A Short Complicated Question

Joe, a U13 – U19 parent asks:

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


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

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

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

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

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

Advantage in the Penalty Area

David, an adult amateur referee, asks:

Advantage in the penalty box.  Attacker receives ball in penalty box, Defender trips Attacker who stumbles but does not fall while going around Defender and gets a shot on goal which deflects off keeper past goal line.  Referee did signal advantage.  What is the correct call?


Your question is a bit ambiguous … what exactly are you wondering was “the correct call”?  If the issue is whether advantage can/should be applied to events in the penalty area, the answer is a resounding “Yes!”   If the issue is whether the Referee applied advantage correctly in the given scenario?  Again, the answer is “Yes!” but not necessary resounding because we weren’t there and can only assume that the correct criteria were used.  If the issue is whether the Referee used the proper mechanics in applying advantage in the penalty area, the answer is “no.”

Why “no”?  Because US Soccer has long indicated that what should happen is what might be called “silent advantage” so, in essence, it is a matter of preferred mechanics.  The Referee could certainly, amidst the fast moving events in a critical area of the field where seriously important events are occurring second by second, use the recognized advantage signal (swing his/her arms upward while shouting “Play on!”) but this carries the danger thereby of momentarily missing some important event and/or diverting the attention of nearby players away from their tasks.

Furthermore, the application of advantage inside the penalty area involves some fundamental differences from advantage applied elsewhere on the field.  For example, elsewhere, the Referee is looking simply for the likelihood of enabling the offended player or team to continue its attack on or toward the opponent’s end of the field — the possibility of a goal is not a major objective.  Not so for an offense committed by a defender inside the opposing team’s penalty area.  There, the Referee’s objective involves  protecting the likelihood of scoring a goal within the next play (or 2 quick ones, at most). This is understandable since not applying advantage means stopping play, followed by a penalty kick restart.  Let’s say, just for purposes of comparison, that PKs on average convert to a goal for the offended team 75% of the time, but applying advantage opens the possibility for the offended team to score a goal (which represents 100% success!).

Accordingly, we urge Referees to use “silent advantage” (i.e., stay quiet, keep the arms down) and use “wait a moment to see what happens” (good advice in many other situations as well).  The option of whistling for the offense remains if, after the offense, neither the offended attacker nor any of his/her nearby teammates are able to score in the next 1-2 plays on the ball.  Plus, the Referee can (as with any advantage anywhere) return to deal with misconduct whatever the outcome.  Note: starting in 2016, the Laws of the Game limited the misconduct options to a caution if (a) the offense involved an attempt to play the ball and (b) the outcome was a decision for a penalty kick (this includes the commission of both  OGSO and non-OGSO situations).

Kids and Misconduct

Antonio, a U13 – U19 referee, asks:

If a U12/13 player commits a dangerous tackle or a DOGSO, should I be lenient and give a yellow card or should I give a straight red and send him/her off?


This one is easy (mostly) and comes down to a simple “give the card prescribed by the Laws of the Game.”  Of the two scenarios you listed, the “dangerous tackle” is straightforward — assuming by “dangerous tackle” you mean a tackle which is more serious than careless or reckless (i.e., involves excessive force or endangers the safety of an opponent), then a red card is clearly set by Law 12 (the recorded misconduct would be either “serious foul play” or “violent conduct” depending on whether the tackle was committed while challenging for the ball or not).

The only caveat here is whether the local competition authority has (as some have) forbidden the showing of cards to young players (usually limited to U-10s and below) — then you follow the Laws of the Game as modified.  It is not your decision to make.  Once you have identified the offense, you deal with it properly.  It is important to remember in all this, particularly where fouls involving physical contact are concerned, that the send-off following the display of the red card is only partially for the purpose of punishing the offender, it is also for protecting the safety of the remaining players.

