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Ask a Referee Update: July 2, 2011


Question: How should the referee crew manage an injury to the center referee with the ball in play, and remaining in play, in the following scenarios:
1) Center Referee takes a hard shot to the head, immediately collapses, and is apparently incapacitated.
2) Center referee takes a hard shot to the gut, remains standing in place apparently trying to catch his breath, but is unable to stop play using his whistle.
3) Center referee apparently twists his ankle and hobbles noticeably thereafter.

How does the referee crew stop play?
When should AR1 replace the center referee?
Should the pregame discussion include these possibilities?

Answer (June 29, 2011):
Common sense suggests that all assistant referees should be fully equipped to take over as referee in such cases. In other words, the ARs should be carrying whistles, pads, pencils/pens, cards, etc., etc. The matter could be covered in the pregame meeting, but quick action when such events occur trumps all pregame conferences.

1) The first AR to recognize the problem should blow his or her whistler; however, the senior AR (or other official specified by the rules of the competition) would then take charge.
2) Either AR should immediately blow a whistle to stop play.
3) Take no action until the referee requests it.


I recently noticed while watching an MLS match that the referee used a can of white spray paint to mark off ten yards after awarding a free kick. I had noticed the paint can on referees' uniforms all season, but only after seeing it in use did I realize what it was. Is this a new practice? And is this something that can be utilized by officials in lower level matches?

Answer (June 27, 2011):
The International F. A. Board decided at its meeting in March 2011 to allow the use of the vanishing spray paint as a continuing experiment in CONMEBOL (South America), where the proposal originated.


The Blue goalkeeper and Red player are in position for a PK. After the referee signals, but before the kick is taken, a Red teammate encroaches into the penalty area. The referee allows the kick to be taken. The Blue goalkeeper saves the shot, deflecting the ball to the Red teammate who then kicks it into the goal. What is the restart? Should the PK be retaken and the encroaching Red player cautioned?

Another question:
The referee gives a Blue player permission to leave the field to care of an injury. A Red player heads directly toward the Blue team's goal with only the Blue goalkeeper between him and the goal. The Blue player reenters the field without the referee's permission and runs across the Red player's path causing him to slow down and allowing the Blue goalkeeper collect the ball. What is the misconduct? What discipline should be taken? And what is the restart?

Answer (June 26, 2011):
1. As there was no goal from the original kick, the referee stops play and the match is restarted with an indirect free kick to the defending team, from the place where the infringement occurred -- that place on the penalty area line where the player entered the penalty area early. See Law 14.

2. First some essential background information: When a player who has been given permission to leave the field returns without permission, the Law requires that the referee (a) stop play (although not immediately if the player does not not interfere with play or if the advantage can be applied) and (b) then caution the player for entering the field of play without permission.

It is not clear to us precisely what happened in this situation, so we will provide two possible scenarios and their solutions:
(a) The Blue player did not impede the Red player and (after entering the field illegally) but did slow him down by running in front of him while Blue was within playing distance of the ball. Referee action: Caution the Blue player for entering the field without permission. Because there was no physical contact and the Blue player did not impede the progress of the Red player, the only other thing to do is to remove the Blue player from the field. If the referee stops play for this, the match is restarted with an indirect free kick, to be taken by a player of the Red team from the position of the ball at the time of the stoppage (see Law 13 - Position of Free Kick).
(b) If the referee is certain that the Blue player impeded the Red ;player, then the Blue player has denied an opponent a goal or an obvious goalscoring opportunity, then the Blue player is sent off and shown the red card. The game is restarted with an indirect free kick for the Red team from the place where the foul occurred (even if it is within the penalty area)


Please explain the goalkeeper back pass rule which says the goalkeeper can't handle the ball when it is passed directly to him. I ask because I thought this rule was clear but I see professionals often doing what appears to be a clear violation or rules.

Answer (June 20, 2011):
The Law is clear: "An indirect free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a goalkeeper, inside his own penalty area, . . . touches the ball with his hands after it has been deliberately kicked to him by a teammate."

This rarely seen infringement came into the Laws of the Game in 1992 as part of the general effort to restrict opportunities for goalkeepers to waste time by unfairly withholding the ball from active challenge by taking possession of the ball with the hands. Other measures along the same lines include the 6-second limit on goalkeeper possession, the second possession restriction, and the throw-in to the goalkeeper by a teammate.

