A situation similar to this occurred during a recent match where I was an AR, and it got me thinking. On a corner kick, the blue team puts the ball into play and another blue player strikes a shot toward the goal. A red defender (not the goalkeeper), just in front of the goal line and between the posts, blocks the shot with his thigh, popping the ball into the air. Deciding that he has neither time nor space to play the ball legally, the red player then swats the ball away from the front of the goal with his hand. Assuming that the ball was either coming straight up or slightly back out away from the goal after contact with the red player’s thigh, would this violation be punishable with a caution for USB and a PK restart, or would this be considered a continuation of the original shot and therefore be punishable with a send-off for DOGSO-H? I know that predicting how a ball might bounce is problematic, but would it make any difference if there was visible spin on the ball, suggesting that it would have spun itself into the goal if it had been allowed to hit the ground?

USSF answer (March 20, 2010):
No DOGSO-H here unless the referee can determine that, but for the the deliberate handling, whether the ball would have entered the goal.


My son is a goalie on his team. At a particular game, we were playing during a rainy day. The white line on the 18 was not visibly able to be seen due to so much rain. He reached down and picked the ball up with his hands just past the 18 line. The ref gave him a red card and threw him out of the game saying that he tried to stop the other team from scoring a goal. It was a playoff game and he became very upset. Was the ref correct in giving him a red card?

USSF answer (March 12, 2010):
We cannot say that the referee’s action was correct unless someone can answer the question, “But for the handling, would the ball have entered the net?”


goal keeper throws his shoe to deflect a ball from going into the goal. The ball goes out of bounds over the endline.

What is the call and what is the restart?

USSF answer (February 20, 2010):
The goalkeeper is cautioned for unsporting behavior and the match is restarted by an indirect free kick to be taken from the place where the ball was when it was struck by the boot or similar object (see Law 13 for position of free kick).

The correct action for the referee depends on where contact with the ball occurred, not where the goalkeeper was when he threw his boot. If the place of contact was inside the penalty area, caution for unsporting behavior and indirect free kick where the goalkeeper was when he threw his boot. If the place of contact was outside the penalty area, red card for denying the obvious goalscoring opportunity and direct free kick where contact with the ball was made. If it was a defender other than the ‘keeper, red card for denying the obvious goalscoring opportunity regardless of where contact was made and a direct free kick if that location was outside but a penalty kick if inside.

The boot or similar object is considered as an extension of the player’s arm. Play would be stopped. If the boot struck the ball inside the penalty area, a penalty kick would be awarded and the offending player would be sent off for preventing a goal by deliberately handling the ball. If the boot struck the ball outside the penalty area, a direct free kick would be awarded and the offending player would be sent off for preventing a goal by deliberately handling the ball (see Law 13 for position of free kick).


I guess I missed the Feb. 2009 Directive on “Handling the Ball”. I suppose that’s a good thing, because one section seems to directly contradict all my training as well as Section 12.9 of “Advice to Referees”.

In the Directive, one of the things the referee is supposed to consider in determining a handling offense is “Did the player ‘benefit’?”.

My understanding is that whether or not a player benefits from incidental arm/ball contact is irrelevant; it is either deliberate or not, and what happens afterwards is immaterial. “Advice” states unequivocally: “The fact that a player may benefit from the ball contacting the hand does not transform the otherwise accidental event into an infringement.”

Can you please clarify? If I’m misunderstanding the directive (as others have too), what is it supposed to be conveying?

USSF answer (November 2, 2009):
You would seem to be misreading Advice 12.9 and confusing its text with that of the Directive, rather like confusing apples with applesauce. They speak of two different things.

Advice 12.9 addresses the “benefit” an attacking player might achieve in the sense of attack, while the Directive addresses the “benefit” a defending player might achieve in the sense of foiling an opponent’s attack.

The Directive on “Handling the Ball” does not suggest that benefit of a player’s action should be the sole point to decide if a ball was handled intentionally or not. The “Directive” states that the referee needs to decide first if a handling the ball situation involved (1) a player “making himself bigger” or (2) if the player’s arm was in an unnatural position. The third criterion (3) involves the result of the action. The first sentence is of (3) is key (quoting from the “Directive”): “In considering all the ‘signs’ described above, the referee should also consider the result of the player’s (usually a defender) action.” Possible “benefits” for defender or attacker are suggested. However, these benefits are to examined only in the context of the first two criteria. In other words, if the defender “made himself bigger” and was able to play the ball the observed benefit of foiling the attack provides confidence the the handling of the ball was intentional. If the referee is still unsure after considering these 3 criteria additional factors (reaction time, distance to ball) can be applied.

In considering all the “signs” described above, the referee should also consider the result of the player’s (usually a defender) action. Did the defender’s action (handling of the ball) deny an opportunity (for example, a pass or shot on goal) that would have otherwise been available to the opponent? Did the offending player gain an unfair tactical advantage from contact with the hand/arm which enabled him to retain possession? In other words: Did the player benefit by putting his hand/arm in an “unnatural position?” The referee needs to be able to quickly calculate the result of the player’s action to determine whether an offense has been committed.


