Hijinks at a Free Kick

Chris, a HS/College referee, asks:

Scenario – a foul by the Blue team is committed near midfield.  The ball is properly located and a Red player is preparing to take the kick.  Meanwhile, a Blue player who was behind the ball when the foul occurred is moving back towards his goal to the defend. This Blue player is less than 10 yards from the ball but making no attempt to delay the free kick from being taken and is moving away from the ball. The Red kicker takes the free kick, deliberately kicks the ball into the back of the retreating defender, and then immediately turns to the referee asking for a yellow card.

My questions are, first, can you issue a caution to the Red kicker for unsporting behavior if, in your opinion, the player took the free kick with every intention of getting his opponent booked ?  My second question is, could you issue a red card for violent conduct (striking an opponent) if you deem that the player (whom you have already decided had deliberately kicked the ball into the opponent) did so as hard as he could?

Answer

Question 1 — yes, sure, because Law 12 (cautionable misconduct section, unsporting behavior) is written so broadly that it could encompass just about anything that you think deserves it.  We don’t mean to be flippant but “unsporting conduct” is rather general to begin with and “shows a lack of respect for the game” (one of the listed examples of unsporting behavior) is about as limitless as “how high is up?”  A retreating opponent who is closer than 10 yards at the time a free kick is taken has not committed an offense under the general Law 13 guideline that the offended team has the almost unfettered right to take the kick quickly, even with one or more opponents “failing to respect the required distance” and this extends to situations in which the kicked ball might make contact with said encroacher through no fault of his own.  Here, we have an attacker who has the unmitigated hutzpah (look it up) not only to aim the ball deliberately (as given in the scenario) at the opponent but now wants a card shown for the kicker’s lack of judgment.  The act of publicly by words or gestures asking for an entirely unjustified card could also be deemed a form of dissent.  In situations like this one, the real question is not “can you?” but “should you?”  One reason for “should not” is if the action calls for more a more vigorous reprisal.

Which brings us to Question 2 — and here we have to “interpret” your words. “As hard as he could” suggests the familiar “excessive force or brutality or endangering the safety of an opponent” particularly if the kicker were, say, over the age of 16 (though we know of a fellow referee who was almost knocked out upon being hit with a ball kicked by a U12 female player!).  Although a common scenario of this sort of play usually involves a thrown ball, we suspect that the damage from a kicked ball would likely be far worse.  Accordingly, the answer here is definitely, yes, a red card for violent conduct (not serious foul play because the kicker and retreating defender were not competing for the ball at the time) could, and probably should, be given (the expression on the face of the kicker reacting to this turnabout would be priceless).

A caution for UB, even if independently justified in the Referee’s opinion, takes a back seat to a red card for VC.  But the two are linked because the VC card would be a tough sell in the absence of the opinion that the kick was deliberately aimed at the opponent.  With no violence, the kicker’s action could be deemed UB (aided by the attempt to talk the Referee into a caution for FRD).  With a decision that the kick was an avoidable action of violence, bolstered by the evidence that it was deliberate, the send-off is the one to go with.

The restart, of course, is a DFK where the opponent was struck.

Quick Restarts

Rich, a U-12 and under coach, asks:

I coach a U12 boys team, and experienced a peculiar incident with a referee this past Saturday at one of our games. We were winning the game 2-1 and, within the last 10 minutes, our team committed an indirect free kick offense within the goal area.
What was peculiar is that the referee immediately directed the attacking team to place the ball on the goal line and raised his arm, all within seconds, and two attacking players that were directly in the area initiated a kick-pass and solid shot on goal, and subsequently scored. There was no time given for our goalie to prepare, nor any time whatsoever for our defense to establish protective positioning. My concern and following question is this. We are dealing with U12 boys and the safety of the our goalie was my first concern as he was not even looking towards the kick when it was made and, secondly, is there not a rule that puts responsibility on the ref to give the defending team at least adequate time to prepare and/or the right of the defensive team, especially the goalie , to acknowledge preparedness? Although the goalie did not get injured, it could have ended with a much different result. This all seemed very unsafe and unfair for these boys.

