I was recently the center referee for a mid-flight U14 boys game. One player on the white team had foot skills well beyond any other player. This player “fell” twice early in the game when pressured by a defender. I did not see any trip, so let play continue. His third “fall” was a very acrobat twisting fall over a defender’s leg which left me wondering if he was fouled or if he took a dive. I decided to watch this player’s feet closely any time he touched the ball during the remainder of the game.

In the second half, with white up 1-0, the same player had the ball in the opponents’ penalty box. There were two defenders between him and the goal. Both defenders were facing him and standing about 2 feet apart with their legs in a natural position at their sides and slightly out from their hips. The white player played the ball between the two defenders and ran into the gap. Before either defender could react, the white player feet clearly got entangled in one of the defender’s feet and he tripped / went down hard.

In my judgment, the skilled white player could have stepped over the defender’s leg and gotten through the gap without making contact, but chose to allow himself to be tripped to draw the foul and a PK.

My choice was to either caution the white player for diving or to give him the PK for being tripped. In favor of the PK – the white player had a right to the space between the defenders and he was tripped. In favor of a caution – the white player had the skill to jump over the legs and continue to the ball.

I ended up giving the player the PK since he did have a right to the space and did go over the defender’s leg and I felt I should not be judging his intent (did he allow himself to be tripped?), but rather the actions on the field (attacker splits the gap and trips over defenders leg).

Was this the proper call? Should a referee judge the intent of a player?

USSF answer (May 12, 2009):
The referee must judge the result of an action, not attempt to divine the intent of the player. The word “intent” was removed from the Law some years ago.

No player has a right to “space.” Each player owns the space he or she is currently occupying, unless he or she ran to a spot and suddenly stopped, effectively creating a blockade of an opponent. If all was as you describe it, the defenders were attempting to play the ball, rather than play the player, and they committed no offense.

Did the player actually dive, or did he fall over the opponent’s foot by running over it? That might be a foul by the attacking player. If the defending player was trying to play the ball, there might be a foul, but we cannot call either of those fouls from the comfort of our desks.

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