Hijinks at a Free Kick

Chris, a HS/College referee, asks:

Scenario – a foul by the Blue team is committed near midfield.  The ball is properly located and a Red player is preparing to take the kick.  Meanwhile, a Blue player who was behind the ball when the foul occurred is moving back towards his goal to the defend. This Blue player is less than 10 yards from the ball but making no attempt to delay the free kick from being taken and is moving away from the ball. The Red kicker takes the free kick, deliberately kicks the ball into the back of the retreating defender, and then immediately turns to the referee asking for a yellow card.

My questions are, first, can you issue a caution to the Red kicker for unsporting behavior if, in your opinion, the player took the free kick with every intention of getting his opponent booked ?  My second question is, could you issue a red card for violent conduct (striking an opponent) if you deem that the player (whom you have already decided had deliberately kicked the ball into the opponent) did so as hard as he could?

Answer

Question 1 — yes, sure, because Law 12 (cautionable misconduct section, unsporting behavior) is written so broadly that it could encompass just about anything that you think deserves it.  We don’t mean to be flippant but “unsporting conduct” is rather general to begin with and “shows a lack of respect for the game” (one of the listed examples of unsporting behavior) is about as limitless as “how high is up?”  A retreating opponent who is closer than 10 yards at the time a free kick is taken has not committed an offense under the general Law 13 guideline that the offended team has the almost unfettered right to take the kick quickly, even with one or more opponents “failing to respect the required distance” and this extends to situations in which the kicked ball might make contact with said encroacher through no fault of his own.  Here, we have an attacker who has the unmitigated hutzpah (look it up) not only to aim the ball deliberately (as given in the scenario) at the opponent but now wants a card shown for the kicker’s lack of judgment.  The act of publicly by words or gestures asking for an entirely unjustified card could also be deemed a form of dissent.  In situations like this one, the real question is not “can you?” but “should you?”  One reason for “should not” is if the action calls for more a more vigorous reprisal.

Which brings us to Question 2 — and here we have to “interpret” your words. “As hard as he could” suggests the familiar “excessive force or brutality or endangering the safety of an opponent” particularly if the kicker were, say, over the age of 16 (though we know of a fellow referee who was almost knocked out upon being hit with a ball kicked by a U12 female player!).  Although a common scenario of this sort of play usually involves a thrown ball, we suspect that the damage from a kicked ball would likely be far worse.  Accordingly, the answer here is definitely, yes, a red card for violent conduct (not serious foul play because the kicker and retreating defender were not competing for the ball at the time) could, and probably should, be given (the expression on the face of the kicker reacting to this turnabout would be priceless).

A caution for UB, even if independently justified in the Referee’s opinion, takes a back seat to a red card for VC.  But the two are linked because the VC card would be a tough sell in the absence of the opinion that the kick was deliberately aimed at the opponent.  With no violence, the kicker’s action could be deemed UB (aided by the attempt to talk the Referee into a caution for FRD).  With a decision that the kick was an avoidable action of violence, bolstered by the evidence that it was deliberate, the send-off is the one to go with.

The restart, of course, is a DFK where the opponent was struck.

Quick Restarts

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

I coach a U12 boys team, and experienced a peculiar incident with a referee this past Saturday at one of our games. We were winning the game 2-1 and, within the last 10 minutes, our team committed an indirect free kick offense within the goal area.
What was peculiar is that the referee immediately directed the attacking team to place the ball on the goal line and raised his arm, all within seconds, and two attacking players that were directly in the area initiated a kick-pass and solid shot on goal, and subsequently scored. There was no time given for our goalie to prepare, nor any time whatsoever for our defense to establish protective positioning. My concern and following question is this. We are dealing with U12 boys and the safety of the our goalie was my first concern as he was not even looking towards the kick when it was made and, secondly, is there not a rule that puts responsibility on the ref to give the defending team at least adequate time to prepare and/or the right of the defensive team, especially the goalie , to acknowledge preparedness? Although the goalie did not get injured, it could have ended with a much different result. This all seemed very unsafe and unfair for these boys.

Answer

We regret to inform you that the Referee’s mechanics and procedures, as described, were 100% correct and far from being “peculiar.”  The call itself was correct (which you acknowledged), the placement of the ball was correct, and the signal for the restart was correct.  What you are questioning (the quick restart) is also correct.  Indeed, it is entirely consistent not only with the letter but also the spirit of the Law.

