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Ask A Referee Update: April 15, 2010


The April 13 question about a possible foul committed by the keeper after failing to block a shot revealed a common confusion among inexperienced referees distinguishing dangerous play, careless play, reckless play, and serious foul play. Maybe you can help clarify this matter.

As I understand the rules, dangerous play is a separate offense defined in the laws. This foul is called if a player plays in a dangerous way that denies an opponent a fair chance to participate in play, but NO CONTACT has occurred. Examples could be high kicks,low headers, playing on the ground, or playing with the cleats up provided these actions do not make contact but cause an opponent to refrain from a legal challenge for the ball because of perceived danger to themselves or the opponent. Dangerous play is always an IFK because no contact is involved. What is dangerous for young inexperienced players may not be dangerous of advanced players - hence "high kicks" or "playing on the ground" is not automatically dangerous play.

Careless, reckless, and serious fouls refer to the degree a contact foul is committed. Careless contact fouls (a routine foul) are always a DFK (or PK). If the foul was also reckless (or tactical/deliberate) then a yellow card is required. If the foul was also serious (endangered opponent) then a red card is required.

The same contact distinction separates impeding (no contact - IFK) from holding (contact - DFK).

Am I understanding this correctly? Thanks.

Answer (April 15, 2010):
Far be it from us to pass up an opportunity for education and clarification. Thank you for asking.

Your concept of "dangerous play" is close, but not totally accurate. You will find the following in the USSF publication "Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game," available for download from

Playing "in a dangerous manner" can be called only if the act, in the opinion of the referee, meets three criteria: the action must be dangerous to someone (including the player committing the action), it was committed with an opponent close by, and the dangerous nature of the action caused this opponent to cease active play for the ball or to be otherwise disadvantaged by the attempt not to participate in the dangerous play. Merely committing a dangerous act is not, by itself, an offense (e.g., kicking high enough that the cleats show or attempting to play the ball while on the ground). Committing a dangerous act while an opponent is nearby is not, by itself, an offense. The act becomes an offense only when an opponent is adversely and unfairly affected, usually by the opponent ceasing to challenge for the ball in order to avoid receiving or causing injury as a direct result of the player's act. Playing in a manner considered to be dangerous when only a teammate is nearby is not a foul. Remember that fouls may be committed only against opponents or the opposing team.

In judging a dangerous play offense, the referee must take into account the experience and skill level of the players. Opponents who are experienced and skilled may be more likely to accept the danger and play through. Younger players have neither the experience nor skill to judge the danger adequately and, in such cases, the referee should intervene on behalf of their safety. For example, playing with cleats up in a threatening or intimidating manner is more likely to be judged a dangerous play offense in youth matches, without regard to the reaction of opponents.

You have the difference between impeding and holding (or pushing) down just right. And just so others will know the distinction between careless, reckless, and involving the use of excessive force, here is the appropriate information from the Advice on CRIEF:

"Careless" indicates that the player has not exercised due caution in making a play.

"Reckless" means that the player has made unnatural movements designed to intimidate an opponent or to gain an unfair advantage.

"Involving excessive force" means that the player has far exceeded the use of force necessary to make a fair play for the ball and has placed the opponent in considerable danger of bodily harm.

If the foul was careless, simply a miscalculation of strength or a stretch of judgment by the player who committed it, then it is a normal foul, requiring only a direct free kick (and possibly a stern talking-to). If the foul was reckless, clearly outside the norm for fair play, then the referee must award the direct free kick and also caution the player for unsporting behavior, showing the yellow card. If the foul involved the use of excessive force, totally beyond the bounds of normal play, then the referee must send off the player for serious foul play or violent conduct, show the red card, and award the direct free kick to the opposing team.

And it is worth repeating -- yet again -- that the occurrence of contact between players does not necessarily mean that a foul was committed. Contact occurs and it is accepted and welcomed, as long as it is accomplished legally -- and that includes most accidental contact.


Having attended a recent meeting covering offside violations, I have been more diligent in keeping the flag down until an offside player actually touches the ball, thus constituting interference with play. However, on a couple instances this spring I was unsure at what point I should have considered the offside player to be interfering with an opponent.

On these occasions, it all started when a pass would go through the entire defense leaving only an offside attacker and the goalkeeper between the rest of the players and the goal line. The attacker is racing toward the ball as the goalkeeper is coming out, sometimes out of the penalty area, to play the ball. It seems obvious that if the attacker touches the ball first, it would be an offside violation.

