I know that it in most cases a referee would not allow advantage when a foul is committed against a team in their defensive end (and often not at midfield either). However, I always thought that it was ultimately left to the referee’s judgement. For example, if a defender, just before being fouled from behind, booms a ball from her 20 yard line up past midfield to send a teammate towards goal on a breakaway, then I thought the referee had the right to play advantage and not stop play.

However, just yesterday I saw the following, reportedly from a USSF instructor, on a referee’s message board. It basically says that advantage can never be called in the defensive third – especially in youth games – and even at the World Cup level, “that a referee should not be applying Advantage even at mid-field.”

Here is this USSF instructor’s position:


“I am writing you about a discussion I have been told about on another site involving the application of Advantage. From what I am told, it centers around a foul that occurred in the defensive 1/3 with the ball at midfield and a seemingly clear path to goal. The referee stopped play and stated that there is no advantage in the defending 1/3. Several folks seem to feel that the referee was wrong, including you.

Well, actually, he was right! One of the new concepts that is being taught to National Referees is the “4 P’s”. When following this concept, especially in youth games, advantage in the defensive or neutral thirds of the field should not be given by the referee. The reasoning is simply based on the lack of 2 of the 4 P’s:

1) Potential for attack: ability to continue a credible and dangerous attack.

2) Proximity to opponent’s goal: closeness to goal.

Few youth players can keep the ball on their foot, running full speed, for 40-60 yards. Thus, the ‘potential’ for a credible attack is not there in most games. Add that there just might be 1 player on the opposing side that could catch that player within 10-15 yards, thus ending any breakaway. This is why ‘proximity to goal’ is key.

The closer you are to the goal, the more credible your chances to score!

FIFA has stated this idea for some time. If you look at several of their tapes of various World Cup competitions, you will find that they state, even at that level, that a referee should not be applying Advantage even at mid-field. You will even find several position papers discussing the application of advantage within the attacking 1/3 as being the only place the referee needs to be attentive to advantage given the proximity to goal.”



So my question:

Does the above represent the official position of the USSF, including the statements that “advantage in the defensive or neutral thirds of the field should NOT be given by the referee” and also about “the attacking 1/3 as being the ONLY place the referee needs to be attentive to advantage given the proximity to goal” ? OR

Is the referee supposed to use some judgement, rarely giving advantage in the defensive or midfield areas but reserving the right to do so if a long pass results in a breakaway opportunity. With this philosophy, the above statement could properly be rephrased to: “advantage in the defensive or neutral thirds of the field should RARELY be given by the referee”.

(The above assumes, of course, that there is no reason to stop play for game control reasons if the foul was particularly severe and a card needs to be given immediately.)

Thanks for your help.

P.S. I understand the rationale behind the stated “four P’s”, but I find some of the extrapolation in the above statement to be a bit flawed: “few youth players can keep the ball on their foot, running full speed, for 40-60 yards. Thus, the ‘potential’ for a credible attack is not there in most games” . . . Yes, most youth players cannot run full speed with the ball at their feet for 50 yards. But in a lot of youth games if a player receives the ball behind the last defender at midfield, they will boot it well ahead of them and run onto it and not choose to keep the ball at their feet. That will allow the attacker to get all the way to the top of the penalty area against many GK’s, while touching the ball perhaps two times and running at full speed in between. To me, this is a MUCH bigger advantage than a DFK from a team’s own 18 yard line – especially in a girls U13 game, where the DFK’s may not go very far.

USSF answer (May 15, 2008):
We are not aware of any statement from FIFA/IFAB declaring that advantage should not, much less may not, be given in the defensive third or only in the attacking third. “Proximity to the opponent’s goal” (one of the 4 Ps) is a sliding scale — an offense occurring in the defensive third may rarely warrant an advantage call, but “rarely” does not equal “never.”

The third P in the “4 Ps” is “Personnel” — which means that the advantage decision must take into account the players, both attacking and defending, who might become part of the ensuing play. The referee must look at their numbers and their individual skills in determining the likelihood (not the certainty but, rather, the probability) of an advantage for the attacking team in not stopping play.

All advantage decisions are at the discretion of the referee, based solely on his or her judgment as to the specific circumstances of each individual offense. Most of the time, an advantage decision cannot be second-guessed because to do so would require knowing what would have happened in the absence of the decision. Either giving it or not giving it could be effective but it can seldom be described as “wrong.” As a consequence, it is almost impossible to put together a brief scenario and then expect anyone, no matter how experienced or expert, to definitively state that an advantage decision would be right or wrong — the number and complexity of the factors going into making the decision are too great to permit this. It is usually more advisable to actually see a presentation (such as on the “4 Ps”) for oneself than to listen to or read about second, third, or fourth hand recollections of it from other parties. The presentation itself is the only official position of USSF on the matter — everything else is personal opinion, filtered through potentially faulty memories.

Here is a copy of the official presentation: Advantage and the 4Ps

Finally, while we recognize that everyone has a right to speak his or her own thoughts on almost any topic under the sun, responses on any sites other than and are not officially approved by the U. S. Soccer Federation and are best treated as unofficial and not approved.

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