In a high school varsity game played under USSF rules (as opposed to NHSF) the attacking team plays a ball that rolls into the penalty area and is picked up by the goalie. After the goalie has possession, a defender running with the attacker chasing the ball plays the body and bumps the attacker in a significant manner. The referee (I was the AR) gave the defender a caution for UB, and then allowed the goalie to punt to continue play.

We discussed after the game as to whether, after the caution, he should have awarded the attacking team a penalty kick, an indirect free kick from the spot of the contact, or whether letting the goalie punt was appropriate.

We’d appreciate your feedback.

USSF answer (September 20, 2011):
If there was no injury or immediate exhibition of ill-feeling and the referee invoked the advantage clause and then cautioned the defending player at the next stoppage, that would be legitimate and proper. However, in this case, the referee did not stop play and appears to have cautioned the attacker “on the fly,” not something that is in accordance with the Laws of the Game. This shows either ignorance of the Law or willful disregard of the Law by the referee.

The correct course of action would have been to play the advantage and then, at the next stoppage, to caution the defending player for unsporting behavior.…


A player catches the ball between his knees and then does a somersault into the goal. The goalkeeper has no clear way to defend the goal. Is this legal?

USSF answer (August 24, 2011):
Players are not allowed to perform dangerous acts that deny other players a chance at the ball. (But similar acts that do not endanger other players (or officials) would seem to be legitimate.) If the act in question is reckless and places other players in danger, then the referee should stop play, caution for unsporting behavior, and restart with an indirect free kick for the goalkeeper’s team.…


Question 1:
In your report on Week 21, Colorado was not penalized [at least announced in the stadium], but I believe that the Union player was carded for dissent and then red carded for continuing the dissent. That does not match with your analysis. Why?

Question 2 –
In the 90th minute of the Colorado Rapids vs. Isidro Matapan [August 17]

There is a tug by the left hand of the defender from behind which impedes the striker from continuing his run toward the opposing goal.

Why is that not a foul?

USSF answer (August 22, 2011):
Answer 1:
You appear to have confused what may have happened in the Colorado-Philadelphia game with what the Week in Review is intended to cover: how referees should make their calls equate with what the players are doing on the field. The text in Week in Review 21 addresses what should have been done in the two situations involving foul tackles and how other referees can profit from that. Your situation was not covered.

Answer 2:
Our officials were not involved in the match between Colorado and Isidro Matapan. That is why we cannot make that judgment and why that matter was not covered in the Week in Review.…


Law 1 tells us that goalposts and crossbars must be white and that they must be shaped a certain way (e.g., if the goalposts are rectangular or elliptical, the longer axis must be perpendicular to the goal line).

In Tennessee, we have goals that aren’t white (they’re bare metal), and it’s not uncommon to see portable goals that aren’t shaped as now specified in Law 1. For example:

If a referee notices unsanctioned goals (wrong color, wrong shape, or both), does US Soccer really want that referee to mention this in his/her referee report? Also, should goals that are the wrong shape be treated the same way as goals that aren’t white?

Should these two parts of Law 1 be ignored (by referees)? After all, neither infraction is a safety issue, and neither should be the reason for preventing a match from being played.

I’m asking how we should handle such goals because my instructors are asking me how they should teach the material and how they should respond to “What do I really do” questions.

USSF answer (August 12, 2011):
The safety of the players and other participants always comes first. Referees should conduct a complete inspection of the field and its appurtenances before every game (and again if something happens to endanger a participant). If there is a problem, such as the goal made of steel 2 x 4s in the hotlink you provided, the referee must judge whether or not the item is truly safe for the players. If the referee decides that the goal or any other appurtenance is unsafe — and there is no viable alternative — then the game cannot be played.

IN all such cases, the referee must include full details in the match report.…


I recently attended an ODP camp as a referee. I was told by a National Assessor at the camp that there was a rule concerning attackers and goalkeeper interactions inside the goal area. I don’t remember the specifics exactly and I don’t want to say that I was told something that I wasn’t. Could you please clarify if there are any laws/advice/interpretations on this subject?

USSF answer (August 3, 2011):

We have absolutely no idea what the assessor was talking about. There is nothing in writing that we are aware of.…


This past weekend I was working a local youth tournament and I have two questions from two different games.