Answer

We regret to inform you that the Referee’s mechanics and procedures, as described, were 100% correct and far from being “peculiar.”  The call itself was correct (which you acknowledged), the placement of the ball was correct, and the signal for the restart was correct.  What you are questioning (the quick restart) is also correct.  Indeed, it is entirely consistent not only with the letter but also the spirit of the Law.

Every restart performed by a player with the exception of the kick-off and the penalty kick is, and is intended by the Laws of the Game  to be, taken as soon as the attacking team meets two conditions: the ball is properly placed and stationary.  Being the party aggrieved by an offense that was committed against them, they have the right to take the restart with no delay — even foregoing such ordinary requirements placed on the defending team as “respecting the required distance.”  Here (and we are only theorizing), the attackers exercised their legal right to take advantage of the confusion and disarray of their opponents by restarting play when the necessary conditions were met (stationary ball on the goal area line).  It was a gamble on their part that the likelihood of scoring (keeping in mind that it was an IFK restart) was greater if they did it quickly despite the increased risk of the ball being intercepted by nearby opponents.  They certainly would not be better off by waiting for all the things you wanted your team to be able to do — delay the kick, give us time to regroup, get more of our players between the goal entrance and the location of the kick, and get our goalkeeper primed and ready to defend.

We understand your frustration.  We would feel it also under the same circumstances but with one exception: we would know there was nothing we could do about it and that we were the ones that set up this scenario by committing the offense in the first place.  With very few and rare exceptions, a team which commits an offense resulting in a free kick restart has no rights … and certainly no right to detract from the Law’s award of the ball to the offended party.  Indeed, almost any attempt to interfere with or delay the attacking team’s right to a quick restart would be a cautionable offense.

There is nothing in the Laws of the Game contrary to this nor is there any expectation that the age of the players would affect this basic principle.  The only time a safety issue might be invoked is if a player had been seriously injured and the Referee was obligated to hold the restart until the injury was properly dealt with (not wishing to leave the impression that this might be a good strategy, we remind everyone that a faked injury is also a cautionable offense).  It is one of the core tenets in training referees that they should do nothing to cause a delay in taking throw-ins, goal kicks, corner kicks, or free kicks unless there is a clear, legal, and compelling reason to step in with an order to “Wait!”

“Pass-Back” Offense

Trevor, a U-12 and under coach, asks:

I know the pass-back rule prohibits the goalie from handling the ball if the ball is passed to him by a teammate. But I thought I saw an instance last week during a match where the ball was passed back to the goalie by one of his teammates but, as the ball was nearing the goalie, there was also an attacker going for the ball. The attacker was very close to winning the ball before the goalie had a chance to get it but the goalie ran to the ball and grabbed it up before the attacker won it.

Is that a legal move? Can the goalie pick up the ball if it was passed back to him by a teammate but an attacker is about to win the ball?

Answer

We are so glad you asked this specific question, not so much for the first paragraph but for the second paragraph because this offense is not only not well understood but the lack of understanding also tends to interfere with how it is called.

Not only was the GK’s action a violation of the law but the circumstances made it a violation that cannot be ignored.  Some “pass back” violations, even obvious ones, can be ignored if, in the opinion of the referee, the offense was trifling (just as with any other offense).  Now the root question becomes … why is this violation there?  Knowing the answer to this question enables the intelligent referee to determine whether it was trifling or not.

In point of fact, all four of the IFK offenses which only a goalkeeper can commit are in the Law for one primary purpose – to limit the amount of time during which the goalkeeper can legally withhold the ball from active challenge by taking hand possession of it.  Remember, the goalkeeper’s ability to do this is the single most important “right” the goalkeeper, and only the goalkeeper, has.  It is such a significant advantage the the Laws of the Game made it clear that the right has limits — no longer than 6 seconds (or thereabouts), no direct second possession, no pass back, and no throw back.

