I have a question about free kicks. If a defender, less than the required distance, intercepts a free kick by moving/lunging to the side (NOT forward) is this acceptable per the new parameters involving free kicks? The 2009 directives were not especially clear on this point.

USSF answer (February 13, 2010):
You would seem to have not read quite far enough in the Directive on Free Kick and Restart Management. The second bullet point under 4.

Quick Free Kick — Deliberately Preventing the Free Kick from Being Taken reads:

* Intercepts the QFK after the kick is taken: The referee may exercise discretion depending upon whether he/she felt the defender deliberately prevented the ball from being put into play. The referee must take into consideration whether the attacking team had the opportunity to play the ball and whether the attacker knew the position of the defender at the time the QFK was taken.
– If the attacker knew where the defender was at the time the QFK was taken, then the likelihood that the defender prevented the free kick from [being] taken is minimal. In this case, it can be assumed that the attacker “assumed the risk.”

This point is nicely illustrated in the new USSF DVD, Managing the Free Kick. Your State Director of Referee Instruction should have a copy of the DVD.

The DVD differentiates between Interference and Interception. In brief (see the video for full details), the video encourages to “wait and see” when an opponent stands too near the ball and the kicking team does not ask for the full distance. Interference occurs when the defending player, as the ball is kicked, steps TOWARD the kicker and plays the ball. This is failure to respect the required distance when play is restarted with a free kick, a cautionable offense.

Interception occurs when the defending player, as the ball is kicked, either moves to the side or sticks his/her foot to the side to play the ball; there is NO forward motion.

These changes in procedure have been made on the advice of FIFA, based on training they are giving to referees around the world.…


In Jan 24 2010 game between Inter Milan and AC Milan, at the later time in the second half, Inter Milan defender Lucio standing in the goal area to defend and AC Milan’s forwarder shot towards him.

Lucio dodged with a hand waved over his shoulder and stopped the ball.

AC Milan was awarded a penalty. Lucio was shown the 2nd yellow card and sent off.

We got two questions:

1. should this dodge and pat action be viewed as undeliberately handling the ball, which is not a foul, and avoid the penalty?

2. if it is a deliberate handling of the ball, should this be viewed as prevent an obvious goal-scoring opportunity and send off Lucio?

USSF answer (January 27, 2010):
1. No, this was clearly deliberate handling. Lucio “made himself bigger” by raising his hand to an unnatural position and thus deliberately handled the ball.

2. That is certainly possible, but the referee on the game saw it as a cautionable offense. U. S. referees are advised that the criterion for denying a goal by handling is that if the handling had not occurred, would the ball have gone into the net. If the referee decided that the ball wasn’t going to go into the net without the handling, then a red card would not be correct.…


How can a referee determine what is the most current standard for a particular topic, given that there is a mound of reference material on the USSF website? Are we to rely on the most recent “Advice to Referees” as being the final word on every topic, or do we also need to search through historical memos, directives, etc?

The current USSF website has numerous memos that date back many years, some of which are duplicative (ie, 2004 Advice, 2005 Advice, etc).

For example, is it necessary to read the 2007 Law Changes Memorandum or are these law changes incorporated into the 09-10 Advice? Where there are conflicts, which document prevails?

Second but related topic, which is organization of the webpages for referees. Why isn’t there one page that is kept current and represents the current definitive body of laws, directives, advices, etc. As of this date, the laws are on one page, along with a long list of documents, and the advice is on another page. This is confusing. It would be better to have a section called “Current Laws and Interpretations” which contains the FIFA LOTG, the Advice, and any of the historical memos which aren’t incorporated in the Advice that still apply. There should be another page titled “Historical Documents” that contain all other documents, with language that these have been supplanted by more current interpretations.


USSF answer (November 16, 2009):
Your suggestion for improving the utility of the webpages has been passed along to the appropriate people. Thank you.

As to which document “trumps” the others, this excerpt from the Introduction to the Advice to Referees should prove helpful to you:

This book of Advice to Referees is specifically intended to give USSF referees, assistant referees and fourth officials a reliable compilation of those international and national guidelines remaining in force, as modified or updated. It is not a replacement for the Laws of the Game, nor is it a “how to” book on refereeing: It is an official statement of Federation interpretations of the Laws. However, the referee, coach, player, team official and spectator should remember that there are also other sources of information:

* the Laws of the Game, published annually by USSF from the text provided by the IFAB through FIFA;

* the Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees, which replace the former Questions and Answers;

* annual FIFA Circulars, as republished in designated USSF annual Memoranda;

* USSF Referee Program Directives, the Week in Review, and podcasts;

* the USSF Guide to Procedures for Referees, Assistant Referees and Fourth Officials;

* entry-level referee clinics, in-service clinics and referee recertification clinics taught by USSF instructors;

* other official publications from the USSF instructional program, including articles in Fair Play and specific subject memoranda (position papers).

