The Officiating Team and Misconduct

Karyn, an adult/pro fan, asks:

If neither the Referee nor either Assistant Referee saw a foul but the fourth official did, can the Referee still give a straight red card?


Yes.  The referee is obliged to take into account any information provided to him or her by a member of the officiating team – including the ARs and the 4th official but not including the reserve assistant referee or a volunteer linesman – and then render a final decision.  The referee is not required to accept the information but is required to listen.  However, the referee’s ability to follow through on the advice and information remains limited by the Laws of the Game.  For example, if at the halftime break, an AR or the 4th official indicates that Blue #14 had used abusive or offensive language in the 20th minute, the only way the referee could issue a red card to Blue #14 is if there had been no stoppages between the 20th minute of the half and the midgame break.  The Law requires that a card to any player, substitute, or substituted player must be given no later than the next stoppage (which includes the end of a period of play).

There are only two exceptions to this mandate.  The first is if the referee realizes or is advised by a member of the officiating team (excluding the reserve assistant referee or a linesman) that the referee had issued a second yellow to a player but had failed to follow through with a red card as prescribed in Law 12.  In this case, the red card can be given whenever the Referee is made aware of the oversight.  The other is a bit more complicated.  The referee can issue a red card to a player, substitute, or substituted player if an assistant referee observes an act of violence (including spitting), raises the flag, and continuously maintains the raised flag until the referee becomes aware of the signal, at which time the red card for violent conduct can be given even if one or more stoppages and restarts have intervened.  Since this particular exception depends entirely on the AR performing in a certain way, it should be covered in the pregame discussion prior to any match in which such behavior might occur.

Players Wanting to Assist the Referee

Daniel, a HS/College Referee, asks:

I have seen in many matches a player who has been fouled getting up and “demanding” a card for the opponent by signaling the motion of giving the card that referees do. Some players get cautioned and others get away with it. What is the stance of the Laws of the Game with regards to this action and why are referees not consistent when in my eyes it is taking away authority from the referees.


These are two very different questions.  The first (the “stance of the Laws of the Game” regarding this player behavior) is relatively easy.  There is nothing in the Laws about it, at least not specifically. But, we need to ask ourselves, why do players do this?  The answer is simple, they want to influence the decisions of the Referee.  Ironically, this sort of behavior is often (though not necessarily) associated with simulating a foul and/or exaggerating the seriousness of a foul.  The “carding motion” is often intended to “sell” the simulation.  It is not unusual that astute Referees, instead of carding the “perpetrator,” instead show a card to the “victim.”

Even if not intended for this purpose, the player action can be considered a form of dissent (remember, dissent can be delivered via actions as well as words) in that the player is expecting that, without his input, the Referee would not take the action the player wants.  If the Referee feels that simulation/exaggeration has occurred, a caution for unsporting behavior is appropriate whereas a caution for dissent might be given in the absence of simulation/exaggeration.  Despite there being two different forms of misconduct based on two separate events, it would be unwise to give two cautions (one for simulation and the other for dissent).

We quote from a USSF Memorandum (March 23, 2007) titled “Misconduct — Player Gesturing for a Card”:

Although there is no automatic rule that player gestures calling for a card must be cautioned, such actions can be considered cautionable if they are blatantly disruptive, for example, by indicating disagreement with an official’s decision, aggressively aimed at a particular opponent or an official, or being part of a simulation (faking) to gain a favorable decision. The public nature of the action often makes the gesture too obvious to ignore and can spread to other players, who either agree or disagree, thus provoking further conflict.

Now, as to the second question (why Referees seem not to be consistent in applying the above guidelines to this behavior), we can only speculate.  Referees may differ in their ability to recognize the behavior as misconduct.  Some may not wish to “stand out” by showing a card (note in this regard that the USSF memorandum makes the point that there is no “automatic rule” governing the carding gesture).  On the plus side, though, and apart from the possible connection between the carding gesture and the simulation/exaggeration which might precede it, the Referee might decide that, at any given instance of this possible misconduct and under the specific circumstances at this moment by this player in this match, a caution might not be a useful or productive response.

