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.

Backpass and Advantage

Wilson, an adult amateur parent, asks:

On a game I watched today the defender made a pass to the keeper but the ball was heading to goal.  The keeper then decided to deflect the ball with her hands.  She touched the ball but could not hold it.  The ball kept going towards goal, the attacker kicked it in and scored.  The Referee disallowed the goal and gave the attacking team an indirect kick for the backpass.  Shouldn’t the Referee have applied advantage, since calling the backpass benefited the offending team?

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

Good heavens, why would the Referee not have applied advantage?  Except for someone very inexperienced, whose mind was still fixated on “call the foul,” Referees past their fifth or sixth season should be positively looking for opportunities to demonstrate that they know how the game is played by waiting a moment to see what happens next and only then deciding what to do.  Pavlovian reactions to fouls cause more trouble in games with experienced player that almost anything else we can think of (excepting total ineptitude).

The “pass back to the goalkeeper” offense (the very term is misleading — it doesn’t have to be back, it doesn’t have to be a pass, and it doesn’t have to be to the goalkeeper) is an offense like any other and there is no reason to think it is exempt from the use of advantage.  We find utterly mysterious how the Referee could have thought this was a good decision since it replaced a 100% goal with  (given that the restart was an indirect free kick facing what was probably an impenetrable wall) a 20% goal at best.

We are getting uptight and perturbed discussing this so we had better stop.  The answer is, Yes.

Coaches and Cards

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

What happens when a coach gets a yellow card?

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

Consider the following:

Case 1:  What happens?   Well, it shouldn’t happen because, technically, coaches cannot get a yellow card. Under the Laws of the Game, only players, substitutes, and substituted players can be carded (yellow or red).  We draw your attention to Law 5 where it states that the duties of the Referee include “takes action against team officials who fail to act in a responsible manner and may expel them from the field of play and its immediate surrounds.”  This is routinely interpreted to mean that the only basis for disciplinary action against coaches (or any other team official) is “irresponsible actions” and the only discipline allowed is to “expel them from the field of play” (including from the area around the field … often explained as “far enough away to be out of sight and sound”).

Case 2:  What happens?  Well, that’s easy, the coach (or any other team official) has been cautioned.  In general terms, the yellow card is a warning about present behavior and a statement that subsequent misbehavior will likely result in a red card — in which case, the team official is “expelled from the field of play” (including from the area around the field … often explained as “far enough away to be out of sight and sound”).  How can the Referee get away with doing something which is contrary to the Laws of the Game?  Because a local competition authority (league, tournament, association, etc.) has decided they want this done in their games and the Referee has agreed to accept the assignment to officiate that game.

In either case, what constitutes “irresponsible behavior”?  Basically, it includes anything a player could do which is described in the misconduct section of Law 12 (under cautionable offenses and sending-off offenses).  The Referee is advised, even when local rules allow cards to be shown to team officials, to state in the match report that the team official was expelled (in case 1) or cautioned or sent off (in case 2) for irresponsible behavior, followed by a list of the specific indiscretions leading to the punishment.  Further in case 2, if the warning were unsuccessful in changing the team official’s behavior and the irresponsible actions continue, the Referee would be justified in showing directly (no second caution) the red card with the straightforward explanation that, despite a warning (the caution), the team official persisted in behaving irresponsibly, followed by a list of the additional specific actions.   In fact, if the first instance of irresponsible behavior were sufficiently irresponsible (i.e., equivalent to player actions that would immediately draw a red card), the Referee should deal with the team official the same way.

 

Substitution Following Departure of Goalkeeper

Eric, an adult amateur fan, asks:

A team has exhausted its allowed substitutions but their goalkeeper is sent off and one of the field players takes his place.  What is the procedure?

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

Simple, do what you described.  The procedure is based on (1) a sent-off keeper reduces by one the maximum number of players the goalkeeper’s team is allowed, (2) nevertheless, the Law requires that there be a goalkeeper, (3) therefore a field player must assume the role of goalkeeper, and (4) the new goalkeeper must be uniformed in accordance with the Law.

All of these things are true whether the team has used all of its allowed number of substitutions or not.  Of course, if they have, their only option is the field player becoming the goalkeeper. If they have not, then the goalkeeper’s team can take a field player off, bring a substitute on, and then switch the new field player (formerly a substitute) into the goalkeeper position (while, of course, dressing him/her accordingly).  In the latter case, the Referee must of course be aware of the substitution, the swap of the field player into the goalkeeper position, and then the swap of the new field player with the goalkeeper.  Informally, the process doesn’t have to be as rigorously marked out as this — the field player leaves and a substitute takes the field already outfitted as a goalkeeper.

