US SoccerUS Soccer

March 2004 Archive

Submit your questions via e-mail to


Question about procedure for penalty kicks: I recently received complaint from keeper stating that before signalling for kick to be taken, I must ask him if he is ready. I told the keeper that before I signal for the kick to be taken, I observe the keeper to be sure he is on his line, I observe the placement of the ball and the kick-taker, and when I think all is in order, I signal for the kick to be taken.

Is this proper procedure and are other details necessary in respect to confirming that players are ready? In this men's match, I had to caution the keeper for showing dissent when he repeated confronted me on this issue.

Answer (March 16, 2004):
The USSF Guide to Procedures for Referees, Assistant Referees and Fourth Officials gives us the following procedure for the taking of the penalty kick:
P. Penalty Kick
- Whistles to stop play.
- Points clearly to the penalty mark and, unless needed elsewhere for game control purposes, moves to the edge of the penalty area near the goal line to avoid confrontation and dissent.
- Deals with players who may attempt to protest or dispute the decision.
- Supervises the placement of the ball.
- Identifies the kicker.
- Moves to a position in line with the top of the goal area to supervise the penalty kick, far enough from the penalty mark to see all the players.
- When the ball and all the players are properly in position, signals for the kick to be taken.
- If a goal is scored, backpedals quickly up field keeping all the players under observation.

There is no requirement in the Law or the Guide to Procedures to check on the goalkeeper's readiness, and a close analysis of the situation might suggest that the goalkeeper is playing for time, hoping to ice the kicker. A quick word to the goalkeeper that the kick is about to be taken is all that is necessary.


A couple of weeks ago a member of our team was sent off and we would like some clarification about the proper procedure for sending off a player.

Here is the setting: It was a GU15 game with less than 2 minutes to play. In the attacking half our player (sending off player) was played in to the top of the 18. The defender did well to get back and position herself to take the ball with the back foot. Our player did not see the player until she turned towards goal and then ran into the defender.

The official blew his whistle for the foul and then called our player over. He asked our player for her first name. He then asked her last name and how to spell her last name. After he had written her name he told her to turn around. While she was turned away he pulled out his red card and put it in the air.

When our player reached the sidelines I asked what the red was for. She replied I don't know, he didn't tell me anything, he just asked for my name, last name, how to spell it and then told me to turn around. She did not realize it was a red until she got to the sidelines and I told her. I asked the official why he red carded her. He said he did not need to tell me. I then asked him to tell the player that was sent off, he said he did not have to.

Although I question his decision for the sending off, I would like some clarification to the rules and procedures for cautions and sending off of players.

Answer (March 16, 2004):
You asked for procedure, you get procedure! This answer is straight from the USSF publication "Guide to Procedures for Referees, Assistant Referees and Fourth Officials." The referee in your case did several things wrong, particularly not informing the player that she had been sent off -- although why else would she leave the field; do we have a disconnect here? -- and not telling her why.

4. Misconduct-Play Stopped
A. Referee
- Quickly identifies and begins moving toward offending player and beckons player to approach.
- Attempts to draw offending player away from teammates and opponents.
- Discourages others from approaching, interfering or participating.
- Stops a reasonable distance away from offending player and begins recording necessary information.
- States clearly and concisely that the player is being cautioned or sent from the field and displays the appropriate card by holding it straight overhead.
- If the player is being sent off, delays the restart of play until the player has left the field entirely.
- In situations where the event or conduct being penalized includes the potential for retaliation or further misconduct, immediately moves to the location of the misconduct and displays the appropriate card before recording any information.


Attacker A passes a through ball to attacker B, who is offside. You blow the whistle for offside; as you are blowing the whistle, defender A trips attacker B. (not violent enough for a card, but if attacker A were not offside a goal scoring opportunity would have been denied). The play occurred midway between the 18 and midfield. What is the call and restart?

Answer (March 16, 2004):
We don't deal in "might-have-beens" on goalscoring opportunities. If there was no obvious goalscoring opportunity, then you cannot punish someone for denying or attempting to deny it. As a matter of fact, you can never punish anyone for attempting to deny a goalscoring opportunity--you punish them for unsporting behavior, if that is applicable, which it is not in this case. You are the referee and may certainly caution the defender if you like, but it had better be for the precise thing he did, not something that might have happened.

