Dear Site Visitors …

“Everyone needs a vacation from time to time — mine will begin September 27 and will end (sigh) October 16.”

With that announcement on September 26, I left.  Now I’m back … along with an accumulation of just under 30 inquiries.  I will make every effort to work on them over the coming days but (there’s always a “but”), I’m also slugging through nearly 900 emails in my personal account — 95% are trash and, while most can easily be recognized as such just by looking at the “topic,” some require a closer look … and that takes time.  Once I clear the backlog (most by responding privately), I will remove this message and thus signal “business as usual” is back .

Thanks for your patience.…

Making Contact with the Ball First

Leif, a HS/College referee, asks:

At the MLS level and equivalent I often see what I consider a push/trip/charge violation ignored because the offending player touched the ball first. At the high school level I am starting to see more fellow referees follow this. I can find no law that states this is the correct procedure. Recently a long ball was played and the goalkeeper punched the ball but his foreword momentum had him hit the attacking players face with his fist shortly after. In my opinion as the AR I felt he had sufficient time after the punching of the ball to not contact the offensive player but the center claimed as long as he got the ball first there was no violation.

Answer:

This is typical.  First of all, it involves a misreading of how the Law was written 10-12 years ago (and quickly rewritten precisely because it had become so wrongly interpreted).  Second, the warped interpretation became ingrained in player’s heads because they thought it gave them “cover” to commit a foul.

In the 2007-2008 Lawbook, the following language was in Law 12 under the general heading “Direct Free Kick”: “A direct free kick is awarded … if a player … tackles an opponent to gain possession of the ball, making contact with the opponent before touching the ball.”  (We added the emphasis.)  That language had been around for a while but 2007-2008 was the last year precisely because it was being interpreted to mean that, as long as the player made contact with the ball first, it was thus OK to do harm right after contacting the ball.  Thus was, of course, not the intent of the language and, as a result, it was replaced in the 2008-2009 Lawbook by the simple statement “tackles an opponent” with the simple proviso that this action became a direct free kick foul only if it was performed carelessly, recklessly, or with excessive force.  That should have done it.  It didn’t.

The dangerous notion that contacting the ball first made anything that follows legal had become so widely misunderstood that, eventually, the International Board inserted into the 2016-2017 Lawbook the simple statement “If an offense involves contact, it is penalized by a direct free kick or penalty kick.”  In other words, if an action comes under the “careless, reckless, or excessive force” heading, it must be considered a direct free kick (or PK) offense if the player involved contacts an opponent before, during, or after the offense.  Briefly, then, if the tackling itself is illegal, it doesn’t matter if the opponent made contact with the ball before committing the offense.

Accordingly, for all practical purposes, the “contact with the ball first” defense was never actually legal but, so many had thought this was the case that this language was removed from the Law a decade ago and then, in case there was a player (or referee) who didn’t get the message, the International Board said in 2016 that, look, contact with the ball first excuses nothing — we took that language out of the Law for a reason so get with the program.…

Another Pass at “Pass-Back”

Mike, a U13-U19 referee, asks:

GK receives passback from teammate. GK receives ball with his feet outside the penalty area. Can he dribble into the  penalty area and then pickup the ball?

Answer:

There is debate on this issue.  The International Board has not definitively dealt with the question, much less offered an answer.

Personally, we would count it as a pass-back offense since it meets the two basic requirements – (1) deliberately played by the foot of a teammate and (2) handled directly thereafter by the goalkeeper.  Note, in this respect, that “directly” in soccer has always (regardless of the specific scenario) been defined as “no intervening touch/play of the ball by anyone other than the originator of the play and the recipient.”   Obviously, in your scenario, there is no involvement by any other player between the teammate’s kick and the goalkeeper’s handling.

The Board modified this section of the Law this year, however, and has said that, following a deliberate kick from a teammate, if the goalkeeper tries to kick the ball but is not satisfied with the result and then handles the ball, the goalkeeper should not be charged with a pass-back offense because “the goalkeeper has clearly kicked or attempted to kick the ball to release it into play.”  This quote is from Law 12 and we have emphasized the part of the quote that, to us at least, significantly limits what the goalkeeper can do to avoid a pass-back violation.  The best way, of course, is not to handle the ball in the first place!

