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).

Kids and Misconduct

Antonio, a U13 – U19 referee, asks:

If a U12/13 player commits a dangerous tackle or a DOGSO, should I be lenient and give a yellow card or should I give a straight red and send him/her off?

Answer

This one is easy (mostly) and comes down to a simple “give the card prescribed by the Laws of the Game.”  Of the two scenarios you listed, the “dangerous tackle” is straightforward — assuming by “dangerous tackle” you mean a tackle which is more serious than careless or reckless (i.e., involves excessive force or endangers the safety of an opponent), then a red card is clearly set by Law 12 (the recorded misconduct would be either “serious foul play” or “violent conduct” depending on whether the tackle was committed while challenging for the ball or not).

The only caveat here is whether the local competition authority has (as some have) forbidden the showing of cards to young players (usually limited to U-10s and below) — then you follow the Laws of the Game as modified.  It is not your decision to make.  Once you have identified the offense, you deal with it properly.  It is important to remember in all this, particularly where fouls involving physical contact are concerned, that the send-off following the display of the red card is only partially for the purpose of punishing the offender, it is also for protecting the safety of the remaining players.

As for the DOGSO, there are complicating elements to this misconduct which have been recently introduced into the Laws of the Game as of 2016 which could affect the color of the card (what follows assumes that all DOGSO requirements — i.e., the “4 Ds” — have been met).  Was the foul successful in preventing a goal and a penalty kick was awarded?  Starting in 2016 and clarified further in 2017, the Law now provides that a caution should be given for the DOGSO only if the player committing the foul was engaged in an attempt to play the ball.  In all other circumstances, the offender must be sent off.

Throwing a Goal

Ajibola, a U13 – U19 referee, asks:

If a player throws ball directly into the net, is it a goal?

Answer

Maybe.  Depends on who is doing the throwing, where the handling occurred, and which goal the ball enters.  Your question theoretically involves four different scenarios, each one with two subscenarios:

  1. Red player (not the goalkeeper) throws the ball into his own net
  2. Red goalkeeper throws the ball into his own net
  3. Red player (not the goalkeeper) throws the ball into the opposing team’s net
  4. Red goalkeeper throws the ball into the opposing team’s net

Separated out this way, we think it likely that you could answer the question yourself but, because answering questions is our business (and we enjoy doing it), we’ll go ahead and confirm your answers.  They are in the same order below as the scenarios are listed above.

  1. The Red player has committed a DFK foul (PK if inside his own penalty area) but we apply advantage in either case and allow the resulting goal to count.  Of course, the goal is credited to the opposing team, making the advantage all the sweeter.
  2. The Red goalkeeper has committed no offense if he handled it inside his own penalty area and, therefore, we allow the goal.  If it was handled outside the penalty area, we apply advantage just as we did in 1 and, of course, credit the goal in either case to the opposing team.
  3. The Red player committed an offense but advantage is not applicable.  We do not allow the goal if he handled the ball outside his penalty area and restart with a DFK for the opposing team where the handling occurred.  If the handling occurred inside the Red player’s own penalty area, the goal is still not counted but the opposing team is given a PK at the Red team’s end of the field.
  4. If the handling occurred inside the Red goalkeeper’s penalty area, advantage does not apply (because there was no offense), the goal counts for the Red team, and the restart is a KO.  However, if the Red goalkeeper handled the ball outside his penalty area, we would not count the goal and restart with a DFK where the Red goalkeeper handled the ball.

There may be misconduct issues but this gets too complicated and our head is hurting already.

Language Misconduct

David, an adult amateur coach, asks:

A referee reported an incident of abusive language occurring after the final whistle. The player, however, was not shown any card for this alleged offence. Can such incidents be included in the referee’s match report?

