Official Publications Related to Law 17





Law 14 - The Penalty Kick

Official Publications Related to Law 14

Deception / Feinting at the Taking of a Penalty Kick

“Feinting to take a penalty kick to confuse opponents is permitted as part of football. However, if, in the opinion of the referee, the feinting is considered an act of unsporting behavior, the player must be cautioned.”

When feinting occurs, referees must evaluate the line between acceptable “feinting” and unacceptable “unsporting behavior. This decision is based upon “the opinion of the referee” who must evaluate the specific circumstances of the kicker’s actions and the referee’s “feel” for the match at that point.

In making this evaluation, referees should consider the following three specific examples of behavior by the penalty taker that U.S. Soccer has deemed not acceptable and, therefore, should be judged as unsporting behavior:

  1. Running past the ball and then stepping backward to perform the kick.
  2. Excessively changing directions or taking an excessively long run to the ball (thus causing an unnecessary delay in the restart, in the opinion of the referee).
  3. Making a hand or arm gesture which obviously distracts or deceives the goalkeeper.
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  • Video Clip: D.C. United at Firpo (38:50)
    This clip is from a CONCACAF Champions League match involving D.C. United. During the game, a penalty kick is awarded. During the taking of the penalty kick, the kicker (No. 10) feints immediately prior to contacting the ball. This action is acceptable behavior and should not be considered unsporting behavior. Based upon the three examples provided above, the penalty taker’s actions fall within the category of acceptable “feigning” (acceptable deception) during the taking of a penalty kick.
  • Video Clip: Los Angeles at New England (82:09)
    This clip provides another example of feigning that is acceptable. The player does not violate any of the criteria set forth above. Also note the encroachment that occurs. This is a separate violation of the Law that the referee must decide whether to address. In this clip, the defensive team clearly encroaches (enters the penalty area and within 10 yards of the ball prior to the ball being kicked); however, a goal is scored so no action should be taken on the part of the referee.
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Courage to Make the Call

Referees must not shy away from making the big decision in a game when it is warranted. Through the years, the “3-C’s” have been considered critical components to a successful referee: courage, character and conviction. Referees must have the conviction (confidence) and courage to make a potential game-deciding call when the situation is presented. This must be aided by proper positioning and proper foul recognition. The importance of the game, the score at the time and the players involved cannot be factors in making the big decision when no gray areas are present.

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  • Video Clip: Real Salt Lake at Columbus (45:00)
    Right at the stroke of first half additional time, the referee awards a free kick just less than 50 yards from goal. As is common practice, both teams send as many players into the penalty area as possible looking to win the ball. The conglomeration and bunching of players leads to body contact and the potential for holding or pushing to gain a defensive or attacking edge against the opponent. This free kick results in the correct awarding of a penalty kick that ties the game.

    After awarding the free kick, the referee takes an appropriate restart position near the top of the penalty area which lends his presence to action in and around the penalty area. On free kicks with services into the penalty area, players must sense or feel the referee’s presence. Presence can be enhanced by verbal communication on the part of the referee and by the referee’s mere physical stature – being visible and in the players’ sight lines.

    In this clip, once the ball is served into the penalty area, the defender commits a holding offense as he drags and pulls down the attacker who is making a run to receive the ball. The defender is seemingly beat to the inside and is forced to commit the holding foul to prevent the attacker from gaining an advantageous attacking position behind him.

    The referee is correct to award a penalty kick (which results in a game-tying goal) as one of the direct free kick offenses has been committed by a defender in the penalty area. In this case, the referee should also issue a yellow card for unsporting behavior to the defender due to the tactical nature of the foul.
  • Video Clip: Chivas USA at Galaxy (69:27)
    As we have seen so often over the past 33 weeks, a critical referee decision comes off a counter attack situation – a situation in which the ball travels from one penalty area to the other penalty area. This counter attack requires only five passes to advance the ball up the field and get the ball into the attacking penalty area. In 12 seconds, the referee must cover approximately 80 yards (penalty area to penalty area) and attempt the impossible – move as fast as the ball. This attack amplifies the need for proper positioning on the part of the referee through excellent fitness/sprinting ability and reading of the play.