The offense rests on three events occurring in the following sequence:
- The ball is kicked (played with the foot, not the knee, thigh, or shin) by a teammate of the goalkeeper,
- This action is deemed to be deliberate, rather than a deflection or miskick, and
- The goalkeeper handles the ball directly (no intervening touch of play of the ball by anyone else)

When, in the opinion of the referee, these three conditions are met, the violation has occurred. It is not necessary for the ball to be "passed," it is not necessary for the ball to go "back," and it is not necessary for the deliberate play by the teammate to be "to" the goalkeeper.

When the teammate deliberately kicks the ball and it then goes to the goalkeeper or to a place where the goalkeeper can play it, then there is an infringement of the Law if the goalkeeper picks it up. It either happened or it did not. No intent necessary. Plain and simple.

In addition, the goalkeeper may leave the penalty area (which includes the goal area) and retrieve the ball and dribble it back into the penalty area and play it with his/her hands only if the ball was played (a) in any manner by an opponent or (b) by a teammate in a legal manner, i.e., not deliberately kicked to the goalkeeper or to a place where he or she could play it.

Referees, players, and spectators (which includes coaches) need to remember that there is no "intent" to be found in the ball deliberately kicked (and that means that the ball was kicked deliberately, not deflected or miskicked) that happens to go to the goalkeeper.

To answer the second part of your question, the referee is permitted to make a judgment ("if, in the opinion of the referee, . . .") as to whether or not the player "intended" that the ball go wherever it went, but that judgment or opinion must be based on what the player actually did. In other words, we are not mind readers -- in most cases -- and must make our judgment based on clear and visible evidence. All of that is expressed in a position paper of May 21, 2008, as well as in the Advice to Referees.


Can you please clarify Michael Kennedy's statement made about the "continuation principle" in the Referee Week in review Week 11 2011.

He stated holding was the only foul where the continuation principle can be applied. Can you tell me what the continuation principle is and where it can be found in the ATR, LOTG, or a position paper? A colleague of mine remembers such a paper, but has since seen it disappear.

The only reference I found was this one from 2008 in this forum:

I ask because I witnessed a situation where two fouls occurred against an attacker heading toward goal outside the penalty area that were "let go" as the player continued on but a third foul challenge brought the player down in the area. The three happened in a matter of seconds, and certainly in the window of the advantage decision allows for. The referee clearly had decided that the first two he was going to apply advantage or had ruled them trifling, but when the player fell in the area he decided to bring the restart to the spot of the first foul.

The assessor pointed to the above reference about continuation for the reason the restart should be a PK. I disagreed, saying the first two fouls had already occurred and was decided, and the referee should be deciding on the third foul alone, resulting in a PK.

I had never heard of this reference before, and it was only fitting to have Michael mention it this week. Pls advise, with thanks.

Answer (June 20, 2011):
We are not quite sure where the confusion arises, but it appears as though two different concepts have been conflated into a single question. First, of course, is the issue of advantage (see Advice to Referees 5.6). When one or more fouls happen in sequence just outside the penalty area and advantage is applied to each of them in turn as they happen, a final foul that happens inside the penalty area might well NOT result in an advantage decision, because the requirements for advantage inside the penalty area have suddenly shifted. In this situation, the moment a discrete foul happens inside the PA, the referee need only decide whether a goal would be scored immediately by the fouled player whereas, for the foul(s) outside the PA, the referee need only decide if the fouled player can continue a credible attack on goal. This is conceptually different from the "continuation concept."

The IFAB's Q&A 2006 and the current Law book (p. 110) discuss the "continuation concept" solely in terms of a holding offense. Under guidance from FIFA, we can say that the term must NOT be applied to any other offenses.

When faced with an event on the field that is subsequently determined to be a foul, the referee faces three conceptually separate issues:

1. Use of advantage: If the offense happened outside the penalty area, advantage should be used in order to enable the team of the fouled attacker to maintain a credible attack on goal. If that attack does not continue as a result of subsequent events (ball leaving the field in favor of the opposing team, another foul which requires reopening the analysis, etc.), the referee must return to the original offense, unless the subsequent foul involves a greater penalty. This includes the circumstance where the subsequent offense involves a penalty kick restart.