Later in the section of the IFAB Lawbook that explains the Board’s new language regarding this situation, the Board says “When the GK clearly kicks or tries to kick the ball into play, this shows no intention to handle the ball so, if the clearance attempt is unsuccessful, then goalkeeper can then handle the ball without committing an offense.”  Again, to us, this explanation does not allow the goalkeeper to avoid committing an offense if he/she takes control of the ball outside the penalty area, dribbles it back into the penalty area, and then picks it up (which is exactly your scenario).  This not only doesn’t show an intention not to handle the ball, it actually shows an intention to get the ball into the penalty area precisely to handle the ball.

The goalkeeper has committed an offense.…

“Extra Time” Issues

Brian, a U13 – U19 parent, asks:

I’m in Australia and I was at a U15 match where several times the ball was kicked out and was to be returned as a throw in where the ref had not whistled time out but, however, stopped and started time on his watch, thus appearing to extend the length of the match.  Is this allowed ?

Answer

We rarely deal with questions arising from outside the US because, in some cases at least, countries may have their own interpretation of certain things in the Laws of the Game.  Here, however, we feel fairly comfortable offering the observation that, no, what you described is not allowed.  However, there are several factors to keep in mind.

First, purely as a matter of mechanics, the referee in a match under the Laws of the Game never “stops and restarts his watch.”  Referees worldwide are trained the same way – timing of a match is continuous throughout the entire period of play (e.g., first half, second half, and tie-breaking periods).  On the side, though, referees must also measure what is referred to as “added time” (also, frequently but confusingly, termed “referee,” “extra,” or “injury” time).  Exactly how this is handled is up to the individual referee – their preferences, their early training, etc.  Some referees simply keep a mental running tally of time lost during a period of play so that, when the time on their watch closes in on the specified time for that period (e.g., 45 minutes is the standard for matches above the youth level), they already know how much (if any) time must be added on.  Referees also differ in the precise manner in which they measure the time.  All referees should use a watch that has a timing function but there are two alternatives here – some watches “count up,” some “count down,” and some have both capabilities.  After gaining experience each way, we personally settled down and used a “count up” timer function thereafter.  In any event, that’s a personal preference thing.  Many referees may be seen with two watches, one on each wrist, with one of them always kept running continuously and the other stopped and restarted but only for excessive delays.

Second,  just because play is stopped for some reason does not translate necessarily into that time needing to be taken into account by the referee and added to the length of the period.  Both the Law and its well-settled traditions are clear that time is added to a period only if the stoppage produces an excessive and unnecessary delay.  Stoppages for injuries are a good example of time lost that should be added to the period.  Stoppages for the ball simply leaving the field are not, except under rare circumstances such as the ball becoming lost and difficult to find.  Even a lost ball stoppage is rare because every game should be played with one or more “extra” balls that can be immediately used to restart play while someone else hunts for the lost ball.  The Laws of the Game provide that the referee is the sole judge of how much extra time is to be added to the period of play.  In short, even where the Law provides for the possibility that an event (such as an injury situation) may require that extra time be added, it is still the referee who determines exactly how much time that will be.

What this boils down to is that no experienced referee should be starting and stopping their watch in the first place – among other issues, that practice often leads to the referee losing all control of time when (not if) the referee forgets to restart his watch.  Virtually the only time the referee should actually stop their watch during play is when the game is officially suspended (e.g., bad weather with the prospect of being able to restart).  Furthermore, the mental measuring of “lost time” should include only excessive delays, not just simple delays that are brief and considered a normal part of the game (throw-ins, for example should almost never be seen as involving “lost time” as meant by the Laws of the Game).  Even a stoppage for a foul (without an injury) during which a card is given and/or one or more substitutions are allowed would not usually involve “lost time.”