    Once the ball reaches the left side of the penalty area, it is crossed to the far side of the goal area to a streaking attacker. As the attacker controls the ball, there is illegal contact caused by a defender. The defender fouls the attacker by jumping at him and then making contact with the right leg. The defender never plays the ball and his contact injures the attacker and prevents him from continuing his play on the ball. Consequently, the referee must award a penalty kick. The fact that the score is 0-0 at the time of the foul is inconsequential as the referee must make his judgment based upon the actions of the defender and not the fact that it is a playoff game or the score at the time of the foul.
2008 (Click to view/hide)

Having the courage to make these calls will assist the referee with game control through not allowing the losing team to feel as though they get a “free shot” at players on the opposing team just because they are on the losing end of the score line:

  • Video Clip: Columbus vs. NY (50:40).  NY attacker is pulled down in the area as he turns past the defender.  NY was winning 2-0 at the time.

Often times the decision to make a penalty kick is not always obvious.  Referees must be prepared to look for subtle, yet significant contact that deprives a player/team of the chance to develop a goal scoring opportunity:

  • Video Clip:  New England vs. Chicago (34:35).  Chicago attacker is brought down.  Although subtle, contact is made in 2 manners:  with the arm and then a clip on the heel.

Getting To the Right Place at the Right Time

Referees and ARs must be acutely aware of any challenges in and near the penalty area.  Decisions of penalty kick or no penalty kick are often controversial and can influence the outcome of the match.  Consequently, referees and ARs must posses heightened awareness as the ball approaches or enters the penalty area.  Additionally, referees must ensure they are positioned as close to play as possible in order to make the correct decision. 

When any of the 10 offenses for which a direct free kick is awarded is committed by a player in their own penalty area (while the ball is in play), the referee must award a penalty kick. This is a simple requirement from Law 14 – The Penalty Kick. In making this decision, the referee and AR must also consider that the Laws of the Game state that the lines “belong to the areas of which they are boundaries.”

What does this mean for officials relative to penalty kicks? In the case of player-to-player physical contact when challenging for the ball, the officials must note whether the contact occurred on or outside the line making the penalty area. A direct free kick foul that occurs “on the line” should be considered to have taken place inside the penalty area and, when committed by the defending team, a penalty kick must be awarded.

ARs should be prepared to assist referees with this inside/outside decision. This help is particularly critical for fouls that occur on or near the top of the penalty area as the AR has the best view of the penalty area line due to their perpendicular position. As challenges in and around the penalty area lines occur, the referee should ensure they use the AR to assist in making the correct decision. When the referee whistles for a foul, immediate eye contact should be made with the lead AR. If the AR believes the foul occurred inside the penalty area, the AR must signal by draping the flag across their waist as indicated in the picture to the right. Otherwise, the AR should remain at attention and offer no signal.

Referees MUST NOT relax on balls that have the opportunity or chance to result in challenges in and around the penalty area.  Long counter attack passes, long punts from the goalkeeper, long free kick services, and long goal kicks are all examples of situations in which the referee cannot “take for granted” the end result.  Referees cannot assume that the ball will go unchallenged or that the ball will go directly to the opposing goalkeeper.  When the referee sees that a ball is headed toward the penalty area, the referee should assume/anticipate that there will be a challenge and quickly move to a strategic position in order to judge the potential challenge.  Simply, this is NOT a time to relax.

Concurrently, ARs must be prepared to assist the referee in these so-called long ball situations.  The AR must know that it will take time for the referee to close down the play and that, for a brief moment, the AR may be better positioned to make a decision on any resulting challenge.  Based upon the pregame instructions agreed to by the referee team, when the AR observes a situation that is a certain foul and that is a critical decision, the AR should provide information to the referee that they have observed a foul.  This information may be communicated (based upon pregame instructions) by a wave of the flag, use of beeper flags (if available), or some other signal that is effective but simple.

