Just read your response about opponents in the penalty area during a goal kick.
Follow up question: if the last thing you said is true: “if the ball leaves the penalty area, is therefore in play, and then goes to an opponent who, at the time the goal kick was taken, was in the penalty area, play should continue (no matter where the opponent has moved to by that time)” then why is their a requirement for all opponents to be outside the penalty area until the ball has actually left the area?
From time to time I have told fellow refs to look out for this so that an opponent does not (to borrow a phrase from Law XI) gain an unfair advantage from being in an “illegal” position.
The only question for the referee to ask himself is at what point does this infringement go from being unfair to trifling, i.e. the greater amount of time between the taking of the goal kick (or defensive free kick) to the time that the “illegally” positioned player becomes involved in play, the more likely that it becomes trifling and the referee should let play continue.
Does that make sense to you, or am I all wet?
USSF answer (January 21, 2010):
The reason there is a requirement for opponents to be out of the penalty area at the taking of a goal kick (and to stay out until the ball is in play) is exactly the same reason there is a requirement that opponents be at least ten yards away from a free kick (and stay ten yards away until the ball is in play). However, we routinely and properly allow the team with the ball to take a free kick if there are opponents closer than ten yards so why should we not also allow the team with the ball to take a goal kick if there are opponents within their penalty area? And, having allowed it in either case, why would we not — once the ball is in play — require the team with the restart to live by their decision to take the restart quickly even if this results in a disadvantage since it was their decision in the first place?
At all times, it is the responsibility of the referee to prevent or punish play which is contrary to the Law if such play in fact is unfair or unsporting because it had a non-trifling impact on the game. But is also the responsibility of the referee to avoid stopping play for admitted breaches of the Law where such a stoppage is unnecessary based on the needs of the game.