Timewasting and Goalkeepers

Andrea, a parent of HS/College age players, asks:

Can a keeper waste time by falling on a pass back every time?


Yes … and no.  First of all, we are assuming that, when you use the term “pass back,” you are referring to a situation in which a teammate kicks the ball to her goalkeeper such that, if the goalkeeper were to pick up the ball, she would be guilty of an indirect free kick offense.  We are also assuming you know that the goalkeeper is allowed to play the ball in any otherwise legal way (i.e., with feet, head, torso, knees, etc., just not with the hands).

So, yes, it is entirely legal for the goalkeeper to “fall on the ball” as a means of taking possession.  It is not “wasting time” any more than would catching the ball in the absence of the “pass back” problem.  Unless you are a goalkeeper and have tried to do this, however, you may not appreciate how difficult it would be for her to recover from this “falling on the ball” without at least accidentally, if not instinctively, touching the ball with one or both of her hands.

On the other hand, the goalkeeper is subject to the same constraints that any other player would encounter should she “fall on the ball” during play.  In “Refereeing 101,” soon-to-be new officials are taught that a player on the ground covering the ball or with the ball trapped between the legs is a flashpoint problem because the first instinct of opponents is to attempt to play the ball and do not always recognize that there is likely no safe way to do this.  Goalkeepers may think they can rely on the protection normally provided by the Law’s requirement that no opponent can legally attempt to challenge for the ball in the goalkeeper’s possession, forgetting that this applies only to having hand possession, which in this case the goalkeeper cannot legally have.

This particular flashpoint problem is normally resolved by allowing a reasonable amount of time for the goalkeeper (or any other player similarly situated) to safely extricate herself from the situation and thus free up the ball to be safely competed for (it is not illegal for the goalkeeper, or any other player who is in this difficult situation, to attempt to get out of this problem by playing the ball safely while on the ground).  Any opponent who, ignoring this, attempts immediately to tackle or kick the ball is committing a dangerous play offense and, if there is actual contact by the opponent’s foot with the downed goalkeeper, the opponent would be guilty of a direct free kick foul (kicking) with the added possibility of the Referee deciding that the opponent was being reckless and thus earning a caution.  On the other hand, if the goalkeeper does not make a reasonable attempt to get up and thus extends unfairly the inability of any opponent to safely challenge for the ball (which may have been the intention of the goalkeeper all along), then it is the goalkeeper who could be charged with a dangerous play offense.  All of this is affected significantly by the age and experience of the players — meaning that the younger the players the quicker the referee must make the decision as to who is creating the danger.

All About Correct Decisions

Ben, a competitive youth coach, asks:

A ball is kicked into the penalty area on the ground.  A striker is the first to react and runs to the ball. The keeper is closer and runs to the ball to pick it up but misjudges the speed of the attacker. The attacker and goalkeeper are both running at the ball. The attacker reaches the ball about a yard before the keeper who has jumped at the ball when the attacker takes her touch. The touch goes into the goalkeeper as the keeper’s momentum takes her headfirst into the legs of the attacker and trips the attacker (the attacker had no chance after touching the ball to avoid being tripped).  What is the correct call?


You’re going to get tired of hearing this here but, “You have to be there!”  Equally important in understanding what follows is “There is no ‘the correct call’!”

No matter how detailed the description of the event, there is still a lot of potentially critical information missing here.  For example, had anything like this happened before in the match?  How did that turn out?  What do you know about the individual players who were involved?  What has been the temperature of the match so far?  What is the competitive skill level of the players (e.g., U19/D1 or U13/D5)?  Where were you — on the spot?  Trailing play?  At an angle to see space between the players or were you straight on?  We could go on and, at some point, you would probably get exasperated and start wondering if we are ever going to get to the point.  The problem is that this is the point.

