FRD vs DR

Stephan, a U13 – U19 referee, asks (in more detail than can be repeated here):

What is the difference between FRD (the standard short version of “fails to respect the required distance”) and DR (the short version of “delays the restart of play”?  I’m sending this question to look for advice from USSF on how they want DR and FRD to be enforced in scenarios where the defender is deliberately standing over the ball at a free kick. (detailed example redacted). if I do caution for this sort of behavior, I will inevitably get the “but he’s allowed to stand there until the attacker asks for 10” complaint from the opposing team.  Should I be cautioning for this stuff, and if not, why not?  Coaches and players often argue that cautions for this rarely occur in higher level games

Answer

First of all, the website does not speak for USSF.  Whatever we offer here regarding the Laws of the Game comes from our officiating, instructing, and assessing experience.  If you take a look at the home page of the website, under the “About” tab, you see the “rules” under which the site is operated and that includes a clear statement that the website is not and has not been since 2012 an “official” source of USSF interpretations.  The Federation, in fact, has discontinued the prior standard practice of providing such interpretations on any routine basis.

Second, no matter what coaches and players say (keep in mind that they have biased reasons for arguing that their player should not be cautioned for this behavior), such actions are cautioned when appropriate.  Two things to remember here.  One is that you rarely see it because it rarely happens because, at higher levels of play, the players know a lot better than players at lower levels do where the referee sets the line.  The other is that, at higher levels of play, the referee is more experienced regarding steps that can be taken to prevent this sort of behavior.

That said, there is a clear difference between the two offenses connected with a free kick restart (actually, they apply to any dynamic play restart performed by a player for which there is a required distance for the opponents – TI, CK, GK).  One has general application, the other has a very specific application.  We all pretty much understand “failure to respect the required distance” – it is the more common situation and, while it involves various important balancing decisions, it is one which all referees face on a regular basis.  Any opponent who is closer than the required distance is taking a risk of being cautioned if, from within that distance, she interferes with the restart in any way.  The only official action the referee can take to prevent or enforce the interference is if the team with control of the ball on the restart asks for the minimum distance to be enforced, which automatically converts the restart to a ceremony.

The second often comes as a surprise and, particularly for the examples we will give, should result in a caution for delaying the restart of play without hesitation.  Note the difference.  In the first case, it is actually the kicking/throwing team that delays the restart by deciding that they want the minimum distance enforced, but that is their right and, unless, having enforced the minimum distance, an opponent decides at the last moment (i.e., just before the kick is taken) to move from the required distance to somewhere illegally nearer and, from there, interferes with play, we go with what the kicking/throwing team wants.

Here, however, one or more opponents conduct themselves in such a way as to prevent any restart from occurring – for example, kicking the ball away, taking control of the ball and refusing or delaying returning it to the team which has the restart, or (and here is the most interesting example), standing so close to the ball as to prevent it from being kicked entirely.  The referee might wait to see what develops if an opponent is, say, 2-3 yards away from the restart location at the moment of stoppage but is moving backward and giving at least the appearance of being in the process of respecting the required distance.  Referees are advised in such cases to “wait and see” what the team in control of the ball wants to do and go with the flow – in other words, stay out of it until it is clear that the team in control wants or needs intervention.  In this second scenario, however, the referee should step in immediately because, by the sorts of actions suggested here, the opposing team has concretely taken the decision away from the team with the restart by not even allowing them to have the ball or by blocking the ball so closely that the team in possession couldn’t take a restart even if that is what they wanted.  In short, the player who, for example, stands right in front of the ball (or walks across the front of the ball at the critical moment) has deliberately removed the attacking team’s option of restarting immediately.  This caution, thus, is immediate.  By the way, teams in control of the ball at a restart can also be cautioned for delaying the restart of play if they … well … delay the restart of play though, in this case, we advise referees to give the attacking team a warning that their delay is noted and must not continue – after which, they are the ones to get the caution (example: an attacker with a throw-in continues, despite a warning, to somehow fail to throw the ball into the field, despite several apparent tries to do so, or who delays while apparently trying to decide with teammate they will throw the ball to).

By the way, taking note of the following common refrain from players – “but he’s allowed to stand there until the attacker asks for 10” – simply demonstrates either that (a) players haven’t the slightest idea of what the Law actually says or (b) they know but are simply gaming the referee in the hopes that he or she is not experienced enough to know what the Law says.  It is actually very clear.  At the moment of a stoppage where the referee has made it clear which team has control of the ball for the restart (which is why we strongly recommend that referees not delay making this simple fact clear!), all opponents are expected and required to be or stay at or to quickly get to the required distance.

