The Plight of Goalkeepers

(Originally published on 10/17/17, “Operation Restore”)

Kaleb, a U13 – U19 player, asks:

Yesterday during my soccer game I was playing goalie.  I stopped the ball and started to get up so I could kick the ball up the field.  A person from the other team started running full force at me (note, I still had the ball in my hands) so I snapped one arm out in front of my body and the person from the other team hit my arm. The Referee immediately called a penalty on me for using my arm as a weapon.  I didn’t swing my arm at him I just put my arm up to protect myself and he hit my arm.  I would like to know if putting your arm up to defend yourself is a penalty.

Answer

Could be.  This is one of those judgment calls for which “you had to be there” in order to get some sense of what the Referee saw — the decision depends on so many variables.  We will say that, in general, the picture we get when you said that you “snapped one arm out in front of my body” is the classic football (American football) photo of a pigskin carrier running down field with an arm held out to fend off opponents trying to stop him.

Let’s just admit up front that the job of a goalkeeper is, as one observer noted, marked by “80 minutes of boredom and 10 minutes of terror.”  In other words, it’s not easy and every goalkeeper walks a thin line in situations like this between trying to stay uninjured and doing their job, a job which often requires the goalkeeper to get into positions on the ground or in the air which are inherently risky.  Having had some experience with serving in this position, we also understand that some goalkeepers take advantage of the quick, brief dust-ups that are a normal part of the goalkeeper’s life to respond in ways that are, shall we say, unforgiving of opponents.  Opponents, on the other hand, generally are not very forgiving of goalkeepers (except their own, of course) when it comes to a willingness to take their efforts to continue attacking the goal right to, and sometimes beyond, the edge of the goalkeeper’s safety.

All that said, it is the job of the Referee in situations involving challenges to or in the vicinity of the opposing goalkeeper to remember that the Laws of the Gamer require such challenges to cease immediately once the goalkeeper has control of the ball. “Control of the ball” is marked generally by having both hands on the ball or one hand on the ball against any kind of surface (ground, body, goalpost, etc.).  Keeping in mind the need to factor in the age, skill, and experience of the players, Referees should be proactive in safeguarding the goalkeeper where the flow of play appears to include one or more opponents acting recklessly despite the goalkeeper arguably having control of the ball.  In your scenario, the Referee should have begun closely monitoring the actions of the opponent who had “started running full force” at you, repositioning to warn the opponent that his behavior was being observed, and even providing a strong verbal caution against violating the Law, all in an attempt to forestall the impending offense.  At some point, the apparent intent to interfere by the opponent would warrant a preemptive whistle.

On the other hand, you are not warranted in taking actions which go beyond mere “self protection” — after all, a more effective way to protect yourself in a case like this would be to simply sidestep the onrushing opponent.  This often does not appeal to more macho goalkeepers whose mindset is, “it’s his job to avoid me so I will simply stand my ground and maybe get in a bit of mayhem on my own which will probably be ignored or justified by the Referee.”

In short, while we would have preferred to see the Referee in this case act in advance to prevent or stop a rapidly building momentum which, if left unchecked, is only likely to end badly for everyone involved in the likely collision, you had other opportunities besides snapping your arm outward in what could only be termed an aggressive manner.  Hence our answer at the beginning of all this — yes, it could be a penalty (i.e., determined to be “striking” and, since it was by a defender within his own penalty area, leading to a penalty kick restart).

Better for all concerned, however, would have been a whistle by the Referee to stop play as the opponent’s run brought him close enough to justify a decision that there was an intent to interfere with the release of the ball into play, resulting in a caution for the opponent for unsporting behavior and an IFK restart for the defending team.  Better yet would have been proactive officiating aimed at getting it through the opponent’s head that he needed to stop running at the goalkeeper once control of the ball was established.

 

The Field and Objects Around It

(Originally published on 7/6/17, “Operation Restore”)

Matt, a U13 – U19 parent, asks:

What is the required clearance on touchlines for obstacles such as fences and light poles?  I’m asking for US Youth Soccer guidance and field side clearance.

Answer

We do not speak “for” US Youth Soccer anymore than we speak “for” USSF.  We suggest you contact US Youth Soccer directly and ask if they have any specific guidelines on the matter.

