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).

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.

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.

Goalkeeper Possession

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

A goalie going for the ball on the ground  holds on to an opponent’s leg with one hand while also gaining control of the ball with the other hand.  Is the goalie considered to maintain possession when the opponent attempts to disengage his foot from the goalie’s hand and, as a result, the ball pops free?  With the ball and his leg now free, the opponent kicked the ball into the net. This was a U12 game.

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

The events you described, even in a U-12 game, happen rather quickly.  In a perfect (and therefore unrealistic) world, the referee’s recommended course of action is easy to describe but difficult to implement.

Here is what should happen.  The referee sees the play developing through the point of the goalkeeper grabbing onto the attacker’s leg.  This is a holding offense and even goalkeepers are not allowed to do this.  The referee should wait no longer than the next play to see what then happens — this is a “silent” form of applying advantage without the usual verbal “Play on!” and swinging upward arm movements.   What happens next confirms the wisdom of this choice — the attacker manages to gain control of the ball and scores a goal despite the goalkeeper’s illegal behavior.

The referee should count the goal and either admonish the goalkeeper or show the yellow card to the goalkeeper for unsporting behavior.  Under the Laws of the Game, a red card for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity (OGSO) is not justified because … well, simply, because the goal-scoring wasn’t denied!

Note that the course of action described above is based on the facts of this case and particularly the fact that, while his leg was being held by the goalkeeper, the opponent did not kick the ball out of the goalkeeper’s possession because this would have been an offense by the attacker immediately following the offense by the goalkeeper.  It makes no sense to apply advantage and then have the opponent take advantage of the opportunity by committing a foul himself.  However, in this case, play is stopped for the goalkeeper’s offense (because the advantage did not develop, which was the attacker’s fault!) so the restart is a penalty kick and the referee could admonish or caution the attacker for unsporting behavior.  This year’s Law changes appear to specify that the goalkeeper be cautioned because a penalty kick has been awarded and the goalkeeper was, in addition to committing a foul, also playing the ball.

And then there is the potential factor of the age of the players.  Anytime, with young players, there is a situation involving one or more attackers and defenders (one being the goalkeeper) in close proximity, with one or more fouls being committed under dangerous circumstances, it is often better to get play stopped as quickly as possible to keep everyone safe.  The U12 – U14 age group is right on the edge where on the one hand safety is emphasized but, on the other hand, if the players are experienced despite their age, applying advantage may be justified.

Communications within the Officiating Team

Dave, a Referee of younger players, asks:

Red 1 is guilty of dangerous play. The assistant referee makes the call but the Referee does not see the raised flag and allows play to continue and a goal is scored by Blue 10. The Referee then sees the AR with his flag still raised and goes over to discuss the situation with him. The Referee disallows the goal and restarts play with an IFK for Red at the spot of the foul. Is this the correct decision? I have been instructed that, as soon as the flag goes up and is not waved down, subsequent play basically hadn’t happened.

Answer

Either you have not been instructed correctly or you have misunderstood the Instructor’s point.   Law 5 provides that the AR’s input (information, advice, etc.) should be listened to and may be accepted, but it remains the Referee’s decision.  Let’s look at an example of this in a very practical situation (which may, in fact, be what you heard the Instructor say but, through miscommunication, failed to catch the context).

Red #9 is dribbling the ball downfield near the touchline.  In the process, the ball temporarily leaves the field but is played back onto the field and Red #9 continues to attack downfield.  The AR raises the flag upon seeing that the ball did indeed fully leave the field but the Referee doesn’t see the signal … until, after dribbling the ball another 4-5 yard, Red #9 is pushed by Blue #25.  This does draw the referee’s attention and, at the same time, causes him to see the AR’s flag straight up, followed by the AR pointing the flag at a 45 degree angle upward from the horizontal for a throw-in by the other team (The AR’s mechanics are correct because the ball was still being played as though it had not left the field — the AR initially holds the flag straight up to get the Referee’s attention but the actual throw-in signal is not given until the AR and Referee make mutual eye contact).

