Dear Readers

The Challenge Question program has been discontinued due to insufficient interest.  Current and prior challenge questions will remain “up” until early summer before being removed entirely.

Note the presence of a new tab — “2020 Law Changes” — together with a description and explanation for its purpose.  Note as well that, after the description and explanation, the more important modifications for 2020 are summarized.  If new information becomes available or questions coming in indicate that some revision is needed for clarification, the text material in this new section will be revised accordingly but in a different color to draw attention to such changes.…

Encroachment and Restarts

Zain, a U13 – U19 player asks:

If a free kick taker doesn’t ask for 10 yards, is a player from the opposition allowed to stand as close as they want to the ball?

Answer

Yes and no (don’t you just love those kinds of answers?).  The Law clearly states that every opponent on a free kick, goal kick, corner kick, and throw-in (these are the five restarts by players that can be taken quickly) is expected as a matter of course to begin immediately to retreat the minimum distance for whatever is specified for the particular restart.  That’s their obligation under the Law.

On the other hand, the player doing the restart has the right to decide to take the restart even if there are opponents closer than the minimum distance or to request that the referee hold the restart to enforce the minimum distance requirement before signaling for the restart to occur.  Either decision has its positive and negative implications.  A quick restart against closer-than-allowed opponents may be a positive if the quickness of the restart takes advantage of an exploitable “hole” in the defending team’s formation whereas asking for the minimum distance gives the opponents more time to take up stronger defensive positions.  On the other hand, a quick restart with a closer-than-allowed opponent carries the negative potential that, if the restart is not taken the way intended and the ball erroneously goes straight to that closer opponent who can control the ball (this is not illegal under the Law), control of the ball has been unexpectedly lost.  It’s a risk, but it’s a risk that only the team in possession of the restart is allowed to take or not take.

Of course, with younger players who are still learning the game, most referees would, in effect, “take over” and make the decision on behalf and to the advantage of the attacking team because they are too young to understand as yet the options.  For older, skilled, and experienced players, referees are expected to stand back, let things develop, and step in only when either asked by the team with the restart or if the encroachment is so egregious that the misconduct is not only obvious but serious – particularly if it delays the restart of play by, in effect, preventing the restart from even occurring (e.g. kicking the ball away).  And the referee steps in after the restart if an opponent affirmatively violates the minimum distance requirement for the restart (e.g., by rushing in closer than the minimum distance and interfering with play).  And then there is the need to manage the “ploys” attempted by opponents to behave just barely enough in an illegal way to delay the restart to their advantage but not enough to catch the attention or the ire of the referee.

So, the Law answer to your question is no, absolutely not.  No opponent is “allowed” to be closer than the restart’s minimum distance whether the attacking team asks for it or not.  The real world soccer game answer is that, while illegal, it can be ignored by the attacking team – with risks and consequences.

You should note that, as of the 2019-2020 Law changes (see this site’s tab on the subject), there are now several new and unusual “minimum distance” requirements that coaches and players need to be aware of.…

FRD vs DR

Stephan, a U13 – U19 referee, asks (in more detail than can be repeated here):

What is the difference between FRD (the standard short version of “fails to respect the required distance”) and DR (the short version of “delays the restart of play”?  I’m sending this question to look for advice from USSF on how they want DR and FRD to be enforced in scenarios where the defender is deliberately standing over the ball at a free kick. (detailed example redacted). if I do caution for this sort of behavior, I will inevitably get the “but he’s allowed to stand there until the attacker asks for 10” complaint from the opposing team.  Should I be cautioning for this stuff, and if not, why not?  Coaches and players often argue that cautions for this rarely occur in higher level games

Answer

First of all, the website does not speak for USSF.  Whatever we offer here regarding the Laws of the Game comes from our officiating, instructing, and assessing experience.  If you take a look at the home page of the website, under the “About” tab, you see the “rules” under which the site is operated and that includes a clear statement that the website is not and has not been since 2012 an “official” source of USSF interpretations.  The Federation, in fact, has discontinued the prior standard practice of providing such interpretations on any routine basis.

