In a recent professional match, a defender under pressure kicked the ball (with an indeterminate amount of deliberation) back toward his defensive penalty area. As his ‘keeper was coming out to play the ball, the ‘keeper seemed to make gestures that seemed to be asking the referee whether it would be permissible to play the ball with his hands (i.e., silently asking the referee whether this would be a “back-pass” infringement). It was not clear from the video whether the referee did pre-authorize the ‘keeper to use his hands, but the ‘keeper did so, and was not penalized for it.

In discussing this, some referees see no problem with this. Others suggest that the referee should not get involved in giving “extra help” in this fashion to either team. This seems qualitatively different than the verbal guidance that referees typically give to players who are close to the edge of an offense (“Stay off his back”, or “Let go of the shirt”), in that it is asking prior permission to avoid an offense. For example, I believe that an assistant referee should not respond to a nearby attacker’s query, “Am I offside?” before the player decides whether to chase a long pass – mainly because the AR can’t determine that until the player actually makes chase.

Without criticizing the referee involved in this match (and, honestly, without knowing whether this referee did any such thing), what guidance does USSF give its referees on this issue?

USSF answer (March 19, 2010):
The decision as to whether a player deliberately kicked the ball to his/her goalkeeper or to a place where the goalkeeper could play it is up to the referee on the game.

As to “individual help,” without having either seen the match or spoken with the referee, we cannot give you a definitive response. In general it is good for referees to speak with the players, but definitely not good to give advice on how to play. Giving advice would simply encourage the players to give the referee “advice” on how to referee — and we get enough of that without soliciting it.

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