Shielding vs Impeding vs Interference

SJ, a U13 – U19 coach, asks:

We played in a U15 match where one of the defensive backs shielded one of my forwards from going for the ball. When the defender has the ball I believe this is within the rules of the game. However, later in the match, a similar event happened only this time a 2nd defensive back screened the striker making no attempt to play the ball, in essence preventing the movement to the ball allowing the other DB to get there first. Isn’t this interference? I think the restart would be an Indirest free kick for the attacking team. Could you please let me know?

Answer

As with many things regarding the Laws of the Game, it is (a) more complicated than many think, (b) it depends on the context, and (c) the final decision belongs to the referee based on what SHE saw.

Let’s clear up the Law issues first because, surprisingly, they are the simplest.  Shielding and “impedes the progress of an opponent” are often used interchangeably – they should not be.  Only the latter (“impedes the progress”) is in the Law, “shielding” is not.  However, there are several forms of “impeding” – for example, with or without contact and impeding versus “blocking” (which can be found in Laws 11 and 15).  The Laws of the Game Glossary (its dictionary, in effect) provides a simple definition of impeding that covers all of these types – “To delay, block or prevent an opponent’s action or movement“ – and so we have to clarify all of them.   Impeding the progress of an opponent in Law 12 is an indirect free kick foul that applies when, without making contact, a player moves into the way of an opponent for the apparent purpose of stopping, slowing down, or forcing a change of direction of that opponent, with the ball not within playing distance of either player.

So, a player simply standing in one spot which happens to be a spot that an opponent wants to occupy, cannot be impeding that opponent because, having staked out her own location, she has a right to stay there and the opponent has to move around.  Crashing into the player (in an “you’re in my way” manner) becomes an offense (most likely illegal challenging) against the opponent.  If the ball is within playing distance or either or both players, then impeding is exactly what each is attempting to do in the process of gaining/keeping control of the ball – and it’s legal so long as neither one commits any Law 12 foul while doing so.  If there IS contact, it becomes a direct free kick foul.  Now we come to the issue of “context” and “the opinion of the referee” because that is where the “apparent purpose” comes in … and referees have all sorts of clues on this subject (for example, noting that the player running into or across the path of the opponent was focusing her attention on the opponent rather than on the direction in which she was moving).

The action commonly considered “shielding” is actually entirely legal and, while it may be impeding in a general sense (e.g. blocking) an opponent, it is not usually an offense.  An example of this is the situation in which defender A17 has played a ball in such a way that, if it crosses her own goal line, it would result in a corner kick for Team B so A17 tries to get to the ball to prevent it from leaving the field while B29 very much wants the ball to leave the field and attempts to “shield” A17 from getting the ball by interposing herself between A17 and the goal line.  B29’s challenge is to remain within playing distance of the ball as it moves toward the goal line and to not “hold” A17 within the meaning of Law 12.  A17’s challenge is to get around B29 without anything more than incidental contact with B29 and definitely not contact which would be considered “pushing/pulling” under Law 12.  Everyone gets frustrated and both the referee and the nearer AR are watching this play like hawks for any infractions of the Law.

“ Impeding” without movement is illegal only under two circumstances – offside offense and defending against a throw-in.  An attacker commits an offside offense merely by (with or without moving) being in the way of any opponent while that attacker is in an offside position – this is considered interfering with an opponent.  In the case of Law 15, a player who is closer than 2 yards to an opposing player’s throw-in or who, in the opinion of the referee, is acting in such a way as to distract or interfere with the thrower even if she is at or farther way than the minimum two yards away distance has also committed an offense but, although Law 15 uses the term “impeding,” it is not the same as a Law 12 impeding offense.

