Goalkeeper Possession

Mike, a U-12 and under coach, asks:

A goalie going for the ball on the ground  holds on to an opponent’s leg with one hand while also gaining control of the ball with the other hand.  Is the goalie considered to maintain possession when the opponent attempts to disengage his foot from the goalie’s hand and, as a result, the ball pops free?  With the ball and his leg now free, the opponent kicked the ball into the net. This was a U12 game.

Answer (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)

The events you described, even in a U-12 game, happen rather quickly.  In a perfect (and therefore unrealistic) world, the referee’s recommended course of action is easy to describe but difficult to implement.

Here is what should happen.  The referee sees the play developing through the point of the goalkeeper grabbing onto the attacker’s leg.  This is a holding offense and even goalkeepers are not allowed to do this.  The referee should wait no longer than the next play to see what then happens — this is a “silent” form of applying advantage without the usual verbal “Play on!” and swinging upward arm movements.   What happens next confirms the wisdom of this choice — the attacker manages to gain control of the ball and scores a goal despite the goalkeeper’s illegal behavior.

The referee should count the goal and either admonish the goalkeeper or show the yellow card to the goalkeeper for unsporting behavior.  Under the Laws of the Game, a red card for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity (OGSO) is not justified because … well, simply, because the goal-scoring wasn’t denied!

Note that the course of action described above is based on the facts of this case and particularly the fact that, while his leg was being held by the goalkeeper, the opponent did not kick the ball out of the goalkeeper’s possession because this would have been an offense by the attacker immediately following the offense by the goalkeeper.  It makes no sense to apply advantage and then have the opponent take advantage of the opportunity by committing a foul himself.  However, in this case, play is stopped for the goalkeeper’s offense (because the advantage did not develop, which was the attacker’s fault!) so the restart is a penalty kick and the referee could admonish or caution the attacker for unsporting behavior.  This year’s Law changes appear to specify that the goalkeeper be cautioned because a penalty kick has been awarded and the goalkeeper was, in addition to committing a foul, also playing the ball.

And then there is the potential factor of the age of the players.  Anytime, with young players, there is a situation involving one or more attackers and defenders (one being the goalkeeper) in close proximity, with one or more fouls being committed under dangerous circumstances, it is often better to get play stopped as quickly as possible to keep everyone safe.  The U12 – U14 age group is right on the edge where on the one hand safety is emphasized but, on the other hand, if the players are experienced despite their age, applying advantage may be justified.

Sorting Out a Flurry of Kicks

Alistair, an adult amateur player, asks:

Who fouls if a defender kicks the ball away from the attacker’s strike zone while in mid-swing and the attacker then kicks the defender’s ankle in the follow through?

Answer (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)

OK, Alistair, were you the defender or the attacker in this little scene?  Fess up.  By the way, “strike zones” are for baseball players, but we think we get your drift.  What makes you think that the only two options are to charge one or the other player with a foul?  How about, no one committed a foul?  Or, perhaps, each committed a foul?

We’re not necessarily advocating any of these options but you have to admit they have to be considered in addition to the two you posed.  Frankly, without seeing the scene unfold, together with what immediately preceded and followed the main event, any answer we might give would be totally theoretical.  This is one of those decisions that vitally depend on nuances.

To be a foul within the framework of Law 12, the kick by the defender would not be an offense if, under all the facts and circumstances, the referee deemed the action to be not careless, reckless, or performed with excessive force.  Likewise for the kick by the attacker (though at least the attacker has one thing going for her — her kicking action started as a play of the ball and only evolved through momentum into a kick of the opponent’s ankle.  Nor do we have any information as to the vigor with which each kick was performed.  And about that “strike zone” — where and how wide is it?  And what happened as a result of this interplay of kicks?  Was the attacker in motion at the time of the contact?  Did the defender have to reach through the attacker’s legs to get to this “strike zone?”  Was the attacker’s follow through of her leg truly due solely to momentum or did she see a way she might “get even” for having the ball stolen from her while otherwise seeming innocent of any evil intent?  All of these questions (and others) provide potentially relevant data bearing on the carelessness, recklessness, or excessive force of each of the respective player’s actions.

If we were a lawyer arguing a case based on “balancing the equities,” we might say that the sequence was initiated by the defender who should thus bear the burden of proof that her kick endangered the safety of the attacker.  The attacker’s lawyer might argue that she couldn’t help what happened and the defender’s ankle simply got in the way.  And the judge might conclude that both parties were guilty of contributory negligence — they were adults, after all,  and old enought to assume the risks rather than being kids for whom we have a special responsibility to protect their safety.

Sorry.  It still comes down to — you hadda be there.  All we can do from our safe, off-field vantage point is to suggest some of the issues that would need to be taken into account in reaching a decision.

The Field and Objects Around It

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 (see also “Apology” posted on July 5)

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.

Goalkeepers and Control of the Ball

An adult amateur referee asks:

Does pinning the ball on the ground with one hand for even a split second constitute “control” of the ball for the goalkeeper?

Answer (see “Apology” special note posted July 5)

Yes.  You must sort out the actual sequence of events when things like this happen.  If your conclusion is doubtful as to the core issue of whether the pinning occurred before, during, or after an attempt to challenge for the ball by an opponent, you should add to your decision the factor of safety for the players involved.

Thus, if you have a clear view of things and are certain that control was established before the opponent’s challenge, you must signal for a stoppage and give the goalkeeper’s team possession of the ball for the restart.  If the decision is that the challenge clearly occurred before control was established, then (other things being equal) the challenge should be allowed.  However, if “other things” are not equal — for example, the challenge was performed in a dangerous manner and caused the goalkeeper to pull back to avoid injury , then you must call the offense against the challenger.

If it was so close that you really cannot tell, then you should decide what to do based on our high priority concern for the safety of the player who was unfairly most placed at risk.  Keep in mind that this factor must take into account the age and experience level of the players.

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.