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November 2003 Archive (I of III)

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As the weather becomes inclement, even out here in California, we've been having some discussions around guidelines for determining if a field is in playable condition. Markings and equipment matters are relatively obvious, such as our recent misfortune when a composting company dumped a load that included glass shards and nails on a couple of fields. But what about the condition of the field itself? Is the traditional dropped ball from 6 feet must bounce 12 inches a formally recognized standard? Are there other accepted standards?

Answer (November 3, 2003):
Someone has been applying the compost elsewhere than on the fields. Who ever said that the ball, if dropped from six feet above the ground, must bounce 12 inches?? It is certainly not in the Laws of the Game, not in the Advice to Referees, nor in the Guide to Procedures for Referees, Assistant Referees and Fourth Officials. This is not a rule for games played under the auspices of the United States Soccer Federation.

Only the referee can determine whether the field is fit to play on, and it has nothing to do with the height the ball bounces off the ground. It has everything to do with the safety of all participants, which is the only criterion to apply.


After a match and the players have left the field, a disgruntled player directs racist remarks to the officiating team. Per USSF Advice 3.14, this is not a send-off and no card may be shown, but the match report MUST describe the incident. Must the referee immediately inform the player (or coach) of the filing of such a report? If YES, does this apply even to very volatile cases where there could be substantial escalation? Or does the competition authority do this later in calmer times?

Answer (October 31, 2003):
The referee must use common sense in this case. If it is possible to inform someone on the team, not necessarily the player himself, but perhaps the captain or another responsible team person, about the report that will be filed, then that is how it should be handled.


I have a question and want to know if at all, any soccer players can have any advertisments, logos for other places on their uniforms?

Answer (October 29, 2003):
Barring something in the rules of particular competition, there is nothing to ban advertisements or other logos on player uniforms.


A co-worker of mine asked me a question the other day. At a tournament in [a state in Region II] his daughter received a green card and a soft red card. What exactly does that mean or represent?

Answer (September 9, 2003):



Answer (October 29, 2003):
Under the Laws of the Game neither of these means anything. The only "green card" we know means that his daughter may be now a resident alien in the United States. There should be no such thing as a "soft red card" in any competition affiliated with the United States Soccer Federation. That is a concept in other, non-affiliated competitions, but not under USSF. You will have to check with the competition authority responsible for the tournament for an explanation.


A couple times recently I observed direct free kick fouls by defenders in the penalty area where the referee held back on calling a penalty kick. The way I was taught to handle this was to call the penalty kick. After all, what could be more advantageous than a penalty kick? The answer, of course, is "a goal". So if the foul is committed and you are pretty sure the team is going to score, you can say/do nothing and let the goal happen. For example, a defender sticks out his hand to stop a shot on goal but does a poor job of it, and the ball trickles into the goal. The attacking team gets a goal. The defending team saves a player from a red card. And almost everybody is happy. A variation on this incident would be if a second defender saves the ball before it goes completely across the goal-line. In this scenario, the advantage was clearly lost and the penalty kick can be awarded and the first defender sent off.

I'd love to have you discuss this in the Ask-a-Ref forum so I can either reinforce or reform my understanding of what should be done on the field.

Answer (October 27, 2003):
While it is rarely useful to invoke the advantage clause within the penalty area, it can be done on some occasions. The trick is to keep quiet and see what happens (almost always good advice for a referee). The only advantage you apply in the penalty area is to see if a goal is scored almost immediately.

Many top referees, especially at the pro level, invoke the advantage without announcing it publicly. They allow the 2-3 seconds to go by and then either signal the advantage or call the foul. This will not always work either for them or for the less-experienced referee who is working at the U-12 level where everyone wants every "foul" called right away. (We have published this before, I am sure.) Or there is another way to look at it: instead of allowing the traditional 2-3 seconds to go by during which the foul could still be called if the advantage doesn't develop or is lost, referees should call the foul and the resulting penalty kick if a goal is not scored more or less immediately following the foul.

As in many other situations, a good rule here would be to swallow your whistle and keep quiet. If a goal is scored anyway, despite the foul, rejoice that good fortune has vindicated your decision and that you didn't inadvertently cancel the goal by blowing your whistle too early and turning the 100 percent goal into a merely 70+ percent goal (the ratio of successful penalty kicks to attempts). If the goal is not scored, blow your whistle, punish the offender, and restart with the penalty kick.

In addition, the defender who has tried to stop the goal with his hand MUST be cautioned for unsporting behavior and shown the yellow card. And in your variation of the incident, you should still go back and stop the play and send off the first defender for denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity by deliberately handling the ball -- and don't forget to show the red card. Why would you let someone skate free for committing such serious misconduct?