Under these circumstances, the AR’s signal does indeed mark when the ball went out of play and therefore when play stopped (even though the physical motions of play continued).  And this, in turn, means that the push by Blue 25 was not a foul (because it happened when play was stopped) so Blue #25 gets at least a verbal dressing down or, depending on the force of the push, a caution for unsporting behavior or at worst a red card for violent conduct.  In other words, when the referee accepted the AR’s signal, play was considered to have stopped at the moment of the AR’s signal.  Theoretically, the Referee could have refused to accept the AR’s signal, in which case the push happened during play, there will be a DFK restart, and maybe a card.  Why the Referee might do this is largely immaterial to the immediate consequences.

Now, let’s deconstruct your scenario.  First, it is stated that Red was “guilty of dangerous play” — technically, this is only a supposition, it may be the AR’s interpretation of what he saw but a player isn’t “guilty” of anything until and unless it is declared so by a decision of the Referee.  Second, the AR does not ever make “a call” as that term is used and understood in soccer — the AR provides information and advice.  Third, it does not become “a call” until accepted by the Referee but, if this happens, then the Law provides that the “effective time” of the call is when the AR signaled whatever it was that the Referee accepted.  Fourth, the Referee could decide not to accept the AR’s flag (the delayed equivalent of having waved it down when the signal was made)  There could be any one of several reasons for this.  Fifth, the Referee could accept the AR’s advice as to what happened but disagree as to the consequences.  In other words, the Referee could agree that there had been a dangerous play offense but either the action was trifling because it had no negative effect or (more likely given what followed) advantage should be applied (after all, Red may have committed an offense but the offended team scored the goal!).

As we read what went on, the Blue goal should stand and the restart would therefore be a kick-off.   While we do not see a correct decision path leading to what the Referee ended up doing, the AR is not without fault.  The AR should not signal for what he determined in his mind was a dangerous play until he has a chance to see what happens as a result.  It is not his job to signal a foul just because he thinks it is a foul but, rather, to decide what the Referee would have done if the Referee had seen what the AR saw.   In short, the AR has to decide that the Referee would have decided to stop play, i.e., that this Referee so far in this game would not have considered the action to be doubtful or trifling and that advantage would not have been applied.  Perhaps, seeing that Blue kept or gained control of the ball despite Red’s actions and even scored a goal would have led to the AR not even raising the flag.

By the way, it passes all understanding why the Referee would punish Red for Red‘s dangerous play offense by giving the ball to Red for the IFK restart.  We are assuming (hoping would probably be a better word) that this was simply a misprint in your question and that the Referee actually gave the ball to Blue (that, at least would have been a mistake in judgment whereas giving it to Red would be a mistake in Law).

ADVANTAGE

Question:
From what I can see, the Advice to Referees has changed in its wording on 5.6 (Advantage). It now appears that advantage may be applied and indicated by the referee when not just Law 12 is violated, but various Laws. However, there is a bullet that “not all violations of the Law qualify for the application of advantage.” Can you please clarify what does and doesn’t qualify?

Answer (April 28, 2014):
First and foremost, no violation of the Law to which the concept of advantage cannot be reasonably applied would be excluded. In other words, “static” violations which do not involve active play aren’t covered; for example, field, ball, uniform, substitutions, coin toss, ball in/out of play, timing of the match, or events occurring when the ball is not in play, etc. Second, any violation of the Law that does not involve player behavior is excluded (think large overlap with the first category). Third, any violation of the Law involving a restart requirement is excluded–e.g., feet on the ground on a TI, ball leaving the penalty area on a GK, ball not going forward on a KO, ball being kicked before it hits the ground on a DB, etc.

THE REFEREE DID WHAT?!

Question:
In a high school varsity game played under USSF rules (as opposed to NHSF) the attacking team plays a ball that rolls into the penalty area and is picked up by the goalie. After the goalie has possession, a defender running with the attacker chasing the ball plays the body and bumps the attacker in a significant manner. The referee (I was the AR) gave the defender a caution for UB, and then allowed the goalie to punt to continue play.

We discussed after the game as to whether, after the caution, he should have awarded the attacking team a penalty kick, an indirect free kick from the spot of the contact, or whether letting the goalie punt was appropriate.

We’d appreciate your feedback.

