If a substitute enters the field of play before being beckoned, and while the player is still on the field, can the referee force the player off the field and mandate the team play short until the next substitution opportunity?

USSF answer (November 17, 2008):
The substitution procedure is quite clear: A substitution is not complete until each step has been properly executed. Before a new player may enter the field, he or she must be given permission by the referee. If that new player enters the field without permission, the process and thus the substitution has not been properly completed.

It would seem to be a bit extreme to force the player to wait until the next valid substitution opportunity. The Law states only that permission to proceed with a substitution may be refused under certain circumstances, e. g., if the substitute is not ready to enter the field of play. (See Interpretations, Law 3.) In your scenario, the referee should stop play, if it has restarted, require the player who entered early to leave the field and then return and only then allow the restart to be taken.

In short, then, the onus falls on the referee, who must use common sense in dealing with this problem.  The substitute can enter the field this way under only two scenarios — either he enters before his player has left and without being beckoned, or he has been beckoned to enter before the player has left. In the latter case, it is the referee’s fault and the referee must bear the entire burden of sorting out the consequences.  This includes NOT punishing either the substitute or the substitute’s team for the referee’s screw-up.

In the former case (which is the scenario described here), the substitute has entered the field illegally and could therefore be cautioned for unsporting behavior.  Even if the substitute is not cautioned, however, it remains the referee’s fault if play is restarted because, according to the Interpretations, play cannot restart except by a whistle signal by the referee.  That is likely one of the reasons why the Laws now specify that the restart has become ceremonial whenever a substitution has been requested — so that play CANNOT restart until the referee has sorted out all the issues of a substitution which has not gone accordingly to the correct procedure. Again, common sense is the key to solving the problem.

See earlier questions and answers for the hornet’s nest that can be stirred up by allowing this to happen in a fast-moving game.


I was watching a game on TV from England’s premier league and was surprised to see a player with a diamond on each ear lobe during the whole game. I’m concluding the center referee didn’t care about this infraction because it was obvious that four officials couldn’t possible have missed this glaring jewelry. I suppose he thought it was not hazardous.

It was demeaning to the game to see a player in repeated closeups flashing his elegance right at the referee team. Then I thought assisting the assigned referee does not mean capitulation to his peculiar whims. So, what course is available to the assistant referees and fourth official? Can they refuse the assignment until the center referee gives way or should they just take it in stride and report it in their game report?

USSF answer (November 17, 2008):
The longer we live, the more we see — and the more we notice that both players and referees sometimes flout the Laws of the Game, or at least fail to follow them clearly and logically.

No, the assistant referee and the fourth official may not boycott the game for referee failures of this sort. They can certainly make their observations known and must then cooperate with all instructions from the referee that do not cause the assistants or fourth official themselves to violate the Laws. If the failure by the referee is an egregious one, then the assistant(s) or fourth official should report it to the appropriate authorities.


The game was getting rougher as the boys kept missing their scoring opportunities and their frustration began to escalate. I made a decision in my head that I was going to have to card the next foul as persistent infringement in an attempt to settle the game down.

There was a poor choice of a tackle on the white team about 7 yards before the penalty area when they were attacking the black goal. I went to blow for the whistle when the ball went straight to an attacking white player who was wide open and did a few dribbles and took a good shot on goal. The keeper did deflect it and it went out of touch for a corner kick.

In the melee of players and from deciding to follow the player with the ball, I lost sight of the black player who made the foul. I went to chat with my AR and he didn’t see who it was either since he was watching else where on the field. So I went to the black teams captain and asked who made the tackle. He said he didn’t know. I then explain to the captain that this isn’t for him specifically, but it was for persistent infringement and I wasn’t sure who made the tackle either.

Besides making a better effort to try to pick out what player it was (the obvious answer) next time, what should my actions have been if how I handled it wasn’t correct.

USSF answer (November 12, 2008):
We are not sure that your decision to punish just any foul by just any player as persistent infringement was the right decision to make, as it does not follow the traditional order of things. For there to be persistent infringement, a pattern of either of two things must occur: (1) one player fouls a number of opponents or (2) members of one team foul one opponent. These are destructive tactics aimed at destroying the rhythm of the game. Note: The actions described in (2) would be punished with a caution for unsporting behavior, not for persistently infringing the Laws of the Game.

If you feel that the game is getting out of hand and simply calling the fouls and giving stern talking-to’s to the players is not working, then just caution the next reckless foul as unsporting behavior. Don’t philosophize, act. And a cautionary note: If you don’t know and can’t get reliable information from other members of the officiating team, the only thing you can do is resolve not to make this mistake again. Although we have advised it in the past, asking captains, or players generally, to name a miscreant is not good policy.


U 17 higher level girl’s game. Ball is played toward the goalkeeper and it is obvious that the goalkeeper will get the ball although there is an attacking player in an offside position a substantial distance away from the goal area. As ball is going toward the goalkeeper referee is distracted by other events taking place on the field and looks away and does not notice that the assistant referee has signaled offside although the attacker clearly was not going to get the ball and was not attempting to play the ball. Whistle is not blown and offside is not signaled by center referee. When center referee looks back, goalkeeper in reliance on the assistant referee’s signal has carried the ball outside the penalty area in line with the assistant referee, placed it on the ground and is preparing to take kick. Attacking team wants hand ball called for carrying the ball outside the penalty area. Your opinion on the proper way to have handled the situation?

