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?


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.

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.

Simulation Misconduct

David, an adult pro fan, asks:

So, I watched Real Madrid win a 12th Champions league.  Ramos cleanly tackles Cuadrado and forces the ball out of play for a throw in.  While the ball is out of play, Cuadrado with the slightest of touches taps Ramos on the shoulder and Ramos falls down grabbing his foot (completely looks like a dive). The ref then gives Cuadrado a 2nd yellow.  My question is, could Ramos get a card for simulation whilst the ball is out of play?

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

We are so glad you didn’t ask about whether Ramos cleanly tackled Cuadrado or whether Cuadrado’s tap on Ramos’ shoulder was “the slightest of touches” or whether Ramos’ reaction was a  “dive” because, as we say in our statement of what our objectives are in operating this website, we don’t answer questions about specific match plays and specific Referee decisions.  The only answerable question here is whether the Law allows a caution for misconduct committed during a stoppage of play.


To expand a bit, the Law changed in  2016 to remove the Referee’s ability to show cards (yellow or red) for player behavior prior to the start of a match or after the final whistle sounds completing a match (including any post-game tiebreaking activity).  Of course, players can still commit misconduct before and after the game but, as of 2016, no cards can be shown.  The Referee is still allowed to dismiss a player for an offense otherwise warranting a red card which occurs prior to the match but doing so does not affect the team’s ability to field the maximum number of players allowed by Law 3.  And any misconduct occurring before or after a match must still be included in the match report.  However, none of this touched in the slightest the ability (indeed, the obligation) of the Referee to show any yellow or red card (or, in this case, yellow+red cards) and apply any sanctions which attach to the card for misconduct occurring at any stoppage of play occurring for any reason at all between the opening and final whistles.

KFTM – New Law Changes

Voja, an adult pro referee, asks:

During penalty kicks to determine the outcome of the match KFTM), the kicker feints illegally while taking the kick. The referee sees the infringement and cautions the player. Does the player retake the kick or does it count as a missed shot?

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

As of the most recent Law changes (2017/2018), Law 10’s section on the taking of KFTM was modified in several ways.  One was to declare that a kicker who commits an offense between the Referee’s signal and the ball being put into play is cautioned and (here is the new part) the kick is forfeited (recorded as missed).

Note that this differentiates a KFTM with a “regular” penalty kick.  Under Law 14, an offense by the kicker or any teammate is not punished until the kick is completed and the result noted because that result (with two exceptions) determines the action to take — an indirect free kick if a goal was not scored or a retake of the penalty kick if the ball went into the net.  First, there is only the kicker to consider because, for KFTM purposes, the teammates don’t count.  Second, the result doesn’t matter because the kick is recorded as unsuccessful no matter what the outcome was.  However, for both a regular penalty kick and a KFTM, a kicker’s offense must always be cautioned (for unsporting behavior).

Although this was not part of the scenario prompting this answer, everyone would probably be better off knowing now that new text was also added this year to deal with other, similar offense scenarios.  For example, a goalkeeper who commits an offense and the kick needs to be retaken because the shot was missed or saved is cautioned, but not if the goal was scored.   If both the kicker and the goalkeeper each commit an offense at the same time and the shot was missed or saved, both are cautioned and the kick is retaken.  However, if the goal was scored then only the kicker is cautioned and the goal disallowed (recorded as missed).

Have fun figuring all this out.  We recommend strongly writing these three scenarios down, plus their consequences (card or not, score or not, goal disallowed or not), and reviewing it quickly should the officiating team be facing a KFTM procedure.

Resources on the Laws of the Game

Rob, an adult amateur referee, asks:

Good day
Where can one obtain a copy of the basic interpretations of the new changes to the Laws of the Game, from a layman point of view as we are have conflicting different opinions with regards to these among some of my colleagues. Whilst we are understanding that the interpretation differs from country to country, the principles all still remain the same.

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

As you can appreciate (particularly after reading the “dos and don’ts” for this website at the “About” tab), we are concerned almost exclusively with the official Laws of the Game as updated annually by (now) the International Football Association Board (IFAB, or simply the Board) and implemented in matches affiliated with and/or sanctioned by US Soccer and its affiliates.  This is quite a plateful as it is without bringing in games and officiating elsewhere in the world (or even competing soccer organizations in the US).  It is not surprising that there are more countries in FIFA than there are in the United Nations.  It also means that, while we maintain associations and contacts with individuals in different parts of the world, we would be overwhelmed if we needed to know about any of them even a fraction of what we have to keep up with for this website.

