In [the USSF] Miscellaneous Questions and Answers section someone asked about the penalty area (Prior to the Law changes of 1997, the goal area was also used to define a region in which the goalkeeper could be charged fairly while holding the ball, but now referees must observe carefully any charge against the goalkeeper, regardless of the circumstances, location of the action, or presence of the ball, and penalize the action only if it is committed carelessly, recklessly, or with excessive force (direct free kick) or is performed in a dangerous manner (indirect free kick).  My question is: if the goalkeeper comes out of the “box”/penalty area to dribble the ball back in so they can pick it up, when they are out of the “box” can an offensive player challenge them for the ball? The league we play in the goalie frequently comes out to dribble the ball back into their box so they can pick it up and our players don’t challenge because it is the goalie and they are afraid of receiving a penalty.

USSF answer (February 29, 2008):
First things first: You seem to be confusing the goal area with the penalty area. The goal area is the area immediately in front of the goal, within the penalty area. The goal area extends six yards along the goal line from each of the goal posts and six yards out from the goal line into the penalty area, making it a rectangle of 6 x 20 yards. That is the area addressed in the original question. The penalty area, another sort of “animal,” extends 18 yards along the goal line from each goal post and 18 yards into the field, making it 44 yards long and 18 yards deep.

Other than being able to handle the ball within the penalty area, nor to be interfered with when in possession of the ball if in the act of putting it back into general play, the goalkeeper has no more right to protection than any other player. If the goalkeeper leaves the penalty area, he or she may be charged fairly, just as he or she may be charged fairly within the penalty area (including the goal area). If your players tackle fairly, then no referee should punish them.

Just to phrase it so even the “touchline lawyers” understand it: The goalkeeper may be fairly charged or tackled inside or outside of his penalty area, just like any other player, provided he or she is not controlling the ball with his/her hands at the time. If s/he has the ball in the hands, the goalkeeper cannot be charged or tackled at all and any effort to do so could be punished with a direct free kick for the goalkeeper’s team.…


I’ve been looking through the “archive” but I haven’t found the answer to my question yet, so I thought I’d just write.

I realize that this is very trivial, but a U10 coach asked me (in order to properly instruct his players) about proper positioning of players for kick-off. Are they allowed to stand on the line or not?

Law 8 states “all players are in their half of the field”.

Without hesitation I said that you can treat the halfway line during kick-off like you would a throw-in—“has part of each foot either on the touch line or …outside the touch line” or in this case the halfway line.

To make sure of my answer I asked a fellow referee who I feel is very knowledgeable about the laws of the game but his reply was different. He said you need to look at the halfway line like offside—“any part of his head, body or feet is nearer…”, in this case, the halfway line.

I then went to a 3rd source that I felt confident about but ended up with a 3rd opinion. In this case they said “any part of the body, including the hands, over the halfway line would be an infringement.”

So now I’m not sure what the correct response is. What does USSF have to say?

USSF answer (February 13, 2008):
Our first reaction was incredulity that anyone would even ask, but this was tempered by the realization that the location is a point not really covered in the instructional program. Nevertheless, after a moment of reflection, the answer came readily to mind.

Law 1 tells us: “The field of play is marked with lines. These lines belong to the areas of which they are boundaries.” Therefore, if the players stand on the halfway line they are in their own half of the field. If their heads or feet are slightly over the line, it makes no difference.…


In a recent Premier League game Manchester City hosted a match and distributed balloons to fans. The balls were behind the City goal most of the time but quite a few blew onto the field in front of the goal when, you guessed it, the ball was sent across the goal mouth on the ground. A defender was positioned to kick the ball away but instead kicked a balloon. An attacker struck the correct round object and scored the goal that won the game. The referee allowed the goal to stand but it is thought that the rule about “outside agency” should be applied instead.

What is correct?

In another recent professional game the ball was kicked high to a player who was dashing along the touchline looking at the descending ball. He had to step over the line to receive the ball but fell as he ran into the unseen AR who was also running tight along the touchline off the field. The player would likely have been able to play the ball as no opponent was anywhere near. The AR could see the play and I expected him to drift wide of the play, which he didn’t do. Possession went straight to the opponents. There was no call; no drop ball restart.

What is correct?

The use of arms to protect the defenders who are formed into a “wall” in front of a goal has been accepted to protect the face, groin area and heart. I expect the arm/hand should be touching the body, or almost so. However it’s a common enough sight on replays to see defender’s arms deliberately reaching out to prevent the ball from striking them. I’ve even seen the ball repelled by an elbow. Consider an arm extended about 14 inches in front of a contorted face (I’m measuring this right now with a ruler) seems to be a deliberate act of directing the ball away to an unthreatening area of the field than would occur if the arm was held protectively close to the body.