As for the DOGSO, there are complicating elements to this misconduct which have been recently introduced into the Laws of the Game as of 2016 which could affect the color of the card (what follows assumes that all DOGSO requirements — i.e., the “4 Ds” — have been met).  Was the foul successful in preventing a goal and a penalty kick was awarded?  Starting in 2016 and clarified further in 2017, the Law now provides that a caution should be given for the DOGSO only if the player committing the foul was engaged in an attempt to play the ball.  In all other circumstances, the offender must be sent off.

Language Misconduct

David, an adult amateur coach, asks:

A referee reported an incident of abusive language occurring after the final whistle. The player, however, was not shown any card for this alleged offence. Can such incidents be included in the referee’s match report?


Yes.  As of the Law changes in 2016/2017, behavior after the match is over which would have been carded if the same behavior had occurred before the final whistle should be included in the match report.  Remember, Law 5 specifically provides that one of the duties of the Referee is to include in the match report “any other incidents that occurred before, during, or after the match.”  While broadly stated, the intent here is specifically to ensure that the competition authority has full details on “incidents” that pertain to the conduct of the match even if, due to timing, the incident could not be carded.

This certainly includes any event which should have been carded but wasn’t for one reason or another as well as punishment for misconduct that should not have been imposed or was imposed based on mistaken identity.  Accordingly, the Referee’s match report should carefully state and categorize the behavior occurring after the match in the same terms as would be used for something happening during the match.

There is, unfortunately, a gray area as to what constitutes “after the match.”  Law 5 indirectly defines it as that period of time after the final whistle but while the Referee hasn’t yet left the field of play.  As experienced Referees know, this leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to guidance.  There was an apocryphal story about a Referee who, upon shopping at a grocery store on Sunday and meeting a player that had participated in a Saturday game, was berated by that player for a decision he had made in that game and who then whipped out his yellow card and cautioned the player-customer for dissent.  That would be carrying things too far.

The problem more often faced is that the “three-man rotation assignment” is common on weekends — three officials are assigned to three back-to-back games with each one taking a turn at being the Referee while the other two served as ARs.  Not surprisingly, this results in all three officials remaining in what would arguably be called “the area of the field” for a good part of the day.  Does any or all of that time count as “after the match”?  Here is what we would suggest is an excellent place to apply common sense.  Remember that the Laws of the Game were written particularly to accommodate a specific kind of game … and that game is not the one that most of us ever get to officiate at any time in our careers.

Our recommendation (and it is only that, a recommendation) is that you as the Referee decide when you have “left the area of the field” even if, as anyone could plainly see, you hadn’t.  If you believe that enough time has passed (e.g., most players from both teams have left the field, new teams are warming up, etc.), then treat whatever happens as though it had happened after you left the field (i.e., you left it mentally).  Otherwise, without actually showing any card, make it clear that you will be including the unacceptable conduct in your match report.

Let’s Have Some Fun!

Goran, an adult amateur fan, asks:

Players frequently position themselves by the corner flag to make time pass if their team is ahead and there is little time left. Obviously this is allowed.  What would happen if a whole team made a tight circle around one of their players ( or even around just the ball) to prevent the opposition to get hold of the ball while match time counted down?


Every once in a while, we have a “oh, what the heck” moment and let a question like this one slip through our tight quality control filters just for the brief thrill of offering an answer to an essentially unanswerable question.  So, tighten your seatbelts because what follows will likely be a bumpy road.

The first step on our journey to enlightenment … “players frequently position themselves by the corner flag to make time pass ….”  Really?  Does someone serve snacks down there?  Are there lounge chairs?  The soccer games we tend to watch rarely have such extended periods of boredom. Can anyone join in?  Would they move over to another corner if play started to approach them?  Is this actually allowed?  More pertinently, why would it not be?  Our guess is that the International Board never thought the issue would arise because, well, this is soccer, not American football.

So, the short answer to the question of “what would happen if …”  is rampant perplexity would ensue.  More accurately, it would likely depend on whether everyone wanted to just chew up time or whether there was some reason why one team wouldn’t mind this but the other team might take exception to it.