Answer

Yes.  As of the Law changes in 2016/2017, behavior after the match is over which would have been carded if the same behavior had occurred before the final whistle should be included in the match report.  Remember, Law 5 specifically provides that one of the duties of the Referee is to include in the match report “any other incidents that occurred before, during, or after the match.”  While broadly stated, the intent here is specifically to ensure that the competition authority has full details on “incidents” that pertain to the conduct of the match even if, due to timing, the incident could not be carded.

This certainly includes any event which should have been carded but wasn’t for one reason or another as well as punishment for misconduct that should not have been imposed or was imposed based on mistaken identity.  Accordingly, the Referee’s match report should carefully state and categorize the behavior occurring after the match in the same terms as would be used for something happening during the match.

There is, unfortunately, a gray area as to what constitutes “after the match.”  Law 5 indirectly defines it as that period of time after the final whistle but while the Referee hasn’t yet left the field of play.  As experienced Referees know, this leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to guidance.  There was an apocryphal story about a Referee who, upon shopping at a grocery store on Sunday and meeting a player that had participated in a Saturday game, was berated by that player for a decision he had made in that game and who then whipped out his yellow card and cautioned the player-customer for dissent.  That would be carrying things too far.

The problem more often faced is that the “three-man rotation assignment” is common on weekends — three officials are assigned to three back-to-back games with each one taking a turn at being the Referee while the other two served as ARs.  Not surprisingly, this results in all three officials remaining in what would arguably be called “the area of the field” for a good part of the day.  Does any or all of that time count as “after the match”?  Here is what we would suggest is an excellent place to apply common sense.  Remember that the Laws of the Game were written particularly to accommodate a specific kind of game … and that game is not the one that most of us ever get to officiate at any time in our careers.

Our recommendation (and it is only that, a recommendation) is that you as the Referee decide when you have “left the area of the field” even if, as anyone could plainly see, you hadn’t.  If you believe that enough time has passed (e.g., most players from both teams have left the field, new teams are warming up, etc.), then treat whatever happens as though it had happened after you left the field (i.e., you left it mentally).  Otherwise, without actually showing any card, make it clear that you will be including the unacceptable conduct in your match report.

Let’s Have Some Fun!

Goran, an adult amateur fan, asks:

Players frequently position themselves by the corner flag to make time pass if their team is ahead and there is little time left. Obviously this is allowed.  What would happen if a whole team made a tight circle around one of their players ( or even around just the ball) to prevent the opposition to get hold of the ball while match time counted down?

Answer

Every once in a while, we have a “oh, what the heck” moment and let a question like this one slip through our tight quality control filters just for the brief thrill of offering an answer to an essentially unanswerable question.  So, tighten your seatbelts because what follows will likely be a bumpy road.

The first step on our journey to enlightenment … “players frequently position themselves by the corner flag to make time pass ….”  Really?  Does someone serve snacks down there?  Are there lounge chairs?  The soccer games we tend to watch rarely have such extended periods of boredom. Can anyone join in?  Would they move over to another corner if play started to approach them?  Is this actually allowed?  More pertinently, why would it not be?  Our guess is that the International Board never thought the issue would arise because, well, this is soccer, not American football.

So, the short answer to the question of “what would happen if …”  is rampant perplexity would ensue.  More accurately, it would likely depend on whether everyone wanted to just chew up time or whether there was some reason why one team wouldn’t mind this but the other team might take exception to it.

Sidebar regression: We are reminded of a true news report a few years back in connection with a match played in Asia in which (for reasons which could be understood but not without a lot of time lost in the explanation) one of the teams, in reaction to events happening elsewhere while this game was going on, discovered that it didn’t want the other team to lose (!).  Unfortunately, they were ahead at the time and so they did the only thing that occurred to them on such short notice — they deliberately scored against themselves. When the opposing team realized what impact this would have, they decided to restore “the balance” by doing likewise.  Talk about “rampant perplexity”!  Wanting to lose produces some interesting dynamics.  OK, enough reminiscing.  Back to the question.