In general, one can say that the 2008/2009 and earlier editions of the Advice is nice for historical purposes, but are no longer applicable in many situations. The same is true of the older memoranda and Laws of the Game. They are all included in the collection because many referees, instructors, and assessors like to be able to follow the history and development of the Laws and their interpretation. In all cases, the most recent document (on the particular topic) in any of these series is the one with the current information. The Advice is kept as much up to date as possible, including all documents published in the period since the last revision, but any document is “outdated” the moment the ink hits the paper. This means that the reader should look to the Advice plus all recent memos (with the latter eventually to be incorporated into the next revision).…



As a spectator, coach, player and referee, one of my pet peeves is what I see as poor management of free kicks in the so-called “Danger Zone”, where referees in the competitions where I operate seem to immediately make all such free kicks ceremonial, denying dangerous quick free kick attacking opportunities for the offended team.

As a referee, I strive to be the absolutely best that I can be, so I spend hours each week studying all the official and unofficial material I can get my hands on. But looking at the February 10, 2009 directive on Free Kick and Restart Management, I walk away confused on this subject. The directive accurately quotes FIFA on this subject: “If a player decides to take a free kick and an opponent who is less than 10 yards from the ball intercepts it, the referee must allow play to continue”, and offers the clarifying point “If the kick is taken, it has not been prevented from being taken and play must be allowed to continue.”

But later it states “Intercepts the QFK after the kick is taken: The referee may exercise discretion depending upon whether he/she felt the defender deliberately prevented the ball from being put into play.”

The only way I have come up with to reconcile this in my mind apparent inconsistency within the directive is to say that, in the event of an intercepted kick, an infraction has been committed if the defender, previous to the actual kick, prevented the kick from being taken in some even slightly other direction, pace, angle, etc., at some point beforehand, and that the fact of the interception may rightly lead the referee to draw that conclusion (in particular based on the skill level of the players involved).

Does it sound as though I have this right?

USSF answer (October 20 2009):
We hope this response from Brian Hall, the USSF Manager of Assessment and Training, will help you.

Thank you for “striving to be the absolutely best that you can be” and for being a student of the game. Your dedication is very much appreciated.

Now, in terms of your question, there are two important terms:
“Deliberately prevents” and “intercepts.” Both are used in the Laws of the Game and have been used in the 2009 Directive “Free Kick and Restart Management” for this purpose.

“Deliberately prevents” is an action that must result in a caution. This is “moving/lunging/advancing toward the ball.”

“Intercepts” is a situation in which the attacking team knows the defender is in the area and still puts the ball into play (attacker assumes the risk of putting the ball into play). The defender does NOT move/lunge/advance toward the ball.

A situation that may result in a caution for intercepting is the “statue” that is mentioned in the Directive. A player may move within several feet of the ball/restart and NOT “deliberately prevent” because he does not lunge at the ball with his foot but the referee judges his actions are cautionable because the player’s actions were, in general terms, preventing the ball from being put into play quickly. For example, a player who has been warned on prior occasions from running directly in front of the ball (thereby becoming a “statue”) to slow the restart. These involve situations in which the referee has, most likely, tried preventative measures and the player(s) have not responded because they are using it as an unfair “tactic.”

The Directive also uses the example of a player running from behind the ball and makes contact thus denying the attacking team the chance to put the ball into play appropriately. This is not moving/lunging/advancing toward the ball but, nevertheless, cautionable.…


I have a couple of questions about the following situation, which occurred at a U16 match.

Two opponents at midfield near the benches are mouthing off to each other, and some shoving is going on. A substitute comes off the bench onto the field, but nothing comes of it (everything settles down pretty quickly). I don’t know whether it is a factor or not, but the shoving/shouting happened behind the referee’s back while the ball was out of play, but once the assistant referee got the referee’s attention, the referee handled the situation and cautioned the two players and the substitute. From what I’ve been told, this was an isolated incident, and the referee had the match under control both before and after the incident occurred.

After the match, the assessor told the referee that ‘the third man in’ should have been sent off, even though he made no contact with anyone.

