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Ask a Referee Update: Oct. 15, 2010


We were playing a high school soccer match in Illinois and a player on my team flicked the ball up to his head and headed it back to the goalie so he could pick it up and would not be in violation of the pass back to the goalie rule. The ref did not know the rule but the linesman did and called it trickery and gave the player that passed the goalie the ball a yellow card.

I was wondering what the real rule would be.

Answer (October 15, 2010):
The assistant referee was correct; the practice of flicking the ball to one's head and then heading the ball to the goalkeeper is trickery, punished with a caution of the heading player for unsporting behavior and an indirect free kick for the opposing team from the place where the misconduct occurred. Here is an article on the matter that appeared in the USSF referee magazine Fair Play five years ago. It should answer your question.

FIFA has demanded that referees deal quickly and firmly with timewasting tactics. One of the least understood forms of time wasting is trickery in passing the ball to the goalkeeper. This article describes trickery and how the referee can combat it.

Law 12 was rewritten in 1997 to reduce the number of options available to players for wasting time. Playing the ball to one's goalkeeper was traditionally used as a way of "consuming" time. By the time the Law was rewritten, the practice had become synonymous with time wasting.

Normal interplay of the ball among teammates is not a matter of concern to any referee; however, the referee must be concerned with obvious deliberate attempts to circumvent the requirements of the Law. Players may pass the ball to their goalkeeper in any legal way and not infringe on the requirements of Law 12. It is when a player uses trickery that the referee must act. Trickery is any contrived scheme or unnatural way of playing the ball in an attempt to circumvent the requirements of Law 12 when passing the ball to the goalkeeper. Examples of trickery include a player who deliberately flicks the ball with the foot up to the head, so as to head the ball to the goalkeeper, or a player who kneels down and deliberately pushes the ball to the goalkeeper with the knee or head.

If the ball was already in play, an indirect free kick from the spot where the initiator touched-not merely "kicked"-the ball is appropriate. If the ball was out of play, the restart for a violation depends upon how the circumvention began. If the action began from a free kick or goal kick that was properly taken, the restart will again be an indirect free kick from the spot where the initiator of the trickery played it, no matter where the kick was taken or when it occurred in the sequence of play. If the goal kick or free kick was not properly taken, then the restart must be that goal kick or free kick. This could lead to a situation where the offending team has a player cautioned (or sent off for a second cautionable offense), but still retains the ball on the restart.

If more than one player was involved in the trickery, the question as to which defender to punish can be answered only by the referee. The referee must be sure that the sequence of play was meant to circumvent the Law and to prevent opponents from having a fair chance to compete for the ball rather than have it unfairly handled by the goalkeeper. If, in the referee's opinion, there was trickery, then it is the teammate who played the ball immediately prior to it going to the goalkeeper who would be cautioned.

The punishment for trickery is a caution for unsporting behavior, with the restart to be taken at the place where the trickery was initiated, not where the goalkeeper handled the ball. The referee does not have to wait until the 'keeper handles the ball to make the call. The referee must only be convinced that trickery was the player's motive for the act.

However, this is a high school match and the action becomes cautionable to the defender playing the ball to his goalkeeper only if the goalkeeper actually handles the ball. Rule 12-7-4 (Note). The Laws of the Game do not care if the keeper handles the ball or not, it is misconduct by the defender either way.


During one of our U-14 games one of our defensive players and opposing team members were shoulder to shoulder heading towards our goal. Our defensive player then reached his foot out to try and kick the ball away towards the side and instead he toe tipped it out in front towards the center of the goal and our goalie picked it up.

This maneuver also landed the opposing teams player on the ground and our kids catching his balance in sprint. The Ref then called an indirect kick for the opposing team on the "pass back rule" I am under the understanding that it only applies if it is intentionally kicked back to our goalie. Obviously two players sprinting shoulder to shoulder and the defense trying to get it out of there can not be taken as intentionally can it? This IDK lead to another messy situation where the Ref then told our players they could not make a wall stating they must be 10 yds from the goal line (ball was 8 yds from goal line) then when our players looked confused and moved away he tried to save himself and say 10 yds from the ball. Yelling at them.