USSF answer (November 12, 2008):
The principal error here was the mistake was made by the player — taking the assistant referee’s signal as an indication that play has stopped (particularly given the “U 17 higher level” of the competition). We can apply these ancient words of wisdom to the situation: “The Laws of the Game were not written to compensate for the mistakes of players.”  The referee should either drive this point home to the goalkeeper by calling deliberate handling or, if feeling kindly at that time and perhaps a bit embarrassed, the referee could whistle to stop play, declare that the whistle was inadvertent, and restart with a dropped ball (because of the stoppage with no accompanying infringement or, as in this case, a trifling violation).


In a recent U13 girls soccer match, a coach (on the losing team) was actively abusing the center referee. As a result, spectators from the same team followed suit; in essence causing a free-for-all of verbal abuse. With 20 minutes left in the match the same coach’s daughter was (slightly) injured. The reaction to this, by the coach, was a slew of curse words as he proceeded to step on the pitch and remove his daughter. When told by the center referee that the coach’s behavior would be outlined in the match report, the coach proceeded to “abandon” the match; instructing his team to gather their belongings and leave. The referee did not abandon the match so would that mean that the team “forfeited”? To give some background, the match was not particularly physical and there existed no calls by that center referee which warranted this reaction. I couldn’t find anything in the LOTG which covered this, could you please give me some guidance? Thank you so much!

USSF answer (November 10, 2008):
Guidance: The result of the match is not the referee’s problem. Full details of everything that occurred must go into the referee’s match report. The competition authority resolves the problem and the referee has done his/her job.

The guidance you request was quick and simple, but the entire problem could have been avoided by doing something fundamental early on. If, after issuing a warning to the coach about his behavior, he persisted, then he should have been expelled from the game for irresponsible behavior. The referee seems not to have given that warning and then allowed the problem to become worse.


Dear Sir(s), I was an AR in a recent game that was being assessed by a state-level assessor. While in proper position aligned with the second to last defender and monitoring for any offside infraction, the offense chipped the ball over the top of the defensive line that was playing in a flat-4 formation approximately 25 yards from goal. At the time the ball was played by the offensive player, his teammate was in an offside position and started to move towards the location where the chipped ball dropped in an effort to play the ball. There was also a second offensive player who was not in an offside position at the moment the ball was played who ran through in an effort to make a play on the ball. Normally such a situation would be a “wait and see” situation to determine offside. As the location where the ball dropped indicated (top of the penalty area) and taking into account the relative speed and distance between the defensive goalkeeper and the offensive player in the offside position, there appeared to be an imminent possibility of a collision between the goalkeeper who was charging out and the offensive player who was in the offside position. As instructed by the center referee in the pre-game, I raised my flag as a precautionary measure due to the pending collision with the goalkeeper before active involvement could be fully determined. The goalkeeper ultimately gained possession of the ball with his hands a split second before the player in the offside position was able to arrive at the ball and the player in the offside position did not become actively involved. As the AR, I stood at attention with the flag raised until the goalkeeper had obtained clear possession of the ball. The center referee did not see the offside flag and never acknowledged the situation. After the keeper obtained clear possession, I dropped the flag and moved on with the game assuming proper positioning for the ongoing play.

This seems like it was the right course of action based on the pre-game instructions and as described in the Guide to Procedures:

“If the referee misses the flag, [AR] stays at attention with the flag raised until the defense gains clear possession or until a goal kick or throw-in is awarded to the defense.” The problem I have is that in post-game discussion with the assessor, he indicated this procedure to be incorrect. This was a fairly complicated situation with many things happening at the same time, but he indicated that there can not be an “advantage” call on an offside infraction (which based on my understanding of the LOTG is a correct statement) and that as the AR in this situation, I should have stood at attention with the flag raised until acknowledged in one form or another (calling the offside infraction or waiving the flag down) by the center referee. Note, the assessor did not dispute the judgment of the initial flag raising to indicate the offside infraction.

Obviously this problem could have been mitigated if the center referee had looked over and made eye contact. Whereas I agree with the assessor’s general statement regarding advantage and offside, I do not believe this was a case of an AR inappropriately making an “advantage” call which is not within the scope of his authority, but rather simply following the instructions laid out by USSF for a missed flag.

Please advise on the appropriate mechanics for this scenario.

The second question that arises from this situation is in the eyes of USSF, does the pending goalkeeper collision decision trump the “wait and see” philosophy to determine active involvement when both determinations are required for the same play? The pending collision instruction seems to be a fairly common instruction given in many pre-games, but I can not actually find any reference to this in an official publication.

Thank you for your anticipated clarifications.

USSF answer (November 6, 2008):
If you have followed both the instructions of the referee — you don’t tell us what they were, but the fact that you followed them counts — and the guidance given in the Guide to Procedures, you have done all that any assistant referee should do in this situation. We are uncomfortable about the feedback given to you by the state assessor.