Second, no matter what coaches and players say (keep in mind that they have biased reasons for arguing that their player should not be cautioned for this behavior), such actions are cautioned when appropriate.  Two things to remember here.  One is that you rarely see it because it rarely happens because, at higher levels of play, the players know a lot better than players at lower levels do where the referee sets the line.  The other is that, at higher levels of play, the referee is more experienced regarding steps that can be taken to prevent this sort of behavior.

That said, there is a clear difference between the two offenses connected with a free kick restart (actually, they apply to any dynamic play restart performed by a player for which there is a required distance for the opponents – TI, CK, GK).  One has general application, the other has a very specific application.  We all pretty much understand “failure to respect the required distance” – it is the more common situation and, while it involves various important balancing decisions, it is one which all referees face on a regular basis.  Any opponent who is closer than the required distance is taking a risk of being cautioned if, from within that distance, she interferes with the restart in any way.  The only official action the referee can take to prevent or enforce the interference is if the team with control of the ball on the restart asks for the minimum distance to be enforced, which automatically converts the restart to a ceremony.

The second often comes as a surprise and, particularly for the examples we will give, should result in a caution for delaying the restart of play without hesitation.  Note the difference.  In the first case, it is actually the kicking/throwing team that delays the restart by deciding that they want the minimum distance enforced, but that is their right and, unless, having enforced the minimum distance, an opponent decides at the last moment (i.e., just before the kick is taken) to move from the required distance to somewhere illegally nearer and, from there, interferes with play, we go with what the kicking/throwing team wants.

Here, however, one or more opponents conduct themselves in such a way as to prevent any restart from occurring – for example, kicking the ball away, taking control of the ball and refusing or delaying returning it to the team which has the restart, or (and here is the most interesting example), standing so close to the ball as to prevent it from being kicked entirely.  The referee might wait to see what develops if an opponent is, say, 2-3 yards away from the restart location at the moment of stoppage but is moving backward and giving at least the appearance of being in the process of respecting the required distance.  Referees are advised in such cases to “wait and see” what the team in control of the ball wants to do and go with the flow – in other words, stay out of it until it is clear that the team in control wants or needs intervention.  In this second scenario, however, the referee should step in immediately because, by the sorts of actions suggested here, the opposing team has concretely taken the decision away from the team with the restart by not even allowing them to have the ball or by blocking the ball so closely that the team in possession couldn’t take a restart even if that is what they wanted.  In short, the player who, for example, stands right in front of the ball (or walks across the front of the ball at the critical moment) has deliberately removed the attacking team’s option of restarting immediately.  This caution, thus, is immediate.  By the way, teams in control of the ball at a restart can also be cautioned for delaying the restart of play if they … well … delay the restart of play though, in this case, we advise referees to give the attacking team a warning that their delay is noted and must not continue – after which, they are the ones to get the caution (example: an attacker with a throw-in continues, despite a warning, to somehow fail to throw the ball into the field, despite several apparent tries to do so, or who delays while apparently trying to decide with teammate they will throw the ball to).

By the way, taking note of the following common refrain from players – “but he’s allowed to stand there until the attacker asks for 10” – simply demonstrates either that (a) players haven’t the slightest idea of what the Law actually says or (b) they know but are simply gaming the referee in the hopes that he or she is not experienced enough to know what the Law says.  It is actually very clear.  At the moment of a stoppage where the referee has made it clear which team has control of the ball for the restart (which is why we strongly recommend that referees not delay making this simple fact clear!), all opponents are expected and required to be or stay at or to quickly get to the required distance.

Shielding vs Impeding vs Interference

SJ, a U13 – U19 coach, asks:

We played in a U15 match where one of the defensive backs shielded one of my forwards from going for the ball. When the defender has the ball I believe this is within the rules of the game. However, later in the match, a similar event happened only this time a 2nd defensive back screened the striker making no attempt to play the ball, in essence preventing the movement to the ball allowing the other DB to get there first. Isn’t this interference? I think the restart would be an Indirest free kick for the attacking team. Could you please let me know?

