Often times in the MLS I see a very frustrating tactic and I have seen this in the matches I referee. Players stand in front of the ball at free kicks, especially in dangerous areas. Often times because of the unpunished nature of the offense it also happens at midfield. Players often times want a quick restart and this prevents this tactic. I feel frustrated as a biased fan. I can’t imagine how frustrated players get and parents get at youth matches. I imagine that both sides are getting frustrated.
Since I feel like the enforcement of the law is not very consistent with the 7+7 memorandum I want to know how to prevent the tactic and when does it become a cautionable offense. What are the criteria for it to become cautionable? I know what the memorandum says but what sort of advice do you have on enforcing this law?

One example (from a biased Seattle fan) would be the incident where Riley was sent off in the LA Galaxy match. Shouldn’t the player who clearly “provoked” the confrontation receive a caution. Under the 7+7 memorandum provoking a confrontation by touching the ball after the referee has stopped play is one of the offenses of special concern of FIFA. I was surprised to find it was not in the week in review.

USSF answer (June 11, 2009):
We are fortunate to have input from Brian Hall, U. S. Soccer’s Manager of Assessment and Training.

First, let us address your question regarding the Riley situation. You are correct, the player who withheld the ball from Riley and, therefore, prevented Riley from putting the ball into play quickly should have been cautioned for delaying the restart of play. This exact subject was covered in U.S. Soccer’s “Week In Review 8” which can be found at (select week 8).

Explanation and video review of the subject are covered coinciding with Video Clip 2: Los Angeles at Seattle.

Now, to your broader question. Referees have been instructed and continue to receive guidance relative to delaying the restart and not respecting the required distance. In fact, the overall management of free kick restarts is covered as one of U.S. Soccer Referee Program’s main directives for 2009.

These directives can be downloaded at: However, if you are watching the game worldwide, you will see referees elsewhere are facing the exact same challenges.

In the 2008-09 publication of the Laws of the Game, FIFA revised the wording relative to “distance” and free kicks. Check the new section FIFA has introduced to replace the old “Questions and Answers:” “Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees.” In this section, the term “distance” is defined:

“If a player decides to take a free kick quickly and an opponent is less than 9.15 meters from the ball intercepts it, the referee must allow play to continue.” It also states….

“If a player decides to take a free kick quickly and an opponent who is near the ball deliberately prevents him taking the kick, the referee must caution the player for delaying the restart.”

Key terms are “intercepts,” and “deliberately prevents.” Upon reading U.S. Soccer’s directive on “Free Kick and Restart Management,” you will see that “deliberately prevents” is defined as “lunging or advancing forward or toward the ball.” So, if a defender is less than 10 yards and he/she lunges or advances forward toward the ball and then makes contact with the ball, this player must be cautioned for delaying the restart. On the other hand, if an attacker takes a free kick and the defender is less than 10 yards but in view of the attacker, then the attacker assumes the risk of the quick free kick and any defensive contact would not be punishable (the kicker knew the location of the defender at the time he/she took the free kick).

Finally, as the directive implores officials, preventative measures should be utilized. Upon seeing players who act as a “statue” in front of the ball or who are less than 10 yards, referees should use presence to move the defender back and prevent further occurrences.


I had a strange situation come up this winter in indoor, but I suppose I could have seen it just as easily in outdoor, and couldn’t find any written information.

Here’s the situation: A ball is kicked to another player and the ball wedges itself between her legs, just above the knees. Everyone freezes for a second, and the player begins to hop down the field with the ball still trapped between her legs. After 4 or 5 hops, she let it fall and resumed dribbling as usual. I let it go, because I could think of no infraction that would include that occurrence. Did I make the correct no-call, or should I have made a call in this situation, perhaps Playing in a Dangerous Manner? What would you have done?

USSF answer (April 20, 2009):
This player has both played in a dangerous manner and committed unsporting behavior. Players are not allowed to “carry” the ball with any part of their body, neither the head not the shoulders nor their legs. Other than when the goalkeeper is in possession of the ball, at which time he or she cannot be interfered with, the ball must always be available for others to play fairly.

By keeping the ball between her legs, this player has placed both herself and others in danger; herself, because another player might decide to take a kick at the ball to dislodge it, and others, because they cannot play the ball fairly and might injure either her or themselves by trying to do so. She has also committed unsporting behavior by unfairly withholding the ball from play.