However, as they get closer to coming together at the ball, at what point does this become interfering with an opponent, if at all?

If the goalkeeper kicks the ball first and it deflects off the attacker, who was in an offside position, and it goes back into the goal, would the goal stand or would it be considered "gaining an advantage by being in an offside position"?

If the goalkeeper kicks the ball first but it goes to another attacker who was not originally offside and that attacker is able to then score on the empty net, would the offside attacker be deemed to have interfered with an opponent (the goalkeeper) by distracting the keeper and causing a poor clearance or is that just tough luck?

Answer (April 13, 2010):
The goalkeeper is doing what goalkeepers are supposed to do, defend their goal, and the attacker is doing what attackers are supposed to do, attack the opposing goal. Despite the fact that the attacker began his run from an offside position, we need to remember that being in an offside position is not an infringement of the Law; it is simply a factor to be considered in determining offside. When dealing with players in the offside position, the referee must wait for them to become involved in play. "Interfering with play" may be called only when there is contact with the ball by the attacking player.

If the goalkeeper gets to the ball first and kicks it into the onrushing attacker, there is no offside. If the 'keeper kicks the ball to another attacker who had been onside the entire time, there is no offside.

Because you seem a bit confused as to how various forms of involvement work, it seems justified to repeat here the definitions of active involvement as they are spelled out in the Laws of the Game (Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidance for Referees):
In the context of Law 11 -- Offside, the following definitions apply:
* "nearer to his opponents' goal line" means that any part of a player's head, body or feet is nearer to his opponents' goal line than both the ball and the second last opponent. The arms are not included in this definition
* "interfering with play" means playing or touching the ball passed or touched by a teammate
* "interfering with an opponent" means preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the opponent's line of vision or movements or making a gesture or movement which, in the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts an opponent
* "gaining an advantage by being in that position" means playing a ball that rebounds to him off a goalpost or the crossbar having been in an offside position or playing a ball that rebounds to him off an opponent having been in an offside position

NOTE: In the context of offside, the terms "played," "touched," and "made contact with" are synonymous.

And finally, we should all remember that soccer is a game in which goals are meant to be scored. The Laws of the Game were not written to compensate for the mistakes of players.


I note that your answers regarding whether a "statue" standing in front of a free kick is "sporting" refers individuals to the directives to determine whether the referee should caution the player. Yet in one of the questions regarding a wall being moved back at which time the kicking team took a quick kick and scored, you unequivocally state that one of the players in the wall should have been cautioned for unsporting behavior and that this is the coaching of illegal tactics.

I completely agree with your conclusion but can find no substantiating concept in the directives.

I also find the "statue" situation to be commonly disregarded by virtually all referees and ask the question, "How did the statue conveniently happen to be standing right where the kicking team placed the ball for the free kick?" Immediately followed by, "Is the kicking team really silly enough to have intentionally placed the ball directly between an opponent's feet?

I believe we both are aware that the "statue" has usually taken at least one step and therefore should meet the test of "deliberately" and therefore needs to be cautioned, at least verbally if not with a YC.

Your interpretation?

Answer (April 13, 2010):
For the enlightenment of those referees and other readers who did not see the two references to the directive on Managing Free Kicks in the earlier answers, we repeat them here:

June 11, 2009:
Finally, as the directive implores officials, preventative measures should be utilized. Upon seeing players who act as a "statue" in front of the ball or who are less than 10 yards, referees should use presence to move the defender back and prevent further occurrences.

October 20, 2009:
A situation that may result in a caution for intercepting is the "statue" that is mentioned in the Directive. A player may move within several feet of the ball/restart and NOT "deliberately prevent" because he does not lunge at the ball with his foot but the referee judges his actions are cautionable because the player's actions were, in general terms, preventing the ball from being put into play quickly. For example, a player who has been warned on prior occasions from running directly in front of the ball (thereby becoming a "statue") to slow the restart. These involve situations in which the referee has, most likely, tried preventative measures and the player(s) have not responded because they are using it as an unfair "tactic."

Opposing players who move to the ball and thus attempt to delay or otherwise interfere with the kick have been a problem for many years. Why? Because referees have failed to deal with them as the Laws require.

The directives are meant to give referees guidance on how to deal with the various topics they cover. If, as you point out, referees choose to not recognize the occasions for properly managing and educating players, that is poor refereeing and failure to enforce the Laws of the Game.