In a tournament game this summer, I awarded a penalty kick for Team A against Team B. After the goalkeeper and Team A’s player were set to begin, I blew the whistle to signal for the penalty kick to be taken, at which point, I heard a “HOLD ON!!” from behind my back, and instinctively, I blew the whistle for the kick to stop. By this point though, Team A’s player had already taken the shot and scored. Let me be clear, my second whistle occurred BEFORE the kick was taken.

Upon realizing it was a parent from Team B (parents on both sides) who had yelled, not my AR or a Coach, with an urgent problem (player having an asthma attack, seizure, whatever!), I immediately ran to my AR1 and because we both could not definitely point out which parent caused the distraction, I caused the entire sideline that the next outburst would elicit an immediate ejection.

Back to the game, I had Team A retake the penalty kick, at which point they did NOT score.

My crew and I were unsure if I was correct in blowing the whistle again after I initially signaled for the start of the penalty kick. We thought it could be argued both ways: because the keeper was scored upon, he could have said he was distracted by the obscenely loud outburst, but if the keeper would have made the save, Team A’s kicker could make the same argument. My initial instinct was that I was wrong to have blown the whistle the second time, and should have allowed the kick to proceed and then see what the commotion was about, but the request sounded so urgent, I didn’t hesitate in blowing the second whistle. So was I right to stop the penalty kick because of the yell? Also, what should I have done about the parents, not knowing who specifically yelled. Thanks in advance.

USSF answer (November 5, 2008):
A whistle blown means that the play has stopped and the kick, if not already taken before the whistle was blown, is negated. The Law requires that the kick be retaken. It may seem unfair in this particular circumstance, but it is the Law and must be followed.

It is unfortunate that you could not identify the particular parent, but it would have made no difference in the restart. You can ask the team to police its own spectators and keep them quiet, but unless the parent or other spectators break a civil law, there is little you can do other than terminating the game.


What do you do when team A is ahead 1-0 and team B is about to score when all of a sudden a team A official comes out and interferes with play to stop the goal? Does team B get the ball for a DFK or PK or do you have to do a DB. From what I have read team officials can be sent off but they are considered outside interference and play restarted with a DB. Also, what about parents or spectators in this same situation? Common sense says do what is right, what do the rules say?

USSF answer (November 5, 2008):
The rules, as explained in the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game,” tell us:
“(a) If the extra person is neither a player nor a substitute (as determined usually by the team’s roster), that person is considered an “outside agent” and must be removed. That person, as an outside agent, has not committed misconduct and so no card may be displayed. In the special case of a player who has already been sent off and shown the red card but who returns to the field, no further action can be taken following removal other than to include full details in the match report. Play is restarted with a dropped ball where the ball was when play was stopped*.”

Note: The asterisk means to see Law 8 for dropped ball restarts within the goal area.

If it is a team official, that person is expelled for behaving irresponsibly and must leave the vicinity of the field. If it is a spectator, that person must also leave the vicinity of the field. As noted in Advice 3.18(a), all details must be included in the match report.


I’m frequently doing high level U15-U16 boys and girls games where the following scenario occurs. Very fast attacking winger speeding up sideline with ball, slightly faster single defender on his (her) inside shoulder. Because of high speed there is a good 2-3-4 yard gap between attacker and the ball that fast defender is finally able to get into and touch ball first, getting in between attacker and the ball without more than legal shoulder contact. Defender then wants to control, shield and play ball, but because of momentum of all involved attacker goes into back of defender and all go flying. It is my judgment that defender has won ball possession and been fouled by attacker, but that call frequently gets belligerent dissent from attacker’s coaching staff and parent sidelines. I would call a foul (impeding) the other way against defender if defender jumped in front of attacker or ran into that space so recklessly that attacker could not possibly avoid contact.

What exactly are criteria for foul in such a case; must defender actually touch ball to be considered winning possession, or is playing distance enough if defender in better position?

USSF answer (November 5, 2008):
What you describe is perfectly legal. You might consider looking closely at what the winger (former attacker) does after the opponent (former defender) has taken possession of the ball. In this case, possession means simply that the player is within playing distance — see answer of November 4 on impeding the progress of the opponent. If the winger charges from behind to get the ball, then that is at least careless and, depending on what else happens, possibly reckless or worse.

We rarely take into consideration the reactions of the coaching staffs of either team. Their main purpose in life — or at least in this game — is to ensure that their team comes out on top. Anything that helps in this pursuit will be attempted. As long as you are confident that your decision was correct, let the shouts roll off your back. We should hear only what we need to hear, not everything that is said on or off the field.


In the three man system, what is the lineman’s responsibility as far as fouls are concerned.

USSF answer (November 4, 2008):
1. Let the referee have the first shot at any foul or misconduct.
2. Flag nothing that the referee can clearly see (or see clearly, take your pick).
3. Flag only what needs to be called in accordance with the referee’s instructions in the pregame conference.
4. Flag only what the referee would stop play for if he or she had seen it.
5. Flag nothing that will get the referee in trouble.
6. Neither say nor give a hand signal for “advantage.”