On a throw in by the blue team, a blue teammate, with an opponent right behind him/her, in anticipation of the ball’s receipt, turns just as the ball is thrown to a place behind and to the side, making contact with the opponent and “pushes off” the opponent with his/her body then runs onto the ball. The player does a “quick turn” with the clear intention of pushing off the opponent with the shoulder or body to seemingly gain an advantage. Comments? Is it all fair in love and soccer or is there a more nefarious
I asked my husband’s niece who uses this play and she said that she is coached to do this. They want someone right behind them so they can use this tactic to their advantage.

USSF answer (April 17, 2009):
Turn about is NOT fair play in this case. If this happens before the ball is released, the throw-in, if subsequently completed, is taken again and the thrower’s teammate should be warned not to repeat this action. If he or she persists in this behavior, the correct remedy is to caution the player for unsporting behavior and retake the throw-in. If this happens after the ball is released, stop play and restart with a direct free kick for the opposing team from the place where the infringement occurred.


This past weekend I ref’d a U19G D2 game. Two girls from the home team had either a number or symbols painted on their face on the cheek under the eye. I asked the coach if they were tatoos. He said they were not. I told them that although anti-glare paint or strips under the eye would be OK, face painting for merely ornamental reasons would be considered adornment and would not be allowed. He became somewhat indignant and stated that he would get a clarification on the rules before he told them not to paint numbers/symbols on their face.
Questions: Can players wear anti glare paint/strips under the eyes? Can players paint numbers or symbols on their face?

USSF answer (September 15, 2008):
Law 4 – Player Equipment – tells us:

A player must not use equipment or wear anything which is dangerous to himself or another player (including any kind of jewelry).
The basic compulsory equipment of a player is:
– a jersey or shirt
– shorts — if thermal undershorts are worn, they are of the same main color as the shorts
– stockings
– shinguards
– footwear

The referee must enforce the Laws of the Game, particularly as they apply to the safety of players. In other words, the player must not wear anything that is dangerous to anyone on the field and must not wear jewelry. The only players allowed — by custom and practice, rather than by the Law — to wear any other items of clothing are goalkeepers. It is up to the referee to determine what is dangerous to the players in the game being refereed on this particular day at this particular field. The Federation cannot set separate guidelines for different age groups. There is no difference between under-tiny soccer, under-16 or -19 soccer, amateur soccer, professional or international soccer.

Anti-glare strips or paint on the face might be considered acceptable, as might paintings of flowers or the team mascot, but some face painting — combat camouflage, stripes, etc. — is clearly intended as an attempt to intimidate the opponents and is thus unsporting behavior, rather than simply a matter of “building spirit,” the reason usually offered for the practice.

If questioned by players, the referee should simply refer them to Law 4. If they do not wish to remove items that are unacceptable to the referee and thus to conform with the Law, inform them that the only alternative to removing the unauthorized equipment is not to play at all. Safety and common sense must be the referee’s guideline.

If leagues or tournaments wish to prevent problems, they should adopt rules of competition which take the burden of determining that certain items are not acceptable in their competition. Referees should not be forced to make all the decisions in this area and thus become the target for player, coach, and spectator abuse.

And as a well-known former FIFA Referee would say: “Only in America!”


Both the LOTG and Advice to Referees state that a player who accidentally goes out of the field of play while contesting for the ball or to beat an opponent should not be considered as having left the field without the referee’s permission. Is there any time or space limit that could apply to this ruling, as if a player runs (uncontested by an opponent) for 10, 20 or 30 yards totally outside the touchline?

This appeared to be the case in a recent game, although the reason for the actual call was not clear. My opinion was that the call would not have been for leaving the field but for some other infringement.

However, I would like a definitive answer.

USSF answer (September 15, 2008):
The Laws tell us: “If a player accidentally crosses one of the boundary lines of the field of play, he is not deemed to have committed an infringement. Going off the field of play may be considered to be part of playing movement.” But they also tell us that any players who do so are expected to return to the field as quickly as possible. The player in your situation would seem to have infringed on the Law.


I have a question about a restart off a free kick.

Recently, I was coaching a game and a young referee called a hand ball right outside the penalty area. My players lined up a wall right behind the ball so the other team could not take a quick free kick. The referee was moving back the wall when the other team set the ball and scored while the referee was moving back the wall. I quickly yelled and protested to the referee that a whistle was needed because he was moving the wall. He agreed and a re-kick was ordered and the other team did not score. The opposing coach protested saying a whistle was not needed.