OK, some answers.  So far (right on up to the final sentence which asks the question), everything described would be considered normal play in a competitive match between skilled, experienced players.  It starts to look a bit dicier if the players are young, coached by volunteers, and have low to moderate skills.  At these two ends of the spectrum, the answer to the question should probably be different without even getting into all the other pertinent factors listed above.  At both ends of the spectrum and for all points in between, the referee should be moving with play and bearing to the left to keep play between the referee and the lead AR instead of slowing down at the top of the penalty arc and having only a straight-on look.  Every sentence describing the build-up to this critical event screams “collision!”  The referee must be there in order to “sell” whatever decision has to be made.

Now, on to the other issue.  Is there any single one that can be called correct?  No.  At the skilled end of the spectrum, the likely “most correct” course of action is for the referee to be close and for the players involved to know that that the referee is close.  This course of action would likely include an understanding that each player (the striker and the goalkeeper) is doing what is expected of her.  Strikers kick balls.  Goalkeepers dive for balls.  Additionally, goalkeepers are more likely to put themselves into more dangerous positions.  Experienced players know these facts (strikers and goalkeepers better than most) and are willing to take risks.  We might hope that an aggressive striker, while pushing the envelop as regards her distance from the goalkeeper, would pull back and perhaps not attempt her usual explosive attempt to volley the ball.  We might hope that an otherwise fearless goalkeeper would, despite her being the last line of defense against being scored upon, be very careful in a diving save so as not to overturn the onrushing striker.  But then, weighed against safety, we must also recognize that our job includes enabling players to demonstrate their skills.  The wise referee at this end of the spectrum should judge the ensuing collision to be simply a part of the game and, though prepared to stop play quickly if there is an injury, be otherwise prepared to let play continue.

At the inexperienced, unskilled end of the spectrum, safety trumps all other concerns and we neither want nor expect such close judgments and risk-taking to be made by either player.  At this end of the spectrum, the wise referee will not only be close but perhaps even talking to the players as the play unfolds.  The wise referee will also recognize that, when the collisions occur (the ball being struck at the goalkeeper and the goalkeeper’s dive upending the striker), the burden of avoiding recklessness falls on the striker in this case.  A close evaluation must be made as to which player pushed the envelop too far first and, here, the answer is, on balance, the striker.  Depending on the force of the striker’s kick, the offense could be judged at least careless and perhaps reckless.  However, regardless of the striker’s burden, the goalkeeper might also be guilty of misconduct (even with the restart going to her team) if the referee judges that the particular manner of her lunge to the ground increased the danger to the striker (e.g., having feet up with cleats exposed).

In between these ends of the spectrum, the wise referee must judge how soon the goalkeeper made her play for the ball on the ground, how long the striker waited to make the final play on the ball before the goalkeeper made her inherently dangerous lunge toward the striker’s feet, and the extent to which either player attempted to avoid contact with the other.


NOTE: I do not remember where I got this item — and for that I apologize to the source — but it seems worth publishing again to remind referees that they need to ensure that everyone on the field knows who is in charge of the game.

Recently I lined an U15B game in a neighborhood complex. A visiting team player whacked the ball. It went out of play, over the fans, along the touchline, over the short chain-link fence behind the fans, over a driveway into the complex, over another short chain-link fence, and into a neighbor’s backyard.

A home team player knew the drill. He ran off the field, jumped the first fence, crossed the road, and arrived at the backyard fence.

The player saw a “Beware of Dogs” sign. He looked around but didn’t see any dogs. To be sure he banged on the fence just as he started to jump. Lucky for him.

Lying against the back of the house in the shade was THE DOG. THE DOG was not happy. THE DOG obviously had dealt with this situation before and knew how to handle it.

THE DOG growled menacingly, stood up, and stared at the player. THE DOG then walked very deliberately to the ball as he maintained eye contact. He continued growling and staring at the player. When THE DOG got to the ball, he looked down, sniffed it disgustedly, looked up, and again growled at the player.