I read the question and answer in the FAQ area [of the US Soccer website], but would like some clarification. Can the goalie go outside the goal area to retrieve the ball and dribble it back into the area to pick it up? I see this the same as a team mate passing it to the goalie and the goalie picking it up. Any help you can provide would be appreciated. Thanks.

USSF answer (November 2, 2009):
The goalkeeper may leave the penalty area (which includes the goal area) and retrieve the ball and dribble it back into the penalty area and play it with his/her hands only if the ball was played (a) in any manner by an opponent or (b) by a teammate in a legal manner, i. e., not deliberately kicked to the goalkeeper or to a place where he or she could play it.


I was watching a U13 (I think) girls game prior to my sons game. I am a grade 8 referee myself, but not on this night.

The center blew a whistle for a hand ball in which a girl was blocking her chest ares with her arms tight to her body. In my opinion, if her arms were not there, her body would have blocked the ball anyway. I thought it was a questionable call that I would not have made myself. This, however, has nothing to do with my question.

Since the hand ball was within the penalty area, a penalty kick ensued. A diving keeper blocked the ball, but she got it in control just prior to a rushing defender kicking it. Mind you that the game was in it’s final minutes when this happened and the save preserved three points. When the keeper picked up the ball, one of her teammates came over and gave her a hug. The center immediately blew the whistle and pointed at the spot. He called the teammate for a hand ball. This time the kick was good and the game ended in a tie.

Was the hug of a keeper who has control of the ball a handball?

USSF answer (October 26, 2009):
We can only say that the referee on the night would appear not to have been ON his game. Both calls may have been in error. Please review the following material and then, if there were clear errors by the referee, you may judge for yourself.

Protecting oneself and deliberate handling are covered in the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game.” In the current (2009) edition you will find the following, which is applicable to both the situations you described:

The offense known as “handling the ball” involves deliberate contact with the ball by a player’s hand or arm (including fingertips, upper arm, or outer shoulder). “Deliberate contact” means that the player could have avoided the touch but chose not to, that the player’s arms were not in a normal playing position at the time, or that the player deliberately continued an initially accidental contact for the purpose of gaining an unfair advantage. Moving hands or arms instinctively to protect the body when suddenly faced with a fast approaching ball does not constitute deliberate contact unless there is subsequent action to direct the ball once contact is made. Likewise, placing hands or arms to protect the body at a free kick or similar restart is not likely to produce an infringement unless there is subsequent action to direct or control the ball. The fact that a player may benefit from the ball contacting the hand does not transform the otherwise accidental event into an infringement. A player infringes the Law regarding handling the ball even if direct contact is avoided by holding something in the hand (clothing, shinguard, etc.).

NOTE: In most cases in the Laws of the Game, the words “touch,” “play,” and “make contact with” mean the same thing. This is not true in the case of deliberate handling, where the touch, play, or contact by the offending player must be planned and deliberate.

The rule of thumb for referees is that it is handling if the player plays the ball, but not handling if the ball plays the player. The referee should punish only deliberate handling of the ball, meaning only those actions when the player (and not the goalkeeper within the ‘keeper’s own penalty area) strikes or propels the ball with the hand or arm (shoulder to tip of fingers).

If it turns out that the decisions you saw were likely in violation of the Laws and of the guidance given in the Advice to Referees, you should consider reporting the matter to the State Director of Instruction, so that the referee can be counseled. This would mean including date, place, and time of the game in which they occurred.


During a recent Men’s intramural game the Goal Keeper went for a low hard shot and collected the ball but due to his momentum running for the ball and a wet field, he slid outside the penalty area. In my opinion he was unable to stop and slid out by a few feet but did have possession of the ball when he slid out. Immediately the attacking team was calling for a “hand ball”. In my opinion he played the ball in the area and did not deliberately handle the ball outside the penalty area. I allowed him to get up and go inside the area and release the ball. After the match several players and referees approached me and disagreed with my call saying I should have awarded a DFK. Your opinion please.

USSF answer (August 11, 2009):
Our opinion, and it is strictly opinion, is that if the condition of the field caused the goalkeeper to handle the ball outside the penalty area, the referee COULD apply the common sense notion of a “trifling offense” and do as you did, allowing the goalkeeper to return to the penalty area and release the ball into play for others.

However, we must point out that the Law does not recognize weather conditions and the correct decision would be to award a direct free kick for deliberately handling the ball.  Although we need to remember that the Laws of the Game were not written to compensate for the mistakes of players, that does not apply in this case.

There is no case to be made here for saying that the goalkeeper’s handling offense prevented a goal, so there would be no reason for showing a red card to the goalkeeper.


