The Laws define the terms “careless, reckless and with
excessive force” for penal offenses:

1. Kicks or attempts to kick an opponent.
2. Trips or attempts to trip an opponent.
3. Jumps at an opponent.
4. Charges an opponent.
5. Strikes or attempts to strike an opponent:
6. Pushes an opponent
7. Tackles an opponent.

This makes it much easier for Referees to gauge the respective punishment when the force reaches a certain level. However, is it possible to do any of the above without a foul actually being called since it was neither careless, reckless, nor with excessive force?

A defender and attacker are running full speed, side-by-side shoulder-to-shoulder and stride-for-stride. The defender makes a cut and to make the cut he extends his leg outside his normal gait. The attacker’s leg clips the defender’s leg and the attacker goes down like a sack of potatoes. There is nothing to be considered careless, reckless or with excessive force. The referee considers the tripping to be unintentional and accidental and allows play to continue. But who on the field is going to accept that when the defender wins the ball? The attacking team is going to be irate and the defending team is going to think that they got away with one. The offense is “Trips or attempts to trip an opponent”. A trip is a trip, intentional or not. Should the referee call a tripping foul? Or does the brave referee make the non-call with the comfort in knowing that he’s the only one on the field that knows he’s right?

USSF answer (June 10, 2010):
You might wish to search through the archives to find this answer (only an excerpt given here) of April 15, 2010. It should answer all your questions on this matter.

“Careless” indicates that the player has not exercised due caution in making a play.

“Reckless” means that the player has made unnatural movements designed to intimidate an opponent or to gain an unfair advantage.

“Involving excessive force” means that the player has far exceeded the use of force necessary to make a fair play for the ball and has placed the opponent in considerable danger of bodily harm.

If the foul was careless, simply a miscalculation of strength or a stretch of judgment by the player who committed it, then it is a normal foul, requiring only a direct free kick (and possibly a stern talking-to). If the foul was reckless, clearly outside the norm for fair play, then the referee must award the direct free kick and also caution the player for unsporting behavior, showing the yellow card. If the foul involved the use of excessive force, totally beyond the bounds of normal play, then the referee must send off the player for serious foul play or violent conduct, show the red card, and award the direct free kick to the opposing team.

And it is worth repeating — yet again — that the occurrence of contact between players does not necessarily mean that a foul was committed. Contact occurs and it is accepted and welcomed, as long as it is accomplished legally — and that includes most accidental contact.

And the referee can very effectively reinforce his or her conviction that no foul has occurred by shouting out “No foul!” Never leave doubt in the minds of the players as to your comfort with your decision.…


My understanding is during a stoppage for an injury a coach (the team not with the injured player) is not allowed to call his players over to the bench area (technical area) and provide coaching instruction. Likewise, the coach of the injured player who comes on the field with permission cannot gather his field players and provide coaching /tactical advise. I cannot find this in the Laws, Guide to Referees, and Advise to Referees.

Can you direct me where in the USSF I can find this? Also, what is the ruling and where is it for NISOA and NFHS?

USSF answer (May 3, 2010):
We cannot provide official answers for NISOA or NFHS games. However, we can provide official answers regarding the Laws of the Game.

There is no rule against either coach or other team official calling his or her players over to the touch line to discuss tactics during a stoppage for injury. However, if a coach or other team official is permitted on the field to see to the status of a seriously injured player — the only reason for stopping play for an injury is if the referee believes it to be serious — he or she may not share any information with any players of that team who are on the field. That would be regarded as irresponsible behavior, forcing the referee to expel the coach.

However, the intelligent referee will preempt the coach from coaching by stopping him early and letting him know that coaching on the field is not permitted. If the coach persists, then the referee should take more drastic action.…


In a U-19 mens match, a player went in for a hard challenge, missed the ball and fouled his opponent. My immediate reaction was to caution him for the reckless foul but when the two players got up they started swinging at each other. The near AR and I quickly sorted things out, then I sent off (red carded) both of the players.