Accordingly, one of the prime criteria a referee needs to use in evaluating whether to whistle for a pass back violation is whether the goalkeeper is being challenged before taking hand possession of the ball.  If he is, and he actually takes hand possession under pass back circumstances, then the offense must be whistled.  If not, the offense could be (not must be) ignored (with perhaps a verbal warning) based on a host of other factors (e.g., the temperature of the game, the propensity for a team to commit offenses so far, the general level of friendliness, whether a prior warning had already needed to be given, etc.).

The scenario you offered has got to be one of clearest examples not only of the offense itself but also of one that has to be called.  The goalkeeper under potential or active challenge could always decide to play the ball in some way other than by taking hand possession and thus avoid the punishment but at a very high risk of not succeeding.  This keeper didn’t.

Offside and the Rebound

Ken, a U-12 and under coach, asks:

Can a player be called offsides on a rebound shot? For example: one of my players made a shot on goal which was touched by the goalie and another player on my team then received the rebound shot and scored. He was then called offsides and the goal was taken away. Can this be an accurate call?

Answer

Maybe.

Before explaining, we need to step onto our soapbox once again and plead with everyone to remember the proper terminology.  First, there is no such thing as an “offsides” — unless you are talking about two or more of them.   Second, “offside” is an adjective and, in any scenario involving an offside issue, nothing meaningful can be done unless and until this adjective is tied to one of two other words (both nouns) — position and offense.  Law 11 deals with both and they are two very different things.   To analyze a potential offside scenario, we either have to start with determining “offside position” or we have to assume an offside position before anything can be done about “offside offense” because the first (always and ever) requirement for an offside offense is for the player in question to be in an offside position — no offside position, no offside offense … offside position, maybe an offside offense.

With that mini-rant out of our system (at least until the next Law 11 question), let’s return to the scenario above.  It actually involves both position and offense but the problem is that we don’t have enough information about “position” in order to move onto the issue of “offense” so we will simply make an assumption.  In any situation involving a “rebound,” there can never be an offense unless the player receiving the rebound was in an offside position at the time her teammate made the shot that led to the rebound that led to the ball coming to to a teammate of the player who made the shot.  Remember, “no offside position, no offside offense.”  So, to get to the offense issue, we have to assume that the recipient of the rebounded ball was in an offside position at the moment her teammate touched/played the ball.

That issue out of the way, we arrive at the problem of an offside offense.  Let’s call the player who received the rebound A15 just to keep things simple.  Law 11 states generally that a rebound from any thing  (e.g., crossbar, goal post, referee) does not alter the offside position status of A15 — if she was in an offside position before the rebound, she is still in an offside position after the rebound and it follows, therefore, that she commits an offside offense if she interferes with play (which she did) or interferes with an opponent (which she didn’t).  A rebound from another attacker (e.g., A8 makes a shot on goal, the ball bounces off A11 who was not in an offside position at the time, and then goes to A15) is a new play/touch on the ball and thus the offside position status of A15 has to be reevaluated — we know (actually, we assumed) that A15 was in an offside position when A8 made the shot on goal but now we have to determine whether, at the moment the ball was touched/played by A11, A15 was still in an offside position or not.  If not, no offside offense if A15 then scores a goal.

Things get a bit more complicated if the rebound comes from a defender (which is what this scenario is about).  If the rebound came from a defender, the general rule is that the rebound does not change the offside position status of A15.  However, the real issue is whether the contact with the defender was in fact a rebound.  By using the term “rebound,” the issue is simplified because that question is already resolved.  What makes life complicated is deciding whether the defender’s contact with the ball was, in fact, a rebound.  If the defender possessed and controlled the ball (i.e., played the ball), that action is deemed to have removed any offside position from A15 because, now, the ball has not been last played by a teammate of A15.  If the defender plays the ball badly and it goes to A15 (who is no longer in an offside position), A15 is perfectly free to score a goal without incurring an offside offense penalty.  The goal would stand.  The issue of whether the ball rebounded from the defender or was played by the defender is “in the opinion of the referee.”

A few years ago, Law 11 was modified regarding the issue of rebounds and offside positions.  That change directed us to consider a “deliberate save” by any defender (including the goalkeeper) as not altering the offside position status of any attacker (i.e., a deliberate save was to be considered the same as a rebound).  For guidelines on what constitutes a deliberate save, see p. 92 of the 2017/2018 Laws of the Game.

