Cards — Must versus Need

Esther, a youth level referee, asks:

Last week I was center Ref for a U12BR game. A Red player was dribbling along near the center circle.  An Orange player came up and did a sliding tackle with both feet from the front. He didn’t contact the player or the ball, but I believed the tackle to be careless given that it was with two feet and was very close to the other player. I whistled and called a DFK for the Red team. I was discussing this with another Ref today and he believes that I should have given a red card to the Orange player because he tackled with both feet. What should the call have been? Should I have given a card?


We don’t believe in “hard and fast” rules which don’t have a clear, firm basis in the Laws of the Game.  You decided that the tackle was careless and the reasons you offered are relevant.  Given this, a card of any color would have been inappropriate, if for no other reason than that an illegal tackle does not rise to a cautionable level until and unless it is deemed at least reckless.

Apparently, the conversation with “another Red” you related involved someone who thought there was some “hard and fast” rule involving having to give a red card for sliding tackles + both feet.  The common indicators of a cardable tackle do not include “sliding” — what they do include are such things as:

  • the direction of the tackle (because coming from behind or outside the peripheral vision of the player being tackled prevents the victim from being able to prepare for the challenge)
  • coming in at high speed (greater chance of injury)
  • both feet (because a two-footed slide is considered uncontrolled)
  • with cleats exposed (the danger there is obvious)
  • with one or both feet higher than ball height (because it suggests that there was not an attempt to play the ball, plus the inherently greater susceptibility to injury the higher up the leg you go)

The only one of the above criteria you specifically alluded to was the use of both feet and that element is one of the least likely to lead to a card.

But this leads us into another issue and that is the question of whether, all other things being equal, you must give a card under specified circumstances (which brings us back to the “hard and fast” rule business).  There are only six offenses listed in the 2016/2017 version of Law 12 which can draw a caution and seven offenses leading to a red card.  Some are very specific, some are couched in general terms.  Once you decide that what you have seen is, in your opinion, one of these thirteen offenses, a card is expected (not giving one would require a persuasive rationale) but the real decision is whether what you saw fit the offense.  It may or may not,  Or, even more commonly, it might fit … and if it only “might,” then what do you use to decide?  The answer is “does this behavior need a card?”  For the good of the player, the good of the other players, the good of this game (the one going on right now), or the good of the sport?  We know you don’t think you asked this particular question but, really, you did when you said “Should I have given a card?”


I was curious about the free kick foul in last night’s USA-GER game in which the referee awarded the U.S. a penalty kick. Is there an interpretation of the German defender’s foul as “continuing” as Alex Morgan entered the penalty area? The defender certainly initiated contact outside the area and kept Alex Morgan from following her touch.

So was it clearly a correct call? An incorrect call? Or somewhere in between?

Question two relates to the caution on the U.S. back that resulted in the German penalty. Should she have been sent off for denying a goal-scoring opportunity, or was the goalkeeper’s proximity to the play enough to bring that within the referee’s discretion.

Answer (July 1, 2015):
All the pundits—the “soccer personalities” in broadcasting and some members of the soccer community, have it wrong: The referee’s award of the penalty kick was perfectly correct. This is based on the continuation principle, which has been implicit in the Laws of the Game for some years and was expressed in a paper issued by the U. S. Soccer Federation in 2007:

Subject: When Fouls Continue!
Date: April 30, 2007

Prompted by several recent situations in professional league play, a discussion has developed regarding the proper action to take when a foul continues over a distance on the field. Many fouls occur with the participants in motion, both the player committing the foul and the opponent being fouled, and it is not unusual for the offense to end far away from where the initial contact occurred.

Usually, the only problem this creates for the referee is the need to decide the proper location for the restart. Occasionally, however, an additional issue is created when the distance covered results in an entirely different area of the field becoming involved. A foul which starts outside the penalty area, for example, might continue into and finally end inside the offending playerеs penalty area. Or a foul might start inside the field but, due to momentum, end off the field. In these cases, the decision about where the foul occurred also affects what the correct restart must be.

In general, the referee should determine the location of the foul based on what gives the greater benefit to the player who was fouled. FIFA has specifically endorsed this principle in one of its “Questions and Answers on the Laws of the Game” (12.31) which states that a penalty kick is the correct restart if a player begins holding an opponent outside the playerеs penalty area and continues this action inside his penalty area.

And yes, Julie Johnston should have been sent off for denying the obvious goalscoring opportunity for Germany.


During a game, can goalie speak to someone beside the goal during game? Referee issued yellow for not paying attention to game?