A final cautionary note to all referees:
"Should have been cautioned" does not equal "must be cautioned." No caution is mandatory, all are discretionary, although some are less discretionary than others. The referee MUST recognize that this is misconduct -- that is the first portal. The referee must also recognize that this form of misconduct has consequences that can be serious if the misconduct is not dealt with.

The referee must recognize that some misconduct is performed so obviously and blatantly that it would be foolish in the extreme to fail to caution.


Your site is a wonderful resource. Thanks for helping all of us become better referees.

I am the center ref at a U-18 USSF game. An attacker on a breakaway enters the box. The keeper hesitates, unsure whether to charge out or wait for the shot. Keeper decides to come out. Attacker gets the shot off and it slides under the keeper's lunging body but goes wide of the goal. However, the keeper's frantic attempt to stop or deflect the ball results in contact with the attacker, who goes down. I am in a very good position to see all this, and I note that at the time of contact the ball hasn't crossed the goal-line. The keeper's action, I decide is neither careless nor reckless vis-a-vis the attacker, but is dangerous (actually, to the keeper more than to the attacker). So I blow the whistle, show the keeper a yellow card and indicate an IFK within the box, where the foul was committed. The attacking team fails to score. At half-time, I am told by one of A/Rs, an experienced ref who I respect, that a PK should have been called because "you can't have a contact IFK against the defence in the penalty box". I maintain that, since the attacker got the shot off, and missed, awarding a PK against the keeper would provide the attacking team with two bites of the cherry(and might require sending-off the keeper as well) while, given the fact that the keeper was trying to get the ball rather than the player, albeit by playing in a dangerous manner, an IFK was appropriate. Was I wrong?

Answer (April 13, 2010):
We would suggest that you are operating under a slightly "iffy" premise, that the goalkeeper's action constituted playing dangerously. All referees need to remember that the job of the goalkeeper is inherently dangerous; everything he or she does when attempting to clear a ball or take it away from an onrushing attacker is dangerous. Unless the 'keeper did something that was careless or violent or reckless, and you said that he did not, then there was no foul, but simply bad luck. This is one of the lessons we need to learn. There was no foul in this situation, at least not as you describe it. Not a penalty kick, not an indirect free kick.

No need to discuss the advice you were given by others in this case; just disregard it.


Do the laws specify where the ball is to be placed for restarts. I remember from my reffing days that the restart was supposed to take place within a yard from where the foul or ball was when the incident occurred. During a match the other day a foul occurred right at the half line and the referee let the player move the ball almost 10 yards closer to the goal and when I questioned him he stated that the ball had to be within 10 yards for the restart.

Answer (April 13, 2010):
There is no "ten-yard rule" on free kicks. With certain specific exceptions, such as offenses within the goal area or penalty kicks or illegal entry onto the field by a substitute, free kicks are taken from the place where the offense occurred. The referee clearly cannot always expect to have the ball placed on the exact blade of grass upon which the foul or misconduct was committed, but every effort should be made to have the restart taken within a reasonable distance of that blade of grass. The accurate placement of the ball becomes more important the nearer the event occurs to the goal being attacked.


Week 3 in the MLS, Philadelphia Union vs. D.C. United had a very strange goal for D.C. United. An attacking player, to the right of the goal keeper (3 yards away) in the penalty area, made direct movement towards the goalie as the goalie made progress towards taking a punt. (in replay- it is very clear that attacking player waited until the goalie started his kicking movement and then took forward movement towards the kicking foot)

This movement startled the goal tender, who dropped the ball on the top of the penalty area line. The attacking player kicked the ball into the net and the goal was awarded.

What constitutes a violation in this situation?

Answer (April 13, 2010):
Law 12 (Fouls and Misconduct), which governs this matter, tells us:
"An indirect free kick is . . . awarded to the opposing team if, in the opinion of the referee, a player prevents the goalkeeper from releasing the ball from his hands." This interference can be either physical (not applicable in this incident) or psychological (which it was in this incident).

The referee should have blown the whistle immediately and awarded the indirect free kick to the goalkeeper's team.


The talk about referees not being covered by USSF liability (and other?) insurance while working a non-affiliated game makes me ask: exactly what IS covered for a referee by the USSF insurance? Can you direct me to a document that spells this out, please?