However, we also don’t like to seem as though we are shirking our responsibility to give whatever advice we are able to provide — particularly because doing so is quite easy.  There is no such thing as “required clearance,” at least not in the sense that the Laws of the Game deal with this issue.  The field is the subject of various requirements (mostly in Law 1) but they all have to do with (a) the layout and constituent parts of the field itself (e.g., lines, goals, dimensions, etc.) and (b) the technical areas just outside the field.  Advice to Referees added guidelines about “appurtances” (things attached to goals)  and “pre-existing conditions” (e.g., overhead wires, overhanging branches, pop-up sprinkler heads, etc.) — none of which connect directly to your question.

What do you do when a potential problem pops up which seems important but which is not covered explicitly by anything in the Law?  You step back to common sense and the three ultimate objectives of officiating — safety, fairness, and enjoyment.  The Referee has a duty to inspect the field and to deal affirmatively with any condition reasonably pertaining to what goes on in and around that field related to the match.  Suppose you saw a large trash bin on the ground less than 2-3 yards away from the goal line.  What would you do?  What can you do?  You can go to the home team coach (the person traditionally held responsible for providing a safe, legal field for the match) and advise him or her about a dangerous condition that potentially affects the safety of players on both teams and urge that it be corrected.  This sometimes works.

If it doesn’t, then you have another decision to make — how important (i.e., dangerous) is the situation?  Important enough that you would be willing to declare that the field was unsafe and an officiated match could not be held at that location?  If so, stick to your decision.  If the teams can move to another field, well and good.  If they want to play anyway despite your warnings and final decision, let them (just walk away, after making clear the basis for your decision).  Finally, include it in your game report and know that you have upheld one of the prime principles of the Laws of the Game.

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?

Answer

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.

Goalkeeper Safety

Tabithia, a parent of a U12 player, asks:

My son is a goalie and like most of the kids he plays pretty rough.  At his last game I noticed that the attacking team would continue to kick the ball once he had his hands on it in an attempt to kick it out of his hands. He nearly got kicked in the face. Is this legal?

Answer

First, at the U12 recreational level of play, no one is supposed to play “pretty rough” — it is not expected and it should not be condoned with the argument that it’s simply playing “like most of the kids.”  If this is the case, it is the fault of everyone involved in the match — the parents, the league, the coaches, and the referees.

Second, what you describe is illegal at all levels of play, from little kids all the way up to the professionals and international players.  The Law requires that, once the goalkeeper has taken hand control of the ball, all challenges against the goalkeeper must stop and may not even be attempted, much less performed, so long as that control continues.  There are no maybes here.  In fact, the younger the players involved in the match, the more tightly this rule must be enforced.

Having the ball controlled by hand means that the goalkeeper is holding the ball with one or both hands or is holding the ball against any part of his body or against the ground or a goalpost.   Being “in control of the ball” also includes the goalkeeper bouncing the ball on the ground or tossing it up in the air and catching it or tossing it even slightly in the process of preparing to punt the ball. During this entire time, no opponent can challenge the goalkeeper in any way.  “Cannot challenge” means there cannot be any attempt to cause the goalkeeper to lose control, whether by charging or tackling, much less by kicking the ball which is, by itself, very dangerous.  If no contact is made with the goalkeeper, this is at least a dangerous play and the goalkeeper’s team would get an indirect free kick where the action occurred.  If there was any contact with the goalkeeper, it would be a kicking foul and at least a caution, if not a red card, should be shown, followed by a direct free kick for the goalkeeper’s team.

Referees must respond quickly and firmly to any illegal contact or attempted contact by an opponent against a goalkeeper who has hand control of the ball.   At the U12 age level, we would expand that to cover even a situation where the goalkeeper is about to take hand control of the ball (remember, the game at this level is all about safety because the players are neither skilled nor experienced).

A soccer ball is not a golf ball and a goalkeeper should not be seen as a tee.

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?

Answer

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.

WHEN IS A SLIDE TACKLE LEGAL OR ILLEGAL?

Question:
I have difficulty at times recognizing a slide tackle that
is a foul versus a legal one. Can you please give some guidance of what to look for and how I can be better at calling a foul on a hard tackle? Sometimes good tackles cause a player to fall so please help me with this.