Answer (June 30, 2015):
There were two people of diminished mental competence involved here: the goalkeeper and the referee. There is no such rule in the Laws of the Game, and referees are forbidden to interfere in any player action that is not covered in the Laws.

NOTE: There are too many “cowboy” referees in our game. That is my term for referees who make up their own rules as they go along, confusing players, fellow officials, and the spectators. My recommendation to them: Just call the game in accordance with the Laws. It is so much easier on everyone.


My team had a pK shoot out last weekend. The referee placed the ball on the mark. We kicked first and my player moved the ball because it was in a hole but left it on the mark. The referee walked back to the ball picked it up and appeared to push it even harder in the original spot. Is the referee allowed to move or place the ball even though it’s on the mark. It clearly bothered my player. The referee did place the ball every single time after that as well So at least he was consistent.

Answer (May 13, 2015):
The ball must be placed on some part of the spot/mark. It can be moved to avoid holes or water. The only restriction is the ball may not be moved closer to the goal line than the spot itself.

As I am fond of saying, some referees make too much of themselves and fail to remember that it is not the referee’s game, it belongs to the players.


Hello, I am a U10 coach in CA. And recently had a game where our goalie was kicked four seperate times while picking up the ball,twice in the hand, leg and chest. I got a little verble by saying how many time are they going to kick our goalie before the Ref does something. The Fef came over to me and said our goalie did not have “possession” of the ball. I replied what does that have to do with kicking the goalie.

I was under the impression and have been teaching our team that if a goalie had even a finger on the ball not to kick the ball because that is putting the goalie in danger and would draw a red card.

So my questions are,
1- in u10 what is the rule on kicking the ball if a goalie is touching the ball .
2- if while attempting to kick a ball that the goalie is touching but kicks the goalie instead, Is there a foul or at least a warning to that player or coach?
3- if there are multiple players directly in front of the goal from both teams all scambling and kicking the ball, during the chaos can the goalie pick the ball up if the last foot on the ball was one from his own team, Not an attentional pass.

Could you give me a clear answer and give me a link in the rule book were I can reference.

Answer (October 13, 2014):
Coach, Answers here depend on what rules your team is playing, i.e., USYSA U10 small-sided rules, normal Laws of the Game (the rules the world plays by), or something else. For US Youth Soccer Rules (and links to the Laws of the Game and other interesting items, see .

Yes, the Laws of the Game (again, I cannot speak for any local rules) suggest that a player be sent off for kicking or attempting to kick any other player, if the act is seen as either serious foul play or violent conduct:

Sending-off offences
A player, substitute or substituted player is sent off if he commits any of the following seven offences:
• serious foul play
• violent conduct

Clearly your referee needs to see his or her optometrist very soon. Why? Because the goalkeeper is considered to be in possession of the ball if he has as few as one finger on the ball and is pinning it to any surface (ground, body, whatever). And, as you state, it makes no difference if the goalie actually has possession of the ball when he is kicked; it’s still a foul (and possible misconduct).

On to your questions:
1. As above, either a direct free kick and no disciplinary action or a direct free kick and either a caution (yellow card) or send-off (red card). This is no different in U10 rules than in the Laws of the Game.
2. Usually immediate dismissal for serious foul play, followed by the direct free kick. Coaches do not receive any warnings; they either behave responsibly or are expelled for irresponsible behavior.
3. Yes. It would be a very poor referee who called this an infringement of the Laws.


My 15 yr. old son was involved in a physical altercation during a soccer game with 5 seconds left in the game.

The altercation involved 2 of our players and 3 players from the opposing team. One of our players and one of the opposing players were each given a red card and ejected from the game. The Referee gave my son a yellow card and he was allowed to play out the remaining 5 seconds of the game.

After the game had ended, the referee and 2 linesmen gathered at centre field. About 5 minutes after the game had ended, the referee walked over to my son (where he was sitting on the team bench getting changed) and proceeded to give him a red card without explanation. There was no further incident nor foul language or anything that prompted the yellow card being increased to a red card. I believe perhaps one of the linesmen convinced the ref after the game had ended that my son was deserving of a red card for his participation in the initial altercation that resulted in 1 player from both teams being red carded and ejected from the game.

Can a referee change a yellow card to a red card after the player has been allowed to continue playing in a game and/or after the game is over and the player has left the field for the day and without further incident?

Answer (July 24, 2014):
Major referee error, Dad. Once the game has been ended, the referee may not change any decisions made prior to the final stoppage. This wording from Law 5 (The Referee) confirms that:

Decisions of the referee
The decisions of the referee regarding facts connected with play, including whether or not a goal is scored and the result of the match, are final.