Could a team withhold the ball from active challenge by building an impenetrable wall of bodies around it?  Sure.  It would be directly contrary to the very essence of sportsmanship which lies at the core of soccer.  It seems to us that, assuming the opposing team had a problem with this, it would do something to indicate that they wanted the ball — things like pushing, shoving, climbing, and jumping being among the less aggressive actions they might take.  At that point, obviously, someone would be doing something that would violate the Law.  The problem with this is that the punishment would fall on the shoulders of those who, from a different perspective, might appear to be the aggrieved parties.  Or … they might look at you (the Referee), point out how mean the opponents are being, and expect you to make it right.

Can you?  Not without being inventive.  You could just purely make something up, of course, on the theory that the opponents sure looked guilty as sin for something but you’re just not exactly sure of what.  Just remember two things: (1) you can stop play for any reason you want at any time and (2) you never have to explain why.  You do have to get the restart right.  If you truly have nothing (your bag of tricks is totally empty), the restart would have to be a dropped ball.  Ugh.  A foul?  That would be a real stretch (maybe, impeding the progress of an opponent but some essential characteristics of this offense are missing).  Aha!  A good argument exists for misconduct (Note To All Referees: “shows  a lack of respect for the game” — p. 86, 2016/2017 Laws of the Game — covers a lot of territory) so an IFK for unsporting behavior for the opposing team.

The problem with misconduct, however, is that, by definition, you gotta give at least someone a card.  So, who gets the caution?  Anyone.  Everyone.  Those within two yards of you.  Any player shorter than you are.  Anyone smirking.  Take your pick.  Just do it, get it over with, restart play, and then clearly indicate that all that lost time is being added back to the clock.

Straightforward Offside

Jim, a U13 – U19 coach, asks:

A player is on a breakaway and scores with a clean shot past the goalie. The goalie makes an aggressive tackle and injures the player on the play inside the 18 yard line. The goal is subsequently called off because of an offside violation.  Obviously the goal is not allowed, but what is the correct call in relation to the dangerous tackle on the now injured player?

Answer

We are going to treat this as  a straightforward sequence of play and not delve into any of the possible complications, interesting though some of them might be.  Accordingly, our answer is based on the following: attacker makes a shot on goal which goes into the net, then the defending goalkeeper aggressively tackles the opponent and injures him, then the decision is announced that the goal is not allowed based on the attacker having committed an offside violation.

 

Where several offenses occur sequentially (i.e., one after another), the first offense determines the restart.  Here, the first offense was an offside violation so the punishment is an indirect free kick taken from where the attacker became involved in active play by touching the ball (which subsequently went into the net so the apparent goal has to be canceled).

The second offense was a tackle which, by its description, would seem to meet the definition of having been taken with excessive force and without regard for the safety of the opponent. However, because play was already considered to have been stopped when the offside offense was committed, the goalkeeper’s action was not a foul but it is misconduct.  The goalkeeper should be sent off and shown the red card for violent conduct.

Just as an indication of how and where this could become sticky, the offside offense and the excessive force tackle could have happened at the same time — we would not like to try to figure that one out.  Most referees would probably avoid the problem by declaring the events were sequential rather than simultaneous.

Wasting Time by Goalkeeper

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

My team (silver) played in a U-12 youth league tournament against the (orange) team.  I noticed that their keeper (more than once) kept the ball for longer than 20 seconds before kicking the ball. In the rule handout given to us at the beginning of the season, a goalkeeper is supposed to release the ball within 6 seconds. Sounds like a ref problem.  Is there a rule about wasting time? We were up on them by 1. I timed the keeper on how long he held the ball before releasing the ball and it totaled more than 4 min in a 4 quarter 10 min match. They also kept kicking the ball out of bounds every chance they got.  Finally they got up on us 2-1 and we lost. What’s with this?

Answer

We somehow get the impression that what you want from us is an answer the justifies your being outraged over your loss.  Unfortunately, things are not that simple.  Here’s why (in no particular order).

