Law 11 - Offside
- 08/12/2009 - When Defenders Leave the Field
- A US Soccer memorandum clarifying the application of the offside Law when a defender leaves the field of play.
- 10/17/2007 – Offside Myths
- A US Soccer Memorandum that summarizes and clarifies the definitions and applications of Law 11 in simplified terminology.
- 08/24/2006 – Law 11 – Interfering with Play and Interfering with an Opponent
- A US Soccer Memorandum that clarifies the FIFA definitions of “interfering with play” and “interfering with an opponent.” Refer to the section below “Does the Player Have to Touch the Ball” for further information.
- 08/24/2005 – Law 11 - Offside IFAB advice on the application of Law 11, decision 2
- A US Soccer Memorandum publicizing a FIFA Clarification on when a player becomes “actively involved” in play for determining purposes of the offside law.
A player who is in an offside position may only be declared offside if he is involved in “active play” which means one of three factors is present:
- The offside player has “interfered with play” by playing or touching a ball that has been passed or last touched by a teammate.
- The offside player has “interfered with an opponent” by preventing the opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the opponent’s line of vision or movements or the offside player makes a gesture or movement which, in the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts an opponent.
- The offside player has “gained and advantage” from being in his offside position by playing a ball (that has last been played or touched by a teammate) that has either: (a) rebounded/deflected to him off a goalpost or the crossbar; or (b) that rebounds/deflects to him off an opponent.
Remember, in each of the three cases above, the assumption is that the player was in an offside position at the time the ball was last played/touched by a teammate.
Law 11 uses the term “active play” to assist in the definition of determining an offside infringement. “Active play” is a term that varies depending upon the skill and age level of the players.
- The higher the skill level of the players, the smaller the area of “active play.” In other words, the closer the offside positioned player must be to an opponent for the player to be judged to have “interfered with an opponent.” Skilled players have a greater ability to adjust to and play in tighter situations and are less affected by opponent positions.
- The lower the skill level of the players, the larger the area of “active play.” In other words, offside positioned players may be further from the opponent to be judged to have “interfered with an opponent.” At lower skill levels, match officials have slightly more leeway to determine “active play” and “interfering with an opponent.”
- Video Clip: Galaxy at New York (34:48)
This clip involves the concept of “active play.” This is a professional game. Hence, the skill level of the players is very high. As a consequence, the area of “active play” is small. To “interfere with an opponent,” the offside player must be much closer than at the non-professional or youth levels where the skill level of the participants may not be as high.
This clip provides an example of a situation where “interfering with an opponent” is not a factor and play should be allowed to continue. Despite the closeness of the offside positioned attacker (white jersey), the attacker has not entered the area of “active play” and therefore does not “interfere with the opponent’s” ability to play the ball. A player at this level should be able to cleanly play or head the ball despite the location of the offside attacker.
The following items are key visual indicators that should assist in making a no-offside decision:
- The defender has plenty of space to cleanly head the ball. The offside positioned attacker is not the cause of his misplay.
- The offside positioned attacker declares himself not involved in “active play” by freezing and not making a move to play the ball or interfere with the defender’s ability to play the ball.
- The offside positioned player does not “interfere with play” as he does not play or touch the ball that has been passed by his teammate.
- In general, this is not offside at most levels but certainly not at the professional level. Assistant referees (ARs) must refrain from indicating offside until one of the three factors are present. Use of the “wait and see” principle will aid in correct decision making and ensuring the area of “active play” is appropriately defined relative to “interfering with an opponent.” ARs should take their time, evaluate all the visual signs and then make a definite decision regarding offside.
- Video Clip: Galaxy at New York (41:14)
Clip 2 involves all three offside concepts: “gaining an advantage” by being in an offside position, “interfering with play” and “interfering with an opponent.” In this situation, the referee team uses sound judgment to decide that the offside position player should not be sanctioned for being in an offside position at the time the ball was played by a teammate.
From approximately 30 yards from goal, an attacker takes a shot. At this time, there is a teammate of the attacker (white jersey) in an offside position in the penalty area. The goalkeeper makes a diving save but is unable to maintain control of the ball and it deflects/rebounds off his hands. The rebound goes to another attacker who was in an onside position and outside the penalty area at the time of the shot. This onside positioned attacker shoots the ball which again deflects/rebounds off the goalkeeper.