The bottom line in all this is that, by the time the whistle is blown to restart play (i.e., all this must be completed during the stoppage at which the original goalkeeper was sent off), the team has an identifiable goalkeeper and one fewer field player than they had before the send-off.

Yelling “Mine”

Sue, a U-12 and under parent, asks:

Is it an offence for a player to call out “mine” to let his teammates know he is intending to play the ball?

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

Maybe.  It depends on the circumstances as seen at the specific moment by the Referee.  Here are some issues or concerns that the Referee would probably consider before deciding what (if anything) to do about it.

  • Was the shout done in such a way as to startle, confuse, or redirect the attention of a nearby opponent who might also be “intending to play the ball”?
  • Did the shout actually result in startling, confusing, or directing the attention of an opponent?
  • Was the shout performed in close proximity to the opposing goalkeeper who was also in a position to receive the ball?
  • Had there been a history during the game up to this point of shouting such claims?
  • Was the shouter easily identifiable at the time of the incident  as in fact an opponent (i.e., not coming from someone directly in view rather than behind or out of the peripheral vision of a player hearing the shout) or could the hearer believe that the shout came from a teammate?

All these factors come together to form an opinion in the Referee’s mind as to whether the shout of “Mine” was or was not either intended to distract generally or to confuse the identity of the shouter such that a player might be deceived and allow the ball to be left to someone the hearer thought was a teammate.  It doesn’t really matter what the shouter intended, which may have been entirely innocent, but what happened as a result — much the same as what happens with other offenses, such as fouls, particularly with younger player.  One of the most commonly used aphorisms among Referees is that the older the players the less likely anything that happens is by accident.

If the Referee decides that the shout was not permissible, it becomes a misconduct (caution for unsporting behavior) but the Referee might also decide that, while the intent to deceive was there, it might not be worth a caution if, for example, it was unsuccessful (i.e., the misconduct was trifling).  Alternately, the Referee might decide that it was misconduct, it deserves a caution, but play ought not to be stopped because “advantage” should be applied (the practical consequence of which is to hold the caution until the next stoppage and then show the offender the card).

Simulation Misconduct

David, an adult pro fan, asks:

So, I watched Real Madrid win a 12th Champions league.  Ramos cleanly tackles Cuadrado and forces the ball out of play for a throw in.  While the ball is out of play, Cuadrado with the slightest of touches taps Ramos on the shoulder and Ramos falls down grabbing his foot (completely looks like a dive). The ref then gives Cuadrado a 2nd yellow.  My question is, could Ramos get a card for simulation whilst the ball is out of play?

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

We are so glad you didn’t ask about whether Ramos cleanly tackled Cuadrado or whether Cuadrado’s tap on Ramos’ shoulder was “the slightest of touches” or whether Ramos’ reaction was a  “dive” because, as we say in our statement of what our objectives are in operating this website, we don’t answer questions about specific match plays and specific Referee decisions.  The only answerable question here is whether the Law allows a caution for misconduct committed during a stoppage of play.

Yes.

To expand a bit, the Law changed in  2016 to remove the Referee’s ability to show cards (yellow or red) for player behavior prior to the start of a match or after the final whistle sounds completing a match (including any post-game tiebreaking activity).  Of course, players can still commit misconduct before and after the game but, as of 2016, no cards can be shown.  The Referee is still allowed to dismiss a player for an offense otherwise warranting a red card which occurs prior to the match but doing so does not affect the team’s ability to field the maximum number of players allowed by Law 3.  And any misconduct occurring before or after a match must still be included in the match report.  However, none of this touched in the slightest the ability (indeed, the obligation) of the Referee to show any yellow or red card (or, in this case, yellow+red cards) and apply any sanctions which attach to the card for misconduct occurring at any stoppage of play occurring for any reason at all between the opening and final whistles.

Helpful(?) Dissent

Roy, a U12 – U19 referee, asks:

An attacking player, feeling he was fouled, expressed his frustration with me (the referee of this U19 game) by talking with his fellow players – “he’s not calling anything.”
Does this rise to the level of dissent? This was a player already on a yellow card and someone with whom I had been talking all game long about not complaining to me about calls or non-calls.