Finally, while we cannot speak for Aussies, in the US, the official guidance on “lost time” is that it is always measured in full minutes rounded downward.  For example, a mental estimate of 2 minutes and 45 seconds would be announced as 2 minutes of extra time.  The concept of “extra time” always includes the possibility that there might be a “time lost” event which occurs during the playing of this extra time.  US Soccer also strongly recommends that the amount of any extra time being allowed is announced shortly before the expiration of the official time of the period of play so that players, coaches, and spectators will know why the game is continuing even though it might appear to be over.  The existence of a stadium clock is irrelevant, only the referee’s watch counts.…

Penalty Marks (Who Knew?)

Every once in a while, a question comes in that piques our interest because it has resulted in some historical research that turns up interesting but odd outcomes.  Recently, a reader of the site asked the following question:  “At a penalty kick, the kicker places the ball just by the side of the spot but part of the ball touches the spot.  What should the referee do?”

Our response back to the questioner was equally brief but was not published because the matter was very narrow.  This is not at all uncommon.  Narrowly defined questions whose answers are equally narrow are often handled by a private e-mail reply.

In this case, however, we were piqued enough about a “side issue” that we engaged in some historical research about the penalty mark which turned up surprising results.  They did not change the response to the above query in any way.  The referee should do nothing. The ball, as described, was properly “on the penalty mark” because the penalty mark is like any other marking on the field (e.g,. penalty area lines, touchlines, center circle lines, etc.).  All follow the general rule that the ball is in whatever area is enclosed or defined by that line so long as any part of the ball is on or overhanging any part of that line.  For example, a goal is not considered to have been scored unless and until the entire width of the ball has entirely crossed over the entire width of the part of the goal line which is between the goal posts.  Until that happens, the ball is “on the field” and not “in the goal.”  The same principle applies, for example, to both perimeter lines, corner arcs, penalty arcs, and so forth.  In this case, the ball would be considered “on the penalty mark” if any part of the ball touched or overhung any part of the mark.

There are a few, narrow exceptions.  For example, the midfield line is considered to define both ends of the field simultaneously.  Any player standing on the midfield line is considered to be in either end of the field depending on the circumstances — that is, based on the specific issue where this fact is important.

Our research on the penalty mark resulted in upending what we had thought we had learned decades ago.  “Everyone knows” that the penalty mark (like the center mark) is a circle.  Every field diagram in Law 1 in Lawbooks we reviewed back to 1985 shows that!  Case closed.  Looking closely, though, we discovered that this apparent “fact” does not appear anywhere in the text of the Laws — only the term “penalty mark” was found.  Furthermore, the field diagrams up through 1995 clearly showed that the penalty mark had a specific dimension (nine inch diameter) which further supported the assumption that the mark was a circle because only a circle is defined by a single measure of “diameter” (all other ovoid shapes have multiple diameter measurements).  What was surprising is that this nine inch diameter “requirement” disappeared — with no further announcement or explanation — after 1995.

Accordingly, we followed up this research with a query to someone in a high position with the International Board with whom we have discussed in the past tricky Law issues in order to achieve the most reliable information possible for this website (as well as for our own peace of mind).  The response was more than interesting.

Without getting into details about how, when, and why the disappearance of this “nine inch diameter” suddenly occurred, the basic answer was startling.  The text of Law 1 never specified the diameter of the penalty mark because (a) the mark has no official diameter and, more surprisingly, (b) the penalty mark doesn’t have to be a circle.  Further, it is not unknown for penalty marks used elsewhere in the world (places which are members of FIFA and adhere to the Laws of the Game, as required) use shapes other than a circle for the penalty mark.  Indeed, “various shapes including doughnut/polo mint, crosses and boxes” was mentioned in the reply of this source.

Two things should be taken from this little excursion.  First, nothing emerged from this discovery that should shatter your world.  The size and shape of the penalty mark is not a big deal — Law 1 is very clear as to where to place whatever shape and size of mark is being used.  Second, it’s always possible to learn something new and, if you ever encounter something you once thought was certain based on what you learned long ago, be open to the possibility that you are dead wrong.…

Dropped Ball Restart Under Current Law

Frijol, a U13 – U19 referee, asks:

If during play a player remains on the ground while play continues, possibly injured with no obvious foul being committed, play is stopped, however I’m a little fuzzy about the restart. I have witnessed other refs passing the ball back to the injured players team to restart! What is the correct restart?

