I have a question about how to decide whether a red card should be issued for denying a direct goal-scoring opportunity. I have done some research on the “4 D’s” after having a disagreement with another referee, but I am still not 100% certain about how to apply the rule.

The aspect of the rule that causes our disagreement is the requirement that the attacking player must be “moving toward goal” at the time of the defender’s foul. I interpret these three words to imply intent and general direction regarding the attacking player’s run, but I’ve been told it simply means exact body position. He says that an easy way to understand the rule is to extend an imaginary laser beam from the attacker’s chest, and see whether the laser beam ends up in the goal. He says that if the “laser beam” does not point straight into the goal, the defender has NOT denied a direct goal-scoring opportunity. I disagree and think that a player can still be running toward goal even if the angle is technically to the side, or if he momentarily shifts body position to shake off a defender or to get into a better spot to shoot.

For example, here are a few situations that we have discussed. I myself would send off the defender in each situation, whereas my friend disagrees and thinks yellow is the correct decision.

1. A player has beaten all the defenders, except the goalie, and is about to be 1-on-1 with the keeper. As the keeper comes out to make a challenge, the attacker pushes the ball diagonally past the keeper in order to go around him. The keeper has no chance of reaching the ball first, and the attacker is about to shoot into an open net, so the keeper reaches out and trips the forward as the forward strides past him. Or, if a chasing defender trips the attacker, rather than the keeper.

I would send off the keeper for tripping the attacking player when he is about to score, but my friend would only give a yellow card because the attacking player’s body is still pointed diagonally toward the goal line, rather than straight at the goal. I argue that the forward is making an even better chance to score, merely shifting his body position as he continues a constant run toward goal, but my friend thinks the attacking player is no longer “moving toward goal” at all. Of course, I disagree.

2. Again, the attacking player has beaten the defenders and is running at pace for a 1-on-1 with the keeper. The attacking player starts off at a point slightly to the left of the exact center of the field, therefore causing him to run at a slight diagonal toward goal. As he nears the penalty area, a chasing defender reaches out in desperation and trips the forward from behind. Technically, the attacking player’s body would align 6 inches to the right of the right post, because his run is slightly diagonal, if you applied my friend’s “laser beam” analogy. There is no shift in body position, and the attacking player clearly intends his run toward goal the whole time, there are no more defenders but the goalie….so I would send off the defender for denying a clear goal-scoring opportunity, whereas my friend would give a yellow card because the attacker’s body points just right of the goal instead of directly at the goal. He says the attacker is not “moving toward goal,” but rather to the side of the goal, which I think is much too strict of an interpretation.

3. Similar idea to #2. The attacking player runs onto a ball past the defenders, straight down the field a little off center, but this time NOT diagonally. The defenders are trying to catch up to him, thinking they might be able to cut him off from the inside if he shifts his run toward the middle. So the forward stays a couple feet to the left of the goal, enters the penalty area, before the chasing defender lunges at the attacker and trips him from behind. The attacking player intended his run to be in the general direction of the goal, and he had a clear shot before being tripped. It’s just that his his torso pointed a couple feet to the left of the goal instead of straight at the goal, so my friend would give a yellow. I would give red because I still think the attacker is essentially moving toward goal with his run, even if he keeps his run slightly to the left, and he has a clear shooting chance when he is fouled.

So I guess what it all boils down to is whether the “laser-beam” concept is the only way a goal-scoring opportunity has been denied, in reference to the quote “moving toward goal.” I think “moving toward goal” is a fairly general phrase that could be interpreted “in the general direction of the goal” or a run that is aimed “toward” scoring on the opposing goal….rather than the strict meaning of “lined up directly with the goal.” I would very much appreciate if you could tell me how this rule should be interpreted and enforced.

USSF answer (August 18, 2011):
The “D” involving direction of play was never intended to be applied according to a “laser beam” analogy. In other words, we do not ask that referees use a surveyor’s transit theodolite to judge a player’s direction. The IFAB’s intent was that the general direction of play be toward the goal. An attacker who was moving toward the goal but has had to take a momentary change in direction to avoid an opponent at the precise time he was fouled is still moving in the direction of the goal for purposes of the “4 Ds.” Any greater effort to “slice the baloney” thinner is neither necessary nor likely to be fruitful because, at heart, the decision remains with the referee who sees the precise event and determines what should be done for the good of the game. Moreover, it is not the orientation of the player’s body that determines the 4th D, it is the direction of “play” — however that may be defined by the referee.

In Situations 1 and 2 the defending player (whether goalkeeper or field player) should be sent off for denying an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to an opponent moving towards the defender’s goal by an offense punishable by a free kick or a penalty kick.

Situation 3 might or might not be DOGSO: Player intent means nothing.. We judge the result of the actions by both victim and perpetrator. There can be no DOGSO here, no matter what the “intent,” if the attacking player deliberately deviates from the direction to goal and is then fouled by an opponent while running in that new direction. Nor is there a caution to accompany the penalty kick in that case.