Now I wonder if I should have first shown the yellow card for unsporting behavior, then the red card for violent conduct. Since the player did not have a prior caution, that might seem confusing to the coach and spectators, but in some leagues disciplinary points are issued for every card.

What is the proper procedure in this case?

USSF answer (April 27, 2010):
The referee should IMMEDIATELY think preventive refereeing and get between the players BEFORE they start swinging. If that fails, the showing of the yellow card first may be confusing but is the correct action. The referee should always punish the initiator first in these situations. After the caution, then send off both players. If there is any confusion, explain it in the match report.…


On what grounds can a referee stop and abandon a soccer match

USSF answer (March 31, 2010):
An interesting question, one that requires a good bit of space to answer completely.

Under the Laws of the Game (or, as they are called in Great Britain, the Laws of Association Football), the referee has the power to stop, suspend or abandon the match, at his discretion for any infringements of the Laws or for outside interference of any kind. A referee (or where applicable, an assistant referee or fourth official) is not held liable for a decision to abandon a match for whatever reason.

We need first to differentiate between “abandon” and “terminate” a match. The difference between terminating a match and abandoning a match is a subtle one, but it is historically correct and supported by traditional practice. (Research into the history of the Laws will reveal this clearly; the IFAB now uses “abandon” almost exclusively, most likely just to confuse us all.) The referee may abandon a match if there is an insufficient number of players to meet the requirements of the Law or the competition, if a team does not appear or leaves before completion of the game, or if the field or any of its equipment do not meet the requirements of the Laws or are otherwise unsafe; i. e., for technical (Law 1) or physical (Law 4) safety. An abandoned match is replayed unless the competition rules provide otherwise. The referee may terminate a match for reasons of non-physical safety (bad weather or darkness), for any serious infringement of the Laws, or because of interference by spectators. Only the competition authority, not the referee, has the authority to declare a winner, a forfeit, or a replay of the match in its entirety. The referee must report fully on the events. “Suspended” means that a match was stopped temporarily for any of various reasons. After that the match is either resumed, abandoned, or terminated and the competition rules take over.

• Law 1 states that if the crossbar becomes displaced or broken, play is stopped until it has been repaired or replaced in position. If it is not possible to repair the crossbar, the match must be abandoned. In addition, if the referee declares that one spot on the field is not playable, then the entire field must be declared unplayable and the game abandoned.

• A careful inspection of the field before the start of the game might lead the referee to abandon the game before it was started. If, once the match has begun, the referee discovers a problem that is not correctable, then the referee’s decision must be to abandon the game and report the matter to the competition authority.

• Under Law 5, the referee is authorized to stop play if, in his opinion, the floodlights are inadequate.

If an object thrown by a spectator hits the referee or one of the assistant referees or a player or team official, the referee may allow the match to continue, suspend play or abandon the match depending on
the severity of the incident. He must, in all cases, report the incident(s) to the appropriate authorities. Using the powers given him by Law 5, the referee may stop, suspend or terminate the match, at his discretion, for any infringements of the Laws or for grave disorder (see below). If he decides to terminate the match, he must provide the appropriate authorities with a match report which includes information on any disciplinary action taken against players, and/or team officials and any other incidents which occurred before, during or after the match. In no event may the referee determine the winner of any match, terminated or not. Nor may the referee decide whether or not a match must be replayed. Both of those decisions are up to the competition authority, i. e., the league, cup, tournament, etc.

“Grave disorder” would be any sort of dustup involving the players and/or spectators and/or team officials which puts the officials in immediate or likely subsequent jeopardy — fights which metastasize beyond just 2 or 3, masses of spectators invading the pitch, throwing dangerous objects (e. g., firecrackers, butane lighters, etc.) onto the field, and so forth.

• The referee has no authority to force a team to play if they do not wish to continue a game nor to terminate the match in such a case. The referee will simply abandon the game and include all pertinent details in the match report.