Our Goalie was trying to get our people back on the goal line when the ref proceeded with game play (no whistle, or asking goalie if ready).

Our Goalie was not ready and well tap tap ball in. I want to contest this however I want to make sure I have the right answer before doing so.

Answer (October 15, 2010):
Let's start with the good things the referee did (or may have done):
* The call for the "pass back rule" was correct if your player deliberately kicked the ball to the goalkeeper or to a place where the 'keeper could play the ball. The emphasis on "deliberately" means that the player did not miskick or deflect the ball, but knew essentially where it was going to go
. * No whistle is necessary at a free kick unless the referee has had to move the opposing back the minimum ten yards from the ball; a whistle is necessary if the opponents had to be moved.

Now we move to the bad things the referee did:
* The defending team has no right to form a wall at free kick. In fact, they have only one right to anything at a free kick, and that right is not to be confused by the referee. By giving them bad directions on where they could be, the referee misled your players. At an indirect free kick near goal, all opponents must be at least 10 yds from the ball until it is in play, unless they are on their own goal line between the goalposts.
* Referees should never yell at players.

Your game is not protestable. Even though the referee misled your team through his poor mechanics, that does not mean that he "set aside a Law of the Game."


I would like clarification on when an AR should raise the flag for an offside offense.

Seminars I attend and some more experienced center referees state not to raise the flag until the player in the offside position plays/touches the ball. However, I have also been asked to raise the flag, and have noticed that during MLS games, that the AR's are raising their flags the moment the ball is played toward a player in an offside position prior to the player in the offside position playing/touching the ball.

Answer (October 15, 2010):
Your answer lies in the second bullet point in this position paper issued August 24, 2005. QUOTE From the U.S. Soccer Communications Center:

To: State Referee Administrators
State Directors of Referee Instruction
State Directors of Referee Assessment
Chair, State Referee Committee
National Referees, Assessors and Instructors

From: Alfred Kleinaitis

Manager of Referee Development and Education

Re: Law 11 - Offside
IFAB advice on the application of Law 11, Decision 2

Date: August 24, 2005

The International Football Association Board (IFAB) revised Law 11 (Offside) effective 1 July 2005 by, among other things, incorporating definitions of what it means to "interfere with play," "interfere with an opponent," and "gain an advantage by being in an offside position." The USSF Advice to Referees section of Memorandum 2005 ended its discussion of the addition of these three definitions by noting:

Referees are reminded that the reference to "playing or touching the ball" does not mean that an offside infraction cannot be called until an attacker in an offside position actually touches the ball.

Because of recent developments which appear to focus on "touching the ball," there has been some confusion about the above statement. "Touching the ball" is not a requirement for calling an offside violation if the attacker is interfering with an opponent by making a movement or gesture which, in the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts that opponent. What the International Board has recently emphasized is that, in the unlikely event an attacker in an offside position is not challenged by any opponent, the attacker should not be ruled offside unless and until the attacker physically touches the ball.

This emphasis is both simple and easily implemented: * An attacker in an offside position whose gestures or movements, in the opinion of the officiating team, cause an opponent to challenge for the ball has interfered with an opponent and should be ruled offside whether the attacker touches the ball or not.

The International Board issued a Circular on August 17, 2005, which reaffirmed the above approach. As the Board stated (emphasis added): "A player in an offside position may be penalized before playing or touching the ball if, in the opinion of the referee, no other teammate in an onside position has the opportunity to play the ball." Further, "If an opponent becomes involved in the play and if, in the opinion of the referee, there is potential for physical contact, the player in the offside position shall be penalized for interfering with an opponent." Finally, the Board confirmed the requirement that the indirect free kick restart for an offside offense is taken "from the initial place where the player was adjudged to be in an offside position."