Now, to the “maybe.”  If A15 was in an offside position at the time her teammate made the shot on goal and if the touch on the ball by the goalkeeper is considered a rebound or a deliberate save, then A15 was still in an offside position, she committed an offside offense by interfering with play, and the goal should be disallowed.  If A15 was not in an offside position when her teammate made the shot on goal, then she couldn’t possibly commit an offside offense no matter how you interpret the goalkeeper’s touch on the ball and so the goal stands.  If A15 was in an offside position and if the goalkeeper’s touch on the ball was neither a rebound (or deflection) nor a deliberate save, then A15 committed an offside offense and the goal should not stand.

Whew!

A Short Complicated Question

Joe, a U13 – U19 parent asks:

U-13 goalkeeper slides and makes the save on the ground.  The player from other team runs into him and knees him in back of the head. Isn’t that a penalty and isn’t it the responsibility of the offensive player to avoid the contact?

Answer

Only 42 words in 3 sentences and 3 lines of text, but a toughie to answer.  You’re may not like what we end of with here.  First, the simplest issue you raise is “isn’t that a penalty” and the answer is no.  Penalty kicks are awarded if and only if a direct free kick offense is committed by a defender inside his own penalty area.  In this case, if whatever happened is determined to be an offense, it would be the attacker (“the player from the other team”) who would be charged.  No, if there is an offense here and the Referee stops play for it, the restart would be given to the goalkeeper’s team, not the attacking player’s team.

But the crux of this scenario is whether it is an offense in the first place.  Before we hear audible gasps from most readers and angry vows that we don’t know what we’re talking about, let’s establish that it probably was and that, as such, it would likely result in a direct free kick (but remember, for the goalkeeper’s team!).  How could it be anything else?  Because soccer is a competitive sport that, as the age and skill level of the players goes up and game results become much more important, things happen and those things can lead to injuries — hopefully not severe — even with the best of intentions by those involved.

Let’s tick off the relevant facts: (a) U13 age level, (b) goalkeepers are more likely to be sliding on the ground to play/save the ball than anyone else, and (c) an opponent runs into the goalkeeper.  One thing to keep in mind is that, other things equal, it is no more the responsibility of the opposing player to avoid contacting the goalkeeper than it is for the goalkeeper to avoid contacting the opposing player.  All players have a responsibility to avoid contacting anyone (opponent or not) in a dangerous, threatening, careless, reckless manner or using excessive force.   How is the fact that these players are U-13s affect our evaluation?  Because they are not old enough or experienced enough to perform in a safe manner many of the awesome maneuvers  on the field that they might see on television, at a U-19 game, on a high school or college pitch, or during a World Cup match.  How does the fact that the goalkeeper is the object of the action?  Because goalkeepers more readily engage in behaviour which is inherently more potentially dangerous than is the case with any of their teammates.

What “sells” the likelihood that this should be considered at least careless or potentially reckless behavior by the attacker is the “knees him [the goalkeeper] in the back of the head” addition.  Yes, the attacker should have avoided running into the goalkeeper, if at all possible, but sometimes it is not possible if each player involved commits himself to a course of action so late that there is no turning back and contact of some sort becomes inevitable.  Yes, goalkeepers usually get the benefit of the doubt in such encounters if they are sliding on the ground and are not the ones initiating contact with the opponent and the opponent didn’t make any effort to leap over instead of run into the goalkeeper.  And, yes, U-13s are usually considered too young to have been foolhardy enough to act in this manner.  So, DFK coming out where the contact occurred looks very easily explained.  Have older, more skilled players, have the speed prior to contact low rather than high, have each player involved both equally attempting to challenge for a ball which is not yet in the possession of the goalkeeper, have the goalkeeper not on the ground, etc. and the case for a DFK offense begins to look weaker.

It is the Referee’s job to job to take all the above elements into account (plus others we don’t have the time or space to include) and arrive at a decision which protects the safety of players, the enjoyment of the game, and the fairness of the play, and thus to arrive at a decision which promotes these objectives for these players, today, in this game.