Answer (April 12, 2010):
You will find the answer in the Certificate of Insurance that you receive annually with your registration, that formal paper that just begs to be thrown out with the envelope. Most pertinent to your question are these two bullet points:

Coverage applies to US Soccer Federation (USSF) member referees who have been certified by USSF, but only while acting in their capacity as soccer referees during USSF sanctioned camps or clinics and during matches between USSF affiliated teams and leagues.
- This includes USSF soccer referees acting in the capacity of State Referee Administrator, State Director of Assessment, State Assignment Coordinator, State Director of Referee Instruction, Chairman of the State Referee Committee and State Youth Referee Administrator, assistant referee 4th official, assessor, instructor or assignor.

And in response to your as-yet-unasked question, "Is there anything else the well-informed referee should know about it?", the answer is, "Don't do unaffiliated games."


I was watching a professional game on television and saw an interesting sequence of calls and no calls. The play started with a offensive player who was very deep attempting a pass that is intercepted by a defender using his arm.The referee comes to award the free kick and give the card for the tactical foul when he sees the AR's flag is up for offsides.There was a player in the offside position but the ball did not get to him. The card was given and the kick for offside was given.the defense got the free kick. My question is does the hand ball committed before involvement can be established by the offside player make the hand ball which happened first the foul that should be punished?Does the player in the offside position negate the hand ball foul when it can not be determined who was to receive the pass? I know the card is valid no matter what the answer to my question is?

Answer (April 12, 2010):
Many of us watched the incident and, based on what happened there and the guidance given in the Interpretation of the Laws of the Game (see below) and discussed in our answer of June 9, 2009, we believe that the decision, and the restart, should be for the deliberate handling.

In the context of Law 11 -- Offside, the following definitions apply:
* "nearer to his opponents' goal line" means that any part of a player's head, body or feet is nearer to his opponents' goal line than both the ball and the second last opponent. The arms are not included in this definition
* "interfering with play" means playing or touching the ball passed or touched by a teammate
* "interfering with an opponent" means preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the opponent's line of vision or movements or making a gesture or movement which, in the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts an opponent
* "gaining an advantage by being in that position" means playing a ball that rebounds to him off a goalpost or the crossbar having been in an offside position or playing a ball that rebounds to him off an opponent having been in an offside position

There was no interfering with play, no interfering with an opponent, or gaining an advantage by Ronaldo. There WAS deliberate handling by Pique.

Our answer of June 9, 2009:
ATTENTION!!! All referees please note that this answer involves a change in prior guidance due to the evolving interpretation of the offside offense by the International Football Association (the people who make the Laws).

Back in "the good old days," pre-2008, it would have been simple: Punish the offside (interfering with play) and award the indirect free kick to the defender's team, but caution the defender for unsporting behavior for the deliberate handling of the ball. This was based on the argument that the offside offense occurred first and, since it was going to be called because the pass was clearly "going to" the attacker, the referee's decision to accept the AR's flag for the offside stopped play and the handling therefore occurred during a stoppage. The caution was for unsporting behavior since it was the defender's intention to "interfere with attacking play."

Now, however, in the modern, post-2008 era, we are unable to do this because the offside offense has become somewhat more complicated. Under current guidance for deciding if an attacker in an offside position has interfered with play, we look to whether or not the attacker makes contact with the ball (not counting the possibility that the attacker's actions might be considered to have interfered with an opponent). We must remember that, despite the intentions of the teammate and despite how clearly the ball is "going to" the attacker, that attacker could still decide not to interfere with play by avoiding all contact with the ball. That "pass to the attacker" by itself does not constitute interfering with play. Consequently, based solely on that "pass to the attacker," the AR should not raise the flag for an offside violation, so we are left with the handling offense -- direct free kick (or penalty kick if the handling occurred in the defender's penalty area). The referee should still caution the defender for the tactical foul. If the AR does mistakenly raise the flag based solely on the pass, the referee should wave it down and proceed as indicated to deal with the handling. END OF QUOTE


If an assistant referee witnesses a foul but does not call it because "he is not closer to the foul than the center ref" and the center ref does not call it, should the assistant notify the center as to what he saw or let the play continue?

Answer (April 8, 2010):
"Closer to the offense" is much less important than angle of view. If the referee cannot see the offense because his or her view is blocked, and the assistant referee can see the event clearly, then the AR must flag if the there is a definite foul or misconduct.

In this year's copy of the Laws you will find this excerpt in the Interpretation of the Laws of the Game, under Law 6:
Before signalling for an offense, the assistant referee must determine that:
* the offense occurred closer to the assistant referee than to the referee (this applies, in certain circumstances, to offenses committed in the penalty area)
* the offense was out of the view of the referee or the referee's view was obstructed
* the referee would not have applied advantage if he had seen the offense

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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