2.Continuing fouls other than holding: An offense which involves continuous contact (such as charging or pushing) that starts in one place and continues into another place where the consequences of stopping play would be a different restart, should be decided on the basis of which place involved the greater penalty (inside/outside the penalty area is decided in favor of inside the penalty area, inside/outside the field is decided in favor of inside the field).

3. Use of "fouls in motion": If contact with an opponent occurs outside the penalty area but the consequences of the contact which would enable the referee to conclusively determine that the contact was an offense cannot be seen until the opponent is inside the penalty area, the location of the offense must bet set at where the original contact occurred. Likewise, contact occurring inside the field whose consequences do not become apparent until the opponent is outside the field must result in a decision to restart inside the field where the original contact occurred. These decisions (where the original contact occurred and where the consequences occurred) are based solely on the opinion of the referee.

A position paper, issued in April 2007 and still valid (and on the USSF website), illustrates "fouls in motion."
Subject: When Fouls Continue!
Date: April 30, 2007

Prompted by several recent situations in professional league play, a discussion has developed regarding the proper action to take when a foul continues over a distance on the field. Many fouls occur with the participants in motion, both the player committing the foul and the opponent being fouled, and it is not unusual for the offense to end far away from where the initial contact occurred.

Usually, the only problem this creates for the referee is the need to decide the proper location for the restart. Occasionally, however, an additional issue is created when the distance covered results in an entirely different area of the field becoming involved. A foul which starts outside the penalty area, for example, might continue into and finally end inside the offending player's penalty area. Or a foul might start inside the field but, due to momentum, end off the field. In these cases, the decision about where the foul occurred also affects what the correct restart must be.

In general, the referee should determine the location of the foul based on what gives the greater benefit to the player who was fouled. FIFA has specifically endorsed this principle in one of its "Questions and Answers on the Laws of the Game," which states that a penalty kick is the correct restart if a player begins holding an opponent outside the player's penalty area and continues this action inside his penalty area.


At an NCSL U16D2 boys game there was a young referee in the center with two adults as his assistants. One of the assistants was the centers father.

Early on in the 2d half with the score having recently been tied at 1-1, a foul was called resulting in a Penalty Kick restart. Dad thinks it was the correct decision from his view from the half. The defending player committing the foul was hurt. Instead of the coach coming on to the field to aid the injured player, two of his team mates helped him off the field. Before the player was off the field (and the sub on the field), the referee allowed the PK to be taken, which resulted with a goal being scored. Assistant Referee, Dad, raised his flag and called the referee over, advising the referee he should not have allowed the PK to be taken since the substitution hadn't been completed, and the correct way to restart was to make sure the defending team had 11 players on the field, and to have the PK retaken. After giving this advice consideration, the referee ordered the penalty kick to be retaken which this time was saved. The attacking team was not happy. The defending team went on to win 4-1, the attacking team did not protest. The referee reportedly handled the rest of the game without incident.

Granted, the referee should have done better by ensuring the injured player was properly substituted before signaling for the PK to be taken and this wouldn't have been an issue. But since the signal to start was given the question is can the referee now change his mind and stop play? Or since the signal was given, play restarted and a goal was scored, should it be allowed to stand? Or, in the interest in Fair Play, did he do the right thing by ordering the PK to be retaken after the injured player was substituted?

My initial thought is haste makes waste and since there didn't appear to be any infraction related to encroachment or improper player positioning during the taking of the penalty kick, the goal should have been allowed since this wasn't really a substitution based on the way the situation was described to me. How did I do regarding my take of the situation? You're never too old to learn.

Answer (June 19, 2011):
The failure to allow a substitution is not the problem here. The referee's error was in allowing the penalty kick to be taken while the injured player and his teammates were otherwise engaged, Although these players could not "defend" against the penalty kick, they had the right to be present on the field in positions permitted by the procedures for a penalty kick. The referee, who allowed the teammates to help the injured player off the field, should have waited for the two teammates to return to those positions.