Every restart performed by a player with the exception of the kick-off and the penalty kick is, and is intended by the Laws of the Game  to be, taken as soon as the attacking team meets two conditions: the ball is properly placed and stationary.  Being the party aggrieved by an offense that was committed against them, they have the right to take the restart with no delay — even foregoing such ordinary requirements placed on the defending team as “respecting the required distance.”  Here (and we are only theorizing), the attackers exercised their legal right to take advantage of the confusion and disarray of their opponents by restarting play when the necessary conditions were met (stationary ball on the goal area line).  It was a gamble on their part that the likelihood of scoring (keeping in mind that it was an IFK restart) was greater if they did it quickly despite the increased risk of the ball being intercepted by nearby opponents.  They certainly would not be better off by waiting for all the things you wanted your team to be able to do — delay the kick, give us time to regroup, get more of our players between the goal entrance and the location of the kick, and get our goalkeeper primed and ready to defend.

We understand your frustration.  We would feel it also under the same circumstances but with one exception: we would know there was nothing we could do about it and that we were the ones that set up this scenario by committing the offense in the first place.  With very few and rare exceptions, a team which commits an offense resulting in a free kick restart has no rights … and certainly no right to detract from the Law’s award of the ball to the offended party.  Indeed, almost any attempt to interfere with or delay the attacking team’s right to a quick restart would be a cautionable offense.

There is nothing in the Laws of the Game contrary to this nor is there any expectation that the age of the players would affect this basic principle.  The only time a safety issue might be invoked is if a player had been seriously injured and the Referee was obligated to hold the restart until the injury was properly dealt with (not wishing to leave the impression that this might be a good strategy, we remind everyone that a faked injury is also a cautionable offense).  It is one of the core tenets in training referees that they should do nothing to cause a delay in taking throw-ins, goal kicks, corner kicks, or free kicks unless there is a clear, legal, and compelling reason to step in with an order to “Wait!”

“Pass-Back” Offense

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

I know the pass-back rule prohibits the goalie from handling the ball if the ball is passed to him by a teammate. But I thought I saw an instance last week during a match where the ball was passed back to the goalie by one of his teammates but, as the ball was nearing the goalie, there was also an attacker going for the ball. The attacker was very close to winning the ball before the goalie had a chance to get it but the goalie ran to the ball and grabbed it up before the attacker won it.

Is that a legal move? Can the goalie pick up the ball if it was passed back to him by a teammate but an attacker is about to win the ball?

Answer

We are so glad you asked this specific question, not so much for the first paragraph but for the second paragraph because this offense is not only not well understood but the lack of understanding also tends to interfere with how it is called.

Not only was the GK’s action a violation of the law but the circumstances made it a violation that cannot be ignored.  Some “pass back” violations, even obvious ones, can be ignored if, in the opinion of the referee, the offense was trifling (just as with any other offense).  Now the root question becomes … why is this violation there?  Knowing the answer to this question enables the intelligent referee to determine whether it was trifling or not.

In point of fact, all four of the IFK offenses which only a goalkeeper can commit are in the Law for one primary purpose – to limit the amount of time during which the goalkeeper can legally withhold the ball from active challenge by taking hand possession of it.  Remember, the goalkeeper’s ability to do this is the single most important “right” the goalkeeper, and only the goalkeeper, has.  It is such a significant advantage the the Laws of the Game made it clear that the right has limits — no longer than 6 seconds (or thereabouts), no direct second possession, no pass back, and no throw back.

Accordingly, one of the prime criteria a referee needs to use in evaluating whether to whistle for a pass back violation is whether the goalkeeper is being challenged before taking hand possession of the ball.  If he is, and he actually takes hand possession under pass back circumstances, then the offense must be whistled.  If not, the offense could be (not must be) ignored (with perhaps a verbal warning) based on a host of other factors (e.g., the temperature of the game, the propensity for a team to commit offenses so far, the general level of friendliness, whether a prior warning had already needed to be given, etc.).

The scenario you offered has got to be one of clearest examples not only of the offense itself but also of one that has to be called.  The goalkeeper under potential or active challenge could always decide to play the ball in some way other than by taking hand possession and thus avoid the punishment but at a very high risk of not succeeding.  This keeper didn’t.

A Short Complicated Question

Joe, a U13 – U19 parent asks:

U-13 goalkeeper slides and makes the save on the ground.  The player from other team runs into him and knees him in back of the head. Isn’t that a penalty and isn’t it the responsibility of the offensive player to avoid the contact?