Back to your question (you thought we would never get there!).  Clearly, the situation you described first was not an impeding offense if and only if at least one of the two combatants was within playing distance of the ball.  Your second scenario, however, doesn’t include enough information (see above) to tell whether it was different from or essentially the same as the first scenario.  It all depends on (a)  whether the defensive back was within playing distance of the ball and (b) whether that defensive back had already established her position, thus forcing the striker to take extra time and distance to get around her or whether the defensive back moved into or with the striker as the striker attempted to move around the defensive back and (c) stayed with playing distance of the ball during the whole shielding time and (d) the referee saw all this (remember, what YOU saw doesn’t matter – don’t take it personally).  Remember also that actually attempting to play the ball is not the issue — the issue is “being within playing distance.”…

DOGSO/OGSO Once Again

Richard, an adult amateur player, asks:

Hi. I am a central defender and was sent off towards the end of a game this morning for denial of a clear goal scoring opportunity. In this instance there was a covering defender which the referee agreed with but he said that if I hadn’t fouled the striker, it would would have been a 2 on 1, i.e. the man I fouled as well as the person the covering defender was marking against the covering defender. However there was obviously the goalkeeper as well and this all happened about 35 yards from goal. I have never before seen an instance of someone being sent off for this offense when there is a covering defender which the referee agreed with and given the distance from goal I’m not sure this constitutes an obvious goal scoring opportunity. Was the referee within his rights to send me off?

Answer

Without attempting to nit-pick, the technical answer is, yes, the referee was within his rights, but not necessarily in accordance with how the Law is implemented.

The standard protocol for denying an “obvious goal scoring opportunity” (aka “OGSO”) depends on what kind of foul it was.  If it was a handling offense, the only criterion is the referee’s decision as to whether, but for the handling, the ball would have either gone into the net or been very close to that.

For all other fouls, the referee must balance the following four factors regarding OGSO:

  • The number of defenders  between the foul and the opposing team’s goal who are able to defend (i.e., doesn’t include a defender incapacitated and on the ground or a defender far enough either to the right or left who would have had no ability to participate in any defense based on how close to the goal the offense occurred) and the defender who committed the foul is not included in the count.   This criterion is inflexible – it is applied if the number is 1 and does not apply if the number is 2 or more.  In short,  if there are two or more defenders meeting this requirement, it cannot be an OGSO no matter the status of the other three elements.

The other three elements are flexible and must be weighed together with the above element.

  • The distance from the location of the foul and the goal – this is a yardstick and becomes increasingly important as the distance is shorter.  For example, a foul within 18 yards would rate this factor at the highest level whereas a distance of half a field would seriously weaken the likelihood that it was an OGSO. Every distance in between is in between highest level and lowest level.  35 yards would be a moderately important factor.
  • The general direction of play at the moment of the foul.  That direction must be toward the goal.  If not clearly toward the goal, an OGSO decision is less supportable.  Note, however, that the player against whom the foul was committed might, at that precise moment, might be temporarily not moving directly toward the goal if he or she is attempting to avoid or evade the defender.  The issue is whether the direction of the play, in general, has been toward the goal. If it has been, then this factor is clearly present.
  • Finally, the distance from the site of the foul to the ball at the moment of the foul.  The factor is present if the ball is with “playing distance” – meaning that the fouled player would have been able to continue maintaining possession of the ball if the foul had not happened.  An example is if the player with the ball had played the ball several yards or more ahead just before the foul occurred.  If the ball is considered to be within playing distance, this factor is present.

It is not necessary that each of these four factors be equally present.  Number of defenders has to be 1 or none, direction of play has to be generally toward the goal, the ball cannot be clearly beyond playing distance.  Distance to the goal is, as noted, the most dependent on judgment – the best that can be said is that “too far” detracts from OGSO while close in (certainly within 18-20 yards) makes the factor definitely present.

The question you asked is easy, the answer is not.  It depends on aggregating the nonnumerical value of four factors and then making a decision based on the feel of the game.  In your scenario, the weakest (one might say, possibly entirely absent) is the one we listed first.…

Goalkeepers and Time

Richard, an adult pro referee, asks

Have they done away with the six second rule for the goalkeeper before he releases the ball?  If not, why don’t they enforce it?

Answer

First, “they” haven’t done away with it.  Indeed, it remains the standard requirement in the US for US Soccer (IFAB), high school soccer (NFHS), and collegiate games (NCAA) — as well as the rest of the world.

Second, asking “why don’t they enforce it” takes us into a whole different issue.  For referees, the first hurdle in their learning curve is to recognize that an action is an offense.  For inexperienced referees (say, up through their first couple of years), this is one of the most important achievements and, in general, that recognition, plus stopping play and getting the restart right (both for offenses and for any other stoppage reason), are an acceptable measure by which to evaluate a new referee’s performance.  Around years 2-4, the focus should begin to change.  Offense recognition (if married with correct restarts) has largely been achieved and now the critical question becomes “what should I do about it?”  You might ask, well, why is this a question because we’ve already said that stopping play and getting the restart right are what you are supposed to do”?