The Approach We Take Here

We wish to take a moment and explain a bit of what we are trying to accomplish here (please also reread the statement we offered early this year which is found underneath the “About” tab).  It is important to reaffirm that neither we nor this website claims or should be thought of as “official” in any way regarding The Laws of the Game.  We will always make every effort to research and consult all official publications both at the international level and for the United States, but what we take away from these sources must always be understood as our understanding of what they mean and how they should be applied.

Everyone who has refereed beyond several seasons has to know that there are (and always have been) pockets of text in the Laws of the Game which are not “self-evident” — they require explanation based on the best and most current understanding of how they were intended.  In regard to this, the International Board did a great service in the 2017-2018 edition by adding, for the first time, to the Laws of the Game the following official statement (p. 11):

The Laws cannot deal with every possible situation, so where there is no direct provision in the Laws, The IFAB expects the referee to make a decision within the ‘spirit’ of the game – this often involves asking the question, “what would football [soccer] want/expect?”

Useful as this is, however, there are also parts of the Laws that appear to be inconsistent, incomplete, or so broadly stated as to include two or more reasonable explanations.  Some referees, for example, have been at this game long enough to remember how relatively recently it was when the Law writers decided to finally add the proviso that a sent-off player had to leave the field, could not be replaced, and could no longer play any further part in the game!  This was always true and “everyone knew it” but it wasn’t in the Law.  Or when, in 1996, the International Board dropped from the Laws of the Game one of the single most arguably important tenets in the philosophy of refereeing (how to handle doubtful or trifling breaches of the Law) with the simple explanation that “everyone should know this so it isn’t needed”!  This casual, informal connection between the formal, written word of the Law and the allegedly widespread understanding by “everyone” of what it means is uniquely British in origin — not surprising given that is where the sport originated.  Americans have a hard time with that and it is a philosophy inconsistent with the tremendously detailed rules for sports that had their origins in the United States.

As for us, however, we will attempt to faithfully answer questions and provide advice based on our experience and training and will seek always to remain as up-to-date as possible on new or alternate interpretations as we understand them.  If we make an actual mistake — and it happens, hopefully rarely  — we will correct it as quickly as possible.  If we give advice based on an interpretation that has changed, we will announce the change as quickly as possible.  If we ourselves have interpreted an apparent ambiguity in the Law and believe there is a reasonable basis to act on that interpretation (i.e., that’s what we ourselves would do on the field) but responsible authority later clearly resolves the ambiguity contrary to the way we have proceeded, we will explain the situation as quickly as possible.

More than this we cannot promise.

Watch Out for Those Hands and Arms!

David, a U13 – u19 fan, asks:

I have a question on a player constantly having their arms outstretched fully or halfway every time they challenge for a ball. Is there any infraction here? I personally don’t like to see that because it causes them to contact their opponent with their arms and hands at some point.

Answer

A rhetorical question for anyone other than an active soccer player …  do you do a lot of running that includes sudden changes in direction, starts, stops, etc?  Running on the soccer field is not like Irish clog dancing, where the arms are ceremoniously held straight down at the sides.  A soccer player needs the counter-balancing effect of arms held out (forward, backward, or to the side) at various angles from the body in order to maintain stability.

However, to your question.  There is nothing in the Laws of the Game which prohibit the arms from being held away from the body or even, more spectacularly, held straight above their head!  If and when the result of such behavior leads to contact with an opponent or the ball, then the referee uses this information as part (and only part) of deciding if an offense has been committed.

As a game moves up the competitive ladder, increasingly you will see an attacker and a marking defender running side-by-side, each with her arms (or elbows) held out jostling with the opponent.  Are there probably mutual violations occurring virtually every second?  Undoubtedly, yet at this level and assuming neither player is gaining an unfair advantage and the level of contact is merely irritating rather than painful, you will rarely hear a whistle (at most, a quiet verbal from the Referee to “watch the contact”).  Very likely, both players will finish their elbowing run and, later, brag to their teammates that “I really showed him I was serious!”  Why no whistle?  Because the violations (if they were) never rose to the level of needing to stop play.  Each player was “accepting” the level of contact as “par for the course.”