Correct action in this case would be to have a quiet word with the defender and then restart with the indirect free kick for offside.


Is there a limit to the number of "re-takes" of penalty kicks? The question came up after the keeper moved off his line three straight times by 4-6 ft each time. He stopped the first two kicks and the third hit the post after the shooter tried to kick around the keeper. This was a U14b in a very competitive classic league. Both the middle and AR (me) called the encroachment each time. Due to other unfortunate circumstances the match was abandoned after the third kick. Several older more experienced referees starting discussing the situation and several opinions emerged.
1. Middle should have issued a yellow card after the second kick for persistent infringement and warned the goalkeeper that further violations would result in a red card.
2. Encroachment should not have been called on the third try since the shot hit the post. Play should have been allowed to continue.

Being the AR in the middle of this situation I somewhat agree with the first opinion(if game could have continued I would have issued a yellow card after the third attempt); but I disagree with the second opinion. The second opinion encourages future violations of the law.

The unfortunate circumstances involved the mix of the following:
1. Red card to defending team player for foul and abusive language
2. Defending team coach coming onto field
3. Defending team parents becoming abusive and coming onto the field
4. Defending team coach pulling his team off the field (he says he was merely pulling them aside to calm them down but players left the field and subs entered the field)

Answer (March 16, 2004):
No, there is no limit on the number of retakes that are permitted or required to satisfy the Law. Only the referee on the game can know for sure what should be done in each case of infringement. Common practice is to warn the first time a player infringes the requirements of Law 14, followed by a caution and yellow card for persistent infringement of the Law on the second and subsequent infringements.

It is unfortunate that the game had to be terminated -- note correct terminology; in this case the game was not abandoned, but terminated. Proper vigilance by the fourth official (if there was one) could have prevented the coach and parents from entering the field. All circumstances were, of course, fully documented and reported in the referee's match report.


Is there any published guidance or standard practice for establishing this distance? Once the decision has been made to stop play I have been instructed in annual training that it is not appropriate to "step off" 10 yards; rather, the Referee should quickly indicate where the 10-yard distance is "estimated" to be. It was explained that this prevents unnecessary delay of the restart and that the referee looks much more professional being confident in his judgment of 10 yards. I have recently noticed a number of referees "stepping off" distance and defending this as proper mechanics under certain circumstances (close to goal).

Answer (March 16, 2004):
It is common practice for the referee to establish the distance of the wall by becoming the "first brick in the wall." As a referee grows more experienced and confident, the distance can be measured by eye and the wall backed off as necessary. The referee should never allow getting the ten yards to interfere with the kicking team's right to a quick free kick.


Recently, I was center and an injury occurred. I permitted the injured player to sub and asked the opposing bench if they would like 1 substitution also. (1 for 1). After the half, one of my AR's said the rules permitted unlimited substitution at stoppage for injury. I told him that he was thinking about high school not USSF. He seemed sure that the rules had changed for USSF. I went to confirm in the rules but can not find either the original position which allows 1 for 1 or the revision allowing for unlimited substitution. What is the correct position??

Answer (March 16, 2004):
You are both wrong. The Laws of the Game permit substitution for either team at any stoppage in play, whether for injury or not--and have done so since substitution was first permitted in the Dark Ages before the1930s. Some sets of youth rules formerly restricted substitution artificially, but those rules have now been changed at the national level. But, just to be safe, check the rules of the competitions in which you referee.


A defender fouls near the penalty area (or even in the penalty area itself). You wait a second or two for the advantage, but none seems to develop, so you whistle the foul. Just as you whistle, or during the whistle itself, the attacker gets the ball and scores. Can you allow the goal as the actual kick was taken in the second that you whistled, or perhaps even a split second before? Or must you deny the goal and restart with a free kick to the attacking team?

Answer (March 11, 2004):
Too many referees would simply allow the goal and go merrily on their way, avoiding controversy and abdicating their responsibilities. Unfortunately, that is wrong and the coward's way out. Once the referee has decided to punish an infringement of the Laws, play has effectively stopped, whether or not the referee has already blown the whistle. Deny the goal, restart with the free kick or penalty kick, as appropriate to the site of the foul.