The answer is that there is “correct” and there is “right” – they are not necessarily the same.  “Correct” means “in accordance with the Laws of the Game” whereas “right” means “what do I want to achieve in this game … at this moment … with this player … under these specific circumstances?” Limiting the goalkeeper to 6 seconds from the moment control of the ball is achieved to the goalkeeper’s release of the ball is a very concrete statement.  Sounds unbendingly specific and easy to enforce – just use your watch to measure the time between these two points and, if it exceeds 6 seconds, whistle for an indirect free kick offense in favor of the opposing team from the point where the goalkeeper exceeded the 6 second limit.  This is possibly what a new referee took away from the entry level course about how to enforce this rule.

Why do you see it “not enforced”?  Well, perhaps it is because the referee forgot this rule.  Or perhaps the referee forgot to start checking his watch and thus has no idea how long the goalkeeper held onto the ball.  Perhaps the referee was estimating time and, just as he was about to whistle, the goalkeeper released the ball and the referee thought, what the heck, that’s close enough.

Or perhaps the referee gained enough experience or was mentored properly or received in-service training that went beyond the simple statement in the Law about 6-seconds-and-not-a-second-longer to understand why this rule is in the Law in the first place and then use that knowledge to evaluate the scenario and recognize that, yes, 7 (or 8 or 9) seconds was an offense but perhaps it was trifling – in other words, the offense didn’t matter because it did no harm to the opposing team and did not benefit the goalkeeper’s team – or perhaps the estimate was not precise enough and the expiration of 6 seconds was doubtful.  Now marry this with the established norm that soccer is an active sport involving constant motion which should not be interrupted with stoppages without good reason (and neither doubtful nor trifling is a good enough reason).  The result is a picture of a referee who has allowed the goalkeeper to exceed the 6-second limit on possession of the ball and who is in fact following the intent of Laws of the Game

Of course, there are limits but, based on the above, it should be clear where those limits start clicking in.  Around 8-10 seconds (time it so you have a feel for what that is) it probably becomes more difficult to say the offense is doubtful.  It’s also roughly the point at which a referee who is in fact aware of the passage of time from experience might clearly inform the goalkeeper that he or she needs to get rid of the ball, followed by no more than a second or two with “NOW!”  12-15 seconds is nearing the point at which continued possession of the ball by the goalkeeper becomes difficult to describe as trifling – a time period which actually narrows if, during the same time, it is clear that the opposing team is becoming rightfully disturbed by the lack of a reasonably quick return of the ball back into active play.

Notice that the dynamics are totally different if, instead of picking up a ball played to him (other than from a teammate’s play of the ball with his foot), the goalkeeper simply stops the ball with his foot and remains standing with the ball on the ground.  The clock doesn’t even start ticking here and the only restraint on the goalkeeper is if opponents begin moving to challenge (remember, the 6-second limit doesn’t even begin until the goalkeeper takes clear possession of the ball with his hand). Notice also that most referees start using tighter constraints if the goalkeeper has been warned already but takes unfair advantage of the indulgence.

So, you have the answer.  You may not like it (though, as a referee, you should be following it if you are past your first several years of officiating) but that is why they are paying you the big bucks.  They are assuming you will understand the difference between correct and right.

Blowing the whistle at the 6.1th second is correct, but it is seldom right.…

Dissent

Cam, an adult amateur referee, asks:

Can you caution a player/players for surrounding the referee after a decision has gone against them or simply they disagree with you?

Answer

Yes, it’s possible.  There are conditions, however, that need to be taken into account.  Simply disagreeing with the referee is not an offense – it’s all in how you do it.  The training on this matter is clear – if there is mass confrontation (2 or more), everything goes into high gear and less leeway is allowed in what we are about to say.

Dissent decisions are based on the “3Ps” – Personal, Public, and Provocative.

  • If what is said (verbally or otherwise) is directed at an official, it’s personal (the difference between “you are wrong” where the “you” is an official versus “I don’t agree with that call”).
  • If what is said (verbally or otherwise) loudly enough that it can be heard/seen by a large number of persons on or off the field, it is public (the difference between standing 10 feet away and shouting at the top of your lungs for the entire field to hear “I don’t agree with that call” versus walking by the referee and saying in a low enough voice that “you are wrong on that call.”
  • If what is said (verbally or otherwise) includes generally recognizable unacceptable language, it is provocative (the difference between saying “I f…ing don’t agree with that f…ing call” or giving a one finger salute versus “Sir, the reason for that last decision was impenetrably obtuse and bespeaks a cognitive level lower than winter temperatures in Siberia”).

