I have been looking for clarification on how referees should consider a ball released by the goalkeeper. The Laws of the Game Guide states “It is an offence for a player to prevent a goalkeeper from releasing the ball from his hands.” My situation: attacker within yards of keeper leaps at the punted/thrown ball in hopes of intercepting it at the beginning of its trajectory. The ball has been physically “released,” but is it considered released under the Law? At what point in the above situation is the act of releasing completed?

USSF answer (April 26, 2010(:
There has been considerable interest in this topic since Jaime Moreno of D. C. United violated the Law by cavorting and gesturing to interfere with the goalkeeper’s release of the ball into general play. This memorandum on the matter was issued by USSF on April 14, 2010:

Subject: Interfering with the Goalkeeper’s Release of the Ball
Date: April 14, 2010

Law 12 (Fouls and Misconduct) includes the words “prevents the goalkeeper from releasing the ball from his hands” as an offense punishable by an indirect free kick. By tradition and interpretation, this violation is described more generally as any action by a player which interferes with the opposing goalkeeper’s ability to get the ball back into active play freely and quickly.

A goalkeeper is considered to be in the process of “releasing the ball” from the first moment when he or she has clearly taken hand control of the ball until the moment when the ball has been clearly released into play. This includes any time when the goalkeeper is:
· bouncing the ball
· running with the ball
· in the process of dropping the ball in preparation for kicking it
· throwing the ball.

During the time the goalkeeper has control of the ball and is preparing to release it into active play, an opponent may not stand or move so close as to restrict the direction or distance of the goalkeeper’s release.

In the 70th minute of a match between D.C. United at Philadelphia Union on April 10, 2010 (clip found here), D.C. forward Moreno followed, moved in closer to, waved arms at, and made various head and body “movements” toward Philadelphia goalkeeper Seitz while Seitz was holding the ball and preparing to distribute it. During the course of this interference, Seitz dropped the ball and Moreno shot the ball into the net. These actions by Moreno constituted a violation of Law 12. The goal should not have been allowed and an indirect free kick should have been given where Moreno interfered. Moreno’s behavior additionally could have been cautioned as unsporting behavior.

Whenever a goalkeeper has taken possession of the ball and an opponent is either nearby or begins moving toward the goalkeeper, referees and assistant referees must recognize the possibility of interference and allow their attention to continue to focus on the goalkeeper. More proactively, a quick word to the opponent might well prevent this sort of offense.

The most important part of the memorandum is the final paragraph, reminding referees to be proactive in controlling the movement of opposing players near the goalkeeper. That brings us to the final sentence of our answer of April 12, 2010, on this topic and the answer to your question: “The referee should have blown the whistle immediately and awarded the indirect free kick to the goalkeeper’s team.”

A few words on how to judge interference with the goalkeeper: The key question is whether “in the opinion of the referee”  the goalkeeper, who is in the process of releasing the ball, has been influenced by the opposing player. The referee can only judge by the ACTIONS of the opposing player in question and the DISTANCE of the player to the keeper.  If the player jumps in the air to intercept the ball while being 10 yards away, that should not constitute interference.  On the other hand, a player who is as much as four yards away and jumps in the air to reach the ball would most certainly be considered to interfere.  The referee is the final judge.