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.


Sorting Out a Flurry of Kicks

Alistair, an adult amateur player, asks:

Who fouls if a defender kicks the ball away from the attacker’s strike zone while in mid-swing and the attacker then kicks the defender’s ankle in the follow through?

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

OK, Alistair, were you the defender or the attacker in this little scene?  Fess up.  By the way, “strike zones” are for baseball players, but we think we get your drift.  What makes you think that the only two options are to charge one or the other player with a foul?  How about, no one committed a foul?  Or, perhaps, each committed a foul?

We’re not necessarily advocating any of these options but you have to admit they have to be considered in addition to the two you posed.  Frankly, without seeing the scene unfold, together with what immediately preceded and followed the main event, any answer we might give would be totally theoretical.  This is one of those decisions that vitally depend on nuances.

To be a foul within the framework of Law 12, the kick by the defender would not be an offense if, under all the facts and circumstances, the referee deemed the action to be not careless, reckless, or performed with excessive force.  Likewise for the kick by the attacker (though at least the attacker has one thing going for her — her kicking action started as a play of the ball and only evolved through momentum into a kick of the opponent’s ankle.  Nor do we have any information as to the vigor with which each kick was performed.  And about that “strike zone” — where and how wide is it?  And what happened as a result of this interplay of kicks?  Was the attacker in motion at the time of the contact?  Did the defender have to reach through the attacker’s legs to get to this “strike zone?”  Was the attacker’s follow through of her leg truly due solely to momentum or did she see a way she might “get even” for having the ball stolen from her while otherwise seeming innocent of any evil intent?  All of these questions (and others) provide potentially relevant data bearing on the carelessness, recklessness, or excessive force of each of the respective player’s actions.

If we were a lawyer arguing a case based on “balancing the equities,” we might say that the sequence was initiated by the defender who should thus bear the burden of proof that her kick endangered the safety of the attacker.  The attacker’s lawyer might argue that she couldn’t help what happened and the defender’s ankle simply got in the way.  And the judge might conclude that both parties were guilty of contributory negligence — they were adults, after all,  and old enought to assume the risks rather than being kids for whom we have a special responsibility to protect their safety.

Sorry.  It still comes down to — you hadda be there.  All we can do from our safe, off-field vantage point is to suggest some of the issues that would need to be taken into account in reaching a decision.

Retreating the Required Distance on a Free Kick

Jose, a U-12 and Under parent, asks:

If the Red team commits a foul, does the Referee need to tell whoever of the red team is standing close to the ball to start moving away from it or does the Referee have to wait for a blue team member to ask for it?

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

This is a frequent topic of conversation because actual practice in this matter is all over the board (or should we say “all over the field”?).  The best we can do here is to outline what are considered to be standard and accepted practices and procedures.  By the way, although the question was asked in the context of a free kick restart. what follows is roughly applicable as well to any restart where there is a distance requirement for the opposing team (e.g., particularly corner kicks and throw-ins but to a lesser degree also goal kicks — kick-offs and penalty kicks also have opponent distance requirements but these restarts are already ceremonial, a highly relevant fact which we will explain shortly).

Let’s start off by noting that the Law assumes all opponents will immediately begin backing away the required 10-yard distance as soon as the offense is whistled because they know that is what is expected and, anyway, it is the sporting thing to do.  Uh huh.  This is so not true across all player age groups — though for different reasons as between young players versus older, more experienced players.  For the former, failing to back away immediately is a matter of ignorance as to what the Law requires.  For older players, it is because they are at an age when they try to push the limits and “get away” with things (both at home and on the field).  For upper level youth, senior amateur, and pro players, it is because they are engaged in rational decision-making in order to achieve as much advantage as they can at minimal cost.

Effective mechanics for the Referee start immediately upon whistling the offense.  Free kicks are intended to be taken quickly and without interference (hence the word “free”) so one might think the Referee should begin shooing opponents away to allow this to happen.  One would be wrong.  Because the Law assumes opponents are supposed to do this automatically and immediately, Referees are advised to move away (preferably toward a position optimal for the free kick which is about to occur) and keep their mouths shut.  The attacking team, in fact, has the right to take the free kick as soon as the ball is properly placed even if there are still opponents closer than the minimum retreat distance.  A quick free kick may be advantageous to them because of any disarray among the opponents.  If the failure of all opponents to retreat to the full minimum distance hinders the attacking team’s ability to capitalize on the opponents’ confusion, the apparent kicker (not the spectators, not the coach, etc.) can request that the minimum distance be enforced.  That act, once acknowledged and announced by the Referee, turns the free kick officially into what is termed a “ceremonial” restart — i.e., from that moment, while the Referee is performing the requested service, the free kick cannot be taken except upon a signal (whistle) by the Referee.

