Mike, a U-12 and under parent, asks:
Can a keeper slide tackle an attacking player? More specifically can the keeper execute a slide tackle that is directly at the attacking player which causes a head-on collision? We play in two upper midwestern states primarily and just lost one of our best players to a knee injury because the keeper from another team performed a slide tackle in the box as she was coming straight at the keeper. I believe the keeper did get the ball first, but to me this comes in the area of dangerous play and should have had a PK awarded with a possible card given to the keeper.
This is a tough one to answer so please keep this in mind as we try to clarify certain things of which parents and other spectators are often unaware. Apart from what follows, we’re sorry to hear of your player’s injury.
First, there is nothing in the Laws of the Game which makes a “sliding tackle” illegal. Some leagues within some state organizations have made the sliding tackle maneuver illegal on general principles, usually forbidding its use by players under the age of (take your pick, usually 12, sometimes 14) but you need to understand that even this is itself illegal. Technically, no soccer organization affiliated with USSF can have a playing rule that is not allowed by the Laws of the Game.
Second (ignoring the above paragraph), we train referees to understand that, although slide tackling is not illegal, it can quickly become illegal if not done correctly. In short, there is nothing wrong with a slide tackle if it is executed perfectly. The problem is that it is all too easy to make a mistake while performing a sliding tackle and, as a result, the tackle not only becomes illegal but almost always seriously illegal (meaning it would also draw a red card).
Third, there is nothing about slide tackling that involves one player being allowed to do it but not another. In short, goalkeepers can perform slide tackles just as other players can – provided it is done perfectly.
Fourth, there is no way an imperfectly performed slide tackle could be considered a “dangerous play” not only because dangerous play offenses are indirect free kick fouls but because any error in performance that would make a slide tackle illegal would involve a direct free kick/PK restart plus at least a caution if not a red card. There is no way a “dangerous play” offense can result in a direct free kick or penalty kick.
Fifth, we are having trouble envisioning a slide tackle event, done well or done badly, which could “cause a head-on collision.” Slide tackles, by their nature and definition are performed by using the foot (or feet) while sliding on the ground against an opponent’s foot (or feet). Unless the goalkeeper was sliding in toward the ball or an opponent head first (which is not a sliding tackle by definition), collisions can occur but not above waist level.
Sixth, it is a common misunderstanding that “getting the ball first” has something to do with a slide tackle being legal or illegal. It doesn’t. Not at all. NOT getting the ball at all does and, in this case, it makes the tackle illegal. But getting the ball first, second, third, etc. doesn’t make it legal. In addition to there being no contact with the ball at all, other elements making the slide tackle illegal include the direction from which it is made, the speed at which the player is sliding, the height of either or both feet above ball level, and exposure of the studs. The ultimate dangerous slide tackle is the two-footed, high speed tackle where contact is made above the ball with studs exposed!
Seventh and finally. we also train referees to understand that the probability of a slide tackle being performed legally is highly dependent on the age and experience level of the players … for a very simple reason. Performing a legal slide tackle takes experience, training, physical coordination, good judgment, and the ability to weigh consequences. Very few human beings below the age of 14 possess any, much less all, of these characteristics. They can be rarely found in persons below the age of 18 (one of the major reasons why auto insurance is sky-high for young drivers!). Every slide tackle performed in a match involving players under the age of 14 should be presumed illegal by chance alone and that presumption should be switched to “legal” only after the most careful review by the referee.