Answer

Only 42 words in 3 sentences and 3 lines of text, but a toughie to answer.  You’re may not like what we end of with here.  First, the simplest issue you raise is “isn’t that a penalty” and the answer is no.  Penalty kicks are awarded if and only if a direct free kick offense is committed by a defender inside his own penalty area.  In this case, if whatever happened is determined to be an offense, it would be the attacker (“the player from the other team”) who would be charged.  No, if there is an offense here and the Referee stops play for it, the restart would be given to the goalkeeper’s team, not the attacking player’s team.

But the crux of this scenario is whether it is an offense in the first place.  Before we hear audible gasps from most readers and angry vows that we don’t know what we’re talking about, let’s establish that it probably was and that, as such, it would likely result in a direct free kick (but remember, for the goalkeeper’s team!).  How could it be anything else?  Because soccer is a competitive sport that, as the age and skill level of the players goes up and game results become much more important, things happen and those things can lead to injuries — hopefully not severe — even with the best of intentions by those involved.

Let’s tick off the relevant facts: (a) U13 age level, (b) goalkeepers are more likely to be sliding on the ground to play/save the ball than anyone else, and (c) an opponent runs into the goalkeeper.  One thing to keep in mind is that, other things equal, it is no more the responsibility of the opposing player to avoid contacting the goalkeeper than it is for the goalkeeper to avoid contacting the opposing player.  All players have a responsibility to avoid contacting anyone (opponent or not) in a dangerous, threatening, careless, reckless manner or using excessive force.   How is the fact that these players are U-13s affect our evaluation?  Because they are not old enough or experienced enough to perform in a safe manner many of the awesome maneuvers  on the field that they might see on television, at a U-19 game, on a high school or college pitch, or during a World Cup match.  How does the fact that the goalkeeper is the object of the action?  Because goalkeepers more readily engage in behaviour which is inherently more potentially dangerous than is the case with any of their teammates.

What “sells” the likelihood that this should be considered at least careless or potentially reckless behavior by the attacker is the “knees him [the goalkeeper] in the back of the head” addition.  Yes, the attacker should have avoided running into the goalkeeper, if at all possible, but sometimes it is not possible if each player involved commits himself to a course of action so late that there is no turning back and contact of some sort becomes inevitable.  Yes, goalkeepers usually get the benefit of the doubt in such encounters if they are sliding on the ground and are not the ones initiating contact with the opponent and the opponent didn’t make any effort to leap over instead of run into the goalkeeper.  And, yes, U-13s are usually considered too young to have been foolhardy enough to act in this manner.  So, DFK coming out where the contact occurred looks very easily explained.  Have older, more skilled players, have the speed prior to contact low rather than high, have each player involved both equally attempting to challenge for a ball which is not yet in the possession of the goalkeeper, have the goalkeeper not on the ground, etc. and the case for a DFK offense begins to look weaker.

It is the Referee’s job to job to take all the above elements into account (plus others we don’t have the time or space to include) and arrive at a decision which protects the safety of players, the enjoyment of the game, and the fairness of the play, and thus to arrive at a decision which promotes these objectives for these players, today, in this game.

Watch Out for Those Hands and Arms!

David, a U13 – u19 fan, asks:

I have a question on a player constantly having their arms outstretched fully or halfway every time they challenge for a ball. Is there any infraction here? I personally don’t like to see that because it causes them to contact their opponent with their arms and hands at some point.

Answer

A rhetorical question for anyone other than an active soccer player …  do you do a lot of running that includes sudden changes in direction, starts, stops, etc?  Running on the soccer field is not like Irish clog dancing, where the arms are ceremoniously held straight down at the sides.  A soccer player needs the counter-balancing effect of arms held out (forward, backward, or to the side) at various angles from the body in order to maintain stability.

However, to your question.  There is nothing in the Laws of the Game which prohibit the arms from being held away from the body or even, more spectacularly, held straight above their head!  If and when the result of such behavior leads to contact with an opponent or the ball, then the referee uses this information as part (and only part) of deciding if an offense has been committed.

As a game moves up the competitive ladder, increasingly you will see an attacker and a marking defender running side-by-side, each with her arms (or elbows) held out jostling with the opponent.  Are there probably mutual violations occurring virtually every second?  Undoubtedly, yet at this level and assuming neither player is gaining an unfair advantage and the level of contact is merely irritating rather than painful, you will rarely hear a whistle (at most, a quiet verbal from the Referee to “watch the contact”).  Very likely, both players will finish their elbowing run and, later, brag to their teammates that “I really showed him I was serious!”  Why no whistle?  Because the violations (if they were) never rose to the level of needing to stop play.  Each player was “accepting” the level of contact as “par for the course.”