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2009 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip 5: Chicago at New England (12:42)
    In video clip 5, there are two critical decisions that must be made by the referee and the lead AR.
    1. Handling decision
      First, there is a decision as to whether a handling offense has been committed by the attacker. In watching the video clip, an infraction seems to have taken place. Due to the angle of the attacker’s run and his body angle, the AR may be best able to make this judgment. If the AR believes that the attacker has handled the ball, the AR should signal with the flag raised vertically in the hand appropriate for the restart direction and, after making eye contact with the referee, give the flag a slight wave.
    2. Penalty kick decision
      Should the officiating team decide there was no handling offense, the second decision for which the AR can provide input is whether the defensive foul has occurred inside or outside of the penalty area. Immediately upon whistling the foul, the referee must make eye contact with the lead AR. The lead AR should then follow U.S. Soccer’s guidelines as outlined above in the event they feel the foul has occurred on the penalty area line (and therefore inside the penalty area). This decision must be made based upon the location of the contact between the attacker and the defender’s leg and not based upon the location of the ball or the defender’s planted foot.
2008 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: Chivas USA at Toronto (39:10) - This clip illustrates where teamwork and extra urgency in the referee’s position can help ensure that the correct decision is reached on a challenge that occurs in the penalty area.  Key factors to consider when evaluating this clip are:
    • The long free kick traveling approximately three quarters of the field.
    • The free kick goes to the head of an attacker.  When officials see a lone forward going up for a header from a long pass, this is a sign that the forward will look to head or flick the ball onto a teammate running behind him to goal.
    • There is a lone attacker running behind the teammate heading the ball.  This player will attempt to pressure and/or win the ball.  If he can’t win the ball, he can pressure the opponent into giving the ball up in the defensive third.

When these or similar circumstances exist, officials should consider the following:

  • Referee
    • Move with speed to the next phase of play.  Read the situation described above and move as quickly as possible to judge the next phase of play.  The referee cannot stand and observe.  The referee must anticipate and move out of the center circle and into the attacking third at a wider angle that enables him to have a better view of play.
  • Assistant Referee
    • Be prepared to assist.  Visually determine the referee’s position relative to play.  Based upon the referee’s distance from play and angle of vision, the AR must assume responsibility for deciding whether a foul has occurred as well as the location of the foul.

In this clip, a foul exists:  the defender holds the attacker and prevents him from having a clear challenge for the ball that has entered the penalty area.  The defender is beat as the attacker has run past him and the attacker has a positional advantage. This positional advantage is the reason the defender holds the attacker preventing him from advancing to the ball.  Not only does a foul exist but the foul has been committed in the penalty area and should result in a penalty kick being awarded.

Denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity does not exist as the attacker does not have possession of the ball and, even without the holding, the goalkeeper has the opportunity to arrive at the ball before or at the same time as the fouled attacker.  The referee may, however, decide that the defender’s action is tactical in nature and decide that the defender should be cautioned for unsporting behavior.

If the referee were to have made the foul call, the AR should provide the referee with assistance regarding the location of the foul as the foul occurs just slightly inside the penalty area.  As soon as the referee whistles the foul, the AR should drape the flag across his waist (mimicking the substitution signal but across the waist) as an indication to the referee that the foul was inside the penalty area and should result in a penalty kick.

Encroachment at the Taking of a Penalty Kick

Managing penalty kick restarts is a complex issue and one that can have significant ramifications depending upon the type of violation that occurs at the taking of the penalty kick.  Keeping players in compliance with the requirements of the Law is a difficult task.  Players on both teams want to rush in to claim space and the ball should it rebound back into play.  The sooner and closer they get to goal, they feel they have an advantage on a missed penalty kick.

On August 1, 2007 a U.S. Soccer position paper, “Violations of Law 14 (The Penalty Kick),” was published outlining the outcomes of various violations relating to Law 14. It is important to remember that players are restricted in where they can be and what they can do during the taking of a penalty kick.  If there are violations of these restrictions, Law 14 dictates the action the referee must take.  Please note, it is no longer mandatory that the referee issue a caution for a violation of Law 14.

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2008 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: New England at Columbus (88:45) - Although it is not shown in this clip, the referee has correctly awarded a penalty kick late in the game.  Once the penalty kick has been awarded, the referee must assume the task of managing the restart.  The Laws require that players other than the kicker be located:
    • On the field of play
    • Outside the penalty area
    • Behind the penalty mark
    • At least 10 yards from the penalty mark (outside the penalty arc)

In the situation provided, the referee does preventative work and a good job getting all players to comply prior to his signaling for the kick to be taken.  However, as he whistles and before the ball is in play (it is in play when it is kicked and moves forward), several players from both teams enter the penalty area. At this moment, regardless of the outcome (goal, rebound into play, ball wide), the referee is empowered to retake the penalty kick.  This becomes especially critical when the outcome of the kick is influenced by one or more of the players who violated the Law by entering too soon.