Answer

As with many things regarding the Laws of the Game, it is (a) more complicated than many think, (b) it depends on the context, and (c) the final decision belongs to the referee based on what SHE saw.

Let’s clear up the Law issues first because, surprisingly, they are the simplest.  Shielding and “impedes the progress of an opponent” are often used interchangeably – they should not be.  Only the latter (“impedes the progress”) is in the Law, “shielding” is not.  However, there are several forms of “impeding” – for example, with or without contact and impeding versus “blocking” (which can be found in Laws 11 and 15).  The Laws of the Game Glossary (its dictionary, in effect) provides a simple definition of impeding that covers all of these types – “To delay, block or prevent an opponent’s action or movement“ – and so we have to clarify all of them.   Impeding the progress of an opponent in Law 12 is an indirect free kick foul that applies when, without making contact, a player moves into the way of an opponent for the apparent purpose of stopping, slowing down, or forcing a change of direction of that opponent, with the ball not within playing distance of either player.

So, a player simply standing in one spot which happens to be a spot that an opponent wants to occupy, cannot be impeding that opponent because, having staked out her own location, she has a right to stay there and the opponent has to move around.  Crashing into the player (in an “you’re in my way” manner) becomes an offense (most likely illegal challenging) against the opponent.  If the ball is within playing distance or either or both players, then impeding is exactly what each is attempting to do in the process of gaining/keeping control of the ball – and it’s legal so long as neither one commits any Law 12 foul while doing so.  If there IS contact, it becomes a direct free kick foul.  Now we come to the issue of “context” and “the opinion of the referee” because that is where the “apparent purpose” comes in … and referees have all sorts of clues on this subject (for example, noting that the player running into or across the path of the opponent was focusing her attention on the opponent rather than on the direction in which she was moving).

The action commonly considered “shielding” is actually entirely legal and, while it may be impeding in a general sense (e.g. blocking) an opponent, it is not usually an offense.  An example of this is the situation in which defender A17 has played a ball in such a way that, if it crosses her own goal line, it would result in a corner kick for Team B so A17 tries to get to the ball to prevent it from leaving the field while B29 very much wants the ball to leave the field and attempts to “shield” A17 from getting the ball by interposing herself between A17 and the goal line.  B29’s challenge is to remain within playing distance of the ball as it moves toward the goal line and to not “hold” A17 within the meaning of Law 12.  A17’s challenge is to get around B29 without anything more than incidental contact with B29 and definitely not contact which would be considered “pushing/pulling” under Law 12.  Everyone gets frustrated and both the referee and the nearer AR are watching this play like hawks for any infractions of the Law.

“ Impeding” without movement is illegal only under two circumstances – offside offense and defending against a throw-in.  An attacker commits an offside offense merely by (with or without moving) being in the way of any opponent while that attacker is in an offside position – this is considered interfering with an opponent.  In the case of Law 15, a player who is closer than 2 yards to an opposing player’s throw-in or who, in the opinion of the referee, is acting in such a way as to distract or interfere with the thrower even if she is at or farther way than the minimum two yards away distance has also committed an offense but, although Law 15 uses the term “impeding,” it is not the same as a Law 12 impeding offense.

Back to your question (you thought we would never get there!).  Clearly, the situation you described first was not an impeding offense if and only if at least one of the two combatants was within playing distance of the ball.  Your second scenario, however, doesn’t include enough information (see above) to tell whether it was different from or essentially the same as the first scenario.  It all depends on (a)  whether the defensive back was within playing distance of the ball and (b) whether that defensive back had already established her position, thus forcing the striker to take extra time and distance to get around her or whether the defensive back moved into or with the striker as the striker attempted to move around the defensive back and (c) stayed with playing distance of the ball during the whole shielding time and (d) the referee saw all this (remember, what YOU saw doesn’t matter – don’t take it personally).  Remember also that actually attempting to play the ball is not the issue — the issue is “being within playing distance.”…

Offside (Rare But Legal)

Barry, an adult amateur fan, asks:

 

Is there anywhere within the offside rule that means the free kick to opposition can be taken in your half of the pitch?