Contacting an opponent or the ball with a hand or arm is not, by itself, a violation of any Law or, even if it is, the referee has the authority to decide that the possible offense was doubtful or the actual offense was trifling.   In the case of making hand/arm contact with the ball, the Law is very clear that the action must be deliberate and involve directing the ball in a controlled fashion by moving the hand to the ball rather than having the ball simply move toward and contact the hand/arm.

In all these cases, the making of actual contact is only one factor to be taken into account in deciding if the contact was illegal, much less illegal enough to stop play — in logic, this is called a necessary but not sufficient condition.  There are only three offenses in Law 12 where actual contact is not specifically necessary as of 2016 — attempting to strike, kick, or trip are punished by an indirect free kick but actual contact involving any three of these actions makes the offense punishable by a direct free kick.

Please leave these decisions to the referee – he or she is the only one who knows the intent of the Law, the severity of the offense (if there is one), the pace of the game, the character of the players involved, and the general level of experience/skill of the players in the game.   The Referee is also the only one who has seen the event from the perspective that counts — the field rather than a sideline.

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.

Straightforward Offside

Jim, a U13 – U19 coach, asks:

A player is on a breakaway and scores with a clean shot past the goalie. The goalie makes an aggressive tackle and injures the player on the play inside the 18 yard line. The goal is subsequently called off because of an offside violation.  Obviously the goal is not allowed, but what is the correct call in relation to the dangerous tackle on the now injured player?

Answer

We are going to treat this as  a straightforward sequence of play and not delve into any of the possible complications, interesting though some of them might be.  Accordingly, our answer is based on the following: attacker makes a shot on goal which goes into the net, then the defending goalkeeper aggressively tackles the opponent and injures him, then the decision is announced that the goal is not allowed based on the attacker having committed an offside violation.

 

Where several offenses occur sequentially (i.e., one after another), the first offense determines the restart.  Here, the first offense was an offside violation so the punishment is an indirect free kick taken from where the attacker became involved in active play by touching the ball (which subsequently went into the net so the apparent goal has to be canceled).

The second offense was a tackle which, by its description, would seem to meet the definition of having been taken with excessive force and without regard for the safety of the opponent. However, because play was already considered to have been stopped when the offside offense was committed, the goalkeeper’s action was not a foul but it is misconduct.  The goalkeeper should be sent off and shown the red card for violent conduct.

Just as an indication of how and where this could become sticky, the offside offense and the excessive force tackle could have happened at the same time — we would not like to try to figure that one out.  Most referees would probably avoid the problem by declaring the events were sequential rather than simultaneous.

Wasting Time by Goalkeeper

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

My team (silver) played in a U-12 youth league tournament against the (orange) team.  I noticed that their keeper (more than once) kept the ball for longer than 20 seconds before kicking the ball. In the rule handout given to us at the beginning of the season, a goalkeeper is supposed to release the ball within 6 seconds. Sounds like a ref problem.  Is there a rule about wasting time? We were up on them by 1. I timed the keeper on how long he held the ball before releasing the ball and it totaled more than 4 min in a 4 quarter 10 min match. They also kept kicking the ball out of bounds every chance they got.  Finally they got up on us 2-1 and we lost. What’s with this?

Answer

We somehow get the impression that what you want from us is an answer the justifies your being outraged over your loss.  Unfortunately, things are not that simple.  Here’s why (in no particular order).

