X has the ball. Teammate Y provides square support. Defender is containing X only. There’s a lot of open space in front of Y.

Situation 1: X cuts toward Y, winds up to pass to Y, defender runs toward the passing lane, Z cuts in front of defender. = Clearly impeding the progress.

Situation 2: change the order of events.

Teammate Z runs forward and stops, about 3-4 feet from defender, between defender and that open space. Z then passes, and Y runs to, the open space in question. Y receives the pass, and carriers, shoots, whatever – and has an extra second or so to play the ball.

Defender has to run around Z to get to either the pass or Y – – there is enough room to do this but the extra second or two it takes is all that Y is looking for.

By the time defender chose what direction to go in and began to progress in that direction, Z, stationary, was already an obstacle is there an obligation to move?

To be clear, yes, the reason Z chose that spot to occupy was that it was in between the defender and a passing lane. Z didn’t just happen to be standing there and X wasn’t just being opportunistic.

But at the time, it wasn’t a passing lane being used and defender was not moving toward it, and had not decided to move toward it.

I’ve had my youth players do this countless times, and it’s been effective – usually the defender is so agitated at falling a step behind the play that he or she races after the pass, leaving Z uncovered.

They’ve never been called for impeding the progress when they’ve done this.

Last week in an adult pick-up game I was the Z – – it was a hot day and toward the end of the game, the defender just kind of stumbled into me, which I didn’t expect, as I’d been a good 3-4 feet away definitely not trying to invite contact or positioned closely enough that contact would have been the likely result.

The defender thought I’d committed a foul.

By the letter of the rule, when Z chose the spot to occupy, that spot didn’t obstruct or impede the defender’s progress – the defender wasn’t running to what would a few seconds later become the passing lane, thus Z’s going to that spot can’t be impeding the progress.

Thus it can only be impeding the progress if there’s an affirmative obligation, if you’re stationary, to move out of a player’s way.

Also, there are 9 other defenders – Z doesn’t know for a fact that defender would choose that path, defender could retreat or stay and cover Z, trusting another defender to come over. But Z knows that that defender would have the best chance of intercepting the pass.

I’m thinking that the fact that I’ve never seen that called in a refereed game means there’s no such obligation to move – that if you’re standing already in a spot that becomes tactically advantageous, not offsides, on the field, etc….., you can keep standing there.

Can you confirm that?

USSF answer (July 21, 2008):
Simple answer covering all eventualities: A player is allowed to occupy space but is not allowed to move into space that an opponent is actively using with the result that the opponent is forced to stop, swerve, or slow down to avoid contact. Under normal circumstances, “impeding” does not involve physical contact (which is why it is a “lesser” offense) — if contact occurs, the impeding player is now guilty of a direct rather than an indirect free kick offense.

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