All referees, instructors, and assessors should review these guidelines carefully. It is important that officials understand and handle the offside offense in a correct, consistent, and realistic manner. Personal interpretations which differ from the approach outlined here can only cause confusion and hard feelings on the part of players, team officials, and spectators.

USSF will shortly distribute to the state associations and place on its website a PowerPoint presentation incorporating this clarification.

The PowerPoint presentation noted above is still on the USSF website.)


My question pertains to competitive play at the U17-U19 level and even into Adult Amateur play.

I am at odds with a fellow referee over what constitutes a fair shoulder charge. I contend that when a player charges his opponent in an otherwise fair manner, i.e., shoulder to shoulder with no lifted arm, not leaving the feet and within playing distance, but approaches the opponent from approx. a 90-degree angle and with enough speed to forcefully knock them from their feet, that the charge can be considered careless or reckless and is therefore a foul.

My friend contends that at the upper skill levels, the players expect and must accept aggressive play and that this sort of charge is just an expected and accepted part of the game. He maintains that I must not "baby" the players by calling this sort of action a foul. I believe that if a player looks like a battering ram on the field and puts in a hockey-like check to the opponent, the action is no longer fair.

My question is, what parameters govern a "fair charge" when skilled, experienced players are contending for the ball?

Answer (October 15, 2010):
As your friend suggests, the answer varies, depending on player skill level. Players at higher skill levels will accept a bit more force than those at lower skill levels. (And the same applies to the referees who call these games.) However, anything that appears to done recklessly or with excessive force MUST be punished.


How much actual possession and control is needed for a pass by a defender to an attacker in an offside position to negate offside?

The following scenario happened to me recently in a high level men's amateur game where I was AR2. Right half sends a long ball intended for his teammate in an offside position behind the defensive teams back four. Pass however is woefully short and left fullback jumps to head the ball. Inexplicably, instead of heading the ball upfield, he executes a twisting header directing the ball back and square to where he believes his teammate/sweeper will be. Instead, it goes directly to the player who was in an offside position at the time the ball was played forward. I keep my flag down thinking it was a pass back. I'm told later by senior referees that it was a "continuation" of the original play and my flag should have went up. Apparently, a twisting header is NOT enough actual possession and control to be considered a pass back. Is this correct? How about if the defender was actually heading the ball downwards and back towards the offside attacker and/or where he though the sweeper may be? The impression I got from the National Level ref working the middle is that the defender basically had to have controlled the ball with his feet and passed it back.

Answer (October 12, 2010):
In all such cases, only the referee can make that decision, in this case with input from other officials on the game. If the defender was able to exercise as much control as you suggest, then there should be no doubt in your mind -- or anyone else's -- that he had both control and possession. In such a case, there is no need for a flag, as the attacking player would appear to have had no influence whatsoever on the play.

Two further comments:
* We hope you misunderstood the statement by the "National Level ref," as it is wrong. "Control" (for purposes of analyzing an offside position scenario like this) is NOT defined by "had to have controlled the ball with his feet and passed it back."
* If the defender had controlled the ball with his feet and then kicked it to the goalkeeper, we get into another infringement of the Laws, provided the goalkeeper played the ball with his hands.


I've looked through LOTG and searched the archives and cannot find a definitive answer to the following:

Keeper Punting the Ball - Enforcement of the PA in the taking of the punt. There is differing Veteran Referee opinions / judgements: A) PA is enforced from where the ball meets the foot; B) PA is enforced from where the ball left the hand(s) of the keeper in starting the punt toss.

Example: the keeper tosses the ball into the air from inside the PA but strikes the ball 2-3 feet outside of the area. Legal?

Answer (October 12, 2010):
Let's look at it in increments. If any part of the ball is on the line, the ball is within the penalty area. The fact that part of the ball might be outside the penalty area is irrelevant. The BALL on the line is still in the penalty area and, accordingly, it can still be handled by the goalkeeper, and that includes ANY PART of the ball. The BALL is a whole thing and either is or is not in the penalty area. If it is, it can be handled by the goalkeeper. If it is not, it cannot be handled by the 'keeper.