What is correct?

USSF answer (February 12, 2008):
1. Balloonacy
Under Law 5 the referee has the powers to protect the safety of the players and to stop, suspend or terminate the game for outside interference of any kind. The only reasons for the referee to stop the play for balloons or other foreign objects being thrown onto the field would be if he or she considered that (a) the state of the ground was hazardous for the participants, (b) the balloons were causing the game to become farcical, or (c) he or she considered them to be outside interference.

If it is at all possible, the referee should act preventively to have foreign objects removed from the field before any incidents occur to mar the game. In these circumstances the game would be suspended until the playing surface had been cleared of the foreign objects.  If play was stopped for this, the restart would be a dropped ball at the place where the ball was when play was stopped. If the referee had the time to act preventively to have the items removed, play would be suspended at an appropriate stoppage in the game and restarted according the reason for the stoppage — throw-in corner kick, etc. However, if there is a great number of foreign objects in one playing area, such as in the penalty area, and this could interfere with both sides enjoying an equal opportunity for a good game, the referee should stop play immediately.

This problem is a difficult one for referees to manage at any level of play, but particularly at the professional level, as the longer the game is suspended to deal with this type of incident, the greater the risk of the spectators continuing to disrupt the game.  In most countries the referee would not hold up the game for such incidents unless the foreign objects were completely covering a large area of the playing surface.

2. Player knocking over the AR (or vice versa)
The assistant referee is considered to be part of the field. If he or she is hit during the course of play by the ball or by a player, there is no infringement, nor is there any need to stop play; the only reason to stop play would be if the ball has left the field. (Let us note that the AR should be well off the field in all cases.)

3. Raising the arm from the body to play the ball
Players are indeed allowed to put their arms across their bodies to protect themselves. However, if, in the opinion of the referee, the player so doing is actually moving the arms or hands to control the ball, that constitutes deliberate handling and must be punished accordingly.…


The Technical Area
– Only one person at a time is authorized to convey tactical instructions and he must return to his position after giving these instructions. – The coach and other occupants of the technical area must behave in a responsible manner.What constitutes tactical instructions and what constitutes responsible behavior?

My concern is a local youth coach who begins to scream at his players when the game begins and does not stop until long after the game is over. With every touch of the ball by his team he gives (screams) instructions to the players off the ball as well as the player with the ball. With every touch of the ball by the other team he is giving (screaming) specific instructions to each player on his team as fast as he can get them out of his mouth. Much of what he says is negative and all mistakes are pointed out and players are taken to task. He is a physically intimidating person who loves to argue about anything and most area referees just stay as far away from him as they can.

We, of course, do not have 4th officials at our youth games. I do believe that if there were clear instructions to head and assistant referees as to responsible behavior in the Technical Area and what constitutes allowable “tactical instructions” that some actions would begin to be taken to stop behavior that I believe is unsporting conduct at the very least.

This person’s behavior affects every person on the field, on the benches, in the spectators area, all coaches and not too mention the referees. In my mind it is in the same category as an opponent coming up behind a player receiving the ball and yelling “I got it” at the top of their lungs.

Specific recommendations on those definitions would be positive points of action that we could build on to improve the conduct of our youth games.

USSF answer (December 31, 2007):
A very interesting question. There is a national trend within the soccer community toward eliminating abuse of young people by any adults. You, as a referee, are certainly empowered to ensure responsible behavior by the team officials. The method chosen would be up to the individual referee.

The Laws of the Game tell us that “[a]ll [team] officials must remain within the confines of the technical area, where such area is provided, and they must behave in a responsible manner.” The Laws also tell us about the technical area and its measurements. Without going into precise detail on the matter, we can agree that this suggests that — no matter how innocent their intentions — team officials should remain along the touch line and stay out of areas where they could be considered to be interfering with play or not behaving in a responsible manner, even in under-tiny soccer. Spectators may remain behind the goal line, but only if they are far enough away so as not to interfere with the game.

We can add that, under the Law, any POSITIVE coaching is allowed from the technical area, as long as only one person speaks at a time and then returns to his seat on the bench. As a practical matter, particularly at the youth level, any POSITIVE coaching is allowed. In either case, whether at the level of the least experienced players (and coaches) or at the highest levels, any case in which the coach behaves irresponsibly will result in the coach being dismissed. (Two examples from among many: ranting at the referee, overt participation in deception of the opposing team.)