Any one of these Ps, if at the extreme end, can be enough to warrant a caution.  Anything that even at a moderate level combines 2 or all 3 of these Ps can be enough to warrant a caution.  Any of these Ps at even a below moderate level could, if engaged in by two or more players simultaneously from less than 4-5 feet away from an official, be the basis for a caution – and the larger the number of players encircling the official (all this applies to ARs as well, but still has to be the decision of the referee), the more likely the caution becomes (i.e., mass confrontation).

So, it’s all a balancing judgment – how much “3 P” behavior do we have, at what level, involving how many?  The underlying standard for making the decision is whether not cautioning for dissent makes more likely a continuation, heightening, repetition, or spreading of the behavior.…

Who “Owns” the Ball?

Tom, a U13 – U19 coach, asks:

In a recent game, after a goal was scored, the scoring player attempted to retrieve the ball to bring it to the center in order to get the game going. The keeper pushed him but the referee awarded the player who had picked up the wall a yellow for “invading the space” of the keeper. The player’s coach then protested there was no such call and the referee gave a yellow to the coach for dissent.
I checked with our referee assignor and he said he had not heard of that call and doubt he would have awarded the yellow. We’ve all seen players retrieve the ball and while the other team may occasionally try to inhibit it from happening, there is typically no cards given.
What’s your opinion?

Answer

Our “opinion” is not needed because the Law directly, clearly, and firmly confirms that the referee was entirely right.  Although his verbal description of the offense was not accurate, his actions were.  The complaining coach and, sadly, also your referee assignor are wrong.

The offense in question is actually the misconduct called “delaying the restart of play.”  It arises only at stoppages (hence the focus on “the restart of play”) and is based on an opponent taking control of a ball which “belongs” to the other team, thus withholding it from the team which “owns” the restart and thus delaying the proper restart.  An obvious example is when Team A has been awarded a free kick but a Team B player kicks the ball away.  The specific example which led to the caution you described appeared in the Laws of the Game almost a dozen years ago, not so much as a “new” offense but as a specific example of the existing misconduct of delaying the restart of play.  The current language states the offense as follows (emphasis added, Law 12.3 “Delaying the Restart of Play” at page 107):

Referees must caution players who delay the restart of play by:

  • appearing to take a throw-in but suddenly leaving it to a team-mate to take
  • delaying leaving the field of play when being substituted
  • excessively delaying a restart
  • kicking or carrying the ball away, or provoking a confrontation by deliberately touching the ball after the referee has stopped play
  • taking a free kick from the wrong position to force a retake

When this language first appeared, in fact, the scenario below was specifically cited as the reason for this new example.  The International Board described the situation after a goal was scored with a member of the team which scored the goal winding up trying to wrestle control of the ball away from the goalkeeper because the opponent wanted to get play restarted as quickly as possible and thought he could assist in this by grabbing the ball (which “belonged” to the team scored against).  Although his intentions were arguably benign, he had no right to the ball and the goalkeeper did, hence the tussle.  The action, however, clearly provoked a confrontation and, in doing so, actually delayed the restart.

The point at the bottom of this is that players on the team which does not “own” the restart must not touch the ball – however, it is not the mere touching of the ball that defines the misconduct, it is doing so with the consequence of provoking a confrontation.  More often than not no one on the field would care if an opponent (say) ran off the field to retrieve a ball for a throw-in by the opposing team in the spirit of good sportsmanship and doing so should not result in a referee decision that misconduct has occurred.  If doing so does, or looks like it will, provoke the confrontation, the referee needs to step in to prevent this and, if necessary, to caution for delaying the restart.…

Mayhem on the Field

Vanessa, a U13 – U19 coach, asks:

My son plays on a u14 club team. We had our semi final this past weekend. My son was fouled by another player and they exchanged words.  My son was walking away and the other player lunged at and started to physically attack my son.  Both boys started fighting. The ref tried breaking them up but the other team’s players came and it was chaos. Refs had completely lost control of game. Meanwhile, my son is being jumped by 6 players of the other team.  He is on the floor being kicked and punched by the other team. I see that he is bleeding and the refs aren’t helping him, so I ran on the field, pulled my son up and held him tight, basically shielding him from getting hit again. All of this was caught on video. My question, is when can a parent, coach, or bystander intervene and enter the field for the safety of the child if refs have lost control of game?