THE DOG then looked at the ball one last time, raised his hind leg, and relieved himself on the ball. He gave the player a final stare with a final contemptuous growl (looking something like a sly, cynical grin), turned around, and casually jogged back to his favorite spot in the shade.

The player was momentarily stunned. With both arms raised he finally shouted to the sidelines, “I’M NOT PLAYING WITH THAT BALL!!!”.

I remember THE DOG whenever I referee an older youth game. He’s even become one of my role models for player management.

THE DOG stayed in the background until it was time to make his presence known. He commanded the player’s attention while he took forceful action. He used crisp mechanics to clearly communicate his decision. He received the player’s unquestioning acceptance of his decision. And he felt much better when he was finished.


What should the ref do when a player comes off the bench and denies an obvious goal scoring opportunity?

Answer (October 1, 2012):
Send him off for denying the obvious goalscoring opportunity. It’s in the Law. Restart with an indirect free kick for the opposing team from the position of the ball when play was stopped (see Law 13 — Position of Free Kick). Indirect free kick is for the offense of unsporting behavior (sub enters without permission). The caution could be shown first, before the red card for denying the opportunity, but that might be overkill.


In my age group, the referees (usually R8s and R9s) tend to be very inexperienced. Many calls are incorrect (don’t worry, I was an R8 ref a few years ago, so I know they were wrong). Is it frowned upon for a referee to change a call once made after players and/or coaches argue? I am an arguer (i.e. refs I don’t personally know generally don’t like me), and a ref has never changed a call, whether they know it was wrong or not. Can they, or is a call final no matter what?

Answer (July 7, 2012):
Yes, a referee may change a call, provided that he or she has not already restarted play. And, even if play has already restarted, if the referee realizes he has made a mistake, as long as this realization came to him or her before the restart occurred — and only the referee knows if that is true.


Before a corner kick or a direct kick or an indirect kick, the team with the ball is placing a player directly in front of the keeper. Also, that person is screening the keeper and is pushing backwards on the keeper and trying to push the keeper into the goal.

The screening player will do everything to prevent the goalkeeper from getting in front of them. I believe this is a violation of “Impeding the Progress of an Opponent”. All this is happening before the kick is made and when the ball is put into play. What is the ruling?

Answer (June 2, 2012):
What you describe is actually pushing or holding, both direct free kick offenses that should be punished by the referee. (Unfortunately, many referees do not recognize this and make no call or fail to bawl out the goalkeeper.)

It is a general principle underlying the Law that players are not permitted to “play” the opponent rather than the ball. Except under certain conditions spelled out in the Laws (such as at a penalty kick or throw-in or goal kick), a player is permitted to stand wherever he or she wishes. After the ball is put in play, a player who — without playing or attempting to play the ball — jumps up and down in front of the goalkeeper to block the ‘keeper’s vision or otherwise interferes with the ‘keeper’s ability to play the ball is committing the foul of impeding an opponent. If there is contact initiated by the player doing this, the foul becomes holding or pushing. When such activity occurs, the referee should immediately stop the restart and warn the players to conduct themselves properly. If, after the warning (and before the restart), they do it anyway, they have committed unsporting behavior and should be cautioned. The restart remains the same.

Before the ball is in play, the referee can simply allow the opponent of the ‘keeper to impede, wait for the restart to occur, blow the whistle, award an indirect free kick coming out, and card if needed. This is the “harsh” approach and it carries the danger, provided the jostling doesn’t sufficiently enrage the goalkeeper (or any other defender), that the tensions or violence will escalate to something more serious. It is also not a good approach when it is an attacker who is doing the jostling.

The referee can see the situation developing and verbally and/or by a closer presence encourage correct behavior on the part of the jostlers in the hope that they will cease their misbehavior. This is the “proactive” (some would call it the “wimpy”) approach and is more likely to prevent escalation, if it works. If it doesn’t work, the referee can always hold up the restart, caution, and then signal the restart or go to the option above.

