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Ask A Referee Update: Jan. 14, 2010


A question has arisen regarding USSF soccer games which specifically use UNLIMITED substitutions.

A question has arisen regarding USSF soccer games which specifically use UNLIMITED substitutions.

FIFA LOTG allow for modifications to the substitution law for youth, all women's games and veteran's games. In MA all U19 town travel soccer, most if not all premiere youth soccer, all women's soccer and all O-30 soccer use Unlimited Substitutions.

In those games, as the referee, I am Not informed of who is starting the game nor who is starting the second half. During the game, at specific times, I will allow awaiting substitutes to replace players on the field, but I never record who enters or who leaves. I do have a roster, that I checked prior to the game, for both teams which provides me a list of players and numbers who are allowed to participate in that game.

Therefore, not knowing who will be asked by their team to start the 2nd half of the game, I always assume that once I blow my whistle to end the first half, and thereby start the half time interval, Everyone is a Substitute.

Question: During the half time interval, I need to dismiss a person on one of the teams who is in uniform and is on the roster for that game. For the start of the second half, I would allow that team to have eleven players on the field, as the person I dismissed, is by my definition, a Substitute.

I can find no place in the USSF position papers, ATR, etc. that differs from my assumption: During the half time interval, all people on the roster are considered Substitutes if the game is using an Unlimited Substitution rule.


{This is for Youth, Women's games and Veterans games that specifically use Unlimited Subs.}

Answer (January 14, 2010):
This sort of situation is one of the reasons that the Laws of the Game forbid unlimited substitution. In point of fact, the modifications specified by the International F. A. Board permit modifications only for players through Under 16 (not Under 19), women, and "veteran" players, who are defined as over 35 (not Over 30). If the person sent off at halftime was a player at the end of the half -- in other words, was on the field as a player and not on the bench in the role of substitute -- the team plays short in the second half (or, in extra time, in the next period). If the person sent off was not a player at the end of the half, the team does not play short. If the officiating crew cannot determine that the person was in fact a player at the end of the period, then the team does not play short.

Your basic assumption, that during the halftime break every player/substitute on the team's roster is considered to be a substitute, is clearly wrong. Every person who is officially a player at the end of the first half remains a player of record until officially substituted. And every referee, no matter in which competition he or she referees, should know what "officially substituted" means, because the process is described in Law 3 and is NOT subject to local rule variations (or a referee's personal opinion). That includes permission of the referee AND entry onto the field of play. It is the referee's JOB to know who was and was not a player of record (though this can be tricky in youth play with its standard exceptions to Law 3's limited substitution rules). It is one of the reasons why we generally recommend knowing who was NOT a player at the end of the first half by identifying those persons in uniform who were on the bench, since this is usually a much smaller number.

This is not covered in the Laws because it would not be a problem in higher-level games. They KNOW who is in the game and who is not, because there is none of the constant shuttling of players in and out of the game that we see in competitions that permit it. We expect the referee and assistant referees (and fourth official, if there is one) to know who was in the game at the end of the half. Those who do not yet exercise due diligence in determining this fact ought to consider doing so.


My question is a follow up to a situation that was presented to you on [August 31], 2009 entitled "Fool Me Once, etc."

In this case, you stated that the referee would be wrong to caution player A for unsporting behavior after telling the ref, "if you drop the ball to me, I'll kick it out of bounds," and instead taking the ball and mounting an attack.

Assume that the situation is as follows: A ref, preparing to restart play with a drop ball, is standing next to players from both teams (player A and player B).

The ref clearly hears player A tell player B that if player B allows player A to win the drop ball, player A will either kick the ball out of bounds or kick the ball back to player B's goalie/teammates. Player B agrees and after the restart, player A takes the ball and mounts an attack. Would this not be considered unsporting and worthy of a yellow card? Thank you.

Answer (January 11, 2010):
One of life's great lessons is that you cannot trust everyone with whom you deal. The sooner we realize that, the better off we are For the benefit of other readers, let's repeat the answer of 31 August 2009:

"Where the player kicks the ball is of no interest to the referee, whose sole job here is to get the ball back into play quickly and fairly to all participants. However, the fact that the referee was foolish enough to accept the word of a player that he would do thus or such is incomprehensible.

"There is no basis for the referee to caution the player for unsporting behavior. However, the referee should quietly go soak his or her head and learn to face facts: All players will con the referee if given half a chance. In addition, we would further add a penance or two to the referee's lot. We find it difficult to justify a caution for fooling the referee, but not if the player fools an opponent illegally."

The response in your situation would be the same as in the 31 August answer, with one addition beyond the substitution of "player" for "referee" in several places. And that addition is this: No player should trust an opponent, whose interest is in winning the game for his team, not playing in an ethically correct manner or giving the opposing team any advantage.


If a goalkeeper gets hurt and is treated on the field,is he or she required to leave the field, as would another field player be required to? Does it depend on the league, eg. FLUGSA or the age of the keeper, or is there one set rule for everyone?