All this, of course, would be done only if you wanted to control the game properly.


If a coach is using substitutions at the end of a game (last 2 minutes) to delay, what is the correct procedure? Should the clock be stopped, or the sub disallowed?

Answer (October 23, 2003):
The referee may not refuse to allow a proper request for substitution. The only weapon the referee has is to add time if the referee believes the team officials are attempting to "kill the clock."

However, the referee CAN refuse a substitution if the player coming on is not ready to enter at the time the substitution is being made. In at least this way, the referee can encourage expeditious substitutions. Additionally, he can require the player going off to leave the field at the closest point on the boundary lines instead of chewing up time by traipsing across the field.


I would appreciate your insight and opinion on a situation I faced this last weekend. The facts (maybe more than you want or need) are:

Competition: State Cup under 14 year old boys
Time: About 20 minutes into 35 minute second half
Weather & misc. Clear and cool, field condition good, game start at 12:25 PM
Number of officials One certified center referee with 2 club "lines"
Tenor of play: Competitive with a fair amount of physical play (but under control)
Score at time Defending team (Player A) 1 and attacking team (player B) 3
Situation: Player A of defending team has a throw-in own half (approx. 18 yard line), while player A was getting ready to take the throw-in the Center Referee (me) was reviewing a potential situation down the field. When the Center Referee turned to observe the throw-in he saw Player A kicking the ball. The appearance was of a kick after throw-in with no other touch by another player. After play was stopped it became apparent that the throw-in was taken by Player A and had stuck Player B from the attacking team and had rebound to Player A. The Center Referee (me) awarded a direct free kick to the attacking team.
Items to consider and logic for call. The following were considered before making the call:
1. The Player B impended the throw-in and should be cautioned for unsporting behavior - restart as a dropped ball
2. Player A touched the ball twice before being touched by another player - restart as an indirect kick to attacking team.
3. Player A struck Player B with ball - award direct free kick to attacking team for penal foul (issue a caution for unsporting behavior and/or reckless strike)
Decision was number three and no caution was given, as the Center Referee did not witness the event. Validity to the ball striking Player B was based on information from both players, even though the Referee did not observe.

Given the facts as stated I would be interested in gaining your insight as to the decision I made to award the direct free kick. I look forward to your sage advice.

Answer (October 23, 2003):
Failing all other sources, there is nothing wrong with asking the players involved. As long as both sides agree, then the answer is probably correct. (And yes, you did supply too many details. The head spins!)

Our question is why you would award a direct free kick -- or any free kick at all -- given that there is no rule against throwing the ball at the back of an opponent, as long as it is not done recklessly or with excessive force. If no one suggested that there had been misconduct of any sort, i. e., something that merited either a caution or a send-off, then let it go.

Let this be a warning to all referees about making assumptions regarding things that they did not see (but should have). Given that the violation this referee initially thought occurred is so rare (particularly at that age level and in a state cup game), he should have employed Occam's Razor and decided that the simplest explanation was the best and, in the absence of loud protests from the opponents, decided alternately that whatever happened, even if a violation, was doubtful or trifling.


Adult men's league game. Restart was a dropped ball. First attempt ball was kicked before it hit the ground. Second attempt, same thing. Third attempt, blue player steps around ball as it is dropping and shoulder charges white player away from ball. Ball hits ground and blue player kicks it to team mate. White player complains and asks for foul. I stated "no foul" and play went on. But I have to admit I empathize with white. Both players were within playing distance, the charge was legal, and thus my call. So why do I feel that white is right?

Answer (October 23, 2003):
You feel that white was right because he was closer to the truth than you and blue. At a dropped ball no player may play for the ball until it hits the ground. Nor may any player interfere with another's ability to play the ball BEFORE IT IS IN PLAY -- in other words, before it hits the ground. Nor may there be a foul committed before the ball is in play. The act by the blue player constituted unsporting behavior; the blue player should have been cautioned and shown the yellow card.


I am a firm believer in safety on the pitch. I am looking for a definitive answer on footwear. I know the Laws of the Game only state that a player must wear shoes and I know it is up to the Referee to decide if they are safe or not. Well the local youth / adult soccer league here has been telling everyone that it is OK to wear baseball or football shoes as long as they cut off the toe cleat.

I think this a really bad practice because:
1- The other shoes tend to have several cleats that flair out from the sole and soccer cleats are recessed from the edges of the soles.
2- How much of the cleats need to be cut off? Answer - well there is no answer, and should they expect the referee to be the pitch with a ruler and knife?