Answer

First, your responsibility is greatly affected by the age and experience level of the players.  If Johnny is young (say, under 14-15), it is quite likely there is a “Johnny’s mom” on the sidelines who is fighting the urge to run onto the field.  This is definitely something you don’t want to happen.  Equally likely, if Johnny’s mom isn’t champing at the bit to run onto the field, then she is likely to be hopping about on the touchline screaming at you to stop play.  Since you are the sole judge of what a “serious” injury is, the younger the players the more likely you should be ready to stop play even if it might seem to you that it is not truly serious – the probability that you should take this approach increases if Johnny is not moving at all and/or if play looks like it might be moving toward Johnny-on-the-ground.

Second, if the reason why Johnny is on the ground is that he had been fouled and you had initially judged it as not serious and Johnny’s team had the ball and was making a promising attack on goal and you have applied advantage and the advantage had not been maintained for very long (2-3 seconds), then you simply whistle for the original foul, wave the coach onto the field (and/or Johnny’s mom!), and then restart based on the foul.

Third, if there was no foul and, depending on the age factor, you decide to stop play solely for the serious injury (it officially became “serious” the moment you stopped play for no other reason), then the Law requires that the restart be a dropped ball.

However, as of June 1, the dropped ball restart has been significantly revised as to how it is done.  You must know two things – one, which team last touched/played/contacted the ball before you stopped play and, two, where did that touch/play/contact occur?  If the touch/play/contact was inside the penalty area of the team which last touched/played/contacted the ball, the restart is from that location and only the goalkeeper of that team is permitted to participate in the drop.  If the location of contact was not in the penalty area of the team whose player made this contact, then any player on the team that last made contact with the ball (one and only one!) can participate but the drop is still taken where that last contact occurred.  All other players of both teams cannot be closer than 4 ½ yards from the location of the restart.  Since you are the one doing the drop, do not do it until you have made sure the other players are no closer than this minimum distance … and it could be a cautionable offense if any of these other players moved in closer just as the ball is dropped but before it hits the ground (it’s a judgment call only you can make).

Any referee who doesn’t follow the procedure in the paragraph immediately above is making a mistake.  Technically, doing anything different would be what is called “setting aside a Law of the Game” and could lead to a valid protest.…

Throw-Ins from Where?

Sid, an adult amateur parent, asks:

Why don’t referees enforce the throw-in point? I can understand a little if a ball flies across the sideline because exact point is a judgment, but I see players easing up the sideline, often several yards beyond, to point the ball rolled across the sideline when doing throw-ins.

Answer

There are several ways we could answer your question.  One is to simply admit that referees don’t enforce the throw-in location as much as they should.  Another is that many referees simply don’t pay that much attention to exactly where the ball leaves the field (they are focusing on who made the last contact with the ball) and, as a result, they see it as easier to simply take the throwing player’s location as OK.  A third reason is grounded in one of the most basic and fundamental principles of officiating, though not expressly stated in the Law because the writers of the Law believed it was so fundamental that it shouldn’t need to be stated (they don’t understand Americans too well also) and that is the notion that (to paraphrase how it was in the Law more than 20 years ago) “constant whistling for doubtful or trifling offenses” is contrary to the spirit of a sport whose core is constant and continuous action.

When you get right down to it, this apparent oversight falls into the same category as the 6-second restriction on how long goalkeepers are allowed to maintain hand control of the ball.  We would venture to say that the percent of goalkeeper possessions whistled at the 6-second mark is virtually zero.  Is that bad or good?  Maybe yes, maybe no – it depends on what is going on and whether a longer time is being taken for an unfair reason.  Same with the throw-in location.

The Law allows one yard.  Occasionally it happens.  More often it is ignored and the throw comes from 2-3 yards from the exit point, but what should not be ignored is when the “extra” distance taken is excessive and/or for an unfair or unsporting reason.  Most people get up tight about the failure to enforce the precise location if it brings the thrower closer to the goal being attacked but a throw being taken closer to the thrower’s goal could be just as unfair for tactical and other reasons.  On the other hand, it is statistically demonstrable that, in roughly two-thirds of all throw-ins, control of the ball changes to the opposing team within 1-2 plays.