My questions to you:

1. Do you know where this mentality (third-man-in gets-a-red) came from?
2. What sort of feedback would you give to this assessor?

USSF answer (August 28, 2009):
The assessor seems to be misreading and misquoting a USSF directive on “Game Disrepute and Mass Confrontation.” The actual directive states:

1. Third Man In
– If a third man joins the game disrepute and causes it to escalate to mass confrontation, this player must be cautioned for unsporting behavior.
– The third man in may be sent-off for violent conduct if his actions so warrant

There is certainly no suggestion in the directive that a third person to join any incident MUST be sent off, particularly if he or she has not done anything more than enter the field.

Our feedback to the assessor would be that he/she should thoroughly review the directives before making pronouncements on matters of this nature.…


In Referee Week in Review – Week 15, the first video clip illustrates a deliberate handling foul (Colorado at Seattle, 32:00).

In the podcast discussion, the concept of “making oneself bigger” is emphasized. In the video, as the ball strikes the player, the player seems more to be making himself smaller, drawing his arms inward and slightly turning his body away from the ball.

I am not questioning the handling call itself, as it is easy enough to argue that the arms were deliberately moved into the path of the ball. But could you explain further how the concept of making oneself bigger applies to this particular incident?

The player taking away the kicker’s passing lane using hands/arms is also discussed. Prior to making contact with the ball, the player does leap with arms stretched upward–is this where making oneself bigger applies? And if so, how does this factor into the foul since no contact with the ball occurred while the arms were outstretched?

Thanks much.

USSF answer (July 8, 2009):
Referees at all levels must understand the criteria and the context in which terms are used and must analyze how the term, concept or criteria should be extended to use in a game. This is the case with the criterion “making yourself bigger.” Remember, not EVERY example or use of a criterion can be mentioned. For this reason, the ability to analyze and understand how it should be interpreted or applied is critical to an official’s success.

Here is the full definition of “making yourself bigger” found in U.S. Soccer’s 2009 Referee Program Directives. The definition should answer your question.

This refers to the placement of the arm(s)/hand(s) of the defending player at the time the ball is played by the opponent. Should an arm/hand be in a position that takes away space from the team with the ball and the ball contacts the arm/hand, the referee should interpret this contact as handling. Referees should interpret this action as the defender “deliberately” putting his arm/hand in a position in order to reduce the options of the opponent (like spreading your arms wide to take away the passing lane of an attacker).

• Does the defender use his hand/arm as a barrier?

• Does the defender use his hand/arm to take away space and/or the passing lane from the opponent?

• Does the defender use his hand/arm to occupy more space by extending his reach or extending the ability of his body to play the ball thereby benefiting from the extension(s)?

Nowhere in the definition does it state that “making yourself bigger” applies ONLY to the arms at your side. On the contrary, it merely covers “takes away space from the team with the ball…” and “deliberately putting his arm/hand in a position in order to reduce the options of the opponent.” Notice, it does not mention only to the side nor how far from the body the arms/hands can be. The definition also says “LIKE spreading your arms wide….” Key is the word “like.” This means there are other reasonable answers.

So, in this case, think about what “bigger” means. When a person is said to be “bigger,” it does not mean only to the side. It means all around the body. This should include above the body as well. A player can clearly take away a passing lane or space from an opponent by extending his arm/hand directly in front of himself. This fits the definition of “making yourself bigger.” Think about the concept and draw a mental picture for yourself.

Concepts like “making yourself bigger” and “unnatural position” can overlap also. This is a case when both occur in the same action by the defender.…


In the UEFA championship match, there was a situation where the referee applied advantage to a reckless foul (deserving of a caution) and allowed play to continue.  Over the course of the next several seconds, the advantage was fully realized but, in the end, the ball ended up in the hands of the opposing team’s goalkeeper.  At that time, the referee stopped play and showed a yellow card for the reckless foul.  Is this proper?  I thought you had to wait for the ball to leave the field before giving the card?  Was the restart correct?

USSF answer (June 2, 2009):
Several questions have come in regarding this incident, a few referring directly to the UEFA match and others raising the issue generally.  Although we have answered these questions individually, there has been some misunderstanding of what is truly at issue here.  Accordingly, we are using this latest question to offer some general advice for handling such situations.

