In a recent U14 boys game, an attacker and a defender were “tangling” one-on-one, with the attacker bringing the ball down the left side of the field and into the penalty area while the defender ran on his inside, contesting for the ball.  As they arrived just outside the corner of the goal area, their forward motion stopped abruptly and in the process the players became entangled and both fell to the field, with the attacker outside of the defender in relation to the goal area. In the referee’s opinion, there has been no foul.

Still in a one-on-one situation (the goalie had stayed on his line and neither player’s teammates had arrived on the scene), the attacker scrambles to get to his feet, ostensibly planning to step or jump over the defender on the ground and shoot the ball, which is now just inside the corner of the goal area. As he attempts to stand up, the defender rolls back and forth a little, perhaps in an attempt to get up himself, or perhaps in an attempt to delay the attacker until help can arrive.

The attacker manages to get on his feet and as he steps over the body of the defender, he ends up slightly stepping on and pinching the side of the defender between his foot and the turf, leaving the defender in some pain. He manages to get to the ball, but by now the goalie has come out to defend and his shot goes wide for a goal kick.

My question is to what degree the attacker must take care not to step on his opponent in this situation?  In the opinion of the referee, the attacker did not intentionally injure his opponent; however could it be dangerous play on the attacker?  How much responsibility does the attacker have to not step on his rolling-around opponent as he attempts to get up and put the ball in the goal, especially given that in the opinion of the referee it was reasonably likely that the defender was rolling in a way that would help prevent his opponent from getting up (although certainly not definite enough to call a foul on the defender and award a penalty)? Is this an outcome based situation, that since the defender was injured that by definition the attacker’s lack of care resulted in a dangerous play? If so, could one also argue that the player on the ground was also at fault for dangerous play or impeding by rolling around a little and making it difficult for his opponent to get up (even if he was not intending to delay his opponent, just like the attacker wasn’t intending to step on the defender)?

USSF answer (July 23, 2008):
Of course the attacker should exercise due caution in getting up from the original accidental spill, and the opponent must exercise precisely the same due caution. If the opponent — whether deliberately or through simple lack of awareness — interferes with the attacker’s ability to play the ball afterwards, the possibility exists for the fouls of tripping (unlikely unless the referee deems the act to be deliberate), impeding the progress of an opponent, or playing dangerously. It is also possible that there is no foul at all.. Only the referee on the spot can make this decision.

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