A coach has no “right” to anything in the game of soccer, other than the right to conduct him-/herself responsibly during the game — from within the technical or bench area — while offering advice to his/her team’s players. A referee who allows coaches or other team officials to parade around the field or shout abuse at players in the guise of instruction, in contravention of the requirements in Law 5 that coaches behave responsibly and that referees not permit anyone other than players to enter the field, should be ashamed.

Coaches are expected to behave responsibly. (See Law 5 and Law 3, IBD 2, the only places in the Laws that team officials are mentioned.) The referee’s first line of defense (unless the behavior is REALLY egregious) is to warn the coach who is behaving irresponsibly. This is the equivalent of a caution, but no card is shown. Then, when the behavior persists (as it usually does, because most coaches who behave this way fail to understand that they must change their errant ways), the coach is expelled from the field for failing to behave in a responsible manner. Please note that under the Laws of the Game, no card may be shown; however, showing the card may be a requirement of the rules of the competition.

In all events you should prepare a supplemental game report or letter to the league on the matter. You might also suggest in the report or letter that they send someone to monitor a couple of games. The letter could be written in such a way that says perhaps the coach was having a bad day, but it should suggest that it might be beneficial to the children involved if someone from the league dropped in for a game or two just to make sure.

Coaches or other team officials, one at a time, may provide tactical advice to their players, including positive remarks and encouragement. The referee should only take action against coaches or other team officials for irresponsible behavior or for actions that bring the game into disrepute. A coach or other team official may not be cautioned or sent off nor shown any card; however, at the discretion of the referee, such persons may be warned regarding their behavior or expelled from the field of play and its immediate area. When a coach or other team official is expelled, the referee must include detailed information about such incidents in the match report. The maximum numbers of substitutes and substitutions are set by the competition authority and with the agreement of the two teams within the requirements of Law 3. Additional people in the technical area, such as team members who are not named as players or substitutes (for the current game) on the roster or parents or other persons involved with the team, are permitted to be seated with the team in the technical area (or other designated team area) only if this is allowed by the competition authority. Such persons will be considered team officials and are therefore held to the same standards of conduct specified in Law 5 as other team officials. Although team officials cannot commit misconduct or be shown a card, they may be ordered from the field for irresponsible behavior. Full details must be included in the match report.

You ask what constitutes responsible behavior. It means that the coach or other team official has not stuck to what their part of the game is, issuing tactical instructions or praise to their players. If they go beyond those bounds, then their behavior is irresponsible. Shouting abuse and heaping derision on players is irresponsible behavior and brings the game into disrepute.

As to what bringing the game into disrepute means in the normal course of the game, this answer of September 7, 2006, should give you all the information you need:

“Bringing the game into disrepute’ means doing something that is totally counter the spirit of the game, which is meant to be played fairly and in a sporting manner. Such acts show a lack of respect for the game, e. g., aggressive attitude, inflammatory behavior, deliberately kicking the ball into one’s own goal or taunting.” It also includes intimidation and arguing with the referee.


Recently, I was an AR at a match held on an artificial turf field, which are becoming quite common here where I live. The field was equipped with corner flags, each made of a thin fiberglass rod attached to a 4″ X 4″ metal plate base.

The conditions were very windy that day, so that the corner flags were leaning over to the extent that the tip of the corner flag was about 1 to 2 feet off the ground.

During the taking of a corner kick (at my corner), the kicker complained that the wind was blowing the flag into the field of play and would interfere with her kick. Since I had already seen another flag completely blown over, with the base of the corner flag in a vertical position, I decided it would be best to set the flag away from the field and continue without a corner flag at that corner. Immediately, the CR told me that the corner flag must stay on the corner regardless of any of the existing circumstances/conditions. Not wanting to make a scene, I put the flag back and we continued the game without incident.

My question is, should we allow the use of said flags under such windy conditions? Also, should the referee ever assist the kicker in holding a leaning flag(being bent by the wind) out of the way?

Thank you for your valued service to American soccer.

USSF answer (December 10, 2007):
Safety of the players must be the referee’s first concern. While the corner flags are indeed compulsory, they must meet the requirements of Law 1. If the flags do not stand at least five feet tall, then they may not be used and must be removed because they are dangerous.

The following excerpt from the Advice to Referees is applicable here:


Goalkeepers or other players may not make unauthorized marks on the field of play. The player who makes such marks or alterations on the field to gain an unfair advantage may be cautioned for unsporting behavior. Players may return bent or leaning corner flags to the upright position, but they may not bend or lean them away from the upright position to take a corner kick, nor may the corner flag be removed for any reason.

