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. 

Ill-Advised Officiating Assignments

PJ, a U13 – U19 parent, asks:

Under what circumstance should a 15 yo referee his younger brother’s soccer team?  Is this putting undue pressure on the ref, especially someone that inexperienced?  I’m not saying he would always “rig the game,” but it’s hard for him to process his mates calling him by name to give penalties, free kicks, etc. Sounds like it should be something strongly avoided if not forbidden altogether.

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

We’re going to take a risky guess that you are British (based on your use of the word “mates”).  If this is correct, please note that we cannot and do not provide answers or guidance based on how other soccer organizations outside the US implement the Laws of the Game (see our statement of “principles” on the “About” tab).  If you live in the US, then read on because everything that follows is focused on IFAB/USSF protocols.

There are two levels at which the issues you raise can be approached.  One is the matter of age itself.  Persons can be certified at the lowest grade level as young as 12 though one or two years older than this is not infrequently required by many state and/or local soccer organizations.  Theoretically, therefore, a 15 year old Referee could have been officiating for as long as nearly 4 years — a length of time which could certainly lead to more than sufficient experience if the young Referee was able and willing to be assigned to lots of games each year.  Then there is the associated issue of “age difference” — in other words, someone at age 15 might well be more than adequately experienced to officiate, say, a U-12 match but would almost certainly not be assigned to, say, any match involving players who themselves are 15 and older.  These rules, if they exist, are almost always set at the local soccer organization level, by individual assignors, by the state association for upper level games, or even by the youth official’s parents.  When and where they exist, they must be followed of course. Note that you didn’t specify in your scenario how much younger the team’s players were than the 15 year old assigned to referee the match.

However, the second level at issue here doesn’t involve age but, rather, potential conflicts of interest.  Indeed, the USSF Administrative Handbook, in discussing ethical issues for Referees and Assignors, particularly notes that all officials are required to avoid conflicts of interest — and, short of betting on the outcome of a match, we doubt that there is any situation which is more clearly a conflict of interest than having a family connection with the one or more of the players or team officials being officiated!  Is it officially banned by name?  No, but it is clearly a circumstance to be avoided, either in offering or in accepting an assignment.

Most assignors routinely gather information from referees who want to receive games from that assignor and, routinely, questions are asked about whether there are any teams with which the referee is related to by family. Occasionally, a team might be approaching game time with no official in sight and might plead with a parent or spectator who also happens to be a certified official to “do the game” because, without an official, the game cannot be held (the game becomes a scrimmage at best).  We advise anyone who might be willing to volunteer to disclose fully their relationship with anyone associated with one of the teams and specifically to get agreement by both coaches that they accept the volunteer despite the unusual circumstances.

By the way, these two issues (age and conflict of interest) can merge when the Referee, no matter how well trained and experienced he or she might be, is the same age as the players being officiated.  At the same age, the issue is not so much experience as it is familiarity.  Unless it is a tournament far away from home (the players or the referee), it is quite likely that the Referee might know many of the players, not just of one team but of many teams, due to school, social, or other connections.  This is why tournaments will almost always specifically exclude from assignment any Referee who is in the same age grouping as an entire set of teams.

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.

Offside and How Long Is a Piece of String?

Richard, a U-12 & Under parent, asks:

How long can a player be offside for? Had a game where the ball was passed to a player who was just onside, but had a teammate a yard or so offside. Both players ran through on goal, first player shot but it was saved by the goalie, then the second player tapped it in. Given that the second player gained an advantage from being offside, was it offside? Or does it depend on whether he was level/offside when his teammate had the shot?

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

Several issues are intertwined in your scenario — let’s see if we can straighten them out so we can get to the answer.  First, however, we suggest you look back at the title of this query — what does “How long is a piece of string” mean and how does it figure in?  Hold that thought because it is very relevant.

OK.  Attacker A3 passes the ball to A9 who was in an onside position at the time.  No problem — no offside violation because there was no offside position.  A14 was some unknown distance ahead of A9  when A3 passed the ball and, at the time, was described as being a yard or so in an offside position.  No problem — A14 didn’t get the ball anyway.  Both A9 and A14 begin running down field toward the opposing team’s goal.  So long as A9 remained in possession of the ball, no problem and we have no subsequent information about A14’s offside position status during the entire time they were running “through on goal.”  But we do know one thing — everytime A9 touches/plays the ball, the Referee and the lead AR must make a new decision as to who (if anyone) is in an offside position and who is not.  Since A9 and A14 are likely not the only attackers moving around on the field (defenders as well as the ball are moving also!), there simply is no information to tell us anything about offside status (except we do know that, as long as A9 has the ball, he at least can never be in an offside position).