So, sadly, we cannot assist you in your laudable quest to find reliable sources of information, interpretation, and good advice wherever you happen to be (our guess at the moment is Australia based on the “g’day” thing or at least a British Commonwealth country based on the “whilst” thing).  Without trying to beat our own drum, however, you and your referee mates are always free to submit any question to us here — much as you have already done and it’s so easy — and know that we will do our best to clarify and possibly resolve any differences of opinion based on our own reading of the materials available to us — not officially approved and not necessarily universally accepted (we have heard in our travels in Europe, for example, many very strange interpretations that the reporters thereof absolutely swear are common knowledge in their country).

We tell our own referees here that you should start with those who instructed you, or who provide your in-service training and refresher courses, or the local, regional, or national organizing body who pay you or who punish you for mistakes, etc.  And if you don’t understand the explanation at one level, bump it upstairs to the bigwigs.  By the way, we hear through the grapevine that the Board does not look kindly these days at national associations which attempt to produce separate publications purporting to explain the Laws of the Game as they apparently feel that their language has become so clear that there should not be any mysteries.  If that were truly the case, would close up tomorrow.

Choosing the Offside Violation

Brenden, an adult amateur player, asks:

A5 makes a run with the ball towards goal while his teammate A12 is also moving downfield ahead of A5.  During this phase of play up to the moment when A5 last touches/plays the ball, A12 is onside but mistimes the continuation of his run such that, when his teammate last plays the ball, A12 is in an offside position while another attacker, A18, is onside.  A12’s run draws the attention of D34 who begins to move toward A12 to cover him.  However, A5’s last play of the ball is a pass to A18 who is unmarked as a result of D34’s diversion toward A12.  Can the referee rule an infringement against the attacking side on the basis that they gained an advantage from A12’s offside position?

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

The easy answer here is, No, because “gaining an advantage” is not technically a basis for an offside violation.  It is used only under special circumstances which involves a ball which has either”rebounded or been deflected off the goalpost, crossbar or an opponent” or “been deliberately saved by an opponent” (see Law 11.2, 2016/2017 Laws of the Game).  The sole purpose of this section of Law 11 is to make clear the offside position of an attacker is not changed by (1) any contact between the ball and things considered “part of the field” (inanimate such as a goalpost or animate such as the referee) or (2) the ball  rebounding/deflecting from an opponent or (3) contact by the ball with an opponent which is deemed to be a “deliberate save”).  Since there was no such intervening contact by the ball with anything inanimate or with a defender (either accidental or deliberate), the “gaining an advantage” element in Law 11 is completely irrelevant.

That leaves just three possibilities for the only attacker carrying an offside position: (1) A12 committed no offside violation at all, (2) A12 committed an offside violation by interfering with play, or (3) A12 committed an offside violation by interfering with an opponent.  Note that, once A18 makes contact with the ball from A5’s pass, all offside position decisions have to be re-evaluated, following which A5 might not be in an offside position at all.

Prior to A18’s contact with the ball, did A12 interfere with play?  No, because A12 made no contact with the ball.  Indeed, while we do not know where A12 was relative to A18, we presume they were far enough away from each other that a ball passed to A18 could not reasonably be considered even within the vicinity of A18.  No contact, no offside violation based on “interfering with play.”

Prior to A18’s contact with the ball, did A12 interfere with an opponent while in an offside position?  There are four alternative actions which could be considered “interfering with an opponent” but only the fourth one is potentially relevant: “making an obvious action which clearly impacts on the ability of an opponent to play the ball.”  Remember, an action of this sort is entirely legal if performed while in an onside position.  So, did D34 begin his run before or after A2 was in an offside position … which translates into whether D34 began his move toward A12 before or after A5 passed the ball to A18?

We think there would be no reasonable dispute that A12 did not commit an offside violation if D34 began running to cover A12 before A5 passed the ball because an offside violation cannot be committed if the player in question was not even in an offside position  at the time.  Nor could there be any reasonable dispute that A12 did not commit an offside violation at the moment he came into an offside position if, at that moment, he stopped running, even if D34 continued in his effort to reach A12 to “cover him.”