First, while I was on “stand-by” in the referee tent during my 3 hour break, my assignor showed up in a golf cart and took me to a field where we found a young upset female ref and the tournament director at a U-10 game. My assignor told me to finish the last 18 minutes of the game and took the previous ref. After talking to both coaches, I found that an assistant of one team (who’s club was hosting the tournament) had been sent-off after arguing numerous calls. I told the head coach of that team that the previous referee’s decision stands and the coach needs to leave. The tournament director then came on to the field and said that he had “overruled” the ref and had asked for a new one, which is what brought the other official to tears. I told him 1 you can’t replace a ref in the middle of a match and more importantly the referee has sole jurisdiction over the match and cannot be “overruled” after a long discussion which included us reading out of the laws of the game, the ejected coach was allowed to sit away from the players and fans but allowed to stay on site. My question is what should a referee do when a tournament director “overrules” you, even in the middle of the match as this one did? Even though referees know this can’t happen the director seemed to think he had the power to do so.

Secondly, in a u-15 Boys game, a “green” player was fouled carelessly about 4 yards from the top of the penalty area, I awarded the free kick, clearly spotted the foul and cautioned the player who fouled him. With time winding down, the “green” coach began to argue that the card should have been red since the offending player had done it “four or five times.” I told him that he was given a yellow for persistent infringement. I turned around, allowed the kicker to take the kick, and he scored. Next, my AR ran up to me and said the player had moved the ball 2 yards closer to the goal before taking the kick while my back was turned. While my AR should gave told me before the kick, what should I have done with the information? I cautioned the player for unsporting conduct and re-took the kick (was saved on re-take). Did I make the right call? Thanks.

USSF answer (July 23, 2011):
1. First, a rule of thumb known only to tournament directors and those of us who have been around for a very long time: If the tournament director says something is so, then he or she is surely right, even when he or she is blatantly and incredibly wrong. Second, always read and be aware of the competition’s rules when you accept an assignment; the director might actually have that power and, if you accepted the assignment, you acknowledge that you accept the rules of the competition. Third, yes, you were absolutely correct. Fourth, mark the tournament in your mind and alert your colleagues and local referee association that this particular event allows such travesties to occur and you cannot in good conscience recommend taking assignments to its games.

2. More rules: (a) Make a decision and stick to it, unless you recognize you truly were in error. (b) Do not allow yourself to be distracted by outside influences with no authority over any aspect of your game, also known as coaches, at a free kick or at any other time. (c) Always know where the ball is. (d) When you have been distracted by an outside influence, check with your assistant referees to be sure nothing has happened during the distraction. (e) Remember rules (a) and (b). Yes, you made the correct call.…


Do all penalties within the 18 yard box automatically result in a penalty kick? If I recall during my “ref” days (now retired), penalty kicks occur only if the ref determines the offensive player who was fouled had a clear ability to score a goal. That is, if an incidental hand ball (hand hits ball, not ball hits hand) occurs within the 18 yard box and the ref determines there was no scoring opportunity a free kick at the point of contact (even within the 18 yard box) is award the offensive team. Defensive line must be 10 yards away or as far as possible (even if they must stand on the goal line).

Just want to make sure; I’ve haven’t ref’d for many years and wonder if the laws have changed.

Now a spectator.

USSF answer (July 19, 2011):
What you describe has NEVER been part of the Laws of the Game. We hear of this concept every now and then in various parts of the country and welcome the opportunity to address the matter. Thank you for asking.

All — let us stress it: ALL — direct free kick fouls committed by the defending team in its own penalty area must be punished with a penalty kick, whether or not the player who was fouled had a clear chance to score a goal. Other punishment may also be meted out, but that is outside the parameters of your question.

Accidental (or “incidental”) handling of the ball such as you describe is not a foul of any sort, so should never be punished in any way — although we are aware that some referees do it.

If an indirect free kick offense (foul or misconduct) were to be committed within its penalty area by the defending team, the restart would be an indirect free kick and the defending team would have to remain at least ten yards from the spot of the kick , unless it was within the goal area. Again, other punishment might also be levied, depending on the particular offense and its consequences.…


I recently noticed while watching an MLS match that the referee used a can of white spray paint to mark off ten yards after awarding a free kick. I had noticed the paint can on referees’ uniforms all season, but only after seeing it in use did I realize what it was. Is this a new practice? And is this something that can be utilized by officials in lower level matches?

USSF answer (June 27, 2011):
The International F. A. Board decided at its meeting in March 2011 to allow the use of the vanishing spray paint as a continuing experiment in CONMEBOL (South America), where the proposal originated…


I have an interpretation question for you. First, let me give you the context; I was assessing a referee for upgrade (8 to 7) in a B-U18 match. In the 19th minute the referee noticed that one of the players was wearing two earrings which were either missed in the pre-match inspection or were added subsequently, and he correctly instructed him to leave the pitch.