What it comes down to is this … did the problem with the throw-in location make a difference?  If no apparent gain is achieved by the erroneous throw-in location, is it really worth stopping play?  Remember, if you whistle, there is no flexibility in the Law as to what must then occur (the other team gains possession and the throw is retaken).  It would be a major officiating error to whistle for this offense and then direct the thrower to do it over but this time from the correct location.  The referee can choose not to whistle (and could certainly verbally warn the thrower as play continues) but, once whistled, the offense must rule the restart.

Taking the 6-second and the 1-yard limitations together and enforcing them strictly would certainly reduce playing time, burn up whistles, and leave a lot of people on and off the field grumbling.  That’s not what makes the game beautiful.…

Encroachment and Restarts

Zain, a U13 – U19 player asks:

If a free kick taker doesn’t ask for 10 yards, is a player from the opposition allowed to stand as close as they want to the ball?

Answer

Yes and no (don’t you just love those kinds of answers?).  The Law clearly states that every opponent on a free kick, goal kick, corner kick, and throw-in (these are the five restarts by players that can be taken quickly) is expected as a matter of course to begin immediately to retreat the minimum distance for whatever is specified for the particular restart.  That’s their obligation under the Law.

On the other hand, the player doing the restart has the right to decide to take the restart even if there are opponents closer than the minimum distance or to request that the referee hold the restart to enforce the minimum distance requirement before signaling for the restart to occur.  Either decision has its positive and negative implications.  A quick restart against closer-than-allowed opponents may be a positive if the quickness of the restart takes advantage of an exploitable “hole” in the defending team’s formation whereas asking for the minimum distance gives the opponents more time to take up stronger defensive positions.  On the other hand, a quick restart with a closer-than-allowed opponent carries the negative potential that, if the restart is not taken the way intended and the ball erroneously goes straight to that closer opponent who can control the ball (this is not illegal under the Law), control of the ball has been unexpectedly lost.  It’s a risk, but it’s a risk that only the team in possession of the restart is allowed to take or not take.

Of course, with younger players who are still learning the game, most referees would, in effect, “take over” and make the decision on behalf and to the advantage of the attacking team because they are too young to understand as yet the options.  For older, skilled, and experienced players, referees are expected to stand back, let things develop, and step in only when either asked by the team with the restart or if the encroachment is so egregious that the misconduct is not only obvious but serious – particularly if it delays the restart of play by, in effect, preventing the restart from even occurring (e.g. kicking the ball away).  And the referee steps in after the restart if an opponent affirmatively violates the minimum distance requirement for the restart (e.g., by rushing in closer than the minimum distance and interfering with play).  And then there is the need to manage the “ploys” attempted by opponents to behave just barely enough in an illegal way to delay the restart to their advantage but not enough to catch the attention or the ire of the referee.

So, the Law answer to your question is no, absolutely not.  No opponent is “allowed” to be closer than the restart’s minimum distance whether the attacking team asks for it or not.  The real world soccer game answer is that, while illegal, it can be ignored by the attacking team – with risks and consequences.

You should note that, as of the 2019-2020 Law changes (see this site’s tab on the subject), there are now several new and unusual “minimum distance” requirements that coaches and players need to be aware of.…

FRD vs DR

Stephan, a U13 – U19 referee, asks (in more detail than can be repeated here):

What is the difference between FRD (the standard short version of “fails to respect the required distance”) and DR (the short version of “delays the restart of play”?  I’m sending this question to look for advice from USSF on how they want DR and FRD to be enforced in scenarios where the defender is deliberately standing over the ball at a free kick. (detailed example redacted). if I do caution for this sort of behavior, I will inevitably get the “but he’s allowed to stand there until the attacker asks for 10” complaint from the opposing team.  Should I be cautioning for this stuff, and if not, why not?  Coaches and players often argue that cautions for this rarely occur in higher level games

Answer

First of all, the website does not speak for USSF.  Whatever we offer here regarding the Laws of the Game comes from our officiating, instructing, and assessing experience.  If you take a look at the home page of the website, under the “About” tab, you see the “rules” under which the site is operated and that includes a clear statement that the website is not and has not been since 2012 an “official” source of USSF interpretations.  The Federation, in fact, has discontinued the prior standard practice of providing such interpretations on any routine basis.