The scenario then tells us that A9 makes a shot on goal.  This is the fateful moment when, again, the Referee and lead AR have to make a decision as to who, at the moment of the shot on goal,  was and was not in an offside position.  And, once more, there is no information provided which would tell us if anyone (but, as it turns out, most particularly A14) is in an offside position at that moment.  We are told only that the shot on goal was “saved” by the goalkeeper in such a way that the ball then went to A14.  Without up-to-date information on A14’s onside/offside position status, we cannot know if A14’s possession of the ball from the goalkeeper’s save  was an offside violation or not.  And, of course, this is crucial to deciding if the goal scored by A14 was valid or not.

Now, back to that piece of string.  We don’t know its length because a piece of string could be any length but the one thing we do know is that it’s length is determined by where it starts and ends.  The same is true of “being in an offside position.”  It has a beginning — when the ball is touched/played by a teammate and the attacker is ahead of the ball, ahead of the second-to-last defender, and ahead of the midfield line — a set of conditions that is arguably fairly well understood.  What is less well understood is when the status of being in an offside position ends.  The answer to that is, it ends when there is a new touch/play of the ball by a teammate, a deliberate play of the ball by a defender, the ball leaves the field of play, or the referee stops play (for any reason).  There are some exceptions to this but only one of them is an issue here and will be noted below.

A14’s offside position status that began when A3 touched/played the ball, disappeared when A9 received the ball.  Now that A9 has touched/played the ball, the offside/onside status of all of A9’s teammates must be re-evaluated.  Maybe A14 us still in an offside position, maybe not — we don’t know because we lack the information.  Likewise, when A9’s shot on goal was a new touch/play of the ball, the offside/onside status of all of A9’s teammates must once again be evaluated.  Maybe A14 is still in an offside position, maybe not.  If A14 were in an offside position when A9 made the shot on goal, then A14 was still in an offside position, A14 is guilty of an offside violation (interfering with play), and the goal cannot count.  The deliberate save by the goalkeeper is an exception (a new one) to the general rule that a deliberate play by a defender terminates all existing offside positions held by any opposing players.  It follows that, if A14 was not in an offside position at that time, then there was no offside violation and the goal stands.

Offside Again

Jeff, a U13 – U19 parent, asks:

Need some clarification on a deflection or a deliberate play.  A4 passes the ball into space, creating an opportunity for both A8 and D25 to go for the ball.  D25 gets there first and attempts to clear the ball.  The ball deflects off A8 and falls to A11 who is in an offside position.  Offside or no?  [We’ve modified the question by redesignating the players involved to keep clear who is who.]

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

You don’t need a clarification on a deflection or a deliberate play.  “A4 passes the ball” — deliberate play.   “D25 … attempts to clear the ball” — sounds like a deliberate play to us just from the words you used.   “Ball deflects off A8 and falls to A11” — clearly not  a deliberate play by A8.  The issue here, however, is which (if any) of these plays even constitutes a potential offside position and the answer is …. (drum roll please) … “Ball deflects off A8 and falls to A11” (i.e., the very last one)!  All the other plays involve the ball going from a member of one team to a member of the opposing team (i.e., A4 to D25 or D25 to A8) which, by itself, can never result in a recipient of the ball being in an offside position.   Ironically, a play that goes from one teammate to another can be initiated accidentally (e.g., by a deflection).   A8 accidentally sending the ball to A11 was the only play which requires an offside position decision.  Was A11 in an offside position?  The scenario itself declares A11 was so that’s not open to question.  A reminder, however —  the requirements for determining whether or not A11 is in an offside position or not must be evaluated when the ball deflected off A8, not when A4 passed the ball and not when D25 attempted to clear the ball.

The final sentence is “Offside or no?” and here we have to step in and assume that what is really being asked is whether there has been an offside violation as a result of this play segment.  The answer is, we don’t know because nothing has been said about what A11 did while in an offside position.  The scenario says only that the ball “falls to” A11.  “Falls to” does not constitute an offside offense, at least not yet.  What has to be seen is whether the scenario after the ball “falls to” includes some action by A11 that constitutes interfering with play, interfering with an opponent, or gaining an advantage.  Since we aren’t told that A11 touched or played the ball in any way;  got in the way of, blocked the vision of, or challenged a  defender for the ball;  or received the ball from a “deliberate save” or a rebound from the goal frame, the conclusion has to be that there has not been any offside violation … at least not yet.


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.