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

OK, please don’t take this the wrong way but, you care about this why?  What is it about what was going on that you would feel justified in pulling a yellow card for dissent and then, perforce, showing a red card because the yellow card you just showed was the player’s second one of the game?  We are not asking these questions as an indication that we are about to tell you that you are all wrong about this and you should just “man up” about it.

Dissent is misconduct for a reason.  Publishing (i.e., making public) negative, argumentative, abrasive, disrespectful, derogatory, etc. comments directed at an official (Referee and/or ARs) is an insult to the game and to its long history of “gentlemanly” conduct upon which its Laws are based.  In the match, dissent which continues becomes insidiously pervasive to the detriment of the sort of communal trust which makes the sport enjoyable for its participants (including the members of the officiating team).  We think there should be and probably is widespread agreement regarding this.  And yet … there it is.

Sometimes you can see (and hear) it coming.  It may build slowly and incrementally until it crosses the line and becomes like the roaring sound of an approaching tornado.  Sometimes it just jumps out at you, full-blown, unexpected, and caustic enough to strip skin on first touch.  Are these inevitable end-points?  Only if left untouched or undiverted.  Rarely does dissent cease of its own volition because the very essence of dissent is “try war, not diplomacy.”

Was the player’s comment “he’s not calling anything” dissent?  Who’s the “he”?  You?  Did you automatically assume the “he” is you because of your history during the game of talking to him about his expressed unhappiness regarding your decisions?  Do you think the player expressing this opinion now to his teammates is an escalation of the situation?  Senior referees should already have been exposed to the “3 P” philosophy about dissent — the need to deal with dissent grows according to the degree to which it is or is becoming Personal, Public, and Provocative.

  • Personal – directed at an official by eye contact, by name, by nearness
  • Public — increasingly easily heard or seen by an increasing number of persons
  • Provocative – the specific content of the speech or the common interpretation of the nonverbal communication — e.g., wagging the finger versus “the finger”

How effective is any concrete act of warning about possible dissent watered down by repetition without retribution during the game?  Is running by you and suggesting that “you’re not calling anything” as a quiet aside more “dissentful” (a word we just made up to express the concept of a qualitative amount of dissent) than shouting it out loud in a stadium full of people or than saying it to some of the speaker’s teammates loudly enough that you and perhaps a few others could hear it?

At some point, the dissent virus begins to spread, which is exactly what you don’t want because, if you are at that point, you will either have lost control entirely or, alternately, it will take a huge amount of your professional resources to halt it.  Far better to kick the snowball apart at the top of the mountain than to be crushed by it at the bottom.

Oh, and by the way, get in the habit of listening carefully to what players are saying, even if it is disagreeable, because you might need to hear it even if you don’t like the manner of expression.

Goalkeeper Possession

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

A goalie going for the ball on the ground  holds on to an opponent’s leg with one hand while also gaining control of the ball with the other hand.  Is the goalie considered to maintain possession when the opponent attempts to disengage his foot from the goalie’s hand and, as a result, the ball pops free?  With the ball and his leg now free, the opponent kicked the ball into the net. This was a U12 game.

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

The events you described, even in a U-12 game, happen rather quickly.  In a perfect (and therefore unrealistic) world, the referee’s recommended course of action is easy to describe but difficult to implement.

Here is what should happen.  The referee sees the play developing through the point of the goalkeeper grabbing onto the attacker’s leg.  This is a holding offense and even goalkeepers are not allowed to do this.  The referee should wait no longer than the next play to see what then happens — this is a “silent” form of applying advantage without the usual verbal “Play on!” and swinging upward arm movements.   What happens next confirms the wisdom of this choice — the attacker manages to gain control of the ball and scores a goal despite the goalkeeper’s illegal behavior.

The referee should count the goal and either admonish the goalkeeper or show the yellow card to the goalkeeper for unsporting behavior.  Under the Laws of the Game, a red card for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity (OGSO) is not justified because … well, simply, because the goal-scoring wasn’t denied!

Note that the course of action described above is based on the facts of this case and particularly the fact that, while his leg was being held by the goalkeeper, the opponent did not kick the ball out of the goalkeeper’s possession because this would have been an offense by the attacker immediately following the offense by the goalkeeper.  It makes no sense to apply advantage and then have the opponent take advantage of the opportunity by committing a foul himself.  However, in this case, play is stopped for the goalkeeper’s offense (because the advantage did not develop, which was the attacker’s fault!) so the restart is a penalty kick and the referee could admonish or caution the attacker for unsporting behavior.  This year’s Law changes appear to specify that the goalkeeper be cautioned because a penalty kick has been awarded and the goalkeeper was, in addition to committing a foul, also playing the ball.