Answer (February 6, 2016):
The term “slide tackle” refers to an attempt to tackle the ball away from an opponent while sliding on the ground. A slide tackle is legal, provided it is performed safely. In other words, there is nothing illegal about a slide tackle by itself—-no matter where it is done and no matter the direction from which it comes. Referees (and spectators) should not get hung up on the term “slide” tackling. There is nothing regarding “endangering the safety of the opponent” which limits it to a slide tackle. In fact, if, in the opinion of the referee, the tackle endangers the safety of the opponent, it makes no difference if there is contact or not.

The referee must judge whether the tackle of an opponent is fair or whether it is careless, reckless, or involves the use of excessive force. Making contact with the opponent before the ball when making a tackle is unfair and should be penalized. On the other hand, the fact that contact with the ball was made first does not automatically mean that the tackle is fair. The declaration by a player that he or she “got the ball first” is irrelevant if, while tackling for the ball, the player carelessly, recklessly, or with excessive force commits any of the prohibited actions. Remember that it is not a foul if a sliding tackle is successful and the player whose ball was tackled away then falls over the tackler’s foot.

How can tackles become illegal? There are many ways but two of the most common are by making contact with the opponent first (before contacting the ball) and by striking the opponent with a raised upper leg before, during, or after contacting the ball with the lower leg. Referees must be vigilant and firm in assessing any tackle, because the likely point of contact is the lower legs of the opponent and this is a particularly vulnerable area. We must not be swayed by protests of “But I got the ball, ref” and we must be prepared to assess the proper penalty for misconduct where that is warranted.

Certain “prohibited actions” would include lifting the tackling foot to trip or attempt to trip the opponent, using the other foot or leg to trip or attempt to trip the opponent, kicking or attempting to kick the opponent, etc., etc. Surely other similar fouls will come easily to mind.

Remember that “getting the ball first” has NEVER been absolution for whatever else may happen during or immediately after the tackle.

There is nothing illegal, by itself, about sliding tackles or playing the ball while on the ground. These acts become the indirect free kick foul known as playing dangerously (“dangerous play”) only if the action unfairly takes away an opponent’s otherwise legal play of the ball (for players at the youth level, this definition is simplified even more as “playing in a manner considered to be dangerous to an opponent”). At minimum, this means that an opponent must be within the area of danger which the player has created. These same acts can become the direct free kick fouls known as kicking or attempting to kick an opponent or tripping or attempting to trip or tackling an opponent to gain possession of the ball only if there was contact with the opponent or, in the opinion of the referee, the opponent was forced to react to avoid the kick or the trip. The referee may warn players about questionable acts of play on the ground, but would rarely caution a player unless the act was reckless.

PLAYERS WEARING PROSTHETIC DEVICES—WHAT’S THE RULE?

NOTE: This Q&A was published back in 2002 with the full approval of the U. S. Soccer Federation. I cannot claim that it still has approval, but it is a good path to explore when prosthetic devices are necessary for a player. I sent it out last week in response to a similar question from a player’s parent. The final decision will always rest with the referee, no matter who else might approve.

Question:
May a player wear a titanium leg or other prosthetic device while playing soccer?

Answer (January 18, 2015):
The first concern of the International Football Association Board (IFAB) in Law 4 – The Players’ Equipment is for player safety: “Safety: A player must not use equipment or wear anything which is dangerous to himself or another player (including any kind of jewelry).” The IFAB then lists the basic compulsory equipment of a player: jersey or shirt, shorts, stockings, shinguards, and footwear. Artificial legs and other prosthetic devices are not included in the list.

The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) neither approves nor disapproves the wearing of such artificial legs or prosthetic devices, taking the position that this decision is outside the authority and competence of the USSF.

Custom and usage indicate that the use of artificial legs or other prosthetic devices by players was never contemplated by the International F. A. Board, but the case is analogous to that of a player wearing a cast or leg brace (when properly padded to prevent a danger to others). Injuring or reinjuring a limb is not considered to be a life-threatening situation, and it is commonly accepted according to custom and usage. The individual referee must consider the requirements of Law 4 and the Spirit of the Laws when judging the safety of wearing of an artificial leg or prosthetic device in the game he or she is to referee.

The National State Association may grant permission for players to wear properly padded artificial legs or prosthetic devices if the following requirements are met:
1. The player (or the parents of a player under the age of 21) must sign a release form stating that the player/parents are aware of the hazards involved with the player/child playing soccer under the conditions of his/her health.

2. The player’s doctor must sign a release stating that the player may play a contact sport such as soccer while wearing the device.