A. An illegally-equipped player scores a goal. The illegality is 1. jewelry; 2. no proper shinguards.

B. An improperly-equipped player scores a goal. The improper equipment is 1. proper shinguards worn on the side of or behind the calf rather than the front; 2. undergarments that are a different color from all the other players undergarments.

Obviously, A should be corrected during pregame inspection, but some referees are less diligent. With regards to B, sometimes players move their shinguards to the outside because they're more worried about challenges from the side rather than straight on. The mis-colored shorts were rolled up during pregame and then fall down during play and are not discovered until after the goal is scored.

The equipment is pointed out before the restart of play. In all cases, does the goal count? Is the player cautioned? If so, how is this misconduct characterized in the report?

Answer (June 11, 2011):
The referee and other officials on a game are expected to maintain vigilance at all times for violations of the requirements all the Laws of the Game. In these cases (both of which we sincerely hope are hypothetical), the requirement of Law 5 for a complete inspection of the players prior to the game was not fully met. The requirement for players to wear proper equipment continues throughout the game; it does not stop after the initial pregame look-see.

The purpose of the game is to score goals. In these particular cases, the referee should first be concerned with whether or not the irregular/illegal equipment had an effect on the opposition. In other words, did it lead to the goals? If not, then the referee should allow the goal(s) and punish the infringements of Law 4 with a caution for unsporting behavior.


A recent Internet video clip shows a kick being taken during KFTPM, in which the ball strikes the crossbar, rebounds high into the air, and lands (with lots of backspin) about 7-8 yards out from the goal line. While the 'keeper is paying no attention to it, having already begun celebrating the save (and presumedly returning to the instructed position, to allow the opposing 'keeper to prepare for the next kick), the ball slowly bounces and rolls across the goal line, between the goal posts and under the cross bar.

Since this is during KFTPM, not at a penalty kick, is there a "time limit" on how long the referee should wait before deciding that this kick has been completed? It seems that the governing authority (not under USSF) has declared that, since the referee allowed this goal, the match must be replayed.

What is the USSF position on this?

Answer (June 11, 2011):
We are unaware of any ruling on this play by a "governing authority," but the PROCEDURES TO DETERMINE THE WINNER OF A MATCH OR HOME-AND-AWAY, listed at the end of the Laws of the Game, tell us, "Unless otherwise stated, the relevant Laws of the Game and International F.A. Board Decisions apply when kicks from the penalty mark are being taken." The decision for a kick from the mark should be treated exactly like a penalty kick in extended time. Under the Laws of the Game the ball remains in play until the referee determines that it has gone out of play. See Advice to Referees 14.13 which states "So long as the ball is in motion and contacting any combination of the ground, crossbar, goalposts, and goalkeeper, a goal can still be scored."


Hypothetical situation: A U14 Girls game is schedule to start at 6 pm and it will be dark not too long after 7:30 pm. It has been raining for quite some time. There are T-storms in the area but no visible lightning. The radar shows that the rain will continue through at least part of the game. The league rule is that once at the field, it is the referee's decision regarding unsafe playing conditions and if the game should be postponed. During warm-ups, both coaches talk to each other and both approach the main referee and share that they both have concerns for their players' safety and ask the referee to postpone the game. Should the referee honor this request even if he/she isn't convinced that unsafe playing conditions exist?

If I understand the reasoning for giving the referee the ability to postpone a game correctly, it is because 1. he/she is impartial and can either decide to play or not if the coaches disagree on playing conditions or 2. to protect the players if both coaches are insisting the game be played. But I am not sure if a referee's discretion should trump a situation where both coaches agree that unsafe conditions exist. In other words, if the 2 coaches agree that unsafe conditions exist, should that be enough to get the game postponed? Being youth soccer, shouldn't player safety be first and that it is better to err on the side of caution?

If there are any published guidelines on this type of situation, please let me know where I can find them.

Answer (June 6, 2011):
The Spirit of the Laws should be clear enough for everyone and at every level of play: The safety of the players comes before anything else. However, once he or she has arrived at the field, only the referee has the right to declare a game suspended, abandoned, or terminated.

In addition, nothing in the Laws of the Game gives the referee the authority to "postpone" a game. The referee deals only with the case at hand, not any rescheduling issues.