And then there is the potential factor of the age of the players.  Anytime, with young players, there is a situation involving one or more attackers and defenders (one being the goalkeeper) in close proximity, with one or more fouls being committed under dangerous circumstances, it is often better to get play stopped as quickly as possible to keep everyone safe.  The U12 – U14 age group is right on the edge where on the one hand safety is emphasized but, on the other hand, if the players are experienced despite their age, applying advantage may be justified.

More Goalkeeper Deviltry?

Bing Jong, a U-12 and under player, asks:

I was in a tournament game when a ball was kicked out of bounds for a goal kick restart.  We were playing on a hill so the ball rolled a decent way down it. The goalie was wasting time by taking his sweet little time to get to the ball.  Was that punishable and, if it is, how?

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

Let’s see.  We’re going to take a guess that it was your team that played the ball last before it went across the goal line (not between the goal posts), for a goal kick restart.  I’m also guessing that it was your opponent’s dastardly goalkeeper who took “his sweet little time” getting the ball (yes, we caught the sarcasm).  Further, you have already decided that the dastardly goalkeeper was “wasting time” (which is, in fact, a decision of the referee).  My final guess is that, because you didn’t say otherwise, the referee did not punish the dastardly goalkeeper at all or at least not appropriately.

Just so we understand each other here, the goalkeeper might have been moving slower than you expected or desired because he was at the top ofa hill and might not have wanted to trip, fall, and roll “a decent way down it” as the ball did.  On the other hand, if he was laughing, smirking, and picking daisies on the way down, you’ve got a pretty good argument.

If the former is what happened (in the opinion of the referee), there was no time being wasted.  After all, U-12 games rarely in our experience, have ball retrievers ready at an instant to get the ball back to the goal kick restart.   Or, given that the ball was played on a hill, the team playing at the downhill end at each half could have had an extra ball available for just this sort of problem.  If the latter were not the case or if, despite the presence of a pre-approved backup ball at the net, the goalkeeper deliberately ignored it and went traipsing “a decent way” downhill unnecessarily, then (again in the opinion of the referee) this could have been deemed time wasting, the penalty for which is a caution for “delaying the restart of play.”  You might note, however, that, in the absence of any prior warning about delaying a restart, most referees early on would warn the wandering-down-the-hill goalkeeper to “get a move on!” and only show the yellow card if it seemed that the goalkeeper was deliberately ignoring the referee’s observation.  Note also that the referee might base his or her opinion about the probability of time being wasted at least in part on the score at the time.  After all, “wasting time” might be considered a trifling offense if it was being done by a goalkeeper whose team was behind in the score.  Note finally that giving a caution will have the ironic result of further delaying the restart.

If there was misconduct here and if the referee decided a caution was appropriate, the restart would still be the original goal kick.  Misconduct during a stoppage of play does not change the original restart decision.

 

Referees: Please Send a Thank-You Card to the International Board

Roland, an adult amateur referee, asks:

What is the punishment for a player spitting at the referee while the ball is in play?  Since it is not directed at the opposing team, is the offender (one who spit) red carded and sent off of the field? How is the game restarted?

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

Thanks to the International Board and the newest Law changes (as of 2016-2017), Referees and other members of the officiating crew can now be the target of a foul the same as opponents and are now granted the same restart punishment.  Spitting at anyone, including the Referee, has always been a sending-off misconduct offense, whether it was during play or not and on the field or not, so the answer to the card question isn’t new — it is, Yes, red card and a sending-off.

However, until 2016, the restart would have been an indirect free kick based solely on the misconduct because, prior to 2016, spitting as a direct free kick foul could only be performed against an opponent.  In 2016, although the language at the start of Law 12 still specifies “spits at an opponent,” Section 4 of Law 12 now states that the punishment for spitting at such other persons as a teammate, substitute, team official, or a match official is not only the same direct free kick used if the action were at an opponent but it can also be escalated to a penalty kick if it occurs inside the spitter’s penalty area.  As the International Board explained, spitting (as well striking, holding, kicking, etc.) is a serious matter and restarting play with only an indirect free kick (for the card) where the target was an official sends a weak message.

So, if you are kicked, pushed, struck, or charged (at least carelessly, etc.) or are spat upon or held, you can thank the International Board for their upgrading of the punishment.