 

Answer

 

Yes, of course.  While kind of rare (mainly because most team styles of play make the conditions it would require rare), it can certainly happen.  Consider the following (simplified to save time and space but with all pertinent information):

 

SCENARIO CONDITIONS

  • Red versus Blue
  • Red #7 has the ball in his own end about 30 yards up from his goal line
  • The Blue goalkeeper is defending his goal but all his teammates are crowded upfield and all ten of them are either in Red’s half of the field or in their own end of the field but within 10 yards of the midfield line, all massed generally to the right side of the field
  • Red #16 is about 12 yards into the Blue end
  • Red #7 sees “space” (no opponents) on the right side of the field
  • Red #7 kicks the ball toward the empty right side of the field
  • Red #16 anticipates his teammate’s action and begins running toward where he estimates the ball will land, in the process of which he crosses the midfield line and, five yards in, takes control of the ball

DECISIONS

  • Red #16 is in an offside position (ahead of the ball, ahead of the second to last defender, and in the opposing team’s end of the field) while Red #7 has the ball in his possession
  • Red #16 has committed an offside offense while in an offside position (coming from where he originally acquired it) and is correctly whistled by the referee
  • The restart is an IFK for the Blue team where Red #16 became involved in active play by interfering with play (touching the ball) and that location is 5 yards inside the Red team’s end of the field

So, why do we have this question arising now and so many believing that it is not possible to have the offside offense punished in the offending team’s own end of the field?  That is also simple to answer.  Because the Laws of the Game changed several years ago but a lot of people didn’t fully understand the implications of the change.  Not too long ago, when an offside offense was committed, the decision resulted in an IFK where the offside position was originally achieved (i.e., where the attacker was when he or she acquired the offside position) but the International Board changed it to where the offense was committed while in an offside position.

 

Because it was impossible to acquire an offside position in your own end of the field, the offside offense restart was always in the defender’s end of the field.  Although it was always possible (given the scenario’s terms) to have committed the offside offense in your end of the field, the restart was always shifted to the opposing end of the field … until the Law changed.  Many simply did not understand all the consequences of this change in the Law.  There had been no comment on this when the change was first made but, within a year, it had become obvious that many were arguing that the restart couldn’t be where the Law change now made possible and, so, in the next year’s Law changes, the International Board added the observation that, of course, the restart location could be in the attacker’s own end of the field under certain (admittedly rare) conditions.  In short, the Law change didn’t involve either offside position or offside violation requirements — it “merely” changed the location of the restart.…

Restarting After An Injury Stoppage

Marc, a U13 – U19 coach, asks:

 

In a U14 game, a team is in possession of the ball, and the referee stops play due to a serious injury. After the injury is taken care of, the referee goes to restart play with a contested drop ball. I mentioned that, in these situations, it’s customary for the opposing team to give the ball back to the team that had possession, and the referee indicated it’s against the Laws of the Game for him to ask the opposing team to do this.
1. Can you please advise if it’s against the Laws of the Game for him to ask or suggest this? I believe there’s a clause that indicates the referee shouldn’t specifically address players for anything not covered in the Laws of the Game, but I believe upholding the spirit of the game would warrant asking/suggesting giving the ball back.

2. Can you please advise what the recommended approach is for the ref when players may not be aware of this custom/tradition? If the ref is barred from asking/suggesting playing the ball back to the other team, an uncontested drop ball comes to mind, but seeing as the ref can’t limit the number of players participating in the drop ball, it doesn’t sound like this could be enforced.

