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The Official Rules of Small-Side Soccer

(played on turf with no boarded boundaries)

Copyright © by the United States Indoor Soccer Association. All rights reserved.

Popular indoors, particularly during outdoor soccer’s off-season, the small-side form of soccer combines elements of the boarded game of arena soccer and futsal. It is often played on indoor fields built specifically for training, but it can also be played crossways on full-size fields, including outdoors, with portable goals and seating, cone dividers, netting, field lines, and other demarcations or barricades.

Given the game’s origination as a training game – different from what it is – field design, and based on accommodations for available space and building structure, this hybrid game has lacked any set official rules – that is, until now. Fortunately, with many of the futsal rules conforming more and more to those of the boarded game of indoor soccer (e.g., kick-ins, goal clearances), devising the rules of this game has become a little easier than it would have been previously.

What’s more, small-sided turf fields’ growing number, along with business necessities have given rise to leagues, tournaments and fan followings throughout many local communities, making it ever-more important that the game have its own set of rules. The purpose of these rules, therefore, is to provide standards of play in order to foster the game’s growth and identity.

These rules shall adopt The Official Rules of Indoor Soccer (“INDOOR”), except as expressly set forth herein, with variations compared to futsal also noted. Facilities, promoters, tournaments, and leagues seeking sanction may apply directly to USIndoor to obtain the waiver of any necessary “house rules,” as well as to have their referees certified.

The Field of Play

Reasonable variations in field dimensions are permissible, subject to building specifications and alternative uses. Otherwise, the INDOOR standards for field specifications, markings and goal size shall apply. There shall be no red lines (i.e., for three-line violations), touchlines, or referee crease. These rules will permit a penalty area in the shape of a box, rather than an arch, despite such preference.

The Players

The number of players should be relative to the size of field and age group. In most circumstances involving play above U12, no fewer than four (4) or more than six (6), including a goalkeeper, shall be allowed. During an overtime period, neither team shall play with more than the minimum. In coed, the ratio of males to females shall be set by the administrative authority.

Each team may substitute players freely; provided that, during play, players must substitute off the field of play or within the immediate area of their team bench, and goalkeepers shall wait for a stoppage to enter the field and so notify the referee.

Duration of the Game

A regulation game consists of two halves, with duration according to “house rules” and the following:

  1. Overtime period and tiebreaker: If, in a tournament or playoff, the game is tied at the end of regulation, a 5-minute “golden goal” overtime period follows. If still tied, a tiebreaker takes place, as described below.
  2. Running clock: Except in the case of an unusual delay, determined by the referee, the game clock counts down continuously through each half or overtime period.

The Start and Restart of Play

All starts and restarts shall be “direct”. That is, goals may be scored directly off of such opportunities without touching another player.

The home team takes the kickoff for the first half kickoff and any overtime period, and the visiting team takes the kickoff for the second half. The referee designates the teams’ defensive ends, according to “house rules.”

Before taking a free kick, the ball must be stationary. All opposing players shall be at least 15 feet from the spot of the ball (or, if within 15 feet of the opponent’s goal along the goal line). Except for kickoffs and the following instance, restarts shall occur within three feet (3′) from the spot of the ball:

  1. Within own penalty arch: from any spot therein.
  2. Within opponent’s penalty arch: at the free kick mark (“top of the arch”).
  3. Delayed penalty:
    1. according to the ensuing stoppage, as normally administered, or
    2. in case the defending team obtains possession of the ball during play, at the spot of the original offense. (See unabridged rules where the original offense would have resulted in a shootout.)
  4. Kick-in: from the point on the sideline nearest where the ball exited play.
  5. Corner kick: from the nearer corner of the field to where the ball last crossed the endline.
  6. Halfway-line violation: from the offending goalkeeper’s restart mark.
  7. Superstructure violation: from the restart mark nearer to where the ball was last played.

If neither team has clear possession of the ball at a stoppage, the referee restarts play with a dropped ball. A dropped ball caused while the ball is inside a penalty arch takes place at the free kick mark.

Play restarts with a goalkeeper distribution (or punt in U12 divisions and younger) anywhere within the penalty arch after an attacking player has last touched the ball before crossing an end perimeter wall.

Fouls and Other Violations

A foul occurs if a player:

  1. Holds an opponent
  2. Handles the ball (except by the goalkeeper within his penalty arch)
  3. Plays in a dangerous manner (e.g., a slide tackle)
  4. Impedes the progress of an opponent (“obstruction”)
  5. Prevents the goalkeeper from releasing the ball from his hands

and when a player commits the following in a manner that the referee considers careless, serious, reckless, or involving excessive force:

  1. Kicks an opponent
  2. Trips an opponent
  3. Jumps at an opponent
  4. Charges an opponent
  5. Strikes or elbows an opponent
  6. Pushes an opponent

Unsporting behavior: A free kick results for the following offenses:

  1. Leverage: Using the body of a teammate or any part of the field to gain an advantage;
  2. Encroachment: Entering the protected area of an opposing player taking a free kick (after initial warning);
  3. Dissent:
    1. Referee abuse
    2. Breach of penalty area decorum;
  4. Other: Behavior which, in the Referee’s discretion, does not warrant another category of penalty (e.g., taunting, foul language.)