The referee may only change a decision on realising that it is incorrect or, at his discretion, on the advice of an assistant referee or the fourth official, provided that he has not restarted play or terminated the match.

Your son has the right of appeal against this decision and the referee should be sent back for further training—along with whichever assistant referee recommended changing the original decision.


Goal is scored in the closing seconds of the game. Referee sets up with a restart and blows the whistle for the match ending. As a referee exits the field the losing coach complains that that goal was scored after time had run out. The referee confers with this ARs and decide that he did play more than the allotted time.

Question is once a referee signals the end of the game, can he change facts.

Answer (March 30, 2014)
No, the referee cannot change the facts of the Game or his decisions once the game has been terminated (declared over). Law 5 is quite clear on this matter. Under Decisions of the Referee, the Law states:
The referee may only change a decision on realising that it is incorrect or, at his discretion, on the advice of an assistant referee or the fourth official, provided that he has not restarted play or terminated the match.


A match was tied at the end of regulation time, and competition rules state that kicks from the penalty mark will be used to decide the winer of the match.

The scenario: Team A & Team B both have 11 players on the field prior to the start of the kicks. The coin toss resulted in Team A kicking first, then Team B kicking second. The first set of kicks resulted in a goal credited to both teams, which makes a preliminary score of 1-1 (pen.).

Now, in the second set, the second kicker for Team A is carrying a caution he received in the second half of the game. The referee signals for Team A’s kick to be taken. the kicker goes up for the kick, commits an act of unsporting behavior, and scores. The goalkeeper from Team B DID NOT infringe the laws of the game. The referee blows the whistle and issues a second yellow card, followed by the red card, to the player from Team A, the kicking team.

Now, there are a few points of discussion that arise from this scenario:
1) Since the kicking team infringed the laws of the game, and a goal was scored, should Team A’s kick be retaken as the next kick in the sequence?
2) If so, is the designated replacement kicker (who is presently on the field waiting in the center circle) from Team A considered to have kicked after he completes the retaken kick?


3) Does the offending player who was sent off get the credit for the penalty because he was the initial kicker for this kick in the sequence?

It is also my understanding that Team B does not have to “Reduce to Equate”, because the send-off for team A occured after the start of the kicks.

Answer (July 7, 2012):
Because the ball entered the goal (but cannot be scored as a “goal”), the kick must be retaken after the dismissed player has left the field and before anything else happens. Any teammate currently on the field who has not yet kicked in the kicks from the penalty mark may take the kick. Therefore, the player who was sent off does not and cannot be given credit for his “goal,” which would not count in any event.

No, the opposing team does not have to reduce to equate in this case; reduce to equate applies only before the kicks actually begin.


My child plays U8 soccer. There is no goal box, only a penalty area. When taking a goal kick, the ref insists the ball sit on the corner of the penalty area. The offense of a team we played either stood immediately in front of or rushed the ball while it was being kicked. For larger fields, the offense has to stay back because of the goal box being inside the penalty box. since they’re one in the same for us, can the offense stand immediately in front of the ball?

Answer (May 9, 2012):
According to USYS Rules for U8, there is no penalty area in U8 soccer; they use only a goal area, which has two lines drawn at right angles to the goal line three (3) yards from the inside each goalpost. These lines extend into the field of play for a distance of three (3) yards and are joined by a line drawn parallel with the goal line. The area bounded by these lines and the goal line is the goal area. The opponents must remain outside the goal area and at least four (4) yards from the ball until it is in play. There is absolutely no requirement that the kick must be taken from one of the corners of the goal area, just as there is no such requirement in adult soccer

One of our readers, Greg Brooks, supplied this useful information:

I thought I’d chime in on the U-8 question posted today. In a league
which I officiate, they allow the U-8 players to take goal kicks from
the edge of the penalty area instead of the goal box. I believe the
required minimum distance is 8 yards, so that should apply to those
goal kicks in such U-8 games, correct? I’ve never had a problem with
failure to maintain the required distance, but this gives me something
to think about.


Why would a referee for a U11 game eject a parent/spectator from the game for yelling “Communicate with your partner” to the referee. They never said hey ref, or anything, just stood up and yelled “Communicate with your partner”. This also lead to suspension of the next game for the spectator as well as being suspended from attending practices until the spectator attended a hearing which is complete BS in this league anyways. Where does one go to report this referee for abuse of his postion? I am guessing he violated some sort of code of conduct.

My answer (April 30, 2012):
No, there would not appear to have been any violation of any code of conduct, other than by the parent. This is NOT Little League baseball, for goodness’ sake. However, the referee would appear to have violated my rule of inverse stupidity: The less you know, the more you call.