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Yellow and Red Cards in Soccer

Ever wonder what yellow and red cards mean in the game of soccer?

In the game of soccer, yellow and red cards are used by the referees to manage player conduct. They are used as a disciplinary tool. A yellow card is issued as a cautionary measure that serves as a warning for minor offenses. A red card is solely for serious fouls and violent conduct.

Let us learn more specifics on when and why a referee would use a yellow and red card during a match.

What Law Governs Yellow and Red Cards in Soccer?

IFAB (International Football Association Board) Law 12 Fouls and Misconduct defines what actions merit a yellow and red card in Soccer. The difference between the two is “the yellow card communicates a caution, and the red card communicates a sending-off.” Additionally, “only a player, substitute player, or team official may be shown a red or yellow card.”

Yellow Card in Soccer

referee issuing yellow card in soccer

Internationally the color yellow is used to translate caution or to slow down. Likewise, a yellow card in soccer is a disciplinary tool to caution against player misconduct stemming from minor offenses. The referee is the only game official responsible for issuing penalty cards.

Once a player commits an offense that warrants a yellow card, the referee runs toward the player and pulls a yellow card from his/her pocket while looking directly and/or pointing at the player at fault. The referee then writes down the foul’s details, exact time, and player number, usually referred to as a booking.

How Many Yellow Cards Can a Player Recieve in One Game?

two yellow cards equal one red card in soccer

One player can receive no more than two yellow cards in one game. If a referee believes that a player committed two fouls that were worthy of receiving a yellow card, the player would be ejected off the field after the second card.

Essentially, two yellow cards would be the equivalent of one red card. So much so, that after the referee displays the yellow card to the same player for the second time, he/she then pulls out and displays the red card to the same player. Usually after displaying the red card, the referee will point toward the locker room which emphasizes that the player has been kicked out of the game.

How Many Yellow Cards Can a Player Receive in One Season?

It depends on which league the player belongs to. Each league has different guidelines that govern how many yellow cards a player can accumulate during a season and what disciplinary actions stem from that accumulation.

In Major League Soccer (MLS) yellow card accumulation will warrant fines and suspensions. As per MLS competition guidelines, if a player were to accumulate 5 yellow cards he would be fined $250 and a suspension from his next regular MLS match. This is the lowest punishment that a player can receive in the MLS. As a player continues to accumulate yellow cards the fines and frequency of suspensions increase.

Yellow Card
Accumulation
FineSuspension
5$250Next MLS Match
8$500Next MLS Match
11$750Next MLS Match
13$1,000Next MLS Match
15$2,000Next MLS Match

What Would Warrant a Yellow Card in Soccer?

• Delaying the restart of the play
• Dissent by word or action
• Entering, re-entering, or deliberately leaving the field of play without the
referee’s permission
• Failing to respect the required distance when play is restarted with a
dropped the ball, corner kick, free kick, or throw-in
• Persistent offenses (no specific number or pattern of offenses constitutes
“persistent”)
• Unsporting behavior
• Entering the referee review area (RRA)
• Excessively using the “review” (TV screen) signal

Red Card in Soccer

Referee issuing red card in soccer

Internationally the color red is used to translate danger or to stop. Likewise, a red card in soccer is used when a player commits a dangerous and violent act. It stops the player from continuing to play and is instantly sent off, aka ejected. The referee is the only game official responsible for issuing penalty cards.

Once a player commits a violent offense that warrants a red card, the referee runs toward the player and pulls a red card from his/her pocket while looking directly and/or pointing at the player at fault. He/she follows by pointing toward the locker room, meaning the player has been sent off. The referee then writes down the foul’s details, exact time, and player number, usually referred to as a booking.

How Many Red Cards Can a Player Receive in One Game?

The maximum number of red cards that a soccer player can receive during a game is one. There are some instances that the actions of a player warrant the issuance of a red card which effectively forces the player to be “sent off” (removed from the game). Additionally, the team must play the remainder of the game with one man down.

Anytime a player is sent off it creates a huge disadvantage for his team. Opposing teams usually will become more aggressive in their attacks because they recognize that for the remainder of the game, it essentially becomes 11 vs. 10.

How Many Red Cards Can a Player Receive in One Season?

In the MLS, red cards will usually lead to a one-game suspension. However, the league, in its sole discretion, can dictate if a player must be suspended for multiple games. Factors that usually lead to such actions are related to an aggressive player that receives numerous red cards during a season.

What Would Warrant a Red Card in Soccer?

A player, substitute, or substituted player who commits any of the following
offenses are sent off:


• Denying the opposing team a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity by
a handball offense (except a goalkeeper within their penalty area)
• Denying a goal or an obvious goal-scoring opportunity to an opponent whose
the overall movement is toward the offender’s goal by an offense punishable by
a free kick
• Serious foul play
• Biting or spitting at someone
• Violent conduct
• Using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or action(s)
• Receiving a second caution in the same match
• Entering the video operation room (VOR)

Can a Manager Receive a Yellow or Red Card?

Absolutely. Per the MLS, “In all instances, coaches and all technical staff will generally be held to a higher professional standard than players.” Any of these individuals may be issued a yellow or red card by the referee if they are guilty of misconduct. Any team official that is sent off the field will suffer a one-game suspension along with fines.

Can a Yellow or Red Card Be Reversed?

VAR reviewing red card incident in soccer

Per IFAB Law #5the decision of the referee regarding facts connected with play, including whether or not a goal is scored and the result of the match, are final.”

Additionally, “the referee may not change a restart decision on realizing that it is incorrect or on the advice of another match official if play has restarted or the referee has signaled the end of the first or second half (including extra time) and left the field of play or abandoned the match.”

The video assistant referee (VAR) may assist the referee but only with incidents that are considered game-changing. These are the following incidents that will always be reviewed by VAR:

  • Goals
  • Penalty decisions
  • Direct red card incidents
  • Mistaken identity

VAR will not review yellow card incidents so therefore, if a referee issues a yellow card it can not be reversed once play has restarted. However, if a referee calls for a foul and shows a yellow card but quickly realizes that it was a mental error, he/she can waive it off only before the game restarts.

VAR will review red card incidents. If during the review VAR determines that a red card should not have been given, a referee can downgrade it to a yellow card or rescind it.

Conclusion

IFAB (International Football Association Board) Law 12 Fouls and Misconduct governs the issuance of yellow and red cards in soccer. A yellow card is issued when a player commits a foul that stems from minor offenses and is used as a disciplinary tool to caution against player misconduct. A red card is issued when a player commits a dangerous and violent act. It stops the player from continuing play and is sent off.

The maximum amount of yellow cards that a player can receive in a game is two which is the equivalent of one red card. The maximum amount of red cards a player can receive in a game is one. Different soccer leagues manage yellow card and red card accumulations throughout a season slightly differently, but most issue game suspensions and/or fines.

Team officials are also at risk of receiving yellow and/or red cards. For the most part, a referee’s decision is final, therefore yellow cards can not be rescinded. The same applies to red cards unless it is reviewed and determined that it was given in error.