In addition, the referee must remember that it is not usually a good idea to apply the advantage in the penalty area. More properly, we hold our whistle to see the IMMEDIATE result of the play (ball in the net or not) and whistle either the kick-off if it did go into the net (the gods of soccer smiled on us) or for a penalty kick if it did not.


I am hearing several instructors stating that a player can not wear metal studs, is this a true statement. I wear them and many other players wear them.

Answer (March 8, 2004):
No, there is no specific ban in Law 4 on metal studs or studs of any particular type. The sole requirement is that the player's shoes not be dangerous to himself or to any other player.

Please study this earlier answer and the USSF position paper mentioned in it, available from this and other sites:
USSF answer (November 11, 2003):
If the studs are safe -- no burrs or sharp edges -- they are probably legal under the terms of Law 4 and the March 7, 2003, U. S. Soccer memorandum on the safety of player equipment. Many competitions ban the use of metal studs, so please check with your local competition authority (league or whatever), just to be sure.


At a recent clinic, we had a disagreement about the reduce to equate principle. My colleague asserted that a team that finished with more players than the other (i. e., 10 v 11) could remove its goalkeeper from the list of eligible kickers, but allow him to remain in goal. I believe that the "reduced" player is treated as a player who is sent-off in that he can not participate in anyway. Could you please clear this up for us?

Answer (March 8, 2004):
A goalkeeper must remain among the players who take part in kicks from the penalty mark. That means in all aspects of the procedure, not simply keeping goal.


I was wondering if a team is allowed to print the team name on the goalposts or the crossbar.

Answer (March 8, 2004):
The International Football Association Board, the people who make the Laws of the Game, has indicated that there should be no advertising on the field of play or on the appurtenances (such as the goal).


An attacking player commits misconduct (cautionable offence) -- simulation in the defenders' PA. Within the law the referee may stop play immediately or wait until the ball is out of play to caution the culprit. Should the referee stop play to caution the culprit if no advantage accrues to the defenders? Or wait until the ball is out of play? Should the referee stop play to caution the culprit if an advantage accrues to the attackers (culprit team)?

Answer (March 5, 2004):
Let us first consider the reason behind the simulation. Was there an actual foul committed by a member of the defending team, followed by an embellishment of the results of the infringement by an opposing player hoping to get a penalty kick or have one of the defending players cautioned or sent off? If so, then it might be reasonable to invoke the advantage and still deal with both players, as necessary, at the next stoppage.

If there was no prior foul or misconduct by a defending player, then there is no reason to invoke the advantage. The referee must consider whether the team offended against would actually benefit from allowing play to continue. It is very often of greater benefit to award a free kick, rather than risk the use of advantage in front of the gaining team's goal. Why reward a team whose player has committed misconduct by giving them a chance at the opponents' goal? In principle advantage should normally only be played when a promising attacking move or an obvious goalscoring opportunity would occur.

A good rule to remember is that, in general, we don't apply advantage to situations in which the infraction is committed BY a member of the team with the ball at the time.


In my opinion, grabbing opponent's shirt looks very bad in the picture of the newspaper (the sportswriters seem to like it and printed often), and also it is a bad habit. However I was told that since the modern shirts are so flexible that the act of pulling would not cause an adverse effect on the opponent enough to warrant a foul call (for high-level plays).

So, do the referees have to make a judgment on whether the shirt being pulled is flexible enough? Besides, isn't the act of shirt pulling itself constitutes an unfair advantage of gaining body balance at the expense of the opponent?

Answer (March 3, 2004):
It makes no difference whether the shirt is "flexible" or not. The referee makes the judgment whether the shirt was pulled (and the player thus held) or not. Then the referees decides whether this act was trivial. If it was trivial, i. e., didn't make any difference, then the holding is not called.

If the holding is a blatant attempt to pull an opponent away from the ball or prevent an opponent from getting to the ball, then it becomes unsporting behavior and must be cautioned. (See the pictures on page 3 of the Winter 2003-2004 issue of Fair Play, available only on the web at


Who is the best person to direct a question towards about a part of the law that is actually misleading and incorrect? Do I have to go through my SDI, SRA, or SDA?

Law 2: The ball is . . of a pressure equal to 0.6 - 1.1 atmosphere (600 - 1100 g/cm2) at sea level (8.5 lbs/sq in15.6 lbs/sq in).