Let’s evaluate each of the three offside concepts and see how they apply to this no offside call:
- Interfering with play
The offside positioned player does not touch or play the ball after it deflects directly off the kicker. He moves toward the ball but he does not touch it and he stops his run when he realizes his teammate will play the ball. Consequently, this player has not interfered with play.
- Interfering with an opponent
There are two instances where the offside positioned player has the opportunity to “interfere with an opponent.” The first instance occurs on the initial 30-yard shot on goal. Although the player is in an offside position, he is not obstructing the goalkeeper’s line of vision as he is not in the direct path of the ball and the goalkeeper is not prevented/distracted from clearly seeing the ball as it approaches him. The second opportunity to “interfere with an opponent” comes after the keeper makes the save and while the ball is rolling free. At this time, the offside positioned attacker makes a move toward the ball as if to play it, while at the same time, a defender is making a run to get to the deflected ball. Although both the defender and the offside position player cross paths, the offside positioned attacker does not obstruct the defender’s movement or ability to get to and eventually play the ball.
- Gaining an advantage
Remember, “gaining an advantage” can only occur when an offside positioned player plays/touches a ball that deflects/rebounds off the goalpost, crossbar or an opponent after the ball has last been played/touched by a teammate. In this case, although the ball deflects off the goalkeeper, there cannot be an offside infraction for this component of the Law due to the fact that the offside positioned player does not touch the ball.
Match officials and particularly ARs need to remember the following statement. It is the first sentence of Law 11 – Offside:
- It is not an offense in itself to be in an offside position.
- Once offside position is determined, the offside player must be involved in “active play” by:
- Interfering with play; or
- Interfering with an opponent; or
- Gaining an advantage from being in an offside position.
Once one of these three components is present, the AR should raise the flag to indicate offside.
The “wait and see” principle must be applied in this offside/no offside decision. When two attackers (one offside positioned player and on onside positioned player) go for the ball, apply the “wait and see” principle to see who touches the ball and, therefore, “interferes with play.”
On August 24, 2006, USSF issued a memorandum based on the developing interpretation and application of Law 11 which specifically laid out the proposition that “interfering with play” requires either touching the ball or making a credible move to play the ball. Acting to avoid contact (if successful) does not meet either of these criteria. An attacker in an offside position must act (touch the ball, move to the ball, interfere with an opponent, block an opponent, distract or deceive an opponent) to be declared offside. Action to avoid involvement (if successful) must be excluded.
- Video Clip: New York at FC Dallas - In a match on April 15, 2007, between the New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas (clip attached), Red Bulls player #19 (Richards) shoots on goal. The ball is stopped and deflected by Dallas goalkeeper #1 (Hislop) but it goes to Red Bulls player #11 (van den Bergh) who takes another shot on goal
When van den Bergh strikes the ball, his teammate, Mathis (#13) is in an offside position – indeed, Mathis is just barely above the goal line on the right hand side of the goal – and the ball is moving directly toward him. Mathis jumps up and the ball passes under him into the net for a score.
The following issues and concerns are raised by this scenario:
- The only action Mathis took was to avoid contact with the ball.
- In so doing, he did not block an opponent’s movement or vision or deceive or distract an opponent.
- Mathis did not commit an offside violation because he was not actively involved in play by interfering with play, interfering with an opponent, or gaining an advantage.
Referees should remember that a scenario such as this one, which might have been called differently in years past, must now meet more stringent standards for an offside violation. Although the basic requirements for an offside violation under Law 11 remain the same, our understanding of how to implement these requirements has been evolving to match the modern game.
In the following example, we see a classic example why it is important for ARs to “hold the flag” on offside decisions to determine if a player in an offside position is actually the one to become involved in play and thus be officially declared “offside:”
- Video Clip: LA Galaxy at Chivas USA - In a match played in Los Angeles on April 28, 2007, an incident took place which is a classic example of one of the most contentious issues in the offside decision – two attackers pursuing the ball, one coming from an offside position and one coming from an onside position. The incident also emphasizes the vital need for officials to avoid hasty decisions and to wait to see how the play develops.