If returning the flag to an upright position is not a viable solution (because of wind or poorly-made equipment), then removal of the flag — with the permission of the referee — is permitted because the flag does not meet the requirement of being at least 1.5 m (5 ft) high. If a flexible flag consistently or constantly bends below that height, then it does not meet the requirement and is dangerous to the players and other participants. This would include a flag that bent outside the field with the wind, as the kicker might be placed in danger.

A player may not bend the flag away from the upright position to take a corner kick or to play the ball that has run into the corner.…


I was center at a game today where both goals were set up (and securely anchored) about 2-3 inches behind the goal line. There was no way to correct the situation, as the anchors were deep in the ground and no one had proper tools available.

In theory I should probably have refused to start the game. But that is simply not a realistic option, especially if one team has traveled to the game from a significant distance.

My question is this: we are normally taught to call the game “as the lines are drawn,” that is, even if the lines are crooked or the areas measured incorrectly (one exception would seem to be an incorrectly marked penalty spot). How should this case be handled? I would assume that a goal could still only be scored if the ball had entered the goal and fully crossed the “imaginary” line between the goal posts. Correct?

Answer (September 12, 2007):
In a non-competitive atmosphere, it MIGHT be all right to play this game “as the lines are drawn,” but if this is a competitive league or tournament, then the requirements of Law 1 must be applied strictly.

In a non-competitive game, the “line” that counts is that which runs between the goal posts, not the marked line.…


What happens if the goal is shifted off the line (away from the field of play) and this allows a ball to enter the goal that otherwise would not have done so? Does it matter whether the defending team or the attacking team moves the goal? Does it matter if it is intentional or not? The specific situation being questioned is that a corner kick became trapped between a defender’s body and the post, and when the defender tried to move the ball away, the post shifted back and the ball dropped into the goal. The referee awarded a goal.

Answer (August 7, 2007):
Unfair as it may seem, the referee should not have awarded the goal–nor should he or she have started the game with an unsecured goal. The game must be restarted with a dropped ball at the nearest place on the goal area line six yards out from the goal line and parallel to it.…


I recently was the referee for a Upper level youth match hosted at a local high school. Because of where each team originally located their equipment, they chose to locate their substitutes and coaching staff on opposite sides of the field. There was no obvious technical are or seating drawn. I allowed it to proceed because I cannot recall any instruction to point to which does not allow for this kind of arrangement. However, it made substitutions often confusing/difficult as there were no limit to substitutions in this match.

My question: Is there any documentation/instruction that would forbid this kind of arrangement, other than local policy? Is there any restriction on the location of benches at all? behind the goal area for instance?

Answer (June 6, 2007):
What you describe is a typical high-school type of arrangement. Although contrary to the arrangements indicated in Law 1, it is no more illegal than other arrangements in which both teams are located on one side of the field and their supporters on the other.

As to team areas or benches being located behind the goals, that is strictly forbidden by tradition, common sense, and the Law.…


My state association has allowed a club to use an indoor facility for sanctioned outdoor matches. The pitch meets all the requirements as outlined in the laws, but the roof of the facility is somewhat low. I’m guessing that it is about 40-45 ft above the field. How should we deal with balls that strike the ceiling? Should we treat the roof as a pre-existing condition? The roof is a typical hangar/warehouse-type roof with rafters protruding down from the main ceiling. Allowing the ball to remain in play as it caroms around up there might lead to some very unfair and unpredictable situations.USSF answer (May 14, 2007):
Your league will have to come up with its own rules on this.…


I saw the Chelsea v Blackburn semi-final game on television today and it appeared that on one free kick Pedersen teed up the ball by putting a divot into the field with his heel. On a later free kick his teammate appeared to be pushing down the grass around the ball with his hands prior to the kick. Are these “modifications” to the field cautionable per Advice to Referees 1.6 or are these types of teeing up the ball allowable? Also, I continue to see professional referees at the highest levels in Europe pacing off the 10 yards for a free kick. Do my eyes deceive me or has that practice been universally adopted?

USSF answer (April 16, 2007):
The practice of making divots or otherwise rearranging the field has always been considered to be unsporting behavior (or its linguistic predecessors). Nevertheless, it continues and is only rarely punished by referees.

As to pacing off the distance for free kicks, we cannot really comment on the practices of foreign referees, but that is sometimes a useful tool in slowing things down and proactively calming the players. Doing this should be kept in reserve for unusual circumstances.…