A case recently happened in one of my U19 games that I was playing in. In the 7th minute of play, one of my teammates was sent off for “making verbal threats to an opponent on the field” after telling an opposing player “don’t you dare go after my player #29”. I myself am a certified referee and looked through every single book I had and I could not find any ruling as far as how supposed “threats” were handled. The closest othing I could find for a send-off offense would be what was considered abusive language. However, I explictily remember during my recertification course that my instructor told us that you cannot give cards for threats and you must duly make a note of the player number and make sure that player stays under control. Is it possible or even legal for the referee to send off a player for making a verbal threat?

USSF answer (September 8, 2008):
Verbal threats are remarks that carry the implied or direct threat of physical harm. Such remarks as “I’ll get you after the game” or “You won’t get out of here in one piece” shall be deemed abuse.

This answer paraphrases an answer of April 1, 2002, which dealt specifically with the verbal abuse of referees by players. The principles expressed there are equally applicable to interactions between players.

The use of offensive or insulting or abusive language and/or gestures is punishable by a dismissal and red card. Offensive or insulting or abusive language and/or gestures that threaten physical harm are a step up and involve misconduct plus a threat.  Behavior that involves “threats” pushes the act to the level of abuse and can carry not only a red card penalty but additional sanctions if the state association so chooses.

So, yes, the offensive or insulting or abusive language and/or gestures could be construed as abuse, most especially if it is ongoing — more than just a word in the heat of anger. If there is a clear indication that some physical punishment will be extracted, even though there is never any explicit threat of physical harm (“Don’t you dare go after my player, #29!”, and on and on as an example), it could be considered to be abusive. In this instance, the key is whether or not it is ongoing or is a single word or phrase in the heat of the game. For the single word or phrase (depending on the circumstances) the caution or sending-off option is available; for a tirade or series that is ongoing, the situation clearly constitutes an instance of threat and abuse.

You might suggest that your instructor review this message.

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