Answer (January 11, 2010):
The goalkeeper is not required to leave the field following treatment unless his or her medical condition requires much more extensive treatment. In that case, the team must either temporarily exchange a current field player for the goalkeeper (who is temporarily off the field) or substitute for him or her.

You will find your guidance in the Interpretations of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees, under Law 5. Note in particular the "Exceptions" at the bottom of the ruling, but let common sense and the Law prevail.

Injured players
The referee must adhere to the following procedure when dealing with injured players:
* Play is allowed to continue until the ball is out of play if a player is, in the opinion of the referee, only slightly injured
* Play is stopped if, in the opinion of the referee, a player is seriously injured
* After questioning the injured player, the referee may authorize one, or at most two doctors, to enter the field of play to assess the injury and arrange the player's safe and swift removal from the field of play
* The stretcher-bearers should enter the field of play with a stretcher at the same time as the doctors to allow the player to be removed as quickly as possible
* The referee must ensure an injured player is safely removed from the field of play
* A player is not allowed to receive treatment on the field of play
* Any player bleeding from a wound must leave the field of play. He may not return until the referee is satisfied that the bleeding has stopped. A player is not permitted to wear clothing with blood on it
* As soon as the referee has authorized the doctors to enter the field of play, the player must leave the field of play, either on a stretcher or on foot. If a player does not comply, he must be cautioned for unsporting behavior
* An injured player may only return to the field of play after the match has restarted
* When the ball is in play, an injured player must re-enter the field of play from the touch line. When the ball is out of play, the injured player may re-enter from any of the boundary lines
* Irrespective of whether the ball is in play or not, only the referee is authorized to allow an injured player to re-enter the field of play
* The referee may give permission for an injured player to return to the field of play if an assistant referee or the fourth official verifies that the player is ready
* If play has not otherwise been stopped for another reason, or if an injury suffered by a player is not the result of a breach of the Laws of the Game, the referee must restart play with a dropped ball from the position of the ball when play was stopped, unless play was stopped inside the goal area, in which case the referee drops the ball on the goal area line parallel to the goal line at the point nearest to where the ball was when play was stopped.
* The referee must allow for the full amount of time lost through injury to be played at the end of each period of play
* Once the referee has decided to issue a card to a player who is injured and has to leave the field of play for treatment, the referee must issue the card before the player leaves the field of play

Exceptions to this ruling are to be made only when:
* a goalkeeper is injured
* a goalkeeper and an outfield player have collided and need immediate attention
* a severe injury has occurred, e.g. swallowed tongue, concussion, broken leg.

If you need further guidance, here is a USSF memorandum from 2007 that is still valid:

Subject: Handling Injuries
Date: October 12, 2007

An incident at the first U.S. Soccer Development Academy Fall Showcase tournament led to extensive discussions regarding the correct referee actions to be taken when a goalkeeper and opponent are injured. The lack of a single clear answer among the many experienced observers gathered there is the reason for this position paper.

Injuries pose numerous difficult decisions for the referee. On the one hand, soccer is a game of continuous action in which stoppages are and should be infrequent. On the other hand, player safety is an obvious matter of concern. Since stopping play may be beneficial for one team, an added issue is the possibility of a player simulating an injury or its degree of severity in an effort to gain that benefit.

Law 5 establishes several basic principles regarding player injuries:
- If, in the opinion of the referee, the injury is serious, play must be stopped.
- If, in the opinion of the referee, the injury is not serious, treatment of the injury is delayed until play is stopped for some other reason.
- If the referee stops play for an injury, the injured player must leave the field and cannot return until play is restarted and the referee gives permission.

The International Football Association Board (IFAB), in its Additional Instructions and Guidelines (AIG) which accompany the Laws of the Game, has clarified certain issues:
- An injured player may not receive treatment on the field unless the injury is "severe" (immediate medical attention is needed).
- An injured goalkeeper is not required to leave the field and may receive treatment while on the field.
- The refusal of an injured player to leave the field despite being required to do so is a cautionable offense (unsporting behavior).
- The removal of an injured player must be swift but safe.
- The referee may signal permission for medical personnel (including stretcher-bearers) to enter the field to assist in the player's removal from the field (or to provide emergency first aid).

Referees should keep in mind the following additional guidelines regarding the handling of player injuries:
- A player may seek assistance and treatment off the field during play if given permission by the referee to do so (permission is also needed to return to the field, which may occur during play).
- A player who is injured may leave the field for treatment and return to the field before play resumes if the stoppage was not solely for that player's injury and if medical personnel were not called onto the field by the referee to aid the player's removal.
- "Medical personnel" for purposes of these guidelines includes any team official who has responsibility for the player in the absence of available trained medical staff.
- If a goalkeeper is seriously injured as a result of a collision with a teammate or opponent and the teammate or opponent is also injured, all players injured in the collision may be treated on the field and are not required to leave the field.
- A player for whom the referee has requested medical personnel to enter the field at a stoppage is required to leave the field and may return with the referee's permission only after play has resumed even if the stoppage was not expressly for the injury.