  • The measurements you cite are not helpful.  You totaled 4 minutes of “keeper time” but don’t say how many possessions that covered.  Was it 10 at an average of 24 seconds each?  60 at 4 seconds each?  Perhaps 40 possessions at 5 seconds each plus 2 that you measured at 20 seconds each?
  • Yes, the goalkeeper is required, in the normal course of play, to release the ball within 6 seconds of taking possession with his hands.  At no point did your scenario state that the 4 minutes of possession all occurred while the keeper was holding the ball.  Did any of them include possession at the feet of the goalkeeper?  Only possession by hand counts for the “6-second limit.”
  • Were any of your players failing to back away in order to give the keeper an opportunity to release the ball?  Any time spent avoiding opponents or trying but being unable to release the ball due to crowding by opponents is not counted in the 6-second limit.  Indeed, if your players were not allowing the keeper to release the ball into play quickly, they would be guilty of an indirect free kick offense.
  • It seems to us it is not entirely clear that this necessarily accounts for your team’s loss, whatever the legality of the keeper’s holding onto the ball longer than 6 seconds.  Keep in mind that your team was up by 1 at one time and lost by 1-2 — this obviously means that your loss was attributable to having had 2 goals scored against you.  Every “extra second” the keeper’s team may have been holding the ball longer than they should is an “extra second” in which neither of your teams had an opportunity to score.
  • The 6-second limit serves one primary objective — preventing the keeper from taking an unfair advantage of the time in which he is withholding the ball from active challenge.  In other words, the issue is not how much time the keeper has possession, it is how much time were opponents prevented from competing.
  • The 6-second limit is not, was never intended to be, and in practical terms never could be a precise measurement.  Every referee on the planet, in judging how long a keeper keeps possession of the ball, works solely by feel.    Standard Referee mechanics for dealing with goalkeepers withholding balls from challenge is to warn a keeper who appears to be abusing the limit by letting the keeper know that he is taking too much time and that, if it continues or is repeated, it will be dealt with according to the Law.  This typically results in some period during which the keeper pays attention, followed by a return to prior habits.  The point at which to warn a goalkeeper is at the discretion of the Referee, as is length of “extra time” the keeper takes before a warning is deemed advisable.  Most of the time, Referees don’t have a problem with possession time stretching to 7 or 8 seconds or as much as 10 — depending on what is going on in the game.
  • We will grant that, at first blush, taking 20 seconds to release the ball is severely pushing the limits but … the first time, the Referee may simply note it as data, the second time might occasion a warning (if it was equally egregious), and the third instance of a roughly equivalent delay could warrant a whistle but not for wasting time.  It would be for failing to release the ball into play in a timely manner and that may or may not be worth a caution.
  • Finally (you thought we might never get here?), there is nothing illegal about kicking the ball out of play no matter what the circumstances.  This is an entirely valid method of “using up” but not wasting time.  Withholding the ball from your team, in fact, is the job of the opposing team.  Using legal methods to do so is legal, using illegal methods is not.

Impeding Issues

Mario, a U-12 and under referee, asks:

This question is about the interpretation of impeding the progress of an opponent.  Let’s say player D (Defender) is shielding the ball legally, within playing distance away from player A (Attacker) inside the penalty area, parallel to the goal line but not within the goal. Before the ball is out of play, player D starts to back into player A.  At first they don’t make contact but then they do start making contact. Penalty or Indirect free kick for player A’s team?  My reaction would be to call an indirect free kick because the impeding is happening first?

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

Your assumption is incorrect as a matter of Law.  We quote from Law 12 (2016/2017 Laws of the Game): “A direct free kick is awarded if a player commits any of the following offences: … impedes an opponent with contact” followed by  the statement that an indirect free kick is awarded if a player “impedes the progress of an opponent without any contact being made.”  And then the 2016/2017 Laws included the following definition on page 83: “Impeding the progress of an opponent means moving into the opponent’s path to obstruct, block, slow down or force a change of direction when the ball is not within playing distance of either player.”  To top it all off, the Board continued with “A player may shield the ball by taking a position between an opponent and the ball if the ball is within playing distance and the opponent is not held off with the arms or body. If the ball is within playing distance, the player may be fairly charged by an opponent.”

In short, as USSF has long taught referees, impeding means no contact (other than purely accidental contact of contact as a result of simple inertia) and, if there is contact, the IFK offense is turned into a DFK offense equivalent to holding or an illegal charge.  The International Board simplified this history in 2016 when they clearly specified the distinction between impeding-without-contact and impeding-with-contact.

So, take another look at the scenario.  Was there any element of impeding here — with or without contact?  Did anyone move into an opponent’s path?  Were both “impeder” and “impedee” not within playing distance of the ball?  By the way, take a look at the International Board’s definition of “playing distance” (page 165).

What we have here is either ordinary contact between opposing players which does not rise to the level of a foul (or, arguably, is a foul but trifling) or, if it is a foul and neither doubtful or trifling, it is a DFK foul (converted by location into a PK).  The statement “the impeding came first” is not supported by the definitions noted above.  Before there was any contact, there was no impeding; after there was contact, it didn’t become “impeding-with-contact” but, rather simple holding (or nothing or doubtful or trifling).  A verbal warning about “backing into an opponent” might be warranted but, if there is anything more than this, the Referee has no choice but to signal for a PK — that is, of course, if it was the defender backing into the attacker rather than the attacker legally charging the defender.