If A12 continues or initiates a run downfield after A5 passes the ball to A18, we are now into a grey area of angles and distances.  The offside violation dispute would virtually disappear if A12 turned and began running back towards his end of the field or began running toward the touchline to his right (away from the direction of play), even if D34 followed him.  It would be difficult to argue under these circumstances that D34’s “ability … to play the ball” was being impacted since he was running away from the ball (indeed, to make matters more apparent, he would be pursuing an attacker, A12, who didn’t need “covering” while running away from A18 who did need covering!).  In many referee circles, if A12 began running as described, this would be interpreted as a clear body language statement that A12 did not wish to be involved in active play.

Where light grey starts becoming dark grey is if, at the moment A12 acquired an offside position, he continued or initiated his run downfield but not toward where the ball was being passed from A5 to A18 and this behavior arguably “drew” D34 away from moving to cover A18 by enticing him to begin running toward A12.  We believe this situation was of D34’s own making.  It was not an action by A12 which impacted on D34’s ability to play the ball — that was created by D34 running away from the ball (indeed, away from the entire area of active play) to pursue the chimera of A12 possibly receiving the ball and having a referee unable to decide correctly that, if that happened, it would be an offside violation.

To finish off what is already a lengthy but we hope stimulating discussion, there are the changes to Law 11 made this year (in the 2017/2018 edition of the Laws of the Game) which we believe both clarified and solidified the conclusion we have reached that A12 has not committed an offside violation.  The International Board added a proviso that, if an attacker in an offside position were fouled “before playing or attempting to play the ball, or challenging an opponent for the ball,” the foul itself would be penalized “as it has occurred before the offside offense” {we’ve Americanized the Board’s spelling).  This seems to us to be a very compelling reason to argue that an offside offense has not yet occurred while running to the ball or the ball is running to the attacker or the attacker is not challenging for the ball,


Referees: Please Send a Thank-You Card to the International Board

Roland, an adult amateur referee, asks:

What is the punishment for a player spitting at the referee while the ball is in play?  Since it is not directed at the opposing team, is the offender (one who spit) red carded and sent off of the field? How is the game restarted?

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

Thanks to the International Board and the newest Law changes (as of 2016-2017), Referees and other members of the officiating crew can now be the target of a foul the same as opponents and are now granted the same restart punishment.  Spitting at anyone, including the Referee, has always been a sending-off misconduct offense, whether it was during play or not and on the field or not, so the answer to the card question isn’t new — it is, Yes, red card and a sending-off.

However, until 2016, the restart would have been an indirect free kick based solely on the misconduct because, prior to 2016, spitting as a direct free kick foul could only be performed against an opponent.  In 2016, although the language at the start of Law 12 still specifies “spits at an opponent,” Section 4 of Law 12 now states that the punishment for spitting at such other persons as a teammate, substitute, team official, or a match official is not only the same direct free kick used if the action were at an opponent but it can also be escalated to a penalty kick if it occurs inside the spitter’s penalty area.  As the International Board explained, spitting (as well striking, holding, kicking, etc.) is a serious matter and restarting play with only an indirect free kick (for the card) where the target was an official sends a weak message.

So, if you are kicked, pushed, struck, or charged (at least carelessly, etc.) or are spat upon or held, you can thank the International Board for their upgrading of the punishment.

Game Ends – What Do You Call It?

Elizabeth, an adult pro fan, asks:

Is there a proper word or phrase that’s used if a match has to be stopped early? Also is there a difference between a match ending because of weather or an emergency, something that the referee cannot control, and the match having to stop because of something or someone involved in that particular game?

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

This is an interesting question that calls for a bit of history (one of our favorite kinds of questions … we love history!).  Back when we started officiating, it was traditional to distinguish between “abandon” and “terminate,” both involving a game which ended before the prescribed length of time.  A game was “abandoned” due to deteriorating and/or unsafe weather or field conditions, or the absence of a sufficient number of players to meet the minimum requirement of Law 3 (or the local competition rules), or the lack of sufficient light to safely illuminate the field (game running later than expected and past the availability of light fixtures or natural daylight).  A game was “terminated” if the Referee determined that, due to unruly or violent player, team official, and/or spectator behavior, the match should not continue out of concern for the safety of players and/or match officials.