In the 86th minute, Galaxy #24 (Sturgis) played the ball forward into space. At the time, Galaxy #11 (Jaqua) was in an offside position near the center of the field and his teammate, Galaxy #10 (Donovan), was onside well behind the second to last defender to Jaqua’s right. Both attackers reacted almost immediately and began sprinting hard to the ball. Although Donovan started about three yards behind his teammate, he had pulled level with him within the next few strides. There is no indication that Jaqua interfered with any opponent.
In situations where an attacker is coming from an onside position and another attacker coming from an offside position, each with an equally credible chance of getting to the ball, it is imperative that officials withhold a decision until either it becomes clear which attacker will get to the ball first (even if this means having to wait until one or the other player actually touches the ball) or the action of the attacker coming from the offside position causes one or more opponents to be deceived or distracted.
ARs are not to raise the flag unless 100% sure that the player in an offside position is the one involved in the play.
- Video Clip: D.C. United at Chivas USA (24:30)
Prior to the decision shown in this clip, the AR has been required to make two other close offside decisions that were questioned. As a consequence, the AR may still be questioning himself and thus may have lost focus and concentration.
At the moment the ball is passed by his teammate, virtually the entire body of the attacker is in front of the second-to-last defender. Hence, there is no benefit of doubt to the attack in this situation. The attacker should be declared offside once the AR has determined that he is “interfering with play.” According to the Laws of the Game, the player should be declared offside because, at the time the ball is passed by his teammate, he has “interfered with play” while being “nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second last opponent.”
Notice how the AR is running forward when the offside pass is made. While the AR is running forward, the defender is moving in the opposite direction. The AR has not given himself the best opportunity to get this decision correct because he is running forward and not sidestepping. Sidestepping would enable him to move with more precision and match the precise movements of the defender and, therefore, be more accurately positioned to make a split second decision.
- Video Clip: Real Salt Lake at Los Angeles Galaxy (50:54)
A corner kick is taken which then results in a pass or service from the other side of the field into the penalty area. At the time of the service (51:00), four attackers in the penalty area are in onside positions because they are NOT “nearer to the opponents’ goal line.”
However, as the ball reaches its intended target, it is deflected off the head of a defender to one of the onside attackers (even though the attackers are in an offside position at the time of the deflection, they cannot be declared offside because they were onside when the ball was last played/touched by a teammate).
One of the attackers then shoots the deflected ball at goal. At this point, a new phase of play begins and a new judgment point for offside is initiated. At the time of the attacker’s shot, a teammate has slipped to the ground directly in front of the shooter. Despite the fact the player is laying on the ground, his feet and his body are closer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-to-last defender. As a result, he is in an offside position and if he plays or touches the ball, he should be declared offside.
Although it is not evident in the clip, the offside positioned player on the ground is hit by the ball when it is shot by his teammate. This means that he has “interfered with play” and must be sanctioned for being offside and the goal disallowed. It does not matter where the ball contacted with player or the fact that he did not intentionally/deliberately play/touch the ball. The mere fact that the ball touches an offside positioned player requires that he be called offside.
This is a difficult decision for the AR because the AR does not have a clear view of the ball contacting the offside positioned player on the ground. The AR does, however, have the best view to judge that the player is in an offside position.
The referee on the other hand, is best positioned to recognize the fact that the ball makes contact or is touched by the offside positioned player. As a consequence, it is important that the referee team bring these separate pieces of information together to make the correct decision. The following are some recommendations:
- The referee has to sense that the player on the ground may be in an offside position given his location and the location of the defenders. Because he senses a potential issue, once the ball is in the goal, the referee should have an extended look at the AR. This may require the referee going to the AR to confer even if the AR has run up the field to indicate a goal. If the AR has started his run up the touchline to indicate a goal and the referee starts to approach him, the AR should discontinue his run and await the referee.
- The AR can see, by the sudden bounce and elevation of the ball after the shot, that its trajectory or direction may have changed. The combination of the change in trajectory and the offside player being in line with the direction of the ball, should add to the “warning signs” that something may be wrong.
- Both the referee and the AR can read the defending player reactions. Although not always the best indicator, in this case, the defender closest to the player on the ground raises his arm to indicate offside. Using this “sign” for assistance, the referee has additional reason to consult with the AR. The AR also has additional reason to consider connecting with the referee.