Answer

That is at once both a deeply pertinent as well as unanswerable question.  There is the Law … and then there is practicality.  Finally, there is so much more we would need to know (despite your detailed description) about what did and did not happen that would be directly relevant to coming up with any useful answer.  Nevertheless, here goes.

First, “the Law” makes completely clear that no one is allowed to enter the field of play without the express permission of the referee.  Note that the Laws of the Game were and still largely are written with a particular sort of game in mind – e.g., Britain’s men’s national team versus Mexico’s men’s national team played in Azteca stadium which seats more than 100,000+ spectators where the entire perimeter of the field of play is fenced and patrolled by security guards.  We assume that doesn’t describe the game in your scenario and, as a consequence, much of the behavior you described simply could not happen in a match directly sponsored by FIFA.  It is thus not surprising that things could happen in the ordinary, everyday youth match played in a local field which is guided by a local league which is affiliated with a state association which is affiliated with US Soccer which is affiliated with FIFA.  That’s like being a second cousin twice removed.  It’s still the Laws of the Game, with some limited differences that take into account the age and experience level of the players, but such differences are mainly limited to substitution rules, the size of the field, etc.  So, the official answer is that, unless and until the referee officially declares the game terminated, it remains illegal for anyone to enter the field of play without the permission of the referee.

Second, standard mechanics for officials taught worldwide in association with those Laws, provide that, in the event of a confrontation involving players, the primary task of the officiating team is to attempt to prevent any widening of the altercation but otherwise to watch and record misconduct which must then be included in their match report which then goes to the “local competition authority” which then has the task of sorting out who did what to whom, when, and how seriously.  Directly intervening in an altercation is not recommended – the officiating team is (a) at most 3 people, (b) most likely themselves  youths who are themselves probably only 2-5 years older than the players, and (c) potentially faced by as many as 22 players plus various substitutes from off the benches.  We are not aware of any local referee training which explicitly provides that any of the officials individually or all of them together are expected to wade in and start pushing or pulling players away from each other (i.e., “breaking up the fight”).  Can you imagine the legal liabilities (particularly in the ever-litigious US) faced by an official who started physically grabbing youth players and tossing them around?  Referees are firmly and in no uncertain terms told that they must not touch players.  What you were implicitly advocating would have put all the officials into serious legal jeopardy!

Third, it is both incorrect and unfair to say that the “refs had completely lost control of game” – more accurately, the players had taken control of the game and the coaches had lost control of their players.  The referee team is not tasked with “breaking up confrontations” – they are tasked with doing what they can to prevent a widening of one, to observe the commission of misconduct, to terminate a match, and to write a full, accurate report of who did what for later submission.

Fourth, as a practical matter, it is quite understandable for one or more parents to feel impelled to jump in to protect their children and support their team.  Of course, doing so is quite likely to lead to a widening of the conflict unless the intervention is very specific and limited to protecting one or more players who appear to be the target of any violence.  We note that no mention was made about the actions and behavior of the coaches – they should be “first responders” and the referees should (though this is likely to get lost in the building mayhem) quickly signal permission for the coaches to enter the field and exercise their more direct and meaningful authority regarding the behavior of their players.

Fifth and finally, everyone who saw what happened should make notes to document their recollections and then vigorously pursue whatever avenues are available with respect to the “local competition authority” to ensure that those who started and/or added to the mayhem are properly punished to the degree of their culpability.  Only in this way can you help make less likely similar occurrences in the future might.…

Interfering with the Goalkeeper’s Release of the Ball

Shawn, a High School and College referee, asks:

When the keeper makes a save and has secured the ball, either with both hands, against his body, or against the ground, and an attacker dislodges the ball without a “normal” foul, the most common restart is a “manufactured” drop ball, allowing the keeper to play as if it never happened. However, I can’t find the rationale for this. Several experienced referees tell me it’s a foul, and the restart is a direct free kick. Other experienced referees tell me it’s playing the ball while it’s not in challenge, and the restart is an indirect free kick. What’s the restart?

Answer

You can’t find the rationale for it?  That’s because there is none.  Opinion is split as to whether the correct restart is an IFK or a DFK but there is no one anywhere in the world of any stature or experience who would say it is a dropped ball (“manufactured” or otherwise).