Sidebar regression: We are reminded of a true news report a few years back in connection with a match played in Asia in which (for reasons which could be understood but not without a lot of time lost in the explanation) one of the teams, in reaction to events happening elsewhere while this game was going on, discovered that it didn’t want the other team to lose (!).  Unfortunately, they were ahead at the time and so they did the only thing that occurred to them on such short notice — they deliberately scored against themselves. When the opposing team realized what impact this would have, they decided to restore “the balance” by doing likewise.  Talk about “rampant perplexity”!  Wanting to lose produces some interesting dynamics.  OK, enough reminiscing.  Back to the question.

Could a team withhold the ball from active challenge by building an impenetrable wall of bodies around it?  Sure.  It would be directly contrary to the very essence of sportsmanship which lies at the core of soccer.  It seems to us that, assuming the opposing team had a problem with this, it would do something to indicate that they wanted the ball — things like pushing, shoving, climbing, and jumping being among the less aggressive actions they might take.  At that point, obviously, someone would be doing something that would violate the Law.  The problem with this is that the punishment would fall on the shoulders of those who, from a different perspective, might appear to be the aggrieved parties.  Or … they might look at you (the Referee), point out how mean the opponents are being, and expect you to make it right.

Can you?  Not without being inventive.  You could just purely make something up, of course, on the theory that the opponents sure looked guilty as sin for something but you’re just not exactly sure of what.  Just remember two things: (1) you can stop play for any reason you want at any time and (2) you never have to explain why.  You do have to get the restart right.  If you truly have nothing (your bag of tricks is totally empty), the restart would have to be a dropped ball.  Ugh.  A foul?  That would be a real stretch (maybe, impeding the progress of an opponent but some essential characteristics of this offense are missing).  Aha!  A good argument exists for misconduct (Note To All Referees: “shows  a lack of respect for the game” — p. 86, 2016/2017 Laws of the Game — covers a lot of territory) so an IFK for unsporting behavior for the opposing team.

The problem with misconduct, however, is that, by definition, you gotta give at least someone a card.  So, who gets the caution?  Anyone.  Everyone.  Those within two yards of you.  Any player shorter than you are.  Anyone smirking.  Take your pick.  Just do it, get it over with, restart play, and then clearly indicate that all that lost time is being added back to the clock.

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.

OGSO Denied by Handling

Josh, an adult pro referee, asks:

Red defender handles the ball on the goal line to stop a goal. Immediately after, blue attacker scores from the rebound. The goal stands but is the defender red carded as well? Thanks

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

Yes.  The 2016/2017 Laws of the Game states in Law 12: “Where a player denies the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by a deliberate handball offence the player is sent off wherever the offence occurs. ”  This declaration remains true even if the attempt is unsuccessful (either directly or as the result of applying advantage).

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.


Update on “Apology”

A follow-up note to askasoccerreferee readers:  If this is the first time you have visited the website, you should find an earlier message I posted (titled “Apology” on July 5) which explains the not-so-little problem the site  and I began having as of April 17 of this year.  In brief, all queries sent via the question form after 4/17/17 and continuing until roughly July 5 disappeared into some sort of internet alternate universe — the only thing I can state with assurance is that they weren’t coming to me and, thus, not getting answered.  Our Awesome Webmaster Chris was able to recover what appear to be all the missing messages and delivered them to me in spreadsheet format.

At first, it seemed that there were some 90 of them (!!!).   A closer inspection determined that some not insignificant percent of them were messages without content and thus unanswerable.  A smaller percent were re-sent messages (i.e., duplicates) from people who wanted to make sure we got the original (which we didn’t … and didn’t get the re-sent copy either).  All this whittled the unique answerable messages down to about 60 — still a large number.  Some I answered privately as that seemed not only quicker but also more in keeping with the subject matter.  As of today (July 16), I have worked my way through and publicly posted more than 30 from the original batch, plus 5 that came in since July 5,  and have roughly 20 to go.

We will get there and thanks for your patience.