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March 2008 Archive (I of II)


Please give me a read on the following scenario. As always, thanks in advance for your response.

Free kick for the attacking team just outside the 18 yard box (ceremonial restart, wall is placed appropriately, etc).

In this scenario, the defending team decides to place a defender on each post, a la a corner kick, so there is no immediate potential for offside.

Seeing this, an attacking player takes up a position one yard in front of the GK, with the intent (in the opinion of the referee, who I realize does not judge intentŠ) of obscuring his line of sight. So far, so good. If the kick is taken at this moment, and the attacking player maintains his position and does not attempt to impede the movement of the GK, then all is good. What if, prior to the kick being taken, the player who has taken up the position in front of the GK, starts jumping up and down: 1) with arms at his side; 2) with arms raised over his head and waving back and forth (potentially further obscuring GK's vision)? Unsporting behavior in either instance?

I think I can answer my own question about # 2; warn the attacker, prior to the kick being taken, to cease and desist. Or if the kick is taken before a warning can be issued, whistle for impeding, or maybe misconduct? But I had some doubts about # 1. Any action required by the referee prior to the kick being taken in scenario # 1 (once the kick is taken, the attacker has the right to jump and attempt to head the ball)?

As I thought about this, I started to come up with variations on the theme. What about the attacker who takes up position adjacent to the defensive wall; what if he starts jumping up and down prior to the restart (hands at side). Any issue? Or for that matter, what if the defenders in the wall are jumping up and down (hands at side), prior to restart?

Answer (March 4, 2008):
We agree that the attacker in question is likely engaged in misconduct. There might be some room for argument if the attacker merely stands his ground, but misconduct is absolutely clear cut if he jumps around and/or waves his arms. This would be the functional equivalent of shouting to distract and we have no problem declaring this misconduct. As to the "merely standing" -- this would be acceptable behavior unless (a) the attacker moves as the goalkeeper moves (which makes it similar to such behavior at a corner kick) or (b) is so close physically to the goalkeeper that it could be interpreted as an aggressive occupying of "personal space."

If it can be done in time, yes, warn the player. If not, call the misconduct -- not impeding.

Players in the wall are allowed to jump up and down, whether members of the defending team or the attacking team. But the attacker in this scenario was not in the wall and was clearly committing unsporting behavior.



In a recent game, player A is dribbling the ball and player B tackles from behind. They get tangled up and both players trip. Both players stand and player A swings at player B. B puts up arm to block the strike and protect self. Should player A be cautioned or sent off? Should player B be cautioned?

Answer (March 3, 2008):
In all events player A must be sent off for violent conduct.

The situation with player B is different. The referee must make a decision as to the nature of the tackle. If, in the opinion of the referee, the tackle by player B endangered the safety of player a, then we must follow the instructions in International F. A. Board Decision 4 to Law 12: "A tackle, which endangers the safety of an opponent, must be sanctioned as serious foul play." However, if the tackle did not endanger the safety of player A, and player B did nothing else but raise the arm to block the blow to protect him-/herself, then there is no need to caution B.



Is there an unwritten rule or understanding that if the play is so close that the AR is unable to determine with any confidence whether or not the player receiving the ball was or was not in an offside position that the AR should decide in favor of either the attacking team or defending team?

While watching some highlights from the 2002 World Cup I saw a few situations where Italian forwards were found to be in an offside position at the moment the ball was played forward to them within the attacking half, however, even when you look at these plays in super slow motion it's difficult to determine whether or not the players are for sure in an offside position. In such situations, are ARs advised to go in favor of the defending team?

The only thing I was able to find that's remotely close to this topic was within Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game section 11.7 where it states: "if an assistant referee is in any doubt as to whether a player is actively involved or not, the assistant referee is expected to decide in favor of the attacker; in other words, to refrain from signaling offside."

But this has to do with whether or not the player in an offside position is actively involved. It doesn't address what to do if the player is actively involved, but the AR is still unable to determine if this player is in an offside position or not because the play is so close and the action so fast.

In other words, as an AR are you only called to put up your flag to indicate offside if you're 100% sure? Or if there's any doubt, do you favor the defending team?

Answer (March 3, 2008):
When in doubt, leave the flag down. A less elegant, but equally valid way of saying what is in the Advice -- and it is what we tell all referees who are acting as ARs. And your interpretation of offside seems somewhat skewed. If the AR cannot flag a player for offside who is not actively involved in play, then the AR has no decision to make other than to keep the flag down. Players are entitled to be in an offside position whenever their team is on the attack. They are punished only when they are in the offside position and become involved in play.



In your Miscellaneous Questions and Answers section someone asked about the penalty area (Prior to the Law changes of 1997, the goal area was also used to define a region in which the goalkeeper could be charged fairly while holding the ball, but now referees must observe carefully any charge against the goalkeeper, regardless of the circumstances, location of the action, or presence of the ball, and penalize the action only if it is committed carelessly, recklessly, or with excessive force (direct free kick) or is performed in a dangerous manner (indirect free kick). My question is: if the goalkeeper comes out of the "box"/penalty area to dribble the ball back in so they can pick it up, when they are out of the "box" can an offensive player challenge them for the ball? The league we play in the goalie frequently comes out to dribble the ball back into their box so they can pick it up and our players don't challenge because it is the goalie and they are afraid of receiving a penalty.

Answer (February 29, 2008):
First things first: You seem to be confusing the goal area with the penalty area. The goal area is the area immediately in front of the goal, within the penalty area. The goal area extends six yards along the goal line from each of the goal posts and six yards out from the goal line into the penalty area, making it a rectangle of 6 x 20 yards. That is the area addressed in the original question. The penalty area, another sort of "animal," extends 18 yards along the goal line from each goal post and 18 yards into the field, making it 44 yards long and 18 yards deep.