- If the AR is unsure whether the player either interfered or participated in the play, he should stand at attention and not run up the touchline (running toward the halfway line indicates a good goal). The referee should then see that that AR has not run up the touchline and approach him to confer.
- At the professional level, this is a perfect situation for use of the RefTalk communication devices. Both the referee and AR can “compare notes” prior to making a final decision.
All in all, teamwork and taking the time to ensure a correct decision is made should prevail. Experienced match officials need to “sense” an issue based upon the warning signs (player positions, ball trajectory, player reactions) explored above.
- Video Clip: Dallas at Colorado (78:41)
A quick “give and go” pass is executed by the attacking team. It occurs to the side of the penalty area of the AR. The decision regarding offside position is complicated due to the distance between the attacker making the through run and the three defenders spaced across the middle of the penalty area some 10 yards from the runner. The distance and the space between the three defenders can cause depth perception issues. Therefore, the AR must be totally focused on the ball, the attacker making the run and the three defenders positioned 10 yards further into the field.
The AR must be positioned optimally. In this case, being in line with the second-to-last defender is not sufficient. The AR must also attempt to have his shoulders square to the field. By having his body square to the field, the AR has the best view of all the factors needed to make a clear decision: the ball, the runner and the three defenders. An AR who runs forward and looks over his shoulders, as in this case, limits the ARs angle of vision.
Play is moving sufficiently slow that the AR can be sidestepping and, thus, be square to the field and not have to look over his shoulder to make a decision. Closely examine the last replay to see if you have the capability to sidestep in this situation given the speed of play and the fact that the second-to-last defender is also sidestepping.
The running attacker is in an offside position at the time the ball is passed/played to him by his teammate. This attacker is clearly “nearer to his opponents’ goal line” than the second-to-last opponent at the time the ball is played. Furthermore, this offside positioned attacker “interferes with play” because he plays/touches the ball passed to him by a teammate. At the time the ball is passed, a sufficient amount of the offside positioned player’s body is past the second-to-last defender to indicate there is no benefit of doubt for the attack. As a result, the goal should be disallowed and an indirect free kick awarded to the defending team for an offside infraction.
- Video Clip: Seattle at Houston (46:25)
AR awareness, focus and concentration are vital skills for making correct offside decisions. In this clip, the AR demonstrates the need to maintain focus and concentration while mentally processing offside decision points during a sequence of three separate attacking team “touches” of the ball which occur in a short time span.
Notice the time of the match: 46:25. The second half is just over a minute old. The referee team must be ready and alert at all times. It is easy to return to the field after the halftime break relaxed and inattentive. Concentration is mandatory at all times.
- The first decision point
The give-and-go through ball played to the attacking team’s (blue jersey) forward penetrating behind the defense down the left flank.
- The second decision point
When the ball is played back across the top of the goal area to the trailing teammate (No. 6).
- The third decision point
Occurs at the moment the trailing attacker (No. 6) touches the ball forward past the on-rushing goalkeeper who is unable to play the ball. The touch by the trailing attacker goes directly toward his teammate who, at the time of this touch, is in an offside position.
The offside position can be confirmed due to the fact that, at the moment No. 6 (trailing attacker) touches the ball past the opposing goalkeeper, his teammate is ahead of the ball with only one defender (the orange jersey player who is running to cover the goalmouth for the keeper) between his position and the goal line. Just before No. 6 can get a second touch on the ball to shoot at goal, his offside positioned teammate plays (touches) the ball into the goal.
As a result of his “touch” of the ball, the offside positioned player interferes with play and should be penalized for an offside infraction. The AR makes a correct decision to disallow the goal for offside.
AR focus and awareness is needed to recognize the goalkeeper moving forward from his goal line position past the attacker as, now, the ARs normal second-to-last defender view is changed. Having the visual and mental acuity to make this change/adjustment is critical to making the correct offside decision.
- The first decision point
- Video Clip: Dallas at San Jose (81:00)
This video clip illustrates two critical and correct decisions made by an AR using the “wait and see” principle. In this clip, find the attacking player moving in an offside position and within yards of a passed ball that cuts through the defensive line. ARs must be able to identify this offside positioned player. Next, look for the run made by another attacker from an onside position at the moment the ball is played/touched by a teammate. The AR must recognize that there are two players who are able to become involved in “active play.”