3. It is the sole responsibility of the player (and parents, if the player is underage) to ensure that the device is worn as required by medical personnel. It should not fall to a coach, tournament director, referee, nor anyone else to see that this is done, nor should the coach, tournament director, referee, nor anyone else be held responsible if it is not and an injury results.

4. The referee in each case has the final decision as to whether or not to allow the player to participate.

The player’s team must carry copies of the player’s/parents’ and doctor’s releases and a copy of the release from the National State Association (signed by the president, vice president for the appropriate competition, and registrar).

As noted above, the final decision to let the player participate will rest with the individual referee.

USING THE SHOULDER IN A CHARGE

Question: I see a lot of players lowering their shoulder and then raising it into the another player as they make contact during a shoulder charge. Some refs call it a foul and others have said it is a legal charge. Is it foul for a player to lower their shoulder into another player during a shoulder charge?

Answer (May 3, 2013):
There is no clear definition in the Laws of the game as to what is fair in a shoulder-to-shoulder charge. The general definition is given in the USSF Advice to Referees:

12.5 CHARGING
The act of charging an opponent can be performed without it being called as a foul. Although the fair charge is commonly defined as “shoulder to shoulder,” this is not a requirement and, at certain age levels where heights may vary greatly, may not even be possible. Furthermore, under many circumstances, a charge may often result in the player against whom it is placed falling to the ground (a consequence, as before, of players differing in weight or strength). The Law does require that the charge be directed toward the area of the shoulder and not toward the center of the opponent’s back (the spinal area): in such a case, the referee should recognize that such a charge is at minimum reckless and potentially even violent.

It may help to include some more information:
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 balanceÑwhich 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.

And let’s also add that if the use of the shoulder appears to the referee to involve the use of excessive force, then it should be punished with the sending-off of the miscreant.

CAN ‘CHARGING’ BE ‘EXCESSIVE FORCE’?

Question:
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.

Thanks!

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.

EQUAL AND SAFE PLAYING CONDITIONS FOR ALL PLAYERS

Question:
Earlier this month, I was refereeing [at a] Labor Day Cup. It was very, very windy. An attacker shot the ball from a far distance towards the goal. However, the wind pushed the net on the other side of the crossbar. The net shockingly prevented the ball from entering the net. (Did I mention how windy it was?) The net did NOT detach from the crossbar, but the wind was so strong the net was sitting in front of the goal.

What does the law say about the net? Well, from what I’ve researched, you do not have to have a net. From my perspective, the net (once it is pushed by the wind onto the field) becomes an outside agent even though the net is still connected to the posts. The referee should restart with a dropped ball from goal area line outside of where the contact was made. “Selling” this call would be nearly impossible, so I thought I would ask you guys on the best way to handle a situation like this.

USSF answer (October 3, 2011):
No, the net cannot be considered an outside agent in any game situation. In this case, referee failure to follow the dictates of Law 5 was the cause of the incident

As you say, the net is not required by the Laws of the Game; however, it is normally required by most rules of competition (such as the tournament at which the incident occurred). The organizers should have ensured that the net was firmly mounted on the goal and secured to the ground. The referee and the rest of the officiating crew should have inspected the field an all its appurtenances before the game began (and again prior to the start of the second half or any additional periods) and also ensured that the net was firmly mounted on the goal and secured to the ground.

Therefore, the fact that the net was blowing around must be regarded as a natural occurrence. There is no solution other than the one you suggest: once the net has been repaired, the referee must drop the ball from the spot at which the interference occurred (in accordance with Law 8): “The referee drops the ball at the place where it was located when play was stopped, unless play was stopped inside the goal area, in which case the referee drops the ball on the goal area line parallel to the goal line at the point nearest to where the ball was located when play was stopped. Play restarts when the ball touches the ground.”

The same logic could be applied to other situations caused by referee inattention to the Law and his or her duty to protect the players and, most important, to provide a “level” playing field so that each team receives fair and equal treatment. For example, suppose the scenario had involved a goal frame which, due to the high winds, was pushed forward toward the field such that the crossbar (though still attached) was ahead of the goal line rather than straight above it. Suppose further that a shot on goal was made at an extreme angle such that the ball struck the crossbar and the deflection enabled the ball to stay on the field whereas the ball would have gone into the upper left corner of the net if the crossbar had been properly positioned.