I recently observed a tournament game where the keeper on the defending team was on the ground holding the ball between his legs. The referee stopped play, ruled it a dropped ball, told the keeper “I am going to drop the ball and you pick it up.” Everything I have read and on the couple of incidents I have refereed and have had to call a dropped ball situation, the call was correct, in that is should have been a dropped ball situation, but the way in which the referee allowed it to play out was not correct. He did not have any member of the attacking team involved with the drop ball and should not have told the keeper he was going to drop it and for him to just pick it up. Both teams should have been involved. The keeper could legally be involved with the drop ball but the attacking team should have had an opportunity to play the ball after the drop.
USSF answer (March 18, 2009):
You have not given us enough information for a single answer. There are at least two reasons that the goalkeeper might be on the ground with the ball between his legs: Either he is (a) injured and thus unable to rise or is (b) committing dangerous play and withholding the ball from play by others.
If the referee has had to stop the game because the goalkeeper was injured, then the correct restart is a dropped ball. If the referee has had to stop play because the goalkeeper was playing dangerously, then the correct restart would be an indirect free for the opposing team, from the place where the infringement occurred.
As to the manner of the dropped ball restart in the game you observed, you may have confused the Laws of the Game with the rules of high school soccer, which differ greatly regarding the dropped ball.
There is nothing in the Laws of the Game to specify that a dropped ball must be dropped between two opposing players.
Here is the text of Law 8 regarding the procedure for dropping the ball:
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.
You will note that no number of players is specified. While it is usual for the ball to be dropped between two opposing players, there is no requirement that this be the case at every dropped ball.
This differs from high school rules (National Federation of State High School Associations), which specify that the dropped ball must be taken with one — and only one — player from each team participating.