  • The measurements you cite are not helpful.  You totaled 4 minutes of “keeper time” but don’t say how many possessions that covered.  Was it 10 at an average of 24 seconds each?  60 at 4 seconds each?  Perhaps 40 possessions at 5 seconds each plus 2 that you measured at 20 seconds each?
  • Yes, the goalkeeper is required, in the normal course of play, to release the ball within 6 seconds of taking possession with his hands.  At no point did your scenario state that the 4 minutes of possession all occurred while the keeper was holding the ball.  Did any of them include possession at the feet of the goalkeeper?  Only possession by hand counts for the “6-second limit.”
  • Were any of your players failing to back away in order to give the keeper an opportunity to release the ball?  Any time spent avoiding opponents or trying but being unable to release the ball due to crowding by opponents is not counted in the 6-second limit.  Indeed, if your players were not allowing the keeper to release the ball into play quickly, they would be guilty of an indirect free kick offense.
  • It seems to us it is not entirely clear that this necessarily accounts for your team’s loss, whatever the legality of the keeper’s holding onto the ball longer than 6 seconds.  Keep in mind that your team was up by 1 at one time and lost by 1-2 — this obviously means that your loss was attributable to having had 2 goals scored against you.  Every “extra second” the keeper’s team may have been holding the ball longer than they should is an “extra second” in which neither of your teams had an opportunity to score.
  • The 6-second limit serves one primary objective — preventing the keeper from taking an unfair advantage of the time in which he is withholding the ball from active challenge.  In other words, the issue is not how much time the keeper has possession, it is how much time were opponents prevented from competing.
  • The 6-second limit is not, was never intended to be, and in practical terms never could be a precise measurement.  Every referee on the planet, in judging how long a keeper keeps possession of the ball, works solely by feel.    Standard Referee mechanics for dealing with goalkeepers withholding balls from challenge is to warn a keeper who appears to be abusing the limit by letting the keeper know that he is taking too much time and that, if it continues or is repeated, it will be dealt with according to the Law.  This typically results in some period during which the keeper pays attention, followed by a return to prior habits.  The point at which to warn a goalkeeper is at the discretion of the Referee, as is length of “extra time” the keeper takes before a warning is deemed advisable.  Most of the time, Referees don’t have a problem with possession time stretching to 7 or 8 seconds or as much as 10 — depending on what is going on in the game.
  • We will grant that, at first blush, taking 20 seconds to release the ball is severely pushing the limits but … the first time, the Referee may simply note it as data, the second time might occasion a warning (if it was equally egregious), and the third instance of a roughly equivalent delay could warrant a whistle but not for wasting time.  It would be for failing to release the ball into play in a timely manner and that may or may not be worth a caution.
  • Finally (you thought we might never get here?), there is nothing illegal about kicking the ball out of play no matter what the circumstances.  This is an entirely valid method of “using up” but not wasting time.  Withholding the ball from your team, in fact, is the job of the opposing team.  Using legal methods to do so is legal, using illegal methods is not.

A Final “Apology” Update Note

To all askasoccerfereree readers:

This is (hopefully) the final posting we will be making on the unfortunate circumstance of appearing to have ignored almost 90 requests for answers to questions.  The original post (“Apology”) was on July 5 which was when we discovered that all posts from April 17 onward to that date had never been delivered, when our Awesome Webmaster Chris solved the problem, and even more surprisingly when he was able to retrieve the missing messages from wherever they were.  The second posting was to let everyone know that we were continuing to work on answering everyone we could.  This third posting is to let you know it’s all done now!

During the last 17 days, we have been slogging our way through them — posting answers on the large majority, replying privately to fewer than a dozen, and handling new messages that arrived in the meantime.  Please note that some messages were “empty” in the sense that what was received had no content beyond the preferred name and email address of the sender (if you haven’t heard from us either publicly or privately, your message fell in this last group).  Finally, there were a few duplicates where someone sent again an earlier message but neither the original nor the follow-up was received.  However, as of today, all accumulated messages that could be answered have been and there will no longer be any reference to the July 5 “Apology” included in future posted answers.