Contacting an opponent or the ball with a hand or arm is not, by itself, a violation of any Law or, even if it is, the referee has the authority to decide that the possible offense was doubtful or the actual offense was trifling.   In the case of making hand/arm contact with the ball, the Law is very clear that the action must be deliberate and involve directing the ball in a controlled fashion by moving the hand to the ball rather than having the ball simply move toward and contact the hand/arm.

In all these cases, the making of actual contact is only one factor to be taken into account in deciding if the contact was illegal, much less illegal enough to stop play — in logic, this is called a necessary but not sufficient condition.  There are only three offenses in Law 12 where actual contact is not specifically necessary as of 2016 — attempting to strike, kick, or trip are punished by an indirect free kick but actual contact involving any three of these actions makes the offense punishable by a direct free kick.

Please leave these decisions to the referee – he or she is the only one who knows the intent of the Law, the severity of the offense (if there is one), the pace of the game, the character of the players involved, and the general level of experience/skill of the players in the game.   The Referee is also the only one who has seen the event from the perspective that counts — the field rather than a sideline.

Several Ways to Mess Up a Throw-In

Stephen, a U13 – U19 fan, asks:

What is the correct restart if a player takes a throw-in incorrectly but the ball touches the ground before entering the field of play? It appears that in the past there was a clause in the interpretations to the Laws that explicitly stated that, in this situation, the throw-in was given to the other team, but that doesn’t seem to be there anymore. Could you provide evidence that shows what the correct call is? Thanks.

Answer

It’s always nice to see fans who have a desire to know, and keep up with changes in, the Laws of the Game. Unfortunately, sometimes there are complexities that only Referees (at least most of the time) are aware of even when the language seems pretty clear.  You are partially correct in your basic question.

Specifically, for many years the interpretation of Law 15 (The Throw-in) was that, if the ball hit the ground before it entered the field, it was considered not to have entered the field at all (even if it physically did).  In short, for the ball to be in play, it must enter the field of play and do so without hitting the ground outside the field.  However, that’s all it was — never properly put into play and therefore retaken by the same team (but not necessarily the same player on that team) in the same location as the original throw-in attempt.  Let’s shorten this to “legally put into play.”

On the other hand, and separate from the issue of the ball being properly put into play, Law 15 has several requirements for how (the mechanics) the ball must be put into play — both feet in the ground, at least a part of both feet either on or behind the touch line, ball thrown over the head, taken from within a yard of where the ball left the field, etc.  If a player violates any of these requirements, that can make the throw-in itself illegal even if it is properly put into play by entering the field without making contact with the ground outside the field.  If this happens, the control of the ball is given to the opposing team for a throw-in at the original location (a requirement that is often forgotten or not known, thus leading to the new throw-in frequently being taken from the wrong location … which, surprise!, makes the first retaken throw-in illegal, which leads to ….  well, you get the idea).  Let’s shorten this to “legally thrown.”

So, on a throw-in in years past, the ball can be (a) legally put into play and legally thrown, (b) legally put into play but not legally thrown, (c) not legally put into play and legally thrown, and (d) not legally put into play and not legally thrown.  In (a), the throw is entirely good and play continues but this is not the case with (b) – (d), in each of which the throw-in is not completely good and play must be restarted.  But how and by whom?

In scenario (b) — the throw-in restart is given to the opposing team.  In scenario (c) — the same team is allowed to retake the throw-in.  In scenarios (c) and (d) — the same team was allowed to retake the throw-in because the controlling factor was the correctness of the throw-in itself and it didn’t matter how it failed to legally go into play.  Now it apparently does.

The current language of Law 15 is both clear and specific — there is a difference in who gets the restart if the ball fails to go into play as a result of making contact with the ground outside the field of play and then continuing on to enter the field versus all other possible ways for the ball to have failed to legally go into play (i.e., at no time entering the field regardless of whether or when or how the ball made contact with the ground.  In the case of the “all other possible ways,” the result is the same as in scenario (c) above.  However, now, if the “not legally put into play” is caused by the ball making contact with the ground before entering the field but was legally thrown, the result is that the throw-in is taken by the original team (as in scenario (c).   However, if the ball makes contact with the ground before entering the field and was not legally thrown, the thrown-in restart goes to the opposing team (as in a revised scenario (d).