 

Answer

 

Question 1 – It would be inconsistent with the Laws of the Game for the referee or any official to make such a suggestion, much less to enforce anything of this sort.  Indeed, other than exhortations not to commit an offense, it would be unprofessional for any official to offer any advice to any team, player, or team official pertaining to the manner in which they should conduct their play.  To make this point even more pointed, referees have long had an aphorism – if you don’t want the coach to tell you how to do your job, avoid telling the coach how to do their job.  This clearly applies to players as well.  There is no provision of the Law, however, which specifically prohibits it because, as with many other issues related to the Laws of the Game, the International Board did not feel it necessary to deal with something which would so obviously be a violation of professional ethics.

 

Question 2 – No, we cannot offer any such advice because doing so would aid and abet what we have already noted would be a violation of professional ethics.  If a team wanted to do so, there is no violation of the Law, just as there would be no violation of the Law if a team decided not to do so.  The same, by the way, applies to the so-called “preferential drop” when, say, an injury stoppage occurs with the goalkeeper in possession of the ball, thus causing a dropped ball restart contestable by both teams at a location which puts the goalkeeper’s team at a perceived disadvantage.

 

The “flavor” of the issue you have raised is strikingly similar to something that became a matter of concern for the International Board about 10 or 11 years ago.  It was commonly thought that a team had an obligation to restart play (which was usually a throw-in) by releasing the ball to the opposing team if that opposing team had kicked the ball off the field because one of its players appeared to have been injured (almost always this was done by kicking the ball across a touchline).  The team usually threw the ball in the direction of the opposing team’s goalkeeper and none of the thrower’s teammates were expected to contest for the ball.  Sparked by a spate of incidents (including one  in an English Premier League match) where this so-called “tradition” was or was not honored, the International Board declared in a Circular issued in 2009 that stopping or not stopping play for a possible injury (minor or serious) falls solely to the referee, not to a team, and this sparked an item in US Soccer’s annual Law change memorandum the same year as follows:

 

Reminder to referees

Referees are reminded that Law 5 states that the referee must stop the match if, in his opinion, a player is seriously injured.

USSF Advice to Referees:  This statement is intended to reinforce a guideline issued earlier by both the International Board and USSF that the practice of a team kicking the ball off the field to stop play when there is an apparent injury on the field detracts from the responsibility of the referee under Law 5 to assess the injury and to stop play only if, in the opinion of the referee, the injury is serious.  Referees are therefore advised to be seen quickly and publicly considering the status of any player seeming to be injured and clearly deciding whether or not the situation merits a stoppage of play.  The referee must control this decision as much as possible.

 

The topic and the brief statement above in red was issued by the International Board and the text following it in bold italics is the official explanation/meaning/impact from US Soccer.  A further reminder on this issue was considered sufficiently important that similar language was included in a later circular and memorandum a year or two later.…

Injuries and Obligations

John, a U13 – U19 referee, asks:

Team A has the ball. A player from Team B goes down injured. I stop play. Team B player then gets up after a few seconds on the ground. Restart is a drop ball, but to show good sportsmanship team A should get the ball back. What role can a referee play in letting this happen?

Answer

No role whatsoever, beyond allowing the teams to do whatever the wish.

First of all, if you stopped play solely for the injury (which is what would produce a dropped ball restart), the player must leave the field – if not substituted for, the player can return only with your permission and only once play has been restarted; if the injured player was substituted for, then the team is not playing down and the injured player can return to the field (as a substitute) only at some later legal substitution opportunity.  If the injury involved bleeding or blood on the uniform, then that must be taken care of before allowing the player to return under any circumstances.

The point that has to be emphasized here is that, if you stop play for an injury not accompanied by any other reason (e.g., no foul), under the Law that is by definition “serious” because otherwise you would not have stopped play for it.  Allowing the player to stay on the field despite the Law is incorrect even if that is because you felt “better safe than sorry” – which is not a bad approach – but, in any event, you are still bound by the Law.  You are not allowed to change your mind based on any subsequent judgment on your part.  You live with the consequences.