Here’s the story.  Years ago, around the time the world was formed (the soccer world anyway), it was OK to try to knock the ball out of the goalkeeper’s (GK’s) control.  Indeed, it was expected.  Over the intervening years, particularly as soccer split into two divergent paths as soccer in contrast with rugby, such rock-em, sock-em techniques were softened and civilized (you might infer our prejudices from this language).  The 1984 Lawbook, for example, Law 12 declared that it was an indirect free kick (IFK) offense to charge the GK … except when he was holding the ball!  In fact, it was an IFK offense if, in the opinion of the referee, any attacker intentionally made body contact with the GK.  Similarly, it was also an IFK restart if an opponent interfered with the GK’s release of the ball into play.

This is a great oversimplification but nonetheless is particularly pertinent when it comes to protecting the only person who is legally permitted to hold the ball, thus making him a prime target.  In partial payment for having this protected possession of the ball, Law 12 laid several major restrictions: the ball must be released within four steps (now six seconds), no GK handling from a throw-in or a deliberate play of the ball by a teammate’s foot, and no repossession of the ball without an intervening touch/play by someone else.

We come now, admittedly through incremental steps, to today’s flat out statement that “A goalkeeper cannot be challenged by an opponent when in control of the ball.” (Law 12.2)  But the penalty for this technically remains an IFK.  Of course, that changes if the challenge, in and of itself, clearly comes under the heading of a DFK foul as described in the first part of Law 12 (e.g., opponent comes rushing into the GK and knocks him down – a challenge, yes, but also an illegal charge, resulting in a DFK restart, plus potentially a card of some color).  Then we have the grey area where the GK clearly has hand control of the ball and an opponent heads, kicks, or otherwise dislodges the ball from the GK’s control without making any direct contact with the GK.  The debate raged after after a couple of famous disputes involving opponents coming unexpectedly from behind a GK and neatly, nonviolently dislodging the ball from the GK’s grasp.  Was this even a foul?  Eventually  the Law was updated  making that a foul by providing that the GK had control of the ball even if the ball was being held openly and loosely in the upraised palm of just one hand (or even upside down if the GK’s grasp were particularly large).  In many parts of the world, however, this remained merely an IFK offense.  Clearly, it interfered with the GK’s release of the ball into play.

The US, however, took a different tack.  USSF’s interpretation of your scenario is that it was more than a mere challenge for the ball – the ball was simply an indirect way of actually making contact with the GK.  After all, a GK would be charged with pushing – a DFK foul – if the GK used “only” the ball to physically make contact with and push an opponent.  If an opponent, no matter how neatly, kicked the ball out of the GK’s hand or hands, this was the functional equivalent of kicking the goalkeeper.  As a consequence, the following language has appeared in each of the last four editions of Advice to Referees starting back in 2008:

When a goalkeeper has possession of the ball, any attempt by any opponent to charge, tackle, or otherwise challenge for the ball is prohibited. Such a challenge is considered to be a direct free kick foul because it is directed at the person of the goalkeeper and not as a legal attempt to gain the ball. A ball controlled by the goalkeeper using means other than his or her hands is open to legal challenge by an opponent. The referee must consider the age and skill level of the players in evaluating goalkeeper possession and err on the side of safety. [emphasis added]

A long wind-up but we think it answers your question.…

Trickery?

Joe, a U13 – U19 player, asks:

I was coaching a game this week and the following occurred: center back receives a pass with his foot, flicks the ball into the air and heads it back to his goalkeeper. The goalkeeper picks up the ball and punts it. Was that a legal back pass? I was under the impression that this constituted some sort of illegal trickery, but I don’t see this in the Laws of the Game.

Answer

It’s there, you just have to know where to look.  In the current edition of the Laws of the Game (2018/2019), the following bullet point is included in the list of specific offenses which are considered misconduct (not a foul) as “unsporting behavior” (Law 12):

uses a deliberate trick to pass the ball (including from a free kick) to the goalkeeper with the head, chest, knee etc. to circumvent the Law, whether or not the goalkeeper touches the ball with the hands

In this case, the cautionable offense is committed by the (in your scenario) center back, not by the goalkeeper and, if whistled, would not be a “passback” violation.  A straight “backpass” violation (first appearing in the Law in 1992) is an IFK offense by the goalkeeper and only if he directly handles a ball deliberately kicked by a teammate.  This misconduct (labeled as “trickery” when it was added to Law 12 in 1993) is an offense which is attributed to the teammate who last made contact with the ball in a certain way regardless of whether or not the goalkeeper actually handles the ball.

First of all, many referees will miss either scenario (backpass or trickery) entirely because neither of them is a common event — the latter even more rare than the former.