Goalkeeper violations: The opposing team receives a free kick for the following violations by a goalkeeper:

  1. Illegal handling: Bringing the ball from outside of the penalty arch to his hand within it, or receiving the ball again after a goalkeeper distribution without the ball’s having first touched another player (e.g., no drop-kicking or bouncing the ball)
  2. Pass back: Handling the ball, having been passed deliberately and directly to him by a teammate; except that he may handle a ball which a teammate passes to him by the head, chest, or knee and without “trickery” (the use of a wall or foot to flick the ball to a head, chest, or knee before making the pass)
  3. Halfway line pass: Distributing the ball past the halfway line in the air without its touching another player
  4. 5-seconds: Controlling the ball with either his hand or foot inside of his penalty arch for over five (5) seconds.

Team violations: The referee issues a team penalty for the following violations by a team or unidentified person:

  1. Leaving team bench: Players leave a team bench to join a fracas or confrontation with the opposition or a game official
  2. Bench dissent: After an initial “warning,” one or more unidentifiable players verbally abuse the referee
  3. Other: unsporting behavior, which, in the referee’s discretion, does not warrant another category of penalty (e.g., too many players on the field)

Advantage rule: The referee allows play to continue, notwithstanding the commission of an offense, when the team against which it has been committed will benefit from an existing offensive advantage.

Flagrant fouls: A shootout is awarded for the following fouls committed by a defender in his or her defensive half of the field:

  1. A foul within the penalty arch or goal for which he receives a yellow or red Card;
  2. A foul from behind against an attacking player, having control of the ball and one or no defensive players between himself and the goal; and
  3. Any foul where he or she is the last player on the team between the attacking player with the ball and the goal.

Cautionable offenses: The referee issues a yellow card for unsporting behavior, serious and reckless fouls and for:

  1. Deliberate handball or handball by a goalkeeper;
  2. Goalkeeper endangerment;
  3. Any foul by the goalkeeper during a shootout;
  4. Provoking altercation: Making physical contact with an opponent (e.g., pushing or poking), short of fighting, or using the ball in so doing.

Ejectionable offenses: A person receives a red card for fouls, which the referee considers violent or committed with excessive force, and for:

  1. Second cautionable offense;
  2. Elbowing: Intentionally elbowing an opponent above the shoulder;
  3. Vicious slide tackling: A tackle from the side or from behind directly into one or both legs of an opponent, seriously endangering him;
  4. Fighting;
  5. Leaving team bench or penalty area to engage in a fracas or confrontation with the opposition or a game official;
  6. Extreme unsporting behavior: Committing particularly despicable behavior, including:
    1. Spitting at an opponent or any other person;
    2. Persistent use of extremely abusive language or behavior toward a game official;
    3. Bodily contact with a game official in dissent.

An ejected player shall leave the area visible to the field of play for the remainder of the game (subject to further rules of the administrative authority), and the player’s team shall play short-handed for two (2) minutes or until the opposing team scores, whichever occurs first. The player who enters the field thereafter shall await a game stoppage and so notify the referee upon entry.

NOTE: No blue cards or time penalties other than for red cards.

Shootouts and Penalty Kicks

Shootout: For a shootout:

  1. Any player may take the shootout;
  2. All players of the attacking team stand on or behind the halfway line and outside of the center circle. Players of the defending team stand behind the halfway line and inside of the center circle;
  3. The ball is placed at the restart mark nearer the attacking goal;
  4. The goalkeeper has at least one foot on his goal line and may not move off of it until after the referee whistles the shootout to begin;
  5. Once the referee whistles the shootout to begin, the ball is “in play” and the player taking the shootout plays the ball.

Penalty Kick: A penalty kick proceeds the same as a shootout except:

  1. The ball is placed at the free-kick mark;
  2. The goalkeeper has at least one foot on his goal line until the ball is in play; and
  3. The player taking the penalty kick may not touch the ball again until after it touches another player.

Tiebreaker: A tiebreaker proceeds by shootouts, except that:

  1. The referee designates the goal at which both teams shoot and the team which shoots first (according to administrative policy);
  2. All players, other than the player taking the shot and the defending goalkeeper, remain within their team bench areas;
  3. Both teams have up to three (3) shots, with players from each team kicking alternately;
  4. If, at any time, a team obtains a two-goal advantage, the tiebreaker ceases and the winner is declared;
  5. If, after both teams have taken three (3) shots, neither has an advantage, the tiebreaker continues, alternating one player at a time, until both teams have taken an equal number of shots and one team has scored when the other has not;
  6. The player has five (5) seconds to score after the referee’s whistle.

Key Differences Among Arena Soccer, Futsal and Small-Side Soccer

Official Rules of: Indoor Soccer | Futsal | Small-Side Soccer
Arena Soccer
Small-Side Soccer
Artificial turf (in general), boardsHard flooring, no boardsArtificial turf, no boards
Standard indoor ballLow-bounce indoor ballStandard indoor or outdoor ball
3-line violationsNo offsides or red lines (3-line violations)No offsides or red lines (3-line violations)
All starts and restarts are direct kicksMost starts and restarts are indirect kicksAll starts and restarts are direct kicks
Blue cardsNo blue cardsNo blue cards
Time penalties for all cardsTime penalty only for red cardsTime penalty only for red cards
No foul accumulationFoul accumulationNo foul accumulation
ShootuoutsPenalty kicksShootouts
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