As we discussed this after the match, I pointed out that there was another player (an opponent) who had his wrist taped and I asked if the referee had checked to see what it was covering. I was told by one of the AR’s that the League had directed their referees in their preseason meeting that they were not permitted to ask a player to remove a band-aid or tape to ascertain whether the band-aid or tape was covering an earring, etc.

According to this AR, they were specifically told that they could not ask a female player to remove a band-aid which covered her eyebrow even though they were confident that it was covering a stud. Apparently the league is concerned about some kind of liability.

This direction from the league is the source of my question. It is directly opposite of what I have always told referees as concerns gloves, hats, bandages, wraps, etc. I feel that not only do referees have the power to ask to see under such coverings to ascertain whether they are covering or hiding illegal or impermissible equipment, etc., but further, they have an obligation to do so. My belief is that if a player refuses to satisfy the referee by demonstrating that there is nothing unsafe or illegal under such coverings then s/he should not be allowed to participate in the match. I would appreciate your advice on this question. Thanks!

USSF answer (May 5, 2011):
No league may require a referee not to enforce the Laws of the Game to the fullest, particularly when it pertains to participant safety.

Under Law 4 (see Interpretations) covering items of jewelry is forbidden: “Using tape to cover jewelry is not acceptable.” If any covering (including but not limited to tape) is being used by a player in a place where such a covering is not normally expected and where jewelry is often found, the referee has an obligation to ensure that the player is not hiding illegal equipment and should approach the player in the same manner as would be used in any jewelry situation: “I need to see what is under the tape. You have the right to refuse but, under these circumstances, I have the obligation to not allow you to play.” Tape is, after all and by itself, “equipment” and, as such, needs to be inspected to ensure that it (or whatever is under it) is not dangerous.

Law 4 tells us:

A player must not use equipment or wear anything that is dangerous to himself or another player (including any kind of jewelry).

The referee is required by Law 5 to ensure that the players’ equipment meets the requirements of Law 4.

We provided the following answer on December 15, 2010, regarding jewelry:

“There is no “FIFA” definition of anything in the Laws. The definitions are all made by the International Football Association Board (IFAB), the people who make the Laws, of which FIFA is a member. And they do not define jewelry for the simple reason that jewelry is jewelry, a decorative (usually) piece of adornment worn to enhance one’s beauty or to plug some product or cause. All jewelry is prohibited by the IFAB in Law 4, no matter what its appearance may be. Jewelry in any form is dangerous, which is why the IFAB has prohibited it; players’ hair or fingers may be caught and severely injured.

“Jewelry includes (but is not limited to) “team spirit” strings; beads of any sort (worn in hair or on strings or leather, etc.); any adornment (including watches) worn on the wrist; rings with crowns or projections; adornment worn along the upper or lower arm; earrings of any sort (including “starter” earrings)l tongue studs; any visible body piercing; rubber, leather, plastic or other “bands” worn in reference to some sort of cause,

“The only jewelry that is permitted in the United States is (a) medicalert jewelry for the purpose of aiding emergency medical personnel in treating injured players and (b) certain religious items that are not dangerous, are required by the religion to be worn, and not likely to provide the player with an unfair advantage (and even for the religious items, the player must have permission from the competition to wear it).

“In short: No jewelry is allowed.”


During an indoor soccer match, a defending player turned his back on a shot by an attacking player. The defender was in the area and his arm was struck by the ball which resulted in a penalty kick. As the referee for this match, I cleared the “18 box” and placed the ball on the spot. When I the blew whistle, a defending player rushed the ball and struck it before the attacking player struck the ball. I blew the whistle and called for a re-kick. Both teams stated that once the referee blew his whistle, the ball was in play and could be struck by any player. I have not found any rule for indoor soccer that states the ball is in play after the whistle, only after an attacking player strikes the ball. Please help.

USSF answer (March 18, 2011):
There are two different restart scenarios that your players are confusing. Indoor has both a penalty kick and a shootout. On an indoor penalty kick, no other players should have been anywhere close enough to do that.

In the case of a shootout, the restart is from the center of the yellow line (50 feet from the goal line). The keeper is to stand on at least one foot on his own goal line, other than the shooter, all the other player must be in the other half of the field. The remaining attacking field players must be outside the center circle, the defending teammates of the GK are inside. Once the referee blows the whistle the ball is “live” and the shooter can dribble, the keeper can come off his goal line, and the players in the other half of the field can then run toward the play.

The penalty kick is pretty much like the outdoor except the goalkeeper must have both feet on his own goal line and can’t move forward until the ball is struck. All the remaining field players are back behind the yellow line and must remain there until the ball is struck.

It’s unfortunate that you were assigned to indoor without being trained on the rules. However, your men’s amateur players are typical. They will say anything to justify what they do, just as outdoor players do.…