Gary, an Adult/Pro Coach, asks:
If there’s a foul off the ball, despite the ball being in the center circle, can the Referee award a penalty ?
Not only “can the Referee,” the Referee must. With rare exceptions (and fouls are not one of them), the Law sets the location of the restart to be where the foul occurred, not where the ball was. In this case, if it was a direct free kick foul and it was committed by a defender inside his or her own penalty area while the ball was in play, the restart is a penalty kick even if the ball was at the far other end of the field at the time.
For example, Red is attacking the Blue goal with play occurring just above the Blue team’s penalty area. At the Red end of the field, however, the Red goalkeeper and a Blue opponent are having an intense debate inside the Red penalty area over something that happened several minutes earlier, during which the Red goalkeeper shoves the opponent. The trail AR sees this and signals for the foul, the lead AR (down where play is currently occurring) mirrors the signal, and then directs the referee’s attention to what is happening behind the Referee’s back. Trusting the judgment of the experienced ARs, the Referee stops play immediately (no advantage is applied), deals with the misconduct (if any), and orders the ball brought back to the other end of the field for a penalty kick by Blue.
The consequences would be much different if, instead of striking by the Red goalkeeper, it was the Blue opponent who committed the shoving. Here, advantage might be applied depending on the seriousness of the offense (it is not recommended if violence is involved). If the Red team’s advantage is maintained, then play should be allowed to continue and, at the next stoppage, the Blue player might be cautioned if the shove was deemed reckless. If advantage was not maintained or if the shove was violent, play should be stopped and then restarted with a direct free kick by Red where the shove occurred after any misconduct with dealt with. If the shove did not require an immediate stoppage, the trail AR would simply wait for the next stoppage, signal for the Referee’s attention, explain what happened, and let the Referee decide what action to take.
In situations like this, it is imperative that the AR observing this behavior understands the implications of signaling for a stoppage. The AR’s decision must be based on believing — based on experience, the pre-game conference where the Referee made clear his or her preferences, and the AR’s observation of the Referee’s decisions in the match so far — that the referee would have stopped play (i.e., not considered the event doubtful or trifling and not have applied advantage) if he or she had seen the event. The other AR must be aware of the trail AR’s signal and have the presence of mind to mirror it. Finally, the Referee must trust the trail AR’s judgment that, under the circumstances and based on standard mechanics, play must be stopped. The system works … when everyone understands their respective roles and acts accordingly.