Personally I find these shoes to be dangerous and I don't allow them on the pitch for the matches that I Ref. Well this starts problems with the coaches, players, and parents. Fights have nearly broken out over this. Quotes like "The Ref last week allowed it" and "We can't find soccer shoes or they are too expensive". Well the truth is soccer shoes are among cheapest of all sports shoes and if you really care about your child, your, or other player's safety it is worth the money. I want to know if is possible or at least I wish USSF would put some kind of definitive answer on this matter at least but something in the "Advice to Referees." If you want to wear cleats on the pitch they should at least be designed for soccer.

Answer (October 23, 2003):
Common sense and traditional practice dictate that players wear shoes designed for soccer, not shoes designed for some other sport and then modified by the player to use on the soccer field.

All referees must remember that they are not responsible for personally correcting any issues involving the field, the ball, or player equipment. Referees are responsible for determining whether the requirements of the Law are met, not for personally attending to them. For example, the referee should absolutely refuse to pump up balls, but should have handy a gauge to determine whether a ball is illegal, and might carry a pump, but use it only for emergencies when someone else, such as the coach, for example, pump up the ball. It is not the referee's job to make a ball legal.

Neither should the referee carry net repair materials (tape or velcro strips) nor a lawnmower, a paint-striping machine, bags of kitty litter, or a shovel for filling in holes.

Any referee dumb enough to carry a knife and willing to use it to cut off a cleat which he has determined to be dangerous deserves every lawsuit someone might file against him.

If you need further information, you will find what every referee in the United States is taught about equipment in this memorandum of March 7, 2003:
To: State Referee Administrators cc: State Presidents
State Youth Referee Administrators Affiliated Members
State Directors of Referee Instruction
State Directors of Referee Assessment
National Assessors
National Instructors
National Referees

From: Julie Ilacqua
Managing Director of Federation Services

Re: Player's Equipment

Date: March 7, 2003


USSF has received a number of inquiries recently about how officials should handle situations where players wish to wear equipment that is not included in the list of basic compulsory equipment in FIFA Laws of the Game. Referees are facing increased requests from players for permission to wear kneepads, elbowpads, headbands, soft casts, goggles, etc.

The only concrete guidance in the Laws of the Game is found in Law 4:

"A player must not use equipment or wear anything which is dangerous to himself or another player."

This is followed by a list of required uniform items: jersey, shorts, socks, shoes, and shinguards. Obviously, this language is quite general. USSF suggests the following approach to issues involving player equipment and uniforms:

1. Look to the applicable rules of the competition authority.
Some leagues, tournaments, and soccer organizations have specific local rules covering player uniforms and what other items may or may not be worn on the field during play. Referees who accept match assignments governed by these rules are obligated to enforce them. Note, however, that local rules cannot restrict the referee's fundamental duty to ensure the safety of players.

2. Inspect the equipment.
All items of player equipment and uniforms must be inspected. However, anything outside the basic compulsory items must draw the particular attention of the referee and be inspected with special regard to safety. USSF does not "pre-approve" any item of player equipment by type or brand -- each item must be evaluated individually.

3. Focus on the equipment itself -- not how it might be improperly used, or whether it actually protects the player.
Generally, the referee's safety inspection should focus on whether the equipment has such dangerous characteristics as: sharp edges, hard surfaces, pointed corners, dangling straps or loops, or dangerous protrusions. The referee should determine whether the equipment, by its nature, presents a safety risk to the player wearing it or to other players. If the equipment does not present such a safety risk, the referee should permit the player to wear it.

The referee should not forbid the equipment simply because it creates a possibility that a player could use it to foul another player or otherwise violate the Laws of the Game. However, as the game progresses, an item that the referee allowed may become dangerous, depending on changes in its condition (wear and tear) or on how the player uses it. Referees must be particularly sensitive to unfair or dangerous uses of player equipment and must be prepared to order a correction of the problem whenever they become aware of it.

The referee also should not forbid the equipment because of doubts about whether it actually protects the player. There are many new types of equipment on the market that claim to protect players. A referee's decision to allow a player to use equipment is not an endorsement of the equipment and does not signify that the referee believes the player will be safer while wearing the equipment.

4. Remember that the referee is the final word on whether equipment is dangerous.
Players, coaches, and others may argue that certain equipment is safe. They may contend that the equipment has been permitted in previous matches, or that the equipment actually increases the player's safety. These arguments may be accompanied by manufacturer's information, doctor's notes, etc. However, as with all referee decisions, determining what players may wear within the framework of the Laws of the Game and applicable local rules depends on the judgment of the referee. The referee must strive to be fair, objective, and consistent, but the final decision belongs to the referee.