If the goalkeeper releases the ball from his (or her) hands while within the penalty area, but does not kick the ball until it is outside the penalty area, no offense has occurred. That is entirely legal.

While recognizing that the offense by the goalkeeper of crossing the penalty area line completely with the ball still in hand is often debatable, and that it is usually trifling, we must also recognize that it is certainly an infringement of the Law and must always be treated as such by the referee. The referee will usually warn the goalkeeper about honoring the penalty area line but allow the first such act to go unpunished; however the referee must then clearly warn the goalkeeper to observe and honor the line and the Law. If it occurs again, the referee should call the foul and, if the offense is repeated yet again, caution the goalkeeper for persistent infringement of the Laws of the Game.

We have heard, but cannot believe, that any referee instructor in any state would tell referees to punish this offense with an indirect free kick. The correct restart is a direct free kick for the opposing team from the place where the offense occurred. That means the point just outside the penalty area where the goalkeeper still had the ball in hand.

One unfortunate thing is that in many cases assistant referees do not do their job correctly in this respect. Instead of judging the place where the ball is released from the goalkeeper's hands, they concentrate on the place where the goalkeeper's foot meets the ball, which could be well outside the area with no offense having occurred.

[This answer repeats materials used in answers from 2003-2009, all in the archives of this site.]


I have had several discussions with referees about the proper procedure for an AR when a throw-in is either illegal or improper (never enters the field of play).

A player for the attacking team was taking a throw-in and stepped on the field. I immediately raised the flag straight up in my left hand and waited for the referee's acknowledgement. Once the whistle blew, I pointed for a throw-in for the defending team. The center referee told me that I should have waved the flag. I argued that if I waved the flag, that I would be providing information that I observed a foul. I could not find this specific issue in the Guide to Procedures, but I reasoned that it should be treated similarly to a ball that leaves the field and immediately returns and is still being played.

If a throw-in never enters the field of play, I normally signal for a throw-in for the same team. When I am the referee, I normally tell my ARs to follow this procedure.

Answer (October 12, 2010):
The Guide to Procedures is clear: The assistant referee "Supervises throw-in elements per pre-game conference" (p. 18).

That means that the AR should keep the referee informed if the ball is not thrown in accordance with the procedure outlined in Law 15 or never enters the field. This, however, should be discussed in the pregame conference and the AR should not signal at all if the referee has a clear view of the situation.

Note that any AR involvement in signaling problems with a throw-in should be ONLY within the terms of what the referee wants done, as discussed in the pregame. If the referee does not make clear what, if anything, the AR should do in the case of any illegality in performing the throw-in, ASK.

And, assuming the referee has directed the AR to signal certain violations of Law 15, the correct signal is for the AR to raise the flag straight up, make eye contact with the referee, and then signal the correct restart (e.g., for an illegal throw-in by Red, give the throw-in signal in favor of Blue).


This came up the other day during play and I cannot get a straight answer except for "playing the ball on the ground is against the rules." I did check the league rule book and surprisingly it does not specifically address this issue. I definitely understand it for U6, U8 and U10 games but this is U12 boys. Here it goes;

Offensive player (off) is dribbling the ball towards defensive player (def). Off and Def both attack for the ball. Because of size, the Off player being physically larger than the Def player, the Def falls to the ground. The Def is left lying on his right side facing the Off in front of the ball, not on top of it. The Def never tries to trap the ball with his legs. The Off in his haste to move past the Def kicks the ball multiple times into the Def legs who is trying to get up off the ground. The Off does not try and go around the Def or pull the ball back away from Def. Needless to say the Def was having a hard time getting up when the ball kept hitting his legs. The Def does try to clear the ball away unsuccessfully once or twice by kicking at it. At one point the Def kicked the ball about a foot away and stood up. The whistle was immediately blown and a indirect free kick was awarded to the Offensive player for the Def "playing the ball on the ground." Needless to say this event lasted about 6 seconds start to finish.