USSF answer (September 4, 2008):
Let’s do a little analysis here on the true state of the situation that concerns you.

First, if your team actually “lined up a wall right behind the ball so the other team could not take a quick free kick,” this is a blatant violation of both the spirit and the letter of the Laws of the Game. The referee should immediately have indicated that the restart could not occur, cautioned one of your players, advised the other players to quickly retreat to the required minimum distance, and then signaled for the restart. There would then have been no question that the kick could not be taken until the referee signaled — your team would have (as it did) successfully prevented a quick restart, but it would have paid at least some price for this obvious misconduct.

Second, assuming the referee failed to understand the need to deal with the misconduct and proceeded to move the wall back, the attacking team was still free to take an quick kick because they had not been ordered by the referee to wait. Clearly, the referee was distracting the opponents but, frankly, this was their own fault. None of this would have happened had they not violated the Law by being closer than the minimum distance. In short, what the referee did was bad mechanics but not a violation of the Laws of the Game.

Lessons to be learned from this:
The defending team has only one right at a restart, not to be distracted by the referee. They have no right to form a wall nor to prevent the opponents from taking a position anywhere on the field. In this case, you are correct about the referee: Because he was pushing your team back, this required a clear indication to the kicking team to wait for his whistle to restart. The referee should have called the kick back and had it retaken, but the referee should have been astute enough to notice that the kicking team wanted to take a quick free kick. That would have solved every problem.

If your team insists on engaging in illegal gamesmanship, they must be prepared to assume the consequences, regardless of whether the referee uses recommended mechanics or not.
Who is correct? What is the correct ruling?


The grass on the field is “tall” at the start of the game. At halftime the socre is tied 0-0. Out of the parking lot mowers appear and cut the grass only on one half of the field. This half turned out to be their team’s attacking half of the field. The opposing team files a protest with the referees and league officials that this is not fair. They play the second half but under protest. The team whose offensive side of the field was mowed wins the game. What is your opinion? Should the game have been satrted at all? Was it fair that the grass was cut on only one half of the field? Did the team prostesting gave up their right because they played anyway?

USSF answer (August 22, 2008):
The first response that comes to mind is to wonder why the referee allowed the mowers on the field at all until after the game was over. If they were to be allowed, which is certainly up for debate, both halves of the field should have been mowed. The Spirit of the Game requires that conditions be equal for both teams throughout the match, not simply in the first half.

The referee should be ashamed for having allowed this travesty to take place. The competition authority should require that the game should be replayed in full.


I watched this one from the side line and wanted to know the correct application of the rules.

During a U13 girls match, the referee awarded a penalty kick. After the referee gave the signal but before the girl kicked it, the coach of the kicking team yelled out for the team to “watch #2”. The entire team turned to the coach and yelled, “got it, watch #2”. As they yelled, the girl took the penalty kick and scored while the referee and everyone on the defending team was confused and distracted by the yelling. The referee allowed the goal.

I thought the correct call should have been to stop the play, award a yellow card to the team captain (caution the coach as well) for unsportsmanlike conduct, and make the girl retake the penalty kick. I spoke with other refs and they disagree and would have awarded the yellow card to the coach, taken away the kick and awarded a IFK to the defending team. What’s the correct call? I see too much gamesmanship starting to creep into these youth games

USSF answer (May 9, 2008):
Some aspects of gamesmanship are perfectly legitimate, such as players from the team with the ball feinting at free kicks or giving misleading information to deceive or distract their opponents during the attack. Giving misleading information would be when a player calls for the ball, knowing full well that the teammate will not pass it. (Although it does not apply in this situation, the defending team is NOT allowed to do the same thing. That would be unsporting behavior.) The referee must learn to differentiate between those tactics which are legal and those which are not.

This orchestrated shouting, clearly an unfair tactic and counter to the Spirit of the Game, was a violation of the penalty kick procedure by a teammate of the player taking the kick. The referee should have disallowed the goal, certainly warned and possibly cautioned at least one of the kicking team players, and at least warned if not expelled the kicking team’s coach for behaving irresponsibly. Because the ball entered the goal, the kick would be retaken. (If the ball had not entered the goal, the referee would still have warned or cautioned the kicking team player, warned or expelled the coach, and would then have awarded an indirect free kick to the defending team from the place where the infringement occurred; in this case at the place just outside the penalty area where the player had been.)