Other than being able to handle the ball within the penalty area, nor to be interfered with when in possession of the ball if in the act of putting it back into general play, the goalkeeper has no more right to protection than any other player. If the goalkeeper leaves the penalty area, he or she may be charged fairly, just as he or she may be charged fairly within the penalty area (including the goal area). If your players tackle fairly, then no referee should punish them.

Just to phrase it so even the "touchline lawyers" understand it: The goalkeeper may be fairly charged or tackled inside or outside of his penalty area, just like any other player, provided he or she is not controlling the ball with his/her hands at the time. If s/he has the ball in the hands, the goalkeeper cannot be charged or tackled at all and any effort to do so could be punished with a direct free kick for the goalkeeper's team.



Having played in youth clubs, high school, and college games I never really noticed until I became a referee a few years ago how different all three organizations are when it comes to the laws of the game. Each has its own organization (FIFA, NISOA, NFHS) with its own specific laws, terminology, and uniforms. Why does the USA do this? Why don't we keep everything consistent under the Laws of the Game given by FIFA, obviously the largest of any organization in the world? Why cause so much confusion amongst players, coaches, parents, and referees who take part in two or all three of these organizations? Do other countries have divisions like this or is this only to be found here in the USA?

Answer (February 27, 2008):
You will have to take your question to the competitions that run the high school and college-level games, as well as other unaffiliated soccer. The U. S. Soccer Federation is the only authority in the United States authorized by FIFA to organize soccer. The other competitions, including various "rogue" leagues, have chosen to take another path and do not play under the Laws of the Game that the rest of the world plays by.

Historically, the Laws were written on the assumption that the players were adults and undertook a dangerous sport knowingly, whereas the schools in this country have a tradition of operating in loco parentis. We can understand the high school group wishing to modify some laws to meet its philosophy that sports in schools serve an educational purpose outside the classroom. Of course, none of this explains why soccer is played by kids in all other parts of the world in accordance with the Laws of the Game with little apparent detriment to their education.



According to Law 3, a player who has been sent off before the kick-off may be replaced [b]only[/b] by one of the named substitutes. In addition, a named substitute who has been sent off, either before the kick-off or after play has started, may not be replaced.

So, if no substitutes have been named and a player is sent off before play has begun, may the affected team complete the side with a player who subsequently arrives?

The "strange" answers by FIFA:
Q&A 2004: The team may be completed with this player provided this is allowed by the rules of the competition.
Q&A 2006: Yes

I don't understand. Can you explain how it is possible replace this player?

Answer (February 26, 2008):
The world of FIFA is wonderful and strange, and sometimes a bit confusing. In this case, the answer is yes, if the rules of the competition provide for it. If they do not, then no player may join the game if he (or she) arrives after the match has begun. It might have been better if, in 2004, the IFAB (not necessarily FIFA) had answered the question by saying, "No, unless this is permitted by the rules of the competition." That would also help explain the omission of any qualifiers in the 2006 version of the Q&



When I watch international games I always see referee's talking to or warning players after a particularly tough challenge. My question is what are they saying? I understand that this is an alternative to giving a yellow card when a foul is bordering on reckless, but not quite warranting a card. But what are some ideas of things to say to players so they still respect your decisions, will be more mindful in their play but yet it doesn't turn into an arguing match between you and the player?

Answer (February 26, 2008):
This is a difficult question to answer, as each referee is different in personality from every other referee and thus takes an individual approach to dealing with the many things that players do during the match. You might also consider that a referee might say different things to different players depending on the personality of the player. The best we can do for you is give some general guidance.

Some referees will come straight out with a no-nonsense statement that the player had better mend his/her ways or face the consequences. Others will put the matter more humorously.

The best plan is to say as little as possible. Deliver your message, whatever it may be, and move away quickly to the next place you will be needed.



A team has a player red carded in the first half. After 20 minutes of play in the second half, the referee is alerted by a coach that the offending team has 11 players on the field, clearly adding one at half time.

What is the call?

Answer (February 25, 2008):
While the fault certainly lies with the referee and the rest of the officiating team, who have failed in their duty to enforce the Law, something must be done about the extra player. You will find full details in the USSF publication "Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game," which may either be downloaded or purchased in soft cover form from the US Soccer Federation website at Here is a brief description of what must be done in the situation you describe:

In all cases, play must be stopped and the extra person identified and removed from the field. Other than through referee error, this situation can occur only if someone enters the field illegally. In addition to the punishment and restarts listed below, the referee must include full details in the match report. Furthermore, all actions by the team with the extra player which occurred prior to the stoppage for the extra player will stand, with one exception: If the game was stopped for a goal by the team with the extra player (who was then discovered at that stoppage), that goal is not scored.

If the "extra player" is an outside agent (such as a previously expelled player or a spectator), the game is restarted with a dropped ball at the place where the ball was when play was stopped.

If the "extra player" is a substitute (and on the team's roster if rosters are required by the rules of the competition), that substitute (or substituted player) is cautioned for unsporting behavior and the game is restarted with an indirect free kick for the opposing team from the place where the ball was when play was stopped.


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. Direction is provided by Alfred Kleinaitis, Manager of Referee Development and Education, with further assistance from Julie Ilacqua, Managing Director of Referee Programs (administrative matters); David McKee, National Director of Assessment (assessment matters); and Ulrich Strom, National Instructor and National Assessor (matters in general).

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