Second, no matter what coaches and players say (keep in mind that they have biased reasons for arguing that their player should not be cautioned for this behavior), such actions are cautioned when appropriate.  Two things to remember here.  One is that you rarely see it because it rarely happens because, at higher levels of play, the players know a lot better than players at lower levels do where the referee sets the line.  The other is that, at higher levels of play, the referee is more experienced regarding steps that can be taken to prevent this sort of behavior.

That said, there is a clear difference between the two offenses connected with a free kick restart (actually, they apply to any dynamic play restart performed by a player for which there is a required distance for the opponents – TI, CK, GK).  One has general application, the other has a very specific application.  We all pretty much understand “failure to respect the required distance” – it is the more common situation and, while it involves various important balancing decisions, it is one which all referees face on a regular basis.  Any opponent who is closer than the required distance is taking a risk of being cautioned if, from within that distance, she interferes with the restart in any way.  The only official action the referee can take to prevent or enforce the interference is if the team with control of the ball on the restart asks for the minimum distance to be enforced, which automatically converts the restart to a ceremony.

The second often comes as a surprise and, particularly for the examples we will give, should result in a caution for delaying the restart of play without hesitation.  Note the difference.  In the first case, it is actually the kicking/throwing team that delays the restart by deciding that they want the minimum distance enforced, but that is their right and, unless, having enforced the minimum distance, an opponent decides at the last moment (i.e., just before the kick is taken) to move from the required distance to somewhere illegally nearer and, from there, interferes with play, we go with what the kicking/throwing team wants.

Here, however, one or more opponents conduct themselves in such a way as to prevent any restart from occurring – for example, kicking the ball away, taking control of the ball and refusing or delaying returning it to the team which has the restart, or (and here is the most interesting example), standing so close to the ball as to prevent it from being kicked entirely.  The referee might wait to see what develops if an opponent is, say, 2-3 yards away from the restart location at the moment of stoppage but is moving backward and giving at least the appearance of being in the process of respecting the required distance.  Referees are advised in such cases to “wait and see” what the team in control of the ball wants to do and go with the flow – in other words, stay out of it until it is clear that the team in control wants or needs intervention.  In this second scenario, however, the referee should step in immediately because, by the sorts of actions suggested here, the opposing team has concretely taken the decision away from the team with the restart by not even allowing them to have the ball or by blocking the ball so closely that the team in possession couldn’t take a restart even if that is what they wanted.  In short, the player who, for example, stands right in front of the ball (or walks across the front of the ball at the critical moment) has deliberately removed the attacking team’s option of restarting immediately.  This caution, thus, is immediate.  By the way, teams in control of the ball at a restart can also be cautioned for delaying the restart of play if they … well … delay the restart of play though, in this case, we advise referees to give the attacking team a warning that their delay is noted and must not continue – after which, they are the ones to get the caution (example: an attacker with a throw-in continues, despite a warning, to somehow fail to throw the ball into the field, despite several apparent tries to do so, or who delays while apparently trying to decide with teammate they will throw the ball to).

By the way, taking note of the following common refrain from players – “but he’s allowed to stand there until the attacker asks for 10” – simply demonstrates either that (a) players haven’t the slightest idea of what the Law actually says or (b) they know but are simply gaming the referee in the hopes that he or she is not experienced enough to know what the Law says.  It is actually very clear.  At the moment of a stoppage where the referee has made it clear which team has control of the ball for the restart (which is why we strongly recommend that referees not delay making this simple fact clear!), all opponents are expected and required to be or stay at or to quickly get to the required distance.

Shielding vs Impeding vs Interference

SJ, a U13 – U19 coach, asks:

We played in a U15 match where one of the defensive backs shielded one of my forwards from going for the ball. When the defender has the ball I believe this is within the rules of the game. However, later in the match, a similar event happened only this time a 2nd defensive back screened the striker making no attempt to play the ball, in essence preventing the movement to the ball allowing the other DB to get there first. Isn’t this interference? I think the restart would be an Indirest free kick for the attacking team. Could you please let me know?

