Behind the ref’s whistle is a reason for it

Marcus Barkley

Confused by the offsides rule? This miniature guide can help

Junior midfielder Caitlin Hester attempts her patented flip throw-in during the Flashes’ game against Youngstown State on Aug. 24.

Credit: Daniel R. Doherty

Soccer- it’s the world’s game, regardless of what American football fans think. But even though the game is picked up by children in most countries before they learn to speak, a majority of people in the United States don’t know the difference between a P.K. (penalty kick) and a D.K. (direct kick).

Kent State soccer coach Rob Marinaro said what makes soccer harder to watch for the casual sports fan is the lack of popularity for the sport nationwide, especially in the past.

“Soccer is not a sport that is played by a large majority (in America),” Marinaro said. “So the rules are a little harder to follow.”


The offsides call is easily the most disputed and least understood area of the game, according to most soccer enthusiasts. Even fans who have been watching for years often do not fully understand the rule. Assistant coach Abby Richter said offsides, along with lack of scoring, is something that keeps many people away from watching soccer games.

“I think a lot of people don’t quite get the game because there’s not a lot of scoring,” Richter said. “Offsides is also a big thing that people don’t understand because, like hockey, soccer has changed its offsides rules to make it more of an offensive-minded game.”

For a player to be offsides, two criteria must be met. The first is a player must be in an offsides position. According to, an attacking player without the ball must have one defender besides the goalie between him and the goal.

The second criteria is the player in the offsides position must be “in the play”. This means that a player can be “offsides” but not be called for it if he or she does not touch or come near the ball. But if an offsides player touches the ball or gets involved in the play, such as blocking a defender trying to get the ball, they are called offsides. An indirect kick is rewarded. Offsides can be called on any play as long as it occurs on the defending team’s side of the field. It is not called following a throw-in before the ball has hit the ground or been struck by a player.

Direct vs. Indirect Kicks

The difference between direct and indirect kicks is sometimes hard to understand, but can be simplified by looking at the words direct and indirect.

“An indirect kick has to be touched before it goes into the goal. A direct kick can go directly into the goal,” Richter said. “I think the wording can help you out right there.”

A direct kick is normally given when a foul is committed against a player. That player’s team is rewarded the kick, which counts if it goes into the goal. Both kicks are taken wherever the foul was committed, regardless of where the ball is when the whistle blows.

An indirect kick is given under a certain list of circumstances, which include the goalie using his or her hands outside the designated area. An indirect kick is signaled by the official raising his hand, while a direct kick does not have a hand signal.

An indirect kick must be touched by another player on either team before it goes into the goal. To combat this issue, many teams will set up two players beside a ball before an indirect kick. When the whistle is blown to take the kick, one player will tap the ball and the other player will then deliver a shot at the goal.

Penalty Kicks

Arguably one of the most exciting elements of a soccer game is the penalty kick. A penalty kick is awarded when a foul, which would normally result in a direct kick, is committed inside the defending team’s penalty box. When the call is made, the team taking the kick can choose whoever they want on the field to take the penalty kick.

The person chosen for the kick will stand at the penalty kick mark, with the goalie standing anywhere on the goal line. The goalie may not move forward or backwards off the line until the shooter’s foot strikes the ball, though the goalie may move side-to-side.

The other players must stay behind the penalty box until the ball is kicked. If the ball is blocked or hits off a post or the crossbar, it is instantly in play.

Yellow and red cards

Yellow and red cards are given for different violations, and are given, at least in part, under the referee’s discretion. Yellow cards are minor fouls, and the card is given as a warning. After receiving two yellow cards, a player must leave the game and that player’s team has to play with one fewer player on the field. The player who is given two yellows, which is shown by the official by showing a yellow and red card together, is suspended for the next game as well, which is also true for any straight red card offense.

Red cards are major fouls and are normally given out for serious offenses. Though some of the more notable moments in soccer history involve violent fouls that result in red cards (and often team fights afterwards), these violations are seldom seen in collegiate play.

“The red card is usually not seen very often, if at all, at least at our level,” Marinaro said. “Yellow cards are quite common – you’ll probably see one to two, sometimes up to four or five in a game, depending on how physical the game is.”


Collegiate soccer substitution rules differ from international rules. In international play, which is normally governed by the laws of FIFA, a team gets three substitutions for the entire game.

“The only really big difference (between FIFA and NCAA rules) would be the substitution rule,” Marinaro said. “At the collegiate level, you can substitute as many people as you want.”

Contact sports correspondent Marcus Barkley at [email protected].