• In the opinion of the International F.A. Board, a match should not be considered valid if there are fewer than seven players in either of the teams. If a team with only seven players is penalized by the award of a penalty-kick and as a consequence one of their players is sent off, leaving only six in the team, the game must be abandoned without allowing the penalty-kick to be taken unless the national association has decided otherwise with regard to the minimum number of players.

• The referee must not abandon the game if a team loses a kicker after kicks from the mark begin. The kicks must be completed.

• If a player has been seriously injured and cannot leave the field without risking further injury, the referee must stop the game and have the player removed. If, for whatever reason, there is no competent person available to oversee removal of the seriously injured player from the field for treatment, then the match must be abandoned.

• If player fraud is alleged prior to the game and the player will admit that he is not the person on the pass he has presented and the game has already begun, the referee will have to deal with the matter of an outside agent on the field. If the fraud were not discovered until after the game had been restarted, the only solution would be to abandon the match. If there is no goal issue, the fraudulent player is removed and the game is restarted with a dropped ball.

• If a player, from a team with only seven players, leaves the field of play to receive medical attention, the match will stop until this player has received treatment and returns to the field of play. If he is unable to return, the match is abandoned, unless the member association has decided otherwise with regard to the minimum number of players.

In all cases, the referee must submit a full report to the appropriate authorities.

If the referee discovers that a period of play was ended prematurely but a subsequent period of play has started, the match must be abandoned and the full details of the error included in the game report.

The Laws make the point that the coach and other team officials must BEHAVE RESPONSIBLY and thus may not shout, curse, interfere, or otherwise make a nuisance of themselves The coach’s presence, or the presence of any other team official, is generally irrelevant to the game — under the Laws of the Game, but it may have some importance under the rules of youth competitions. If the coach or other team official is removed, known in the Law as “expelled,” that person must leave the field and its environs. If it is a youth game and the coach and all other team officials have been expelled, then the referee should consider abandoning the game. A full report must be filed with the competition authority. The referee has no authority to determine who has won or lost the game, whether by forfeit or any other process; that is the responsibility of the competition authority. The referee must file a report on all events associated with the abandonment.

Once the game begins, only the referee has the right to decide whether the game continues, is suspended temporarily, terminated or abandoned. If a game is abandoned or terminated before it is completed, the determination of the result is up to the competition authority (league, cup, tournament). In most cases, competitions declare that if a full half has been played, the result stands, but that does not apply to all competitions. The referee does not have the authority to declare what the score is or who has won the game. The referee’s only recourse is to include in his game report full details of what caused the match to be abandoned or terminated. The status of an abandoned is determined by the rules of the competition or the competition authority itself. There is no set amount of time, but many rules of competition will call a game complete if a full half has been played.…


In a U14 girl’s game a player from the Red Team takes a few dribbles with a ball and is then challenged by a Blue Team player (#25). The challenger makes a tackle that clears away the ball but also takes down the Red Team dribbler. The tackle seemed be from behind as the tackler was positioned behind the dribblers right shoulder. No foul was called, and play continued. A small protest came from the sidelines that was something like “That’s a foul Ref”, which was when the compliment came in to play. It seemed as if in response to sidelines comment the Ref said quite loudly “Great tackle #25,that was beautiful”. Those of us hearing it on the sidelines were a bit stunned.

Until that moment I had never heard a referee compliment a player while the game is underway. I know you can not comment on whether the Ref was trying to send a message to the sidelines as you have no way of knowing her frame of mind. But should a Ref ever comment on play in that way? Is there anything in the rules or advise that speaks to this?

USSF answer (March 31, 2010):
Although he laid it on a bit thick, the referee was trying to use psychology to accomplish two things: (1) He notified the player concerned, her teammates, and their opponents, that he would accept this play. (2) He put the parents and other spectators, including you, on notice that he knew what he was doing and that this was his game, not yours.

However, the referee’s objective could easily have been accomplished by simply announcing, “A legal tackle, #25. Thanks for keeping it safe.” or “No problem with that tackle!” (or words to that effect). Calling it “great” and “beautiful” seems overly enthusiastic under the circumstances and slipped over into an almost gratuitous slap at the comment providers.…