Once both players are noted, the AR MUST “wait and see” to determine which of the two attackers (offside or onside positioned) are involved in “active play” by interfering (touching the ball). In this situation, the player in the offside position should not be declared offside because he has not:
- Interfered with play
He has not touched or played the ball that has been passed by a teammate.
- Interfered with an opponent
He has not prevented an opponent from being able to play the ball.
- Gained an advantage from his position
The ball does not rebound off the goalpost/crossbar or off an opponent.
The second critical and correct decision involves the pass leading to the shot and goal. In this case, the attacker (the same player who was in an offside position on the prior phase of play) is behind the ball at the time it is passed to him. In other words, he is not in an offside position due to the fact he is not nearer his opponent’s goal line than both the ball and the second-to-last opponent.
This second decision could easily have been missed if it were not for full concentration and proper positioning. Seconds before this second decision, the AR had to make another critical decision which could have left him questioning his call and, thus, unfocused and doubting himself. The AR successfully puts the first assessment (prior phase of play) aside and does not allow it to cloud any decisions that follow. When vital decisions are made, officials must be able to immediately put them aside and continue. Time spent questioning or over-assessing a call can lead to memory lapses, poor positioning and/or lack of proper attention being given to subsequent decisions.
- Interfered with play
- Video Clip: Dallas at San Jose (77:22)
This example comes from the same game as video clip 1. With the score tied and more than 12 minutes remaining, teams are pushing for the potential winning goal. As the attacker penetrates into the attacking third with a piercing run with the ball, a teammate runs into a supporting position in the wide channel. While this player runs with speed into his supporting flank position, the defense moves up (in a direction against the run and the movement of the ball) in an attempt to place the wide channel attacker in an offside position (the “offside trap”). Each of the following components make this a difficult decision but one that ARs must be able to make and must be correctly positioned to make:
- Speed of play
- The long distance between the AR and the wide channel attacking player
- The long distance between the wide channel attacker and the second-to-last defender who is attempting to put the attacker in an offside position
- The opposite direction of the runs of the second-to-last defender and the wide attacker
Image 1 illustrates the competing forces (players running different directions) and the distances involved. Decisions like this highlight the need for ARs to be able to quickly change direction with the second-to-last defender. Training methods for ARs must incorporate transitional running and change of direction mobility exercises geared at enhancing the ability to transition from sidestepping to sprinting and from sprinting to sidestepping while preparing the AR to change directions without losing a step on the offside line. As shown in Image 1, the AR is not properly in line with the second-to-last defender and, thus, has a skewed and incorrect view of the positions of the player (note the location of the AR relative to the white offside line – there is a difference of several yards – at the time the ball is passed by an attacker). The result, an incorrect offside decision that takes away a reasonable opportunity to attack to goal.
- Video Clip: Real Salt Lake vs. Galaxy (11:50)
It is not often that ARs are required to make offside decisions from the taking of a corner kick. As a consequence, it is easy for the AR to lose focus and lose track of the landscape surrounding the taking of the corner kick. In the modern game, more often than not, defending player(s) are guarding one or both of the goal posts and the goalkeeper is a yard or so off the goal line. The result is that the two defenders stationed on the goalposts often determine the offside line and not the goalkeeper and a defending player (ARs are used to the goalkeeper being one of the “last two opponents” for determining offside position). Remember, it is the last two opponents (regardless of who those two defenders may be) that play a factor in determining an attacker’s offside position. ARs must be cognizant of the mix of players as a corner kick is developing and be able to identify the last two defenders.
In this clip, a short corner is played and an alert AR realizes that there are no players on the goalposts and, in fact, the second-to-last defender is approximately three yards from the goal line. The player taking the corner kick therefore is in an offside position once he puts the ball into play because he is nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-to-last opponent.
Once the ball is touched or played by a teammate, the player taking the corner kick can be penalized for being in the offside position and involved in active play once the kicker:
- Interferes with play, or
- Interferes with an opponent, or
- Gains an advantage by being in that position.