My thought is the Def player has the right to protect themselves and fight to get to their feet. Neither player is required to retreat from the ball. I understand there is a lot of "you had to be there" with this question and there is going to be some judgement on the referee's part as to each player's actions. But am I missing something when it comes to playing the ball from the ground. If it does not endanger either player then by itself it does not get an indirect free kick?

I guess I was expecting play to be stopped, possibly one or both or none of the players verbally counselled and a drop ball taken. What's the call?

Answer (October 12, 2010):
There is nothing illegal, by itself, about playing the ball while on the ground. Playing the ball while on the ground is NOT NECESSARILY considered to be playing dangerously. It all depends on what the player is actually doing. It becomes the indirect free kick foul known as playing dangerously ("dangerous play") only if the action unfairly takes away an opponent's otherwise legal play of the ball (for players at the youth level, this definition is simplified even more as "playing in a manner considered to be dangerous to an opponent"). At minimum, this means that an opponent must be within the area of danger which the player has created. These same acts can become the direct free kick fouls known as kicking or attempting to kick an opponent or tripping or attempting to trip or tackling an opponent to gain possession of the ball only if there was contact with the opponent or, in the opinion of the referee, the opponent was forced to react to avoid the kick or the trip.

If this is not the case (for example, the player had no opponent nearby), then there is no violation of the Law. If the referee decides that dangerous play has occurred, the restart must be an indirect free kick where the play occurred (see Law 13 - Position of free kick). Note that even if a dangerous play infringement has been called, the referee should never verbalize it as "playing the ball on the ground," as there is no such foul in the Laws of the Game.

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

In the situation you describe, with the player on the ground attempting to rise and get out of way, the player to be called for playing dangerously would be the one who was kicking at the ball. Serious misjudgment by the referee.


Could you please clarify this for me?

A player with an obvious goalscoring opportunity gets tripped by the goalkeeper outside the penalty area. The ball falls to a teammate who has a good chance to score. The referee allows the advantage. The teammate misses the net. Should the goalkeeper be sent off or just cautioned?

Answer (October 12, 2010):
If the referee applies the advantage and the advantage does not materialize in this case, no goal can be awarded. The referee gave the advantage for a foul outside the penalty area, the ball moves to a teammate of the fouled player. The teammate shoots and misses. Life is hard. The advantage has been squandered, because the teammate was not interfered with or otherwise discomfited by a member of the opposing team.

Caution the goalkeeper and restart with a goal kick.


#1 - A recent game an attacker was moving towards the goal. A defender comes up and in the trying to play the ball simply got in the attackers way. The attacker runs into the defender and knocks him down, but is able to keep going of course at the protest of the defender. I didn't see the attackers arm come up or I would have called it, but was I correct in letting "play continue"? Thank you very much for your site and helping us in yellow ask questions freely.

Answer (October 12, 2010):
1. Under normal circumstances a player is entitled to the space he or she occupies on the field and may not be run over or otherwise disturbed by an opponent. However, if the "occupying" player has essentially thrown him- or herself into the path of the oncoming opponent, all entitlements are off, because the "occupying" player has not exercised due care in positioning him- or herself. If you invoked the advantage, even without voicing it, you were correct and the defender has no right to complain. In fact, if the act went beyond careless and moved into reckless, a caution for unsporting behavior would be the right decision (at the next stoppage).

2. The referee need not immediately voice any advantage given, particularly in the case of a shot on goal. If the shot is unsuccessful, then the referee should stop play and award the free kick appropriate to the foul or misconduct committed.

U.S. Soccer thanks Jim Allen (National Instructor Staff and National Assessor ret., assisted by National Instructor Trainer Dan Heldman, for their assistance in providing this service. Direction is provided by Alfred Kleinaitis, Manager of Referee Development and Education, with further assistance from Paul Tamberino, Director of Referee Development; David McKee, National Director of Assessment (assessment matters); Jeff Kollmeyer, National Instructor, indoor and Futsal; and Ulrich Strom, National Instructor and National Assessor (matters in general).

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