Advantage Dynamics

Michael, an adult amateur player, asks:

If there is a foul by attacking team A against Team B inside Team B’s own penalty area and the ball falls to another player on Team B who is also in the same penalty area but Team B immediately lose possession and Team A scores, is the Referee correct to say that they played an advantage?  I would estimate that the goal was scored within 5 seconds of the foul occurring – the fouled player was still on the floor. The Referee’s argument is that Team B received an advantage but I would argue that the ball is so far from the other goal that it doesn’t make sense to play advantage here especially as possession was conceded so quickly and in such a dangerous area.


You are entirely correct.

The guideline on advantage is pretty clear (or at least as clear as the International Board wants to get).  Once the advantage is given (measured from when the referee makes the decision mentally, not from when he or she announces the decision), the team that was fouled – as represented by the player who was fouled and/or any teammates who are able to gain possession of the ball after the foul occurred, have “a few seconds” to gain and/or maintain what USSF has called “continuation of a credible attack on the opposing team’s goal.”  This is NOT defined as a goal, but as a credible attack on the goal.  This is usually, traditionally, and widely measured as 2-3 seconds.  If the attack is maintained for longer than this time, it is assumed that the advantage was properly exercised by the team which was fouled and, thereafter, it is as though the foul had not happened (though any misconduct – e.g., a caution for recklessness – must be taken care of no later than the next stoppage).  If the advantage was not gained and/or maintained for at least that length of time, the referee stops play and returns to the original offense, deals with misconduct (if any), and restarts correctly based on the offense.

However, and in your scenario it is a BIG however, the practical definition of “credible attack” includes as one of the key requirements “distance to the goal” meaning that the farther away the foul is from the goal being attacked by the team that was fouled, the less likely advantage should even be given.  A very rough, unofficial, and unscientific approximation of “distance” is that advantage should rarely (we try to avoid saying “never” but this is very close) be given in the defending third of the field, roughly 50-50 in the middle third, actively looking for the other advantage elements in the attacking third, and always given but never announced within the penalty area (where “credible” is replaced with “an almost certain goal with at most one play following the foul”).

The fact that possession by the team which committed the foul was so quickly regained suggests two things – (1) that “2-3 seconds” is only a rule of thumb normally based on the foul being no farther away from the goal of the team that committed the foul than the middle third of the field and thus there wasn’t even time to  give advantage OR (2) advantage is given to team B who clearly did not have the requisite “several seconds” to maintain a credible attack on Team A’s goal (which was almost a full field length away), so you whistle the original foul.  Either way, restart play with Team B in possession and justice is served.