Today’s question involves the goalkeeper releasing the ball from their possession.

Situation is U15Gs, travel, but really just above recreational in skill. Early morning game, grass is wet, ball is wet. Goalkeeper is wearing gloves and long sleeve jersey.

Goalkeeper picks up a ball, is moving towards edge of penalty area to release. In some combination of fumbling, squeezing, and the ball being slippery, the ball slips out of her possession and onto the ground. Goalkeeper picks the ball back up immediately.

Does this constitute a second touch by the goalkeeper?

My first thought is I’m asking a question with an obvious answer — yes, this is a second touch. Accidental or deliberate, the ball was released, and picked back up again without an intervening touch by another player.

If so, can you then explain the rationale that allows the goalie to toss the ball into the air and catch it, or bounce it and catch it, and not count as a second touch? I certainly understand why we dont allow the opponent to challenge in those conditions, being potentially dangerous. But why cant we expect the goalkeeper to just put the ball back into play without any intervening tosses or bounces?

And does this not then put us referees in the position of judging a deliberate, allowable “second touch” vs. an accidental release and recovery, which is not allowed? Why cant it just be a release is a release is a release?

USSF answer (September 2, 2008):
Of course there was a foul, but read on. There is no analogy with tossing the ball up in the air and catching it, because that action has ALWAYS excluded the ball hitting the ground (which is what happened here). All the offense takes is deciding that the goalkeeper had possession in the first place.

The entire refereeing system puts referees in the position of judging whether or not an offense has occurred. We make thousands of decisions of this nature during a game, even those involving “Under-tinies.” In this particular situation, the referee must make the judgment based on the skill level of the players, the conditions on the field, and any other considerations that occur during the game.

Of course, the referee could always decide that there wasn’t any initial possession (i.e., control) and so there wouldn’t be an offense, but the scenario says that the ball “slips out of her possession” so, again, obviously there was a “second touch” offense.

But deciding there was an offense is only the first (though necessary) step in deciding if the offense should be called by stopping play and punishing the foul with an indirect free kick. For that, the referee must decide that the offense was not trifling — in other words, wasn’t important, didn’t affect the course of the game, didn’t unfairly prevent an opponent from challenging for the ball by taking possession a second time. Given the description in the scenario, this seems very likely.

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