Of course, the Referee might have turned the free kick restart into a ceremony on his or her own initiative if, for example, the event resulting in the free kick involved an injury or was the basis for a card being shown.  There are two other scenarios where the Referee might step in to turn the restart into a ceremony without being asked to do so.  One is if, in the opinion of the Referee, there are one or more opponents who are not simply failing to retreat the required ten yards but who are actively, clearly, and effectively engaged in forcing a delay in the taking of the free kick.  This can happen if an opponent takes possession of the ball and withholds it from the team given the restart or kicks the ball away, thus immediately interfering with how quickly the restart can be taken.  Another possibility is that an opponent is standing so close to the ball that no beneficial kick is even physically possible. These situations are usually considered so obvious and egregious a form of misconduct (delaying the restart of play) that it should result immediately in a caution (thus turning the free kick into a ceremonial restart anyway).  The other scenario where the Referee might step in without being asked (thus again resulting in a ceremonial restart) is if the teams are at a young enough age level that it becomes apparent they are not aware of or know how to exercise their rights in a free kick situation — usually, the look of utter confusion in the expressions of the attackers is sufficient to draw the Referee’s intervention.

So, there you have it.  No, the Referee does not get involved in shooing opponents away unless specifically asked to do so … and the asking is normally expected to come from the apparent kicker.  Only rarely and only under fairly specific conditions would the Referee intervene and, in all such cases, whether asked or not, the restart becomes ceremonial.

Throw-in Location

Clay, an adult pro player, asks:

Regarding throw-ins, how far behind the touch line can a player take the throw? For example, counter attack occurs with players still on the other end of field. Ball is cleared out of bounds. Player of counter attacking team runs to the ball and takes the throw while standing more than 5 yards/meters behind the touch line.

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

Players just love to push the limits, don’t they?  The formal Law on the subject is very clear — the throw-in must be taken from the point on the touchline where the ball left the field.  Period.  And we all know exactly where that is, don’t we?  Let’s be serious, except for a ball rolling slowly across the ground, no one really knows where the ball left the field (particularly when the ball is high in the air!).

So, whereas the Law is specific and clear, real life isn’t, and thus we offer three connected answers.

  • First, the ball left the field where the Referee (assisted by the AR) says it left and this, in turn, is indicated by where the Referee allows the throw-in to be taken.  In other words, the player has retrieved the ball and begins walking toward some point on the line — the Referee nods OK or points semi-vaguely to some general area or says nothing or (if dissatisfied) indicates to the player to move upfield or downfield or the player asks (verbally or otherwise) the AR where to take the throw-in.
  • Second, the thrower has traditionally been given an allowance of up to a yard in either direction (including back from the line) from where the ball probably left the field.
  • Third, Practical Refereeing 101 (what you learn on the field and from experienced officials) teaches us that variances greater the one yard can be tolerated the farther away the thrower is from the goal the thrower’s team is attacking.  The theory here is that it is a technical violation of the Law but, in essence, trifling and so can be ignored or given a warning since the ball was put into play without delay and without a demonstrable unfair benefit gained.

Where we Referees start to grumble is when a player takes advantage of our good will by accepting our allowing the throw-in to be taken from somewhere in accordance with answers 1, 2, or 3 and then trampling on our good will by using that point to begin a lengthy and totally unnecessary run yards farther away, thus displaying contempt for answers 1, 2, and 3.  Unfortunately, this is also often when we make a mistake by calling the player back after he or she throws the ball from a place which unexpectedly was many yards away from where we were allowing the player to take the restart and indicating that the player should take the throw-in again but this time from the correct place.  If it was bad enough to call back, it was bad enough to be subject to the penalty specified in Law 15 — give the restart to the opposing team.  If you don’t want to do that, then realize that you can’t call it back.

By the way, 5 yards back from the line is really pushing the envelop, no matter which of the three answers above you use.

The Field and Objects Around It

Matt, a U13 – U19 parent, asks:

What is the required clearance on touchlines for obstacles such as fences and light poles?  I’m asking for US Youth Soccer guidance and field side clearance.

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

We do not speak “for” US Youth Soccer anymore than we speak “for” USSF.  We suggest you contact US Youth Soccer directly and ask if they have any specific guidelines on the matter.

