I am a referee grade 8 and also a coach. During my son’s U14 Advanced match on Saturday, our team played a through ball from about 35 yards out approximately even with the left edge of the goal area (as viewed by the attacking players). Our center forward had started his run toward the ball from about 30 yards from the goal line in the middle of the field. One of the defenders looked back at our forward, never looking at the ball, and ran back and placed his body between the offensive player and the ball. The ball was about 2 yards away. Our forward was right behind his back and the defender continued to be between the attacker and the ball the entire way until the goalkeeper picked it up. The defender also put out his arms to block the attacker from getting through, but the attacker never contacted the arms. At the time, I thought our team should have been awarded in IFK, but I wanted to look at it objectively.
Here are the issues that need to be answered in my mind.
1. Is 2 yards playing distance for a U14 game? To me, this goes to the opinion of the referee.
2. Is the defender looking back a sign that he is not playing the ball and playing the man, thus he is impeding the progress of his opponent?
3. I believe that the arms outstretched are irrelevant because the attacker never tried to go around and never made contact with his arms.
USSF answer (November 4, 2008):
1. Only the referee on the game can judge whether or not this is “playing distance.” And that decision rests on the referee’s evaluation of the player’s speed and skill.
2. It makes no difference what the defender does if he or she is deemed to be within playing distance of the ball. Any defender wants to know where the opponent is, so looking back and adjusting positon is clearly legal — as long as the requirement for playing distance is met. However, if not within playing distance of the ball, looking backward to “place” the opponent could certainly be seen as an indication of impeding.
3. And we agree.