Thanks for everyone’s patience.

Impeding Issues

Mario, a U-12 and under referee, asks:

This question is about the interpretation of impeding the progress of an opponent.  Let’s say player D (Defender) is shielding the ball legally, within playing distance away from player A (Attacker) inside the penalty area, parallel to the goal line but not within the goal. Before the ball is out of play, player D starts to back into player A.  At first they don’t make contact but then they do start making contact. Penalty or Indirect free kick for player A’s team?  My reaction would be to call an indirect free kick because the impeding is happening first?

Answer (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)

Your assumption is incorrect as a matter of Law.  We quote from Law 12 (2016/2017 Laws of the Game): “A direct free kick is awarded if a player commits any of the following offences: … impedes an opponent with contact” followed by  the statement that an indirect free kick is awarded if a player “impedes the progress of an opponent without any contact being made.”  And then the 2016/2017 Laws included the following definition on page 83: “Impeding the progress of an opponent means moving into the opponent’s path to obstruct, block, slow down or force a change of direction when the ball is not within playing distance of either player.”  To top it all off, the Board continued with “A player may shield the ball by taking a position between an opponent and the ball if the ball is within playing distance and the opponent is not held off with the arms or body. If the ball is within playing distance, the player may be fairly charged by an opponent.”

In short, as USSF has long taught referees, impeding means no contact (other than purely accidental contact of contact as a result of simple inertia) and, if there is contact, the IFK offense is turned into a DFK offense equivalent to holding or an illegal charge.  The International Board simplified this history in 2016 when they clearly specified the distinction between impeding-without-contact and impeding-with-contact.

So, take another look at the scenario.  Was there any element of impeding here — with or without contact?  Did anyone move into an opponent’s path?  Were both “impeder” and “impedee” not within playing distance of the ball?  By the way, take a look at the International Board’s definition of “playing distance” (page 165).

What we have here is either ordinary contact between opposing players which does not rise to the level of a foul (or, arguably, is a foul but trifling) or, if it is a foul and neither doubtful or trifling, it is a DFK foul (converted by location into a PK).  The statement “the impeding came first” is not supported by the definitions noted above.  Before there was any contact, there was no impeding; after there was contact, it didn’t become “impeding-with-contact” but, rather simple holding (or nothing or doubtful or trifling).  A verbal warning about “backing into an opponent” might be warranted but, if there is anything more than this, the Referee has no choice but to signal for a PK — that is, of course, if it was the defender backing into the attacker rather than the attacker legally charging the defender.

Backpass and Advantage

Wilson, an adult amateur parent, asks:

On a game I watched today the defender made a pass to the keeper but the ball was heading to goal.  The keeper then decided to deflect the ball with her hands.  She touched the ball but could not hold it.  The ball kept going towards goal, the attacker kicked it in and scored.  The Referee disallowed the goal and gave the attacking team an indirect kick for the backpass.  Shouldn’t the Referee have applied advantage, since calling the backpass benefited the offending team?

Answer (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)

Good heavens, why would the Referee not have applied advantage?  Except for someone very inexperienced, whose mind was still fixated on “call the foul,” Referees past their fifth or sixth season should be positively looking for opportunities to demonstrate that they know how the game is played by waiting a moment to see what happens next and only then deciding what to do.  Pavlovian reactions to fouls cause more trouble in games with experienced player that almost anything else we can think of (excepting total ineptitude).

The “pass back to the goalkeeper” offense (the very term is misleading — it doesn’t have to be back, it doesn’t have to be a pass, and it doesn’t have to be to the goalkeeper) is an offense like any other and there is no reason to think it is exempt from the use of advantage.  We find utterly mysterious how the Referee could have thought this was a good decision since it replaced a 100% goal with  (given that the restart was an indirect free kick facing what was probably an impenetrable wall) a 20% goal at best.

We are getting uptight and perturbed discussing this so we had better stop.  The answer is, Yes.