That distinction, while remaining officially “on the books,” gradually declined in proper usage until, in the 2016/2017 edition of the Laws of the Game, the International Board essentially defined or used both terms to mean the same thing — namely, end the match before the scheduled time.  Because “abandon” is somewhat less familiar a term for Americans (its roots as a soccer concept are essentially as British as “whilst” and “colour”), our guess is that even die-hard traditionalists will abandon the use of “abandon” and accept “terminate” as the all-purpose description of ending a game early.

Dropped Balls and Offside

Alan, an adult amateur referee, asks:

With the LOTG 2016-2017 changes, can a person who receives the ball directly from a dropped ball be considered in an offside position?

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

Nope, but the question you are asking has nothing to do with any of the Law changes that occurred in 2016-2017 (or, as a matter of fact, in 2017-2018 either).  The possibility of being in an offside position was decided decades ago when the offside position was defined as requiring four things.  the player in focus must (1) at the moment the ball is touched/played by a teammate, (2)  be ahead of the ball, (3) ahead of the second-to-last defender, and (4) ahead of the midfield line.  The simple truth is that the dropped ball lacks (and will always lack) requirement (1).  Because the ball is put into play by the Referee, whichever player makes initial contact with the ball once it is in play will not have been preceded by a touch/play of the ball by a teammate.  Ergo, no offside position — ever.

Now, once that player makes contact with the ball (assuming the ball made contact with the ground first), any teammate of that player is subject to being in an offside position based on requirements (2) – (4).

Perhaps what you were thinking of when you posted your question was the issue of whether a goal could legally be scored “directly” by the player who first makes legal contact with the ball at a dropped ball restart.  Unfortunately, that is a different question and, if that is what interests you, please submit it for consideration (the answer, by the way, is no).

When Is the PK Over?

Robert, a referee of older youth players, asks:

A penalty kick is completed when the ball stops moving. How about giving me some examples when a ball stops moving during a penalty kick situation.


The International Board, in its infinite wisdom when it rewrote the Laws of the Game to make them simpler and easier to understand, wasn’t entirely successful in several of its changes.  This is one of them.  Note that almost the exact same language was used in Laws 10 and 14 to say when the kick was complete:

Law 10:  The kick is completed when the ball stops moving, goes out of play or the referee stops play for any infringement of the Laws

Law 14:  The penalty kick is completed when the ball stops moving, goes out of play or the referee stops play for any infringement of the Laws.

More to the point of your question, both Laws include “ball stops moving” as one of the ways that a kick from the mark (KFTM) or a penalty kick (PK) may be considered ended.  This works fairly well for a KFTM and it also works for a PK taken in extended time.  As long as the ball continues to move while making contact with any one or combination of the goalkeeper, goalframe, or the ground, a valid goal can be scored.  Yet, at the same time, in each case no one else is allowed to participate in the play.  Thus, if a PK in extended time or a KFTM struck the crossbar, rebounded backward onto the ground in front of the goal, but had acquired a spin which resulted in the ball now rolling forward a few feet into the goal, that goal would count.  The same would be true if the ball rebounded from the crossbar to the back of the goalkeeper and then rebounded from there into the goal.

A regular, ordinary PK, however, is a bit different because, except for the original kicker, the ball can be played by anyone once it is in play (kicked and moved forward).  During that time, it is entirely possible that the ball could be motionless … and it doesn’t matter because, with one exception, no one particularly cares when, whether, or even if the PK is “over.”

The exception is if an outside agent interferes with play at the taking of a penalty kick.  Ordinarily, if play is stopped because of outside agent interference, the restart is a dropped ball.  We can just picture some spectator, who supports the Orange team which is just about ready to defend against a PK, thinking that, if he or she ran onto the field after the PK was taken and interfered, the referee would have to stop play and then restart with a dropped ball (effectively taking the PK away from the hated opponent)!  So the Laws of the Game provide that, if the interference occurs while the ball is moving toward the goal and hasn’t made contact as yet with any part of the goalframe or the goalkeeper, the restart will be a retake of the PK.  Until the ball stops moving forward (not just stops moving), the PK is not “over” at least for the purpose of retaking the PK rather than having a dropped ball in the case of outside agent interference.  The implicit theory of this provision is that a team which has been awarded a PK should have a reasonable opportunity to score and any event which interferes with that during the period from the ball being kicked and the ball reaching the immediate area of the goal should result in the offended team getting to redo the PK after all the dust has settled.