been treated or has risen before showing the card, but each situation is up to the decision of the referee. There is no definite schedule of events here. In a worst case situation, the referee could do as he did, informing the coach of the caution, or less usual but still acceptable, show the card to the captain (but be certain to explain the action).


Situation: There's a 12th player that a coach snuck onto the field at a water break. A goal is scored but after being notified about the extra "player" by the fourth official you ask the coach which player is the extra one and the coach refuses to tell you. I thought it standard answer dismiss the coach and if no one will tell you, you pick one, caution him and get him off the field and get on with the game. Almost everyone says can't do this and the game must be abandoned. Seems abandoning a game is drastic but they may be right as I guess you can't arbitrarily caution a player. Help me!!

Answer (March 31, 2010):
The Advice to Referees tells us:
"If, while the game is in progress, the referee finds that a team has more than the allowed number of persons on the field, play must be stopped and the extra person identified and removed from the field. If the referee stops play for that purpose, the game is restarted as specified in the Law; if the game was stopped for some other purpose, the game is restarted for that particular reason. Other than through referee error, this situation can occur only if someone enters the field illegally. The "extra player" can include an outside agent (such as a previously expelled player or a spectator); a player who had been given permission to leave or been ordered off by the referee for correction of a problem, but re-entered without permission; or a substitute or substituted player who enters without permission and/or during play.

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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