The philosophy of the United States Soccer Federation is that every child who wants to should be able to play. However, we must respect the guiding principles of the Laws of the Game, particularly Law 4, which requires the referee to ensure that all players are given conditions in which they can play as safely as possible.


While a ball is still in play, the referee becomes diabled for whatever reason. As a result, he is unable to blow his whistle to stop play. Play continues. What is the correct procedure for the assistant referees? What should happen during the time that the ball is still in play while the referee is disabled? An example of this situation might be that a team is on the attack about to score and the referee has a debilitating medical condition like a heart attack at the same time. What should happen at that point? After the play has stopped, I know what should happen. I want to know what the procedure is when the ball is still in play.

Answer (October 23, 2003):The game cannot be played without a referee. Play has effectively stopped when the referee goes down with the disability, whatever it may be and wherever the ball may be. If play has continued past this point, the ball must brought back to the spot where it was when the referee became disabled. Whichever of the assistant referees who observes the problem first must blow the whistle to ensure that the players stop playing -- but, as stated above, play has actually stopped when the referee became disabled, so that nothing -- other than misconduct -- can happen after that time.


[NOTE: For the original item referred to in the question, see the archives for August 19, 2003 from the archives, ADVANTAGE; "INTENT"]
Thanks for all your help in maintaining "Ask a Referee"--I never fail to learn or be reminded of important things when I visit. However, I am confused by a recent response, even after a good deal of reflection and discussion with other refs.

You state in the following item from the archives [see ADVANTAGE; "INTENT"], dated August 19, 2003] that we do not have to judge intent--we judge the results of an act instead. So far so good--this takes us out of the requirement to read minds, and let's us deal with observable events and consequences. However, in the next sentence you suggest we are allowed to distinguish between "accidental" and "deliberate". What is the difference between a foul committed deliberately and one committed with intent? What is the difference between a careless action and an accidental one? This seems virtually the same as trying to judge intent--deliberation implies intent, and vice versa, does it not?

In particular, players often claim that their actions (which clearly caused results unfavorable to the opposing team) were accidental, and that a call or comment is therefore unwarranted. Let's not focus on dissent, which we have plenty of tools to deal with, and instead focus on the point they are arguing. Are they essentially correct? Must we decide an action is deliberate before we whistle or admonish?

Consider the following: a blue defender running madly to catch a red attacker breaking toward goal apparently trips, and in falling catches the heels of the red attacker and trips her as well, thus thwarting the attack. If we judge only the result and not intent, there is a foul to be called against blue (at a minimum). If we must judge accident vs. deliberate, we will need nearly psychic powers, at least in subtle cases. It seems to me that the red attacker racing toward the goal (perhaps with only the blue keeper to beat) is robbed if she is brought down from behind and gets no call.

It makes sense that we would probably whistle the above case because of a) the profound effect the trip had, even if it was truly accidental, and b) because it will often be impossible to truly determine whether it was accidental or not. Weren't the laws changed to get us out of the business of judging intent, which may well involve mind-reading?

Another case: two players approaching more or less head-on contending for a ball; the red player gets there first (but not by much) and plays it away, the blue player arrives just a moment after and flattens the red player. The whistle blows, and the blue player cries out that they couldn't stop, it was an accident, they were playing the ball. Now, if it was essentially simultaneous in the refs opinion, maybe the ref wouldn't have whistled (tough, combative contest and all the rest . . .), and if the two players had bounced apart with no harm, once again the whistle might have remained quiet. But, if the effect is substantial enough (flattening the red player), it doesn't take much of a time difference (between playing the ball and subsequent collision) for the ref to decide to call a foul--it may have been an accident, but it was also careless, reckless, or worse. Once again, the effect of the action seems most important.

I am not arguing that we would never call something an accident--clearly accidental (and incidental) contact happens often enough, and if the effect on the game is insignificant, we don't whistle it. Similarly, we may observe one player target another player rather than the ball and take that into consideration.

My main point, however, is that where the stakes are large and every tactic is used to the maximum degree, I would think "accident" would not frequently excuse perpetrators from their (foul) deeds--the action itself and its effect would be the primary considerations. The accident vs. deliberate judgement would supplement these only in if there was pretty clear evidence to work with. And as always, the ref must consider all factors in the context of player and match management, with the overarching goals of safety, equality, and enjoyment.

But, I may well be wrong--looking forward to your help!

Answer (October 23, 2003):
Sorry, but we do not run through laundry lists to answer questions.

There is only a slight difference between accidental and careless -- and the difference is illustrated in the example you cite. We judge the result of the contact, not the intent -- and "intent" here means did the player _intend_ to hit that particular part of the person, not did the player do the act deliberately. Of course most fouls are "deliberate."

