Talking Points: Goalkeeper distribution

Over recent weeks, there have been a number of incidents relating to possible offenses involving goalkeepers releasing the ball from their hands to put it back into play. These have generated debate among the soccer public. As such, PRO has provided a short instructional piece on this subject to its match officials:

The Laws of the Game state an indirect free kick is awarded if a player prevents the goalkeeper from releasing the ball from the hands or kicks or attempts to kick the ball when the goalkeeper is in the process of releasing it.

Example 1: TOR vs VAN

In this incident from MLS Week 2, Vancouver Whitecaps No.4 moved towards the goalkeeper, lifted his leg and made contact with the ball while the goalkeeper was in the process of kicking the ball. The goalkeeper had not yet distributed the ball, so the referee was correct to stop play and award an indirect free kick.

Example 2: NYC vs TOR

In MLS Week 5, there was an incident in the New York City versus Toronto FC match which was different in a few ways. In this situation, the goalkeeper moved towards NYC No.19. The NYC player did not move towards the goalkeeper. There was also some distance between NYC No.19 and the goalkeeper (2.9 yards) when the ball was kicked by the goalkeeper, who was able to distribute the ball in this case. NYC No.19 jumped straight up, and not towards the goalkeeper, to intercept the ball which had already been distributed.

This is comparable to a free kick situation where the team takes the kick quickly and a defender who has not had time to retreat moves laterally to intercept the ball, which is allowed in the Laws of the Game, with the risk being taken by the team taking the quick free kick. The same principle applies here, and ultimately a goal should have been awarded.

When evaluating these situations, consider the following:
• Does the player move to the point where the goalkeeper is going to distribute the ball?
• What is the distance between the player and the goalkeeper?
• Does the player PREVENT the goalkeeper from distributing the ball?
• Does the player make a clear action TOWARDS the goalkeeper or does the player INTERCEPT a ball that has already been distributed?

Example 3: PHI vs HFD

In this incident from the USL Championship, the goalkeeper moved towards the point on the field where the attacker was standing. The attacker did not move to a different position to prevent the goalkeeper from distributing the ball. The attacker raised his leg straight up into the air and intercepted the ball after it had been distributed, and did not move his leg towards the goalkeeper. There was a considerable amount of space between the goalkeeper and the attacker, and therefore the goalkeeper was able to cleanly distribute the ball. The referee was correct to award a goal to the attacking team.

Example 4: HOU vs UTA

In this incident from NWSL, the attacker moved to the point where the goalkeeper was going to distribute the ball. When she blocked the clearance, her foot was approximately one yard away from the goalkeeper’s foot. This movement and subsequent action by the attacker prevented the goalkeeper from distributing the ball. The officiating team were correct to cancel the goal and award an indirect free kick to the defending team.

Example 5: CIN vs MIA

In this situation from MLS, the attacker ran to the point where the goalkeeper was going to distribute the ball. He jumped towards the goalkeeper with his leg extended to prevent the clearance. Due to this movement and the direction of the jump, had this attacker made contact with the ball the referee should have awarded an indirect free kick to the defending team.

When examining all these incidents, officials were reminded of the importance of applying the considerations mentioned above. No two incidents are exactly the same, and subtle variances can make a difference to the final outcome in each case. However, by following similar thought processes, and analyzing incidents with these considerations in mind, it is hoped officials can feel confident in their reading of such situations, and be consistent in the outcomes achieved.