Such actions against the goalkeeper can also occur during dynamic play and are very often missed by both referee and assistant referee.


Can ‘Charging’ be ‘Excessive Force’?

This question keeps getting asked and the answer always seems to be ‘soccer can be violent’ and ‘as long as its shoulder to shoulder its OK’

Therefore, I will ask as I keep seeing it, especially with a U14 that is playing up several age groups:

Can a 200-lb defender drop his shoulder and very puposefully barrel into a smaller player with the ball at a 90 degree angle, at speed, to the point that the smaller player with the ball goes flying off the pitch, a** over a teakettle?

This happens VERY often but only occasionally is called as a foul. I will respect your answer, but if this doesnt fall under ‘excessive force’ or ‘charging’, than I am lost.


Answer (May 9, 2012):
We define charging thusly: A fair charge is shoulder to shoulder, elbows (on the contact side) against the body, with each player having at least one foot on the ground and both attempting to gain control of the ball. The amount of force allowed is relative to the age and experience of the players, but should never be excessive. This is as defined by the referee on the game, not some book definition, adjusted as necessary for the age and experience of the players and what has happened or is happening in this particular game on this particular day at this particular moment. It all boils down to what is best for the referee’s management and the players’ full enjoyment of the game.

Although often overlooked by spectators, it is important to remember that a player’s natural endowments (speed, strength, height, heft, etc.) may be superior to that of the opponent who is competing with that player for the ball. As a completely natural result, the opponent may not only be bested in the challenge but may in fact wind up on the ground with no foul having been committed. The mere fact that a player fails in a challenge and falls or is knocked down is what the game is all about (and why coaches must choose carefully in determining which player marks which opponent). Referees do not handicap players by saddling them with artificial responsibilities to be easy on an opponent simply because they are better physically endowed in some way.

Fair charges include actions which do not strictly meet the “shoulder-to-shoulder” requirement when this is not possible because of disparities in height or body type (a common occurrence in youth matches in the early teenage range where growth spurts differ greatly on an individual level within the age group). Additionally, a fair charge can be directed toward the back of the shoulder if the opponent is shielding the ball, provided it is not done dangerously and never to the spinal area.

The arms may not be used at all, other than for balance, which does not include pushing off or holding the opponent.

Children of the same age differ in their development. They and we have to live with it. No foul if there was no offense other than being larger or faster. As noted above, the decision as to whether the force used is excessive is up to the individual referee.


I was the Center referee for an A division Co-ed match. There was a through ball for the attacking team, the forward run through to dribble into the penalty area. The keeper runs out to stop the ball, and missing it completely, and collided with the attacking player and took him out of play. I was near the top of the 18 yard, and had a clear view of the contact. I signalled a penalty kick, and issued a caution to the keeper. Since, it was his 2nd caution in this match, then I proceeded to show him the red card.

The defending team started screaming and said look at your assistant referee. He is standing firm around the 25 yard line, signalling an offside.

I reversed my call to an indirect free kick for the defending team, and took back the cards.

My reasoning is that I should have looked at my assistant referee first, and blown my whistle for the offside. If I had done that, it would have avoided the contact by the keeper and the forward.

Did I make the right call ?

USSF answer (March 28, 2012):

Your decision to use the information supplied by the AR was correct. Award the indirect free kick for the goalkeeper’s team. It is possible that the goalkeeper still engaged in certain behavior, whether it was during play against an opponent or during a stoppage resulting from the offside offense, so pleases consider the following:
Misconduct is separate from the foul (unless the foul was for serious foul play or denying a goalscoring opportunity through an act punishable by a free kick). Accordingly, the second caution which resulted in a red card should not have been withdrawn SOLELY because the referee accepted the advice from the AR and declared that the stoppage was for the offside. The ‘keeper’s act itself might warrant the caution (and red) or a straight red regardless of the change in the decision. If the goalkeeper’s act was purely careless, rather than reckless (caution) or done with excessive force (send-off), then there is no need to caution the ‘keeper.