Just because you didn’t call anyone onto the field does not and cannot justify allowing the player to remain.  You are obligated the moment you whistled for the stoppage.  The Law provides for the departure because it assumes you called for outside assistance as that is your duty.  This is precisely the point.  Having stopped play solely for this reason, you have already declared it to be a serious injury and so, the moment you finished blowing the whistle, your next act should be to wave medical assistance (even if that is only the coach, trainer, or a parent) onto the field.  If they don’t come because they disagree with your decision or simply don’t want to do anything about it, that is their prerogative (you can’t make them do so, in which case the player has to leave on his or her own power) but make an appropriate note for your report in case you were right to begin with, but the player must still leave somehow.  What counts here is that you authorized their entry onto the field — after that, it is on their shoulders.

It is not your job to make any “final” determination as to whether the injury is serious or not – you did what the Law expected you to do when you made the initial decision to stop play.  The only time you get to independently decide whether to call for medical assistance and thus trigger the requirement that the player must leave the field is if the injury occurs at a stoppage.  Then and only then do you make some appropriate effort to determine whether outside assistance is needed (which doesn’t necessarily mean you even have to talk with, much less inspect, the player.  In fact, standard referee procedure is, if you stop play for an injury, you not only whistle, followed immediately by a signal for outside assistance, but you don’t even stay around after that, you don’t hover over the player, you don’t even stay in the general area – you use the time while the player is helped off the field (assuming the circumstances don’t include any of the reasons for allowing assistance to be rendered on the field) to do other things far away for the site – talk with your AR, explore the field, get a drink of water, make notes about the injury that would go into your match report, etc.

If you follow these well-settled protocols, there is no need to expect, much less have, either team feel obligated about the outcome of the dropped ball restart.  And there is certainly nothing you could or should do about it even if you personally felt a team should be obligated to do anything other than fairly compete for the ball at the restart within the bounds of the Law.…

DOGSO/OGSO Once Again

Richard, an adult amateur player, asks:

Hi. I am a central defender and was sent off towards the end of a game this morning for denial of a clear goal scoring opportunity. In this instance there was a covering defender which the referee agreed with but he said that if I hadn’t fouled the striker, it would would have been a 2 on 1, i.e. the man I fouled as well as the person the covering defender was marking against the covering defender. However there was obviously the goalkeeper as well and this all happened about 35 yards from goal. I have never before seen an instance of someone being sent off for this offense when there is a covering defender which the referee agreed with and given the distance from goal I’m not sure this constitutes an obvious goal scoring opportunity. Was the referee within his rights to send me off?

Answer

Without attempting to nit-pick, the technical answer is, yes, the referee was within his rights, but not necessarily in accordance with how the Law is implemented.

The standard protocol for denying an “obvious goal scoring opportunity” (aka “OGSO”) depends on what kind of foul it was.  If it was a handling offense, the only criterion is the referee’s decision as to whether, but for the handling, the ball would have either gone into the net or been very close to that.

For all other fouls, the referee must balance the following four factors regarding OGSO:

  • The number of defenders  between the foul and the opposing team’s goal who are able to defend (i.e., doesn’t include a defender incapacitated and on the ground or a defender far enough either to the right or left who would have had no ability to participate in any defense based on how close to the goal the offense occurred) and the defender who committed the foul is not included in the count.   This criterion is inflexible – it is applied if the number is 1 and does not apply if the number is 2 or more.  In short,  if there are two or more defenders meeting this requirement, it cannot be an OGSO no matter the status of the other three elements.

The other three elements are flexible and must be weighed together with the above element.