The law shouldn't state "Sea Level". That is misleading. Where ever a ball is tested, it tests relative atmospheric pressure. If you use the thumb test, it will test the ball where you are. If you use a pressure gauge, it will also test the ball where you are.

It is true that if you pump up a ball to 8.5 psi in San Diego, and then transport the ball to Denver, the pressure will be off. Conversely, if you correctly inflate a ball in Denver, and take it to Boston, it will not have the correct pressure. It is also true that it may take a different amount of air to inflate that same ball in San Diego, Denver or Boston.

However, all 3 balls, when pumped up to 8.5 (or any stated pressure) will have the same amount of "hardness." I carry a pressure gauge in my ref bag. That same gauge will work in Denver, Boston or San Diego. And, I don't need to make any conversion for the altitude. The pressure on the ball should be 8.5 - 15.6 on my gauge, wherever I go.

Answer (March 3, 2004):
It is true that the wording of the Law is scientifically incorrect, since a pressure less than 1 atm is a vacuum. The critical point is that everyone who plays the game or is involved with it knows what this is intended to mean, so the exact wording does not really matter.

In fact, the pressure requirements should state "above ambient atmospheric pressure" and in this regard you are correct. However you are not the first to point this out, nor will you be the last. Many "new" officials, especially here in the United States, seize on this point.

Anyone who wishes to propose a change to the Laws of the Game must start first in his or her state association.


Does primary color mean that the Gold jersey is always to be worn unless there is a color conflict with one of the team's uniform? I have seen professional games where the referee crew wears a color other than gold when neither of the two teams has yellow in their uniform.

Answer (March 2, 2004):
"Primary color" means that if you have only one uniform jersey, it must be the gold one. Obviously, if there is no color conflict, especially at the local level, that is the shirt everyone must have. What the referees do in professional games should not be used as the yardstick in this matter; other things come into play there, such as what provides the best color contrast for television.


Attacker in the PA goes down. The referee clearly determines in his mind that the attacker took a dive (simulation). As the referee is about to blow the whistle, the ball goes to another attacker whose legs are taken out by a defender. The referee awards a PK to the attacking team but cautions the first attacker for simulation. Is this the correct call and restart?

Answer (March 1, 2004):
Once the referee has made the decision that misconduct has been committed, he cannot neglect to punish it at the next restart. That does not prevent him from invoking the advantage clause and then dealing with a second infringement of the Laws, provided that the first infringement was committed by an opponent, rather than the team with the ball. In this case, because the referee had already determined in his mind that the attacker's action was a simulation and therefore misconduct, play stopped at that moment. Advantage cannot be applied because it was a player on the team with the ball who committed the violation.

The referee has only one choice here: Stop play for the attacker's misconduct (for which he receives a caution and yellow card for unsporting behavior) and then, because the next action occurred during a stoppage, warn the defender, and either caution the defender and show the yellow card unsporting behavior) or send off the defender and show the red card (violent conduct), depending on the severity of "legs are taken out" and restart with an indirect free kick for the defense.


A recent quiz in Referee Magazine has started some discussion among the referees in my house. By reference, I am a level 8 ref, normally working U18 and down recreational games and currently up to U14 competitive league games.

In the quiz, the question was asking for the correct restart when B1 fairly charged player A1, who was already being charged by player B1. The given answer (which I later found backed up by the policies for referees document) was a direct kick. The policies discussed this as being holding. I don't think I've ever seen this called, but may have never known to look for it. Is this something which is routinely called, and how quickly should this be called in a youth match?

Answer (March 1, 2004):
We are not familiar with any document about policies for referees, other than the Referee Administrative Handbook. Could you possibly mean the Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game?

Yes, this foul is holding, also called a "sandwich," as the player is sandwiched between two opponents, both of whom are/may be charging fairly. Restart is a direct free kick for the sandwiched player.

Why is it a foul, even though neither of the players making the "sandwich" commits a foul individually? Because they have worked together, against the spirit of the Law, to hold and thus physically restrict, with their bodies, their opponent's ability to play the ball.

If it is not called routinely, it should be. There is no need for a caution, but a word of warning and explanation to the two players involved would go a long way toward preventing repetition.

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.

Submit your questions via e-mail to