Watch carefully, the ball rebounds off the goalkeeper to an attacker who has encroached.  This attacker then scores directly off the rebound.  Hence, the referee should ask himself:  “Did anyone gain an unfair advantage as a result of their entering the penalty area early?”  In this case, the goal scorer gained an advantage.  Given the fact that multiple players from each team violated the Law, the referee should disallow the goal and have the penalty kick retaken.  If just the a teammate of the kicker entered the area early and the ball had rebounded into play, the referee would be required to restart with an indirect free kick from where the player encroached.  The aforementioned position paper contains all the appropriate restarts for the potential violations of Law 14.

  • Video Clip: New England at Columbus (88:45) - This clip offers a still picture of the players who have encroached as well as a good picture of the referee’s position.  At the top of the penalty area, you can see the attacker who eventually puts the rebound into the goal.  In terms of positioning and prevention, consider the following:
    • Communicate requirements - Move to the top of the penalty area and verbalize the requirements.  Visually remind players by pointing to the line may be helpful.  Make eye contact with as many players as possible thereby letting them know that they are on notice.
    • Wide angle of vision and no one positioned behind you - Take a position that gives you a wide angle of vision.  Do not allow any players to be behind you where they can run into the penalty area prior to the ball being in play.  All players must be in view.
    • Presence - The players must feel your presence.  Assuming a position closer to the top of the penalty area is becoming more standard so that the players see you and feel your presence.  Don’t position yourself in the running lanes of players.
  • Video Clip (Added 9/19/2008): Columbus at Toronto (12:15) - This is a clear case of the goalkeeper leaping forward off the goal line prior to the kick being taken.  In fact, the goalkeeper takes one or two stutter steps off his line prior to the kick being taken.  As a result of his actions, the goalkeeper gains an advantage and is able to use the advantage to save the shot.  Notice the distance the goalkeeper jumps from the line (two to three yards) and how early he does it.  Both factors should resonate with the referee and the referee, in this case, should call for a retake of the penalty kick.
  • Video Clip (Added 10/16/2008): Toronto at Dallas (91:15) - The referee has awarded a penalty kick and prior to whistling for the kick to be taken the referee has ensured that all players are properly positioned, the kicker has been identified to the goalkeeper and the defending goalkeeper is stationed correctly on his goal line.  The referee, in this case, takes a good position so that he can observe the actions of all the players (goalkeeper, kicker, and potentially encroaching players).  The referee’s position is wide enough so that no player is behind him yet close enough that his presence is felt by the players at the top of the penalty area.

Despite his efforts, a player on the attacking team clearly encroaches (enters the penalty area) after the whistle is blown but before the penalty kick is taken and the ball is in play (kicked and moves forward).  The referee must await the outcome before deciding upon the appropriate action.

In this clip, a teammate of the kicker encroaches several yards into the penalty area prior to the kick being executed.  The referee correctly awaits the outcome which was a goal.  Since a goal was scored and an attacking player encroached, the referee must order a retake of the penalty kick.  When the kick is retaken, the same or a different player may take that second kick.

Penalty Kick Management

Management of restarts is a critical component of a referee’s job description.  Referees must work diligently to get the game restarted as quickly as possible as the enjoyment for the spectators is negatively impacted when the ball is not moving.  In addition, when the ball is out of play, players tend to focus their attention on the referee and the opponent instead of chasing/playing the ball. The result can be many extracurricular activities and increased frustration levels of the players.  Therefore, it is vitally important that referees possess the skill to get the game restarted quickly at any stoppage.

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2008 (Click to view/hide)
  • Video Clip: San Jose at TFC (66:50) - The referee awards a penalty kick.  It takes the referee over two minutes to have the kick taken.  The official takes too much time explaining his decision and managing the players.  Then, at the taking of the kick, players encroach and no action is taken.  Watch as players from both teams encroach prior to the taking of the kick.  Given this, the kick must be retaken.
    • The referee has made his decision and must not allow so much discussion and dissent.  The referee must find a way to send a message through stronger body language or a caution for dissent, that the players that he has allowed to engage him must cease their actions.  Penalty kicks, just by their very nature, are contentious events.  However, the referee must be prepared for some dissent but he must also be prepared to “draw his line in the sand” and ensure that penalty kick is taken in a reasonable time and without undo distractions to the team taking the kick.