I read with interest your discussion of deliberate handling by a defender that prevents a pass by an attacker from reaching another attacker in an offside position. You stated that, given new offside interpretations, this should be considered deliberate handling rather than offside. My question involves a slightly different situation that was discussed around 1997 in an issue of Fair Play, if I remember correctly: deliberate handling by a defender that deflects a pass by an attacker, redirecting it to another attacker in an offside position. Assuming that the deflection is not considered control for purposes of resetting the offside situation, should this still be considered offside if the attacker in the offside position plays the ball (but not if he refrains from doing so)? The difference between the new situation and the old one is that in the new situation the handling prevents the player in an offside position from interfering with play, while in the old situation the handling enables the player in an offside position to interfere with play. I believe that the USSF interpretation circa 1997 for the old situation was that when involvement by the player in the offside position eventually occurs, the offside offense is deemed to have occurred at the time of the pass, which predates the handling. In the old situation, however, the handling predates involvement by the player in the offside position.
Thanks, as always.

USSF answer (June 11, 2009):
We see no functional difference (under the current guidelines from the IFAB) between deliberate handling that prevents a ball from going to an attacker in an offside position and deliberate handling that results in the ball going to an attacker in an offside position (who, presumably, would not have been able to even consider playing the ball but for the handling).  Either way, the handling must be called and, either way, the offside offense has not occurred — in the first situation because the ball was redirected and, in the second situation, because the attacker isn’t even given a chance to make contact with the ball because the handling occurred first (and the AR’s flag should not go up in either case for anything related to offside).

Now a simple redirection of the ball from an accidental deflection off the defender is a different matter and the offside would be called.


With reference to your recent answer regarding deliberate handling and offside:

A long forward pass is attempted from attacker A1 to attacker A2, who is in an offside position. Defender D1 deliberately handles the ball to prevent it from reaching A2. Defender D2 is near A2, with no other attacker in the vicinity. D2 would have easily controlled the ball, assuming that A2 does not interfere, but for D1’s handling. Should we really caution D1 for a tactical foul, since the handling did not break up an attack? In deciding on whether to caution D1, doesn’t the referee need to determine whether a legitimate attack is possible?

USSF answer (June 11, 2009):
The referee must do what is best for the game in any situation like this. However, if a player gets away with a blatant deliberate handling offense once, he or she will do it again. The intelligent referee will be able to figure out what will happen to their game if that goes on.

In addition, you have introduced a potentially significant element tin your scenario that was not present in the original situation — the caution for a tactical foul presumes that the foul was tactical and this is what the referee has to decide.  The issue you are raising — which must also be taken into account — is whether the foul was intended to be tactical even if, in fact, it turned out not to be tactical.  In other words, the defender may not have taken his teammate into account (didn’t know his teammate was so close, knew his teammate was close but was a klutz, whatever) and thus, in his mind, he was indeed attempting to stop the opponents’ attacking play.  After all, the misconduct is based as much on the clear intentions of the perpetrator as it is on the actual outcome.


A pass from a teammate goes to an attacker in an offside position.  Only this attacker is in the area of the pass and it is clear that the pass was intended for this attacker.  While the ball is in the air, a defender reaches up and handles the ball to prevent it reaching this attacker.  Should we call the handling foul even though we know that we will call this attacker for an offside violation if the ball reaches him?

USSF answer (June 9 2009):
ATTENTION!!! All referees please note that this answer involves a change in prior guidance due to the evolving interpretation of the offside offense by the International Football Association (the people who make the Laws).

Back in “the good old days,” pre-2008, it would have been simple: Punish the offside (interfering with play) and award the indirect free kick to the defender’s team, but caution the defender for unsporting behavior for the deliberate handling of the ball. This was based on the argument that the offside offense occurred first and, since it was going to be called because the pass was clearly “going to” the attacker, the referee’s decision to accept the AR’s flag for the offside stopped play and the handling therefore occurred during a stoppage.  The caution was for unsporting behavior since it was the defender’s intention to “interfere with attacking play.”

Now, however, in the modern, post-2008 era, we are unable to do this because the offside offense has become somewhat more complicated. Under current guidance for deciding if an attacker in an offside position has interfered with play, we look to whether or not the attacker makes contact with the ball (not counting the possibility that the attacker’s actions might be considered to have interfered with an opponent).  We must remember that, despite the intentions of the teammate and despite how clearly the ball is “going to” the attacker, that attacker could still decide not to interfere with play by avoiding all contact with the ball.  That “pass to the attacker” by itself does not constitute interfering with play.  Consequently, based solely on that “pass to the attacker,” the AR should not raise the flag for an offside violation, so we are left with the handling offense — direct free kick (or penalty kick if the handling occurred in the defender’s penalty area).  The referee should still caution the defender for the tactical foul.  If the AR does mistakenly raise the flag based solely on the pass, the referee should wave it down and proceed as indicated to deal with the handling.