What discretion, if any, does the referee have in deciding to call a foul as a dangerous play, which results in an indirect free kick, versus a reckless/careless foul, which results in a direct free kick. For example, a player carelessly raises his cleat too high, interfering with an opponent, versus the cleat making the slightest contact with an opponent, versus the cleat making solid contact with an opponent. What about a slide tackle that is whistled because it was careless under the circumstances, but not so dangerous as to warrant a direct free kick, according to the referee? Is there discretion under all circumstances of dangerous play and fouls/misconduct?
USSF answer (December 17, 2008):
We always encourage referees to use their discretion in making any call, based on the factors that went into making the decision in the first place. However, too many referees blur the lines between the various fouls, particularly the clear difference between playing dangerously and committing a direct-free-kick foul. In most cases this is done because the referee doesn’t want to appear too harsh or, much worse, because the referee is afraid to call a foul a foul. How many referees have you seen who say that the same foul they would have called a direct-free-kick foul at midfield is not a penalty-kick-foul when committed in the penalty area? They then chicken out and call it dangerous play, depriving the offended team of a fully justified penalty kick.
You have to make the decision and stick with it. The offense in this case is not simply against the Laws of the Game, but against the whole tradition and spirit of the game.