Answer

As with many things regarding the Laws of the Game, it is (a) more complicated than many think, (b) it depends on the context, and (c) the final decision belongs to the referee based on what SHE saw.

Let’s clear up the Law issues first because, surprisingly, they are the simplest.  Shielding and “impedes the progress of an opponent” are often used interchangeably – they should not be.  Only the latter (“impedes the progress”) is in the Law, “shielding” is not.  However, there are several forms of “impeding” – for example, with or without contact and impeding versus “blocking” (which can be found in Laws 11 and 15).  The Laws of the Game Glossary (its dictionary, in effect) provides a simple definition of impeding that covers all of these types – “To delay, block or prevent an opponent’s action or movement“ – and so we have to clarify all of them.   Impeding the progress of an opponent in Law 12 is an indirect free kick foul that applies when, without making contact, a player moves into the way of an opponent for the apparent purpose of stopping, slowing down, or forcing a change of direction of that opponent, with the ball not within playing distance of either player.

So, a player simply standing in one spot which happens to be a spot that an opponent wants to occupy, cannot be impeding that opponent because, having staked out her own location, she has a right to stay there and the opponent has to move around.  Crashing into the player (in an “you’re in my way” manner) becomes an offense (most likely illegal challenging) against the opponent.  If the ball is within playing distance or either or both players, then impeding is exactly what each is attempting to do in the process of gaining/keeping control of the ball – and it’s legal so long as neither one commits any Law 12 foul while doing so.  If there IS contact, it becomes a direct free kick foul.  Now we come to the issue of “context” and “the opinion of the referee” because that is where the “apparent purpose” comes in … and referees have all sorts of clues on this subject (for example, noting that the player running into or across the path of the opponent was focusing her attention on the opponent rather than on the direction in which she was moving).

The action commonly considered “shielding” is actually entirely legal and, while it may be impeding in a general sense (e.g. blocking) an opponent, it is not usually an offense.  An example of this is the situation in which defender A17 has played a ball in such a way that, if it crosses her own goal line, it would result in a corner kick for Team B so A17 tries to get to the ball to prevent it from leaving the field while B29 very much wants the ball to leave the field and attempts to “shield” A17 from getting the ball by interposing herself between A17 and the goal line.  B29’s challenge is to remain within playing distance of the ball as it moves toward the goal line and to not “hold” A17 within the meaning of Law 12.  A17’s challenge is to get around B29 without anything more than incidental contact with B29 and definitely not contact which would be considered “pushing/pulling” under Law 12.  Everyone gets frustrated and both the referee and the nearer AR are watching this play like hawks for any infractions of the Law.

“ Impeding” without movement is illegal only under two circumstances – offside offense and defending against a throw-in.  An attacker commits an offside offense merely by (with or without moving) being in the way of any opponent while that attacker is in an offside position – this is considered interfering with an opponent.  In the case of Law 15, a player who is closer than 2 yards to an opposing player’s throw-in or who, in the opinion of the referee, is acting in such a way as to distract or interfere with the thrower even if she is at or farther way than the minimum two yards away distance has also committed an offense but, although Law 15 uses the term “impeding,” it is not the same as a Law 12 impeding offense.

Back to your question (you thought we would never get there!).  Clearly, the situation you described first was not an impeding offense if and only if at least one of the two combatants was within playing distance of the ball.  Your second scenario, however, doesn’t include enough information (see above) to tell whether it was different from or essentially the same as the first scenario.  It all depends on (a)  whether the defensive back was within playing distance of the ball and (b) whether that defensive back had already established her position, thus forcing the striker to take extra time and distance to get around her or whether the defensive back moved into or with the striker as the striker attempted to move around the defensive back and (c) stayed with playing distance of the ball during the whole shielding time and (d) the referee saw all this (remember, what YOU saw doesn’t matter – don’t take it personally).  Remember also that actually attempting to play the ball is not the issue — the issue is “being within playing distance.”…