Frankly,  we are uncertain as to why there should be two versions of how a ball has not legally gone into play or why that should make a difference, but there it is.  Nevertheless, until such time as the International Board states otherwise, Referees are advised to follow the clear wording in Law 15.  Fortunately, we have rarely seen actual throw-ins in which the thrower perfectly executes the throw itself, only to have the ball bounce on the ground and then enter the field.

Speaking of good and bad throw-ins, we are going to exercise our ability to mount a soap box and rant about a related topic.  While the above discussion necessarily was wrapped up in part with illegal throw-ins, we would like to emphasize once again (as we have in prior posts about Law 15) that an illegal throw-in does not necessarily call for a whistle.  Most illegal throw-ins are harmless transgressions (another name for which is “trifling offenses“).  Purists, hardnoses, brand new referees, and the like would gasp at this heresy and that is their right.  But, for the good of the game, plus experience with skilled play,  at least admit (and maybe follow through on it at least occasionally) that pristine throw-ins are about as rare as motionless balls at a free kick because players (and hopefully referees) know that the purpose of these restarts is to get the ball back in play and to do so as quickly as possible.   Except for enforcing the location of the restart as it edges closer to the goal the thrower’s team is attacking, the significance of faults in the performance of a throw-in is vanishingly small.

Advantage in the Penalty Area

David, an adult amateur referee, asks:

Advantage in the penalty box.  Attacker receives ball in penalty box, Defender trips Attacker who stumbles but does not fall while going around Defender and gets a shot on goal which deflects off keeper past goal line.  Referee did signal advantage.  What is the correct call?

Answer

Your question is a bit ambiguous … what exactly are you wondering was “the correct call”?  If the issue is whether advantage can/should be applied to events in the penalty area, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”   If the issue is whether the Referee applied advantage correctly in the given scenario?  Again, the answer is “Yes!” but not necessary resounding because we weren’t there and can only assume that the correct criteria were used.  If the issue is whether the Referee used the proper mechanics in applying advantage in the penalty area, the answer is “no.”

Why “no”?  Because US Soccer has long indicated that what should happen is what might be called “silent advantage” so, in essence, it is a matter of preferred mechanics.  The Referee could certainly, amidst the fast moving events in a critical area of the field where seriously important events are occurring second by second, use the recognized advantage signal (swing his/her arms upward while shouting “Play on!”) but this carries the danger thereby of momentarily missing some important event and/or diverting the attention of nearby players away from their tasks.

Furthermore, the application of advantage inside the penalty area involves some fundamental differences from advantage applied elsewhere on the field.  For example, elsewhere, the Referee is looking simply for the likelihood of enabling the offended player or team to continue its attack on or toward the opponent’s end of the field — the possibility of a goal is not a major objective.  Not so for an offense committed by a defender inside the opposing team’s penalty area.  There, the Referee’s objective involves  protecting the likelihood of scoring a goal within the next play (or 2 quick ones, at most). This is understandable since not applying advantage means stopping play, followed by a penalty kick restart.  Let’s say, just for purposes of comparison, that PKs on average convert to a goal for the offended team 75% of the time, but applying advantage opens the possibility for the offended team to score a goal (which represents 100% success!).

Accordingly, we urge Referees to use “silent advantage” (i.e., stay quiet, keep the arms down) and use “wait a moment to see what happens” (good advice in many other situations as well).  The option of whistling for the offense remains if, after the offense, neither the offended attacker nor any of his/her nearby teammates are able to score in the next 1-2 plays on the ball.  Plus, the Referee can (as with any advantage anywhere) return to deal with misconduct whatever the outcome.  Note: starting in 2016, the Laws of the Game limited the misconduct options to a caution if (a) the offense involved an attempt to play the ball and (b) the outcome was a decision for a penalty kick (this includes the commission of both  OGSO and non-OGSO situations).