Please follow the yellow brick road through the definitions and philosophy below. There you will find the Magnificent Wizard of Oz, who will reveal all -- without having the curtain "out" him.

Whatever we referees do on the field should NOT be affected one way or the other by the significance of the game or the "profound effect" of the action. Bad luck is bad luck, regardless of how bad the luck is, and we mustn't punish bad luck no matter how profound its effect. What CAN be said is that it takes more courage NOT to convert bad luck into a foul when the luck is really bad. This can be illustrated by the tendency of many referees to decide to call something a foul because it produced, for example, a broken leg when they wouldn't have called it a foul if it produced merely a sprain.

Players seldom enter the field with the intent of illegally tripping someone, but if they do so as a result of a deliberate act which is judged to be careless, reckless, or involving excessive force, then they should be punished.

Intentional and deliberate are different. "Intent" focuses on the end result of an action, whereas "deliberate" is a consideration in connection with the action itself. If I wave a loaded gun about and twirl it around my finger, I should be punished if the gun discharges, even though my immediate response would be that this was not my "intent." And if the discharge results in someone's death, we could likely agree that I did not intend to kill this person. But my action was deliberate and careless -- indeed, reckless. If, on the other hand, while walking down the street I was suddenly startled by a gun tossed in my direction and, as it fumbled in my hands, it discharged, I was neither careless nor reckless and my action was certainly neither intentional nor deliberate. It was an accident, and remains an accident even if the discharge kills a bystander (clearly a profound effect).

On the soccer field, the referee has a broad spectrum of events and possibilities to consider. It starts at one end with the player with fire in his eyes who pursues an opponent and performs a prohibited act against him. This is certainly an example of someone whose intent was clear in addition to his action being deliberate. At the other end, we have the player who trips, falls, and in falling makes inadvertent contact with an opponent who is thereby adversely affected in some way (he himself falls, he misses a shot on goal, etc.) -- no intent, no deliberate act, nothing careless or reckless. In between these extremes is where we earn our money.

As we have stated consistently, the referee must take into account the skill and experience of the player(s). An action at a lower level of skill is more likely to be accidental or, at worst, careless than the same action (regardless of effect) at a higher level of skill. As is often noted, little happens unintentionally at the highest skill levels.


Direct or indirect free kick by the defending team kicked in your own goal in the penalty area, what is the restart? Also if indirect freekick is passed to your goalkeeper in the penalty area and he touches the ball with his feet but it goes into the goal what is the restart?

Answer (October 23, 2003):
For kicks that go directly into the kicker's own goal, much depends on where the kick was taken. You will find the answers in Law 13. If the kick, direct or indirect, was taken inside the team's own penalty area and was kicked directly into the team's own goal, the restart is a retake of the original kick. The ball must leave the penalty area into the field of play to be in play. If the kick, direct or indirect, was taken outside the team's own penalty area and was kicked directly into the team's own goal, the restart is a corner kick.

For the indirect free kick that is touched by the goalkeeper and then goes into goal, the original kick is retaken if the kick was taken inside the penalty area, as the ball is not in play until it leaves the penalty area. If the kick was taken outside the penalty area, the goal must be scored.


A local league has had difficulty furnishing assignors for over a year. Under the emergency clause they handled the Fall of 2002 and the Spring of 2003 before obtaining the services of a licensed assignor who took the assignor course in August in order to become the league's official assignor for this Fall's games. However this assignor utilizes a number of club representatives who actually recruit and obtain referees for USSF sanctioned youth competitions as his agents. He is not involved in the actual process of assigning referees to games but will call or email a confirmation upon request. My question is will USSF licensed referees who take games from these agents be covered by USSF liability insurance should it become required? Does the emailed or telephoned confirmation from the licensed assignor make any difference to the same question? Does the fact that these agents report back their "assignment" of referees to games to the licensed assignor make any difference in the USSF liability coverage and your answer? Under exactly what conditions should referees take games under such circumstances? Thanks in advance.

Answer (October 23, 2003):
As long as the referees are affiliated with USSF and the teams are affiliated with USSF, there should be no problem with insurance coverage.

However, the other assignors may have a problem if they are not registered. If the registered assignor actually makes the assignment, but just has other people call the referees to give them the assignments or to confirm, then we believe that would probably be ok. Of course, anyone can assign the purely recreational games, so if the registered assignor made the assignments for the competitive teams, the others could do the recreational teams.

U.S. Soccer thanks Jim Allen (National Instructor Staff/National Assessor), assisted by Dan Heldman (National Instructor Staff), for their assistance in providing this service.

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