Several referees felt that the referee, having decided not to stop play immediately for misconduct based on the application of the advantage concept, cannot thereafter stop play solely because the advantage, which lasted long enough to erase the foul, has ended. Our position is not only yes, he can do that, but we would ask in return, why not? The Law requires only that the card be given at the next stoppage of play and, per the Law, that can occur by the ball leaving the field (which is often the ONLY type of stoppage considered here) or by the referee stopping play. Why do referees stop play? Well, there are hundreds of reasons, including (see Advice to Referees) simply wanting to talk to a player as well as such more obvious things as injuries, weather, another foul, etc., or simply for the good of the game”!

We recommend for everyone’s reading the Interpretations/Guidelines (on p. 90 of the 2008/2009 Laws) regarding the referee missing the AR’s flag for severe misconduct and reiterated in the USSF Memorandum Supplement 2008:

Law 6
Both last year and again this year, the International Board has created an exception to the general rule that, if advantage is applied to misconduct, the appropriate card must be shown and the proper action taken (e.g., the player sent off) at the next stoppage; otherwise, the opportunity to card has been lost. The Interpretations provide that, if an AR signals for violent conduct but the signal is not seen until after play is restarted after the next stoppage, the referee may still display a red card and send the player off the field. If this should occur, the restart is based on the current stoppage of play rather than on the violent conduct that occurred previously.

USSF advises that:
– this exception is not limited to “violent conduct” in its official sense as a form of misconduct but applies as well to serious foul play (where violence or excessive force is involved) and other acts of misconduct,
– the AR must have signaled for the misconduct at the time it occurred and maintained the signal until it is seen by the referee, and
– if play is stopped solely in response to the signal by the AR, play is restarted with a dropped ball where the ball was when play was stopped (except for the special circumstances involving restarts in the goal area) but otherwise the restart is in accordance with the Law.

Referees are strongly urged to cover this type of situation in their pregame discussion and to make clear what sorts of misconduct are serious enough to warrant maintaining the AR’s signal past the next stoppage of play. If a player has received a second yellow card in the same match but was not at that time shown a red card and sent off, the referee remains able to correct the error at any time it is brought to his or her attention by a member of the officiating team.

This information from the Interpretations/Guidelines is not directly related to the question at hand and some will argue that it is also “not specifically authorized” in the Laws of the Game. However, there are many things we do that are “not specifically authorized” and fall under the words used in the Laws themselves, “If, in the opinion of the referee.” In this case the solution is indeed part and parcel of the Laws and it prepares the way for a more proactive role for the referee after applying the advantage. If the referee has to stop the game because no “natural” stoppage seems imminent, then he can do so. Referees are expected to do what is needed to meet the demands of the Spirit of the Game, to give the players a fair game. Waiting for a “natural” stoppage in this game would have left open a path for more infringements. Better to stop them now, before they occur, rather than wait and hope.

As we read it, the International Board was so concerned about violent conduct going unpunished that it carved out this exception to the general rule that a card not given at the next stoppage (natural or “unnatural”) is lost forever. With this in mind, why should the referee be prevented from implementing the same spirit by stopping play himself after the advantage has been realized and the opposing team (the one that committed the violent conduct in the first place!) now has control of the ball? This does not mean that the referee should in every case do as was done in this situation, stopping play without waiting for a “natural” stoppage. However, it does mean that the referee must keep his or her finger on the pulse of the game, applying, as we suggest in Advice 13.5, his or her feeling for the game in what FIFA calls “Fingerspitzengefühl” (literally: “sensing with one’s fingertips”). Only by exercising common sense can the referee do what is correct in such cases.…


References to the Advice to Referees frequently appears in your responses to Ask a Soccer Referee. However, in a recent Northern California referee seminar, a senior US Soccer official called the Advice to Referees “archaic”, said he “never reads that stuff,” and that the 2009 Referee Program Directives were “the real world” and should always take precedence over the Advice to Referees. Can you clarify what roles the Advice to Referees and the Referee Program Directives each play?

USSF answer (May 4, 2009):
You may have misunderstood the “senior US Soccer official,” whose comment regarding management of free kicks was that the directives are more current for higher-level referees than the Advice.

The directives have the advantage of being issued on an as-needed basis, while the Advice is published but once a year.

The Advice to Referees is written to give all referees a firm foundation in the Laws of the Game and the way they are applied in officiating soccer. The Advice is entirely up to date and is not in any sense “archaic.” It is basic information aimed particularly at the lower-level referee; by the time a referee reaches the State level and beyond, he or she should have learned all these things for him-/herself.

The Referee Program Directives (and the Referee Week in Review) are designed to address the issues facing referees at all levels. They highlight specific areas of focus and current U.S. Soccer initiatives designed to improve performance and aid in the development of officials across the country.…