However, we also don’t like to seem as though we are shirking our responsibility to give whatever advice we are able to provide — particularly because doing so is quite easy.  There is no such thing as “required clearance,” at least not in the sense that the Laws of the Game deal with this issue.  The field is the subject of various requirements (mostly in Law 1) but they all have to do with (a) the layout and constituent parts of the field itself (e.g., lines, goals, dimensions, etc.) and (b) the technical areas just outside the field.  Advice to Referees added guidelines about “appurtances” (things attached to goals)  and “pre-existing conditions” (e.g., overhead wires, overhanging branches, pop-up sprinkler heads, etc.) — none of which connect directly to your question.

What do you do when a potential problem pops up which seems important but which is not covered explicitly by anything in the Law?  You step back to common sense and the three ultimate objectives of officiating — safety, fairness, and enjoyment.  The Referee has a duty to inspect the field and to deal affirmatively with any condition reasonably pertaining to what goes on in and around that field related to the match.  Suppose you saw a large trash bin on the ground less than 2-3 yards away from the goal line.  What would you do?  What can you do?  You can go to the home team coach (the person traditionally held responsible for providing a safe, legal field for the match) and advise him or her about a dangerous condition that potentially affects the safety of players on both teams and urge that it be corrected.  This sometimes works.

If it doesn’t, then you have another decision to make — how important (i.e., dangerous) is the situation?  Important enough that you would be willing to declare that the field was unsafe and an officiated match could not be held at that location?  If so, stick to your decision.  If the teams can move to another field, well and good.  If they want to play anyway despite your warnings and final decision, let them (just walk away, after making clear the basis for your decision).  Finally, include it in your game report and know that you have upheld one of the prime principles of the Laws of the Game.


I have difficulty at times recognizing a slide tackle that
is a foul versus a legal one. Can you please give some guidance of what to look for and how I can be better at calling a foul on a hard tackle? Sometimes good tackles cause a player to fall so please help me with this.

Answer (February 6, 2016):
The term “slide tackle” refers to an attempt to tackle the ball away from an opponent while sliding on the ground. A slide tackle is legal, provided it is performed safely. In other words, there is nothing illegal about a slide tackle by itself—-no matter where it is done and no matter the direction from which it comes. Referees (and spectators) should not get hung up on the term “slide” tackling. There is nothing regarding “endangering the safety of the opponent” which limits it to a slide tackle. In fact, if, in the opinion of the referee, the tackle endangers the safety of the opponent, it makes no difference if there is contact or not.

The referee must judge whether the tackle of an opponent is fair or whether it is careless, reckless, or involves the use of excessive force. Making contact with the opponent before the ball when making a tackle is unfair and should be penalized. On the other hand, the fact that contact with the ball was made first does not automatically mean that the tackle is fair. The declaration by a player that he or she “got the ball first” is irrelevant if, while tackling for the ball, the player carelessly, recklessly, or with excessive force commits any of the prohibited actions. Remember that it is not a foul if a sliding tackle is successful and the player whose ball was tackled away then falls over the tackler’s foot.

How can tackles become illegal? There are many ways but two of the most common are by making contact with the opponent first (before contacting the ball) and by striking the opponent with a raised upper leg before, during, or after contacting the ball with the lower leg. Referees must be vigilant and firm in assessing any tackle, because the likely point of contact is the lower legs of the opponent and this is a particularly vulnerable area. We must not be swayed by protests of “But I got the ball, ref” and we must be prepared to assess the proper penalty for misconduct where that is warranted.

Certain “prohibited actions” would include lifting the tackling foot to trip or attempt to trip the opponent, using the other foot or leg to trip or attempt to trip the opponent, kicking or attempting to kick the opponent, etc., etc. Surely other similar fouls will come easily to mind.

Remember that “getting the ball first” has NEVER been absolution for whatever else may happen during or immediately after the tackle.

There is nothing illegal, by itself, about sliding tackles or playing the ball while on the ground. These acts become the indirect free kick foul known as playing dangerously (“dangerous play”) only if the action unfairly takes away an opponent’s otherwise legal play of the ball (for players at the youth level, this definition is simplified even more as “playing in a manner considered to be dangerous to an opponent”). At minimum, this means that an opponent must be within the area of danger which the player has created. These same acts can become the direct free kick fouls known as kicking or attempting to kick an opponent or tripping or attempting to trip or tackling an opponent to gain possession of the ball only if there was contact with the opponent or, in the opinion of the referee, the opponent was forced to react to avoid the kick or the trip. The referee may warn players about questionable acts of play on the ground, but would rarely caution a player unless the act was reckless.