Second, because trickery is misconduct, it falls squarely into the grey area of “in the opinion of the referee” and that, in turn, means referees can differ in their judgment on the core issue of whether the center back  played this specific way to “circumvent the Law” (which means guessing why the center back did what he did).  He could have simply passed the ball back to his goalkeeper (not illegal) who could then have played the ball with his foot, head, chest, or knee  (also not illegal).  If the judgment is that this action (popped up with the foot and headed back) was done deliberately to evade the restriction on the goalkeeper’s ability to handle the ball, then it is a caution for the center back and an IFK for the opposing team where the center back performed his pop/head maneuver.

Third (and here is where it gets into an even greyer area), the judgment should be based principally on asking the more critical question of whether there was an opponent in the area of the play who might successfully challenge a goalkeeper who came into possession of the ball if the goalkeeper were limited in his control options (no hands).  In short, looking at the issue this way, the misconduct offense should be ignored as trifling (not worth calling because it made no difference) if the goalkeeper was under no pressure, i.e., there was no threat of being dispossessed of the ball, because there were no opponents even close to this play, much less close enough to actively interfere in it.

Remember, a trifling offense is still an offense, just not one worth stopping the play.  A simple warning to the center back and the goalkeeper that the offense was seen but was being ignored.  If it had made a difference (an opponent would/could have actively competed for the ball as it came to a goalkeeper who wouldn’t have been able to handle the ball if the ball had come from a teammate’s deliberate kick), then the offense can’t be ignored.  And if the ball had come to the goalkeeper only from off the head of the center back, there would have been neither a backpass nor a trickery offense.…

Interesting DOGSO Complexities

Anthony, a High School and College referee, asks:

I have a scenario and am interested in the correct interpretation:
A6 is in Team B’s penalty area in an offside position.  A Team A teammate passes her the ball. The defending  goalie fouls A6 in a reckless manner in pursuit of the ball.  Wondering if the offside takes precedence or if the foul takes precedence? Does the interpretation change if the ref blows the whistle for offside before the goalie fouls the attacker in the box because now it is a dead-ball foul?

Answer

You’ve already recognized the core issue in the scenario but didn’t explore it.  Let’s clear away some underbrush first.  There is no “precedence” here.  It’s not a matter of hierarchy but timing.   What happened first?  That is what determines precedence here.  It also doesn’t matter when the referee whistles — play is considered to have stopped when the referee makes a decision and the only question that matters is what was it that caused the referee to stop play.  The reason for the stoppage occurred during play … anything after that happened when play was stopped.

Now we can get to unraveling the core issues (yes, issues because there are several of them).

Remember, an offside position is not an offside offense by itself so the referee needs to sort out whether there was an actual offside offense before the goalie’s action or whether, in fact, the goalie’s action actually prevented an offside offense from occurring.  Also, your scenario doesn’t identify the specific foul the goalie committed recklessly — e.g., tackle, charge, kick, push, trip, etc.  This is will be important later on.

As we said, the initial decision as to which came first is critical because it directly impacts the restart.  If an offside offense (e.g., the attacker in an offside position interfered with play by making contact with the ball, or interfered with an opponent) occurred first, then the Law provides for an IFK restart at the offense location for the goalie’s team (prior to which the goalie is cautioned for USB for what he/she did to the attacker).

If there was no offside offense or if the referee determines that the goalie’s reckless DFK foul occurred first, then the restart would be a PK for the attacking team because the first decision automatically stopped play at that moment , determined the restart, and negated any apparent offside offense that might have occurred afterward.  In this case, there is a second decision to be faced.

The second decision is whether, given all the facts and circumstances, the goalie’s foul denied an OGSO.  If all the OGSO requirements were not present, then that’s the end of the story.  PK, and the GK still gets cautioned for the reckless action.

If all the OGSO requirements are met, then there is a third decision that has to be faced and that is whether the GK’s action, recklessness aside, constituted a valid attempt to play the ball (your phrasing “in pursuit of the ball” is not specific enough and could include either a realistic play of the ball or the goalie was merely in pursuit of a ball which, at the moment of the reckless foul, was too far away to be realistically playable by the goalie).  If the goalie’s action was a realistic play of the ball (performed without violence), then the PK stands but, despite the OGSO, the goalie is only cautioned.

However, if there was not a realistic attempt to play the ball (and here the earlier question about what the foul was becomes important because the Law considers such fouls as holding, pulling, pushing, or tripping from behind with the ball on the other side of the player being tripped as not attempts to play the ball), then there is the PK but the goalie is sent off and his/her team plays down.…