Evaluating and balancing these factors must be done quickly and fairly, with appropriate regard for the age and skill of the players. In all cases of doubt, the safety of the player must be the referee's primary concern.


An interesting thread has popped up on [a] UK board . . .

The question is when the center referee has missed an incident of violent conduct, the AR sees it, but the center does not see the AR's signal until after play has restarted.

Laws I&G page 90 says,
"Whenever the assistant referee signals for violent conduct and the signal is not seen immediately:
* if play has been stopped for disciplinary action to be taken, the restart must be in accordance with the Laws (free kick, penalty kick etc.)
* if play has already restarted, the referee may still take disciplinary action but not penalise the offence with a free kick of penalty kick"

Advice 5.17 says, "The referee may send off and show the red card for violent conduct to a player, substitute, or substituted player after the game has been restarted if the assistant referee had signaled the offense before the restart."

Does the second bullet point in the Laws quote mean that the restart is a dropped ball? I would have thought the restart to be an indirect free kick, based on a stoppage solely for misconduct.

Answer (January 8, 2010):
Yes, the correct restart in this case is a dropped ball. See also Advice 5.13.


what are our (referees) responsibilities regarding the field of play itself? Specifically I am referring to a field I work occasionally that is small-sided, yet it appears to be smaller than most standard small-sided fields. During the fall season, both the coach and various parents from the "away" team challenged me regarding its size. It was safe in all aspects; these folks were questioning dimensions.

I'm not sure if what I said was correct, but I told the coach that the field was safe and playable and that I was not responsible for dimensions. Also, I believe the markings (lines) were reasonable for a small-sided field.

Answer (January 8, 2010):
In general there are different dimensions for different age groups in small-sided soccer. USYS has defined these at its website. If the competition in which you referee has set its own standard for small-sided fields, then you must be aware of the specific dimensions that standard calls for and ensure that the standard is met. If there is no standard, then the reasoning you followed in the situation you describe is absolutely correct.


A video from Week 23 in review shows an attacker clearly entering the PA to soon during a PK, due to the feint. This was clearly a violation of Law 14, yet the goal stood. The violation and the non-call are both very common occurrences. My first question is: At the taking of a penalty kick would you ever bother to call a foul(on a defender or attacker)for entering the PA by a few feet to soon; if a goal was scored, of if the keeper obtained control, or if the shot went across the end line? In all instances this foul seems to be trifling to me, but without guidance from the Laws different referees will call this same type of play differently. My second question, assuming you agree it is acceptable for me to view this as a trifling offense, is why have the law if we are not going to enforce it consistently? Many coaches, players and parents/fans do read the Laws, and it is reasonable for them to expect the laws to be enforced.

When referees don't enforce the Laws consistently it undermines our credibility, and in my opinion rightfully so. My humble suggestion would be to take the Law 14 sentences "... infringes the Laws of the game:", and add the phrase "and interferes with the taking of the kick or the defending of the kick:"

Answer (December 21, 2009):
We beg to differ with your statement that no call was made. In point of fact, players from both teams enter the penalty area in both Clip 1 and Clip 2 from Week in Review 23. While the encroachment by these players is clearly against the procedure mandated in Law 14, the referee is allowed to exercise discretion and determine whether the encroachment has had an effect on the kick. In these two cases, the answer for the referees on those games was that the infringement was trifling and had no effect.

As to changes in the wording of the Law, those are not up to us but to the International Football Association Board, the body that makes the rules.


I have been watching many English Premier League (EPL), UEFA Champions League, and other European league matches on TV. In most of the matches in which a PK occurs, I notice that the referees do not penalize players for encroaching into the PA, nor the GK for coming off his Goal Line, before the PK is taken. For example, in the recent Stoke City vs Wigan Athletics EPL match on 12/12/2009, in the 90th minute of the match, Wigan was awarded a PK. As the Wigan player was running to take the kick, and just prior to making contact, at least 4 Stoke City players were already 2-4 yds into the box and the GK was about 2 yds off his line. The GK made the "save." Neither the Referee, nor the Assistant Referee, indicated any offense to the encroachments.

In the ensuing commentaries, I heard it mentioned it was OK for the "back line" to encroach, but not the GK to come off his line.

Don't these European leagues adhere to the FIFA LOTG? Or, am I missing something like an unwritten rule not to penalize the encroachments unless ... ?

Answer (December 21, 2009):
We certainly cannot comment on calls made by referees in other countries; not our business. However, while it is not strictly in accord with the Law, many referees at the higher levels of play do not call the encroachment by either team unless it has some effect on the kick. If it DOES make a difference, then it had better be called, but either of those decision is up to the referee on the game. Do not attempt this at home.

U.S. Soccer thanks Jim Allen (National Instructor Staff and National Assessor, ret.), 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 Paul Tamberino, Director of Referee Development; David McKee, National Director of Assessment (assessment matters); and Ulrich Strom, National Instructor and National Assessor (matters in general).

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