1. The ball deflects over the goal line to give Team A a corner kick. Player A1 retrieves the ball, which is about 15 yards beyond the end line and in line with the side of the penalty area, and throws it to teammate A2 who is positioned by the corner flag. A2 quickly takes a corner kick while A1, who is still a couple of yards out of bounds, is running diagonally towards a position on the field in front of the near post. A1 enters the field unmarked as the kick is in the air, and he scores on a header. Even though he was off the field when the ball was initially played, is this a legal goal since he had a legitimate reason for being off the field? Does it matter that he did not re-enter at the nearest point of the field instead running diagonally towards a spot nearer the goal? Is there any reason that the referee should delay the corner kick until he returns to play?

2. Same general scenario, but the ball goes out of touch at the 35-yard line for a throw-in for Team A in its offensive end. A1 retrieves the ball in line with the 25 yard line - about 10 yards out of bounds - and throws it back to A2 to take the throw-in. A1 then runs diagonally towards the field, entering at the 18-yard line, behind the defense who apparently hasn't noticed him. He runs onto a long throw-in and eventually scores. Good goal? Should the referee hold up play in a situation like this?

Answer (June 6, 2011):
1. If it is clear to the referee that there was no duplicity in this situation, then it was probably legal. To avoid such situations (and their concomitant problems) in the future, the referee should hold up play until the player has returned to the field of play. There is no requirement that the player must return to the field at the same point from which he left.

2. Same answer. Plus, the referee must be aware of this player's position in situations where, depending on the sequence of play, the returning player might be in an offside position.

The referee should always ensure that all players (other than the taker) are on the field when play is restarted from off the field.

NOTE: The referee is not responsible for poor defensive play. The Laws of the Game were not written to compensate for the mistakes of the players.


Ball enters PA of Team A by a pass by Team B. Ball is stopped in PA by Team A goalie with feet who never touches ball with hands. How long can goalie possess ball at feet prior to picking it up for a punt? This happens a lot in our high school games and is inconsistently dealt with by referees. Some believe 6 seconds while some believe it is poor play. Most want the game restarted quickly.

Answer (June 2, 2011):
We do not answer questions on high school rules in this forum. If your question involved the Laws of the Game, then this would be our answer: The game has not stopped and the ball is still in play. The goalkeeper may keep the ball at his or her feet and kick it around as much as he or she likes; there is no time limit. However, if the other team wants the ball, then they should move toward the goalkeeper and force him or her to pick it up, at which point the 'keeper has six-seconds to punt or throw the ball away into general pay.


I refereed a Girls 17 game when out of my line of sight, an attacking player hit a defensive player in the face. An player on the attacking team ran up to me and started to scream at me. She was about a foot away from me. I cautioned the player for dissent. After the game, I was talking to a National referee, and he said that what the player did was abusive language (no cursing involved) and that he would have given the player a red card. Did I make the right call? What is considered abusive language?

Thank you for your help.

Answer (June 1, 2011):
Under the Law, a player is sent off for using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures. That incorporates the whole of human communication. "Liberty" must be defined within the context of the particular interaction. The Laws of the Game do not care which language a player, team official, referee or AR speaks. What is important under the Laws is what that person actually says or means or understands. None of that is necessarily language-dependent.

This excerpt from the USSF publication "Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game" may be helpful: "The referee should judge offensive, insulting, or abusive language according to its content (the specific words or actions used), the extent to which the language can be heard by others beyond the immediate vicinity of the player, and whether the language is directed at officials, opponents, or teammates. In other words, the referee must watch for language that is Personal, Public, or Provocative. In evaluating language as misconduct, the referee must take into account the particular circumstances in which the actions occurred and deal reasonably with language that was clearly the result of a momentary emotional outburst.

"Referees must take care not to inject purely personal opinions as to the nature of the language when determining a course of action. The referee's primary focus must be on the effective management of the match and the players in the context of the overall feel for the Spirit of the Game."

If you felt threatened or offended by the onslaught of language from the player, then the national referee was correct: the player should have been sent off for an infringement of the Law.

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 Ryan Money, Manager of Referee Education Resources; David McKee, National Director of Assessment (assessment matters); Jeff Kollmeyer, National Instructor, indoor and Futsal; and Ulrich Strom, retired National Instructor and National Assessor (matters in general).