Before the ball enters the goal from an attacking player’s shot, a spectator enters the field of play and slightly touches the ball with his hand but does not manage to stop the goal. What decision should the referee make?

Answer (November 15, 2015):
In such cases, the referee must follow the guidance on p. 66 of the Laws of the Game:

Outside agents
Anyone not indicated on the team list as a player, substitute or team official is deemed to be an outside agent, as is a player who has been sent off.
If an outside agent enters the field of play:
• the referee must stop play (although not immediately if the outside agent does not interfere with play)
• the referee must have him removed from the field of play and its immediate surroundings
• if the referee stops the match, he must restart play with a dropped ball from the position of the ball when the match was stopped, unless play was stopped inside the goal area, in which case the referee drops the ball on the goal area line parallel to the goal line at the point nearest to where the ball was located when play was stopped

In your situation, Law 3 requires that the referee determine whether or not the outside agent—here the spectator—has truly interfered with play. Only the referee on the game can determine this; not the players, not the team officials, no one but the referee, with advice from the ARs, if necessary.


Referee Health and Safety

As part of U.S. Soccer’s commitment to health and safety, our medical and referee experts have prepared the following recommendations for the referee community and incorporated them into our referee education materials.

In the interest of health and safety, U.S. Soccer recommends that match officials practice the following skin care guidelines:

• Consider wearing sunscreen daily on areas of exposed skin.
• Apply skin protection factor (SPF) of 30 or greater 15 minutes prior to being exposed to the sun.
• At a minimum, reapply every 2 hours or more frequently if sweating extensively.
• Take advantage of halftime to reapply.
• Consider wearing long sleeves (or UV protective clothing) if applicable during high sun exposure periods.
• Periodically (once a year) review exposed skin for any changes or growths and consult your doctor or dermatologist.
• Caps may be worn so long as the cap does not endanger the safety of the official or the players.
• The cap should be consistent with the referee uniform and not conflict with the uniform colors worn by either team.
• The cap may not bear any commercial marks or logos.


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

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

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


NOTE: This Q&A was published back in 2002 with the full approval of the U. S. Soccer Federation. I cannot claim that it still has approval, but it is a good path to explore when prosthetic devices are necessary for a player. I sent it out last week in response to a similar question from a player’s parent. The final decision will always rest with the referee, no matter who else might approve.

May a player wear a titanium leg or other prosthetic device while playing soccer?

Answer (January 18, 2015):
The first concern of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) in Law 4 – The Players’ Equipment is for player safety: “Safety: A player must not use equipment or wear anything which is dangerous to himself or another player (including any kind of jewelry).” The IFAB then lists the basic compulsory equipment of a player: jersey or shirt, shorts, stockings, shinguards, and footwear. Artificial legs and other prosthetic devices are not included in the list.

The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) neither approves nor disapproves the wearing of such artificial legs or prosthetic devices, taking the position that this decision is outside the authority and competence of the USSF.

Custom and usage indicate that the use of artificial legs or other prosthetic devices by players was never contemplated by the International F. A. Board, but the case is analogous to that of a player wearing a cast or leg brace (when properly padded to prevent a danger to others). Injuring or reinjuring a limb is not considered to be a life-threatening situation, and it is commonly accepted according to custom and usage. The individual referee must consider the requirements of Law 4 and the Spirit of the Laws when judging the safety of wearing of an artificial leg or prosthetic device in the game he or she is to referee.

The National State Association may grant permission for players to wear properly padded artificial legs or prosthetic devices if the following requirements are met:
1. The player (or the parents of a player under the age of 21) must sign a release form stating that the player/parents are aware of the hazards involved with the player/child playing soccer under the conditions of his/her health.

2. The player’s doctor must sign a release stating that the player may play a contact sport such as soccer while wearing the device.

3. It is the sole responsibility of the player (and parents, if the player is underage) to ensure that the device is worn as required by medical personnel. It should not fall to a coach, tournament director, referee, nor anyone else to see that this is done, nor should the coach, tournament director, referee, nor anyone else be held responsible if it is not and an injury results.

4. The referee in each case has the final decision as to whether or not to allow the player to participate.

The player’s team must carry copies of the player’s/parents’ and doctor’s releases and a copy of the release from the National State Association (signed by the president, vice president for the appropriate competition, and registrar).

As noted above, the final decision to let the player participate will rest with the individual referee.