The attacking teammate touches the ball for the kicker to then service the ball. Although this is not a pass, per se, it is a touch of the ball which leads to the original kicker “interfering with play” by way of his touch of the ball. Remember, the AR makes the offside position decision at the time of the freeze frame shot in the video clip (when his teammate touches the ball). Confusion can arise because the kicker may seem to be in an onside position when he crosses the ball but this is not the moment of decision making.Video Clip: Real Salt Lake vs. Galaxy (85:47)
So, the AR does a good job recognizing that the player was in an offside position and must be penalized for this offside position once he “interferes with play” by touching the ball.
Finally, the referee does a nice job to ensure the approximate restart position of the ball once he has awarded the indirect free kick for offside. As is common practice, teams attempt to advance the location of the restart several yards forward to gain an advantage. The referee, in this case, decides that the team has attempted to advance the ball too far and requires them to move it back. Offside restarts are taken from the position of the offending player when the ball was last played to him by his teammates. When managing restarts, referees need to pay closer attention to the location of the restart the closer the ball is to the attacking goal.
The AR is challenged by an offside decision in the far channel, across the field. Concurrently, the AR has two retreating defenders who are attempting to maintain their shape but also slow down in order to place the running attacker in an offside position. In order to correctly judge offside position, the AR must be directly aligned with the second-to-last defender. In this clip, through proper positioning and concentration, the AR is able to correctly determine that the attacker was in an offside position at the time the ball was passed to him by his teammate and he “interfered with play” by playing the ball once it was passed to him. Overall, a tight but good offside decision.
Video Clip: Real Salt Lake vs. Galaxy (81:36)
Clip 4 illustrates how proper AR positioning and sidestepping can aid in ensuring a critical decision is made correctly. As the clip is viewed, focus on the AR and not on the decision. The AR is directly aligned with the second-to-last defender. Additionally, the AR is using sidestepping to keep his shoulders square to the field and to improve his line of vision as it relates to offside positions. By sidestepping, the AR is able to clearly see the ball, the defenders and the attackers. More importantly, sidestepping gives the AR the opportunity to instantaneously adjust to the quick and compact movements of the defenders which is often prevalent when play is around the penalty area. In other words, by keeping shoulders square to the field, not only is the vision of the AR extended but the AR is able to better “shadow” the movements of the second-to-last defender. The ARs correct offside decision is aided by this intelligent AR-ship.
- Video Clip: DC United vs Kansas City. One of the most difficult decisions for ARs is the situation in which a defender moves forward, and an attacker simultaneously moves towards goal. Making this decision even more difficult is that the ball is generally played from a distance away from the receiving attacker.
- Video Clip: Columbus vs. NY (31:12) a close decision is made even more difficult since the movement is directly in front of the AR. AR makes right decision to keep flag down. Note the AR position with body square to the field as the ball is played ensuring a view of the full field of play.
Several factors can contribute to an ARs ability to make a correct, split-second decision under difficult circumstances:
- Incorrect Timing – Judgment by the AR was made a split second late likely because the AR did not identify the precise moment that the pass was made (see item 2). In these situations, a fraction of a second makes a significant difference.
- Concentration on Entire Field of Vision – In order to identify precisely when the ball was played, the AR must be concentrating on two things simultaneously:
- o Release of the Ball
- o Position of the Attacker relative to Second to Last Defender
In clip #1, the ARs concentration on the entire field was compromised by the act of actively looking at one, and then the other as he walked up field(the 0.2 second delay as the head moves contributes to the error). In this situation, the AR needs to “see” both without sacrificing one for the other. Peripheral vision is the critical component to making a correct decision in this case. The AR must be square to the field, side-stepping to maintain the position, and must see the release point, the attacker, and the second to last defender simultaneously without need to move eyes or head.
- Score Line / Time of Event –several situations may occur to impact an ARs decision making:
- o Fatigue on the part of the AR may have come into play as halftime nears.
- o A 1-0 score line in one team’s favor might contribute as well (Thinking: “Don’t want to give that team an undeserved 2nd goal). This type of thinking needs to be removed from an ARs mind and the situation judged objectively.
- Comfort Zone – With only a few minutes remaining in the half, ARs can easily slip into a “comfort zone” and as they look to halftime, causing focus to fade momentarily. Body language of the AR in clip #1 indicates that he was caught “watching play” as it came towards his half, and then was caught off guard for the last touch forward by the attacking teammate. ARs must remember their primary responsibility to