USSF answer (September 20, 2011):
If there was no injury or immediate exhibition of ill-feeling and the referee invoked the advantage clause and then cautioned the defending player at the next stoppage, that would be legitimate and proper. However, in this case, the referee did not stop play and appears to have cautioned the attacker “on the fly,” not something that is in accordance with the Laws of the Game. This shows either ignorance of the Law or willful disregard of the Law by the referee.

The correct course of action would have been to play the advantage and then, at the next stoppage, to caution the defending player for unsporting behavior.

SUBSTITUTE ATTEMPTS TO PREVENT GOAL

Question:
A substitute, warming up behind his own goal, enters the field of play, touches the ball and tries to prevent the ball entering the goal with his foot. The ball, however, enters the goal.

What action does the referee take?

USSF answer (August 23, 2011):
The referee should play the advantage and award the goal. The referee should then caution the substitute for unsporting behavior for entering the field of play without the referee’s permission, including all details in the match report. (The referee could also consider a second caution for unsporting behavior for interfering with play and thus send off the substitute for the second caution in a match.) Finally, the referee should prevent substitutes from warming up behind the goals. However, in some stadiums warm-ups are allowed behind the goal (because there is no space along the touchlines).

MISUSE OF THE ADVANTAGE

Question:
situation: a forward was supposedly fouled outside the box but the ref played the advantage & allowed the forward to play on.

the fouled player maintained the ball & took an unimpeded shot on goal. he missed. the ref then called the ball back to where he said the foul occurred for a direct free kick. should the ref have called it back after he let the team play on til he shot on goal? the ref only made the call to bring the ball back after the player missed his shot.

USSF answer (February 22, 2011):
The referee cannot guarantee that a goal will be scored when he or she invokes the advantage. If this player had an unimpeded shot on goal, then the advantage has been fulfilled and the referee MUST NOT go back to the foul. Life is hard; shoot better next time.

ADVANTAGE AND TIMING THE “PLAY ON”

Question:
An attacker is fouled, but the referee immediately (not waiting for 2-3 seconds to elapse) sees a clear opportunity for the attacking team to benefit from continuing play and calls out “play on” with the appropriate hand signal. Within 2-3 seconds an attacker (but not the attacker initially fouled) fouls a defender. The referee blows his whistle to stop play and calls the original foul for the attacker and has the ball brought back to the point of the original foul for a free kick to the attacking team; rather than a foul by the attacking team and a free kick for the defending team.

The question came up that calling “play on” is an immediate “calling the foul” and “instantaneous restart”. Therefore, the referee had made a decision and could no longer decide to call the original foul. Had the referee waited a bit longer before signaling “play on”, he could then appropriately call the original foul.

In other words, once the referee calls “play on” can the original foul still be penalized or has the opportunity “gone away” because the referee has indicated his decision? If the “play on” negates calling the original foul, when the referee blew his whistle to stop play the appropriate restart would have been a free kick to the defending team.

USSF answer (November 16, 2010):
It is rarely a mistake for the referee to wait that 2-3 seconds to ensure that the advantage has been realized before announcing the decision to “play on.” By so doing, the referee can generally avoid awkward situations like the one you present.

Our recommendation in this specific situation is to forget the first foul and call the one that occurred after the advantage was announced, but to be prepared to handle any misconduct which may have attached to the first foul.

Signaling “Play on!” does not now nor has it ever “negated” the foul. That’s what the 2-3 seconds are for – to see if the proto-advantage we (in our wisdom and experience) saw as enough of a possibility that we were not prepared to blow the whistle immediately actually reaches some fruition. The theory, of course, is that the speed of soccer play (at the sort of competitive level where we would look to apply advantage) needs only 2-3 seconds to either resolve itself or not.

Over the years, two distinctly different approaches to operationally implementing “advantage” have developed.

Approach A – signal advantage as soon as the foul occurs in the presence of an advantage POSSIBILITY, and then come back to stop play for the original foul if, after 2-3 seconds, the advantage was neither realized nor maintained.

Approach B – observe the foul, decide if there is an advantage possibility, observe play for the next several seconds and then either comeback to the original foul if the advantage was neither realized nor maintained OR signal the advantage if it was.

Either is acceptable, both have pluses and minuses to their use (all of which are discussed in several position papers (on the US Soccer website). See also Advice to Referees 5.6.