My question is about a “Legal Charge”. In reading the LOTG and ATR, a legal charge is clearly defined.

I recently had a U19 game, where a player from the offense was bringing the ball up the left side of the field. A defender ran into the shoulder of the player, and knocked them off their feet and the ball. I whistled the foul, issued a direct free kick, and considered cautioning the defender but elected not to.

The defending coach had an emotional outburst, in which he claimed that it was a legal charge.

In the training I have received, I have been taught that for a charge to be legal, you use your strength to take a player off the ball, not your momentum. This makes sense, since we would see MLS players weighing 300 lbs, “blowing” players off the ball otherwise.

However, in the spirit of making sure I have the right concept and can make the right call, I wanted to get your opinion.

USSF answer (May 7, 2009):
There have not been very many players weighing 300 pounds who lasted any length of time in high-level soccer. Are you sure you have read the definition of charging in the Advice to Referees?

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. (See also Advice 12.14.)

“Momentum” should not be a factor in the referee’s judgment of a charge. Beyond the definition given above, there are only two criteria for judging the charge: (1) Was it fair or unfair? (See definition in the Advice.) (2) If unfair, was the charge (a) careless, (b) reckless, or (c) using excessive force? After these two questions have been asked and answered, the referee makes a decision.

If the player’s momentum is too great, it is likely that the player is using excessive force; however, a player can be knocked over by a fair charge and the charging player should not be punished for that. If the charge described in your example was either reckless or done with excessive force, the player should have been either cautioned for unsporting behavior or sent off for serious foul play.

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