  • The distance from the location of the foul and the goal – this is a yardstick and becomes increasingly important as the distance is shorter.  For example, a foul within 18 yards would rate this factor at the highest level whereas a distance of half a field would seriously weaken the likelihood that it was an OGSO. Every distance in between is in between highest level and lowest level.  35 yards would be a moderately important factor.
  • The general direction of play at the moment of the foul.  That direction must be toward the goal.  If not clearly toward the goal, an OGSO decision is less supportable.  Note, however, that the player against whom the foul was committed might, at that precise moment, might be temporarily not moving directly toward the goal if he or she is attempting to avoid or evade the defender.  The issue is whether the direction of the play, in general, has been toward the goal. If it has been, then this factor is clearly present.
  • Finally, the distance from the site of the foul to the ball at the moment of the foul.  The factor is present if the ball is with “playing distance” – meaning that the fouled player would have been able to continue maintaining possession of the ball if the foul had not happened.  An example is if the player with the ball had played the ball several yards or more ahead just before the foul occurred.  If the ball is considered to be within playing distance, this factor is present.

It is not necessary that each of these four factors be equally present.  Number of defenders has to be 1 or none, direction of play has to be generally toward the goal, the ball cannot be clearly beyond playing distance.  Distance to the goal is, as noted, the most dependent on judgment – the best that can be said is that “too far” detracts from OGSO while close in (certainly within 18-20 yards) makes the factor definitely present.

The question you asked is easy, the answer is not.  It depends on aggregating the nonnumerical value of four factors and then making a decision based on the feel of the game.  In your scenario, the weakest (one might say, possibly entirely absent) is the one we listed first.…

Delaying the Restart

Natalie, a U12 and Under coach, asks:

Can a referee ignore the fact that a player is asking for the required 10 yards be enforced on a free kick?  There was 40 seconds left in the game.  Not only did he refuse to count off 10 yards, he then started counting to 4 and when the free kick was not taken after the 4 seconds he gave possession to the other team resulting in a goal ending the game in a tie. Not sure why this happened — please explain.  Thank you.

Answer

First of all, how do you know “there was 40 seconds left in the game”?  You may be looking at your watch but the only watch that counts is on the referee’s wrist.  We don’t mean to sound flippant here — your watch might be totally in sync with the referee’s watch — but the Law gives absolute control over the timing to the referee.  We grant, of course, that the referee’s timing cannot make the length of a half any shorter, only longer, but it is also possible the two of you didn’t start timing at the same time.  For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume that, taking into account any prior “wasted time” due to injuries, delay substitutions, lost balls off the field, etc., there are indeed only 40 seconds remaining in the half by the time this other stuff began to occur.

That said, what followed was totally wrong on just about all counts. First of all, the referee’s prime responsibility at any restart (except kick-offs and penalty kicks and dropped balls) is to allow the team in possession full latitude on when to take the restart.  There are limits, of course – first, the referee may have an external reason for holding up the restart (e.g., injury, a card to give, a substitution to oversee, etc.) and second, the referee responsibility to deal with deliberate time-wasting no matter who is doing it, including himself.

If a team is requesting that the minimum distance be enforced, that is their right and there is no basis for refusing to do so.  Of course, the referee can move to the minimum distance and declare to the asking team that the opponents were already at least ten yards from the ball (we have seen this happen and once “dinged” an otherwise very good National grade referee on an assessment for himself wasting time for ending up moving opponents back only a step or two!) or, more commonly, we end up moving one or more players back.

Remember, inexperience or stupidity aside, it is to the opposing team’s benefit to get play restarted as quickly as possible if they were on the short end of the score.  The team in control of the restart had the right to ask for enforcement … and the referee had the right (based on the facts) to declare that the opponents were in fact at least ten yards away already and to signal that the free kick could be taken.  The referee also has the responsibility to move opponents back if any were within ten yards. All this is accepted procedure.

By the way, there is no rule or accepted mechanic that requires the referee to actually “count off” ten yards.  Actually, it usually takes only a year or less  to know exactly where ten yards away is so all that is necessary is to move to that point and either declare that the opponents were at ten yards or to move them back to where the ten yard distance was.  Watch senior, experienced referees.  You will never see them “pace” off any distance – they simply walk from where they are to a place which becomes the “ten yard restraining line” because the ten yard restraint is where the referee says it is.

Upon being requested to enforce the minimum distance, the referee in this case could have simply (a) signaled that the restart cannot occur until a whistle is sounded, (b) walked to wherever the minimum distance was, (c) quickly determined that either some opponents needed to be moved back or by that time, everyone was at least ten yards away, and then (d) signaled for the restart.  From that point on, within reason, the kicking team takes the kick or, if necessary, the kicker is given a caution for delaying the restart of play. We would normally not take this latter option unless the delay was significant, the reason obvious, and we had already, after a few seconds after the whistle, warned the kicker that he/she was delaying the restart.

There is absolutely no basis in the Laws of the Game to give the restart to the opposing team even if, after all the shenanigans were over and we had cautioned the kicking team for the delay (if there had been a delay).  The only recourse for the referee would be (a) the caution and then (b) stating the obvious fact that time had been wasted so this was being added to the “wasted time count” but the only correct decision at this point is that the original team in possession remains in possession.  If there is no doubt the team in possession had been wasting time and was continuing to waste time, the solution is to clearly declare that all time from the moment of the whistle for the kick to be taken to the moment of the kick itself was being considered wasted time by the referee, thus extending the time before the whistle sounds to mark the end of the half.…

Penalty Kicks and Attacker Violations

(The following answer was slightly modified on 1/14/19 to clarify a follow-up question, highlighted in blue)

Eriq, an adult amateur player, asks:

Is there a rule whereby, during a penalty kick, a teammate of the kicker unknowingly steps inside the penalty area before the kick was taken and the kicker scores but, because of the teammate, the goal is not counted and an indirect free kick is given to the defending team?

There are no other infringements by the attacking team. When asked, the referee stated that it is a new rule for 2019.

Answer

Yes, there is … sort of.  And no, it didn’t.

Here’s the “yes, there is” part.  Although there are some differences between the International Board’s Laws of the Game and the Rules governing High School (NFHS) and collegiate (NCAA) soccer, US Soccer and the rest of the world follow what the International Board put into its Laws.  Law 14 (The Penalty Kick) is very clear regarding this scenario.  Purely as a matter of Law, it is an offense for any teammate of the attacking team (i.e., the team that is taking the penalty kick) to do any of the following things before the ball is in play on a penalty kick: (a) enter the penalty area, (b) enter the penalty arc, or (c) move closer than 12 yards to the opposing team’s goal line.

The remedy for such a violation is also very clear purely as a matter of Law.  Now comes the “sort of” part — if a goal is scored, the goal does not count and the penalty kick is retaken OR, if the goal is not scored, the defending team is given an indirect free kick where the teammate illegally did whichever of these things we just listed above (i.e., where the teammate illegally entered the arc area or penalty area or where the player came closer to the goal line than 12 yards).  The rule is inflexible as to the offense – one foot into the penalty area is just as illegal as 15 feet into the penalty area.  Nor does it make any difference whether the violation is the reason for the failure to score a goal – one step into the penalty area or into the penalty arc (which are the two most common ways to commit this offense) but the kicker kicks the ball 50 feet over the top of the goal’s crossbar does not remove the offense.  We might note that these limitations on the kicking team apply equally to the defending team: the only difference is that the punishments are different (if a goal is scored, it counts; if it is not scored, the penalty kick is retaken).

So, in your scenario, the teammate of the kicker violated Law 14.  However, the restart was incorrect because Law 14 states that the goal is canceled but the attacking team is given a retake of the penalty kick.

Now comes the “no, it didn’t” part. This is not a “new rule for 2019” – in point of fact, the described penalty if a teammate of the kicker violates Law 14 and a goal is not scored went into effect in 2005 but the restart which should have been given in your scenario (cancel goal and order a retake) has been in Law 14 for as long as we have been officiating (1984).…