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Soccer Rules Changes 1580-2000

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Question Number: 35501

Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct 5/7/2024

RE: Rec Under 15

Keith McDonnell of VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA Canada asks...

Question re: Rules for Defending Fast Players.
Our team has a very fast striker who is generally able to outpace most defenders. When the opposition plays a high line on defense he can often chip the ball past the line (or via a through ball), sprint past, and gain control downfield for a shot or cross. What’s happened in a few games recently when he tries this, particularly against teams we’ve played before, is that the defenders are actively angling their runs into his path of travel. i.e. the defenders are moving well out of their direct path to the ball and into the striker’s path, in what seems to me to be a deliberate attempt to slow him down and not lose the foot race. Some opposing coaches are telling the defender to do this (“Block him, Block him!”). I’ve seen this happen at least a dozen times but there’s never been a whistle. One ref I asked about it mentioned that the defender can shield the ball but at full sprint 5-10 yards away from the ball that doesn’t seem correct. I imagine there's a gray area for what's considered permissible, but in general wouldn't this be obstruction of some type, or am I missing something? Thanks.

Answer provided by Referee Richard Dawson

HI Keith,
it's a good question, defenders are taught or at least they should be taught to defend at angles and force an attacker to one side, either into the by lines or at least into another covering defender.

Taking away Space is a primary football tactic!
Defenders removing it so attackers are denied using it.
Attackers exposing and creating it to exploit the defenders.

Now it is not illegal for a defender to run zig zag or deny an attacker a straight run at the ball as long as they occupy that space before the opponent gets there.

Impeding is WITHOUT contact and only an INDFK. When contact occurs it is generally becomes a holding, pushing or charging DFK foul.

A referee should instruct their ARS to watch for unfair contact OFF the ball if the CR is occupied elsewhere. Man marking faster players, defenders often would stay close and bump or grab the attacker to prevent a full head of steam joining in the attack or getting to the ball ahead of others.

Generally shielding is within about 2 possibly 3 strides of the speed of play yet denying access by the arm spread wing aspect or elbows flared and or backing up by the player in front could wind up being foul just as are the reach over the shoulder and pull back or whipping action of the arm over the chest by the player in behind, trying to get by.

If your fast player is pursuing the ball in the most straightest fashion possible, if there is a defender in between or can get in between that pursuit that is their objective then, to slow down so you following need to go wider . The idea in delaying you is to hope their team mate possibly keeper can get there first. Just as they can not CRASH into you neither are you permitted to run them over!

I was doing a woman's game, the ball was lobbed overhead BUT it had a great deal of spin on it. The defender in pursuit running as hard as she could back towards her own goal was being pursued by a head down fast attacker only a stride behind both at full pace when the ball struck the ground, rather than rolling or skipping forward thanks in part to the wind direction and that SPIN, the ball came straight back at the defender. Who, upon realizing the ball was not going one way but now the other way, tried to come to a full stop to play that rebound off her chest her arms were pulled back as if getting ready to raise them in the hold up pose, however , they were NOT flared elbows back like chicken wings and the pursuing attacker ran into that right side of that player's back side including taking the arm in about the face.

As you can imagine attackers wanted a DFK, claiming the defender elbowed the attacker to prevent her from getting by. Yet, in MY opinion, the attacker running back at full speed ran recklessly into the defender who was stopping to play the ball not denying her access to run by. In essence, I opined she was free to shield, given how the ball reacted. So I waved off the foul scream asked if she was ok and continued play.

In a different scenario, more to yours. As a referee I noted that the defenders were playing tight to the attackers and when balls were lobbed overhead and the pursuits began or dribblers were on a break the defenders would often grab or shove their checks with the hands to stop their initial momentum to delay or not permit players to gather up any momentane to join with the teammates . Clearly holding or pushing, clearly a foul. Now we can ignore some trifling or doubtful or tit for tat coming together but tactical ploys are often self evident. While a DFK restart is could be sufficient a caution should also be considered especially after a verbal warning.

While this is not basketball I use this analogy you CAN NOT Set a pick, but you CAN takeaway the lane!

Also tactically to break down the defenders setting offside traps and doing the interference. I had our strikers run the field diagonally, using the sweeper2nd last opponent or the far sided defender as the positioning tool to adjust the run and then turn and burn directly down field once the ball was put through or on its way into the space behind ! I implemented a program called SPAM, ( space, pace, angles and movement) to teach the kids about utilizing the entire field to gain ground.

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Answer provided by Referee Peter Grove

Hi Keith,

Here is what the law says about what you seem to be describing.

"Impeding the progress of an opponent means moving into the opponent’s path to obstruct, block, slow down or force a change of direction when the ball is not within playing distance of either player.

All players have a right to their position on the field of play being in the way of an opponent is not the same as moving into the way of an opponent.

A player may shield the ball by taking a position between an opponent and the ball if the ball is within playing distance and the opponent is not held off with the arms or body."

Assuming your description is accurate, what the defenders are doing cannot be excused as being shielding, since the ball is not within playing distance. Also, as the law alludes to, if a defender is in a position already, they're entitled to be there but they are not entitled to move into the path of the opponent simply in order to prevent them from reaching the ball.

If impeding happens without contact (which is rare) then it is an indirect free kick offence but if there is contact (which there are almost always is) then it becomes a direct free kick.

So again, if your description of the scenario is accurate then it would seem to me that what the defenders are doing sounds awfully like an impeding offence. However as always, this is a referee's judgment call. If the defenders move somewhat towards your player but not directly into their path and especially if there is no contact then some referees might not judge this to be an impeding offence.

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Answer provided by Referee Joe McHugh

Hi Keith
As described by you this is impeding with contact which is akin to holding punished by a direct free kick.
Impeding without contact is rare and one rarely if ever sees it called.

Also it does not read as legal shielding as the ball has to be within playing distance of the shielding player. Some leeway is allowed when shielding a ball say out over a goal line and those get rarely called.

Now I suspect what is happening here may be that defenders in their turn and run to the ball after it has been kicked through are starting off with an impeding move probably with contact in a subtle way into the players path that helps them in the chase. A blatant step across into a players path that bring a run to a complete halt with no intent to follow the ball is a foul all day long and it should get punished with a direct free kick. That should be obvious to any referee.

The fact it is not getting called says to me that the action is being viewed as a turn with the contact being seen as part of that turn and play.
While the title in this video reads Obstruction it is not an impeding foul with or without contact

I remember refereeing a certain player who on the same attacking move used to run into the defender when he knew he was not getting to the ball. I had to penalise him a few times for illegal pushing / charging.

Anyway for what its worth there is some reason why multiple referees are not calling what you describe. They must be seeing it as somewhat legal such as a turn and move that has some element of contact that does not get elevated to foul contact?

As a coaching point this tactic can work in the short term for a player at younger age groups yet as the player gets older it will not work as frequently. As a result there has to be more use of team mates for perhaps a *wall pass* where the focus of the defender is moved towards the ball and the team mate then pushes it through with the defenders focus moved away from the run on to the ball.
In this video around o.50 Player #2 passes the ball to a team mate and Defender #22 turns after the ball which is slipped through to #2 again. Had #2 gone alone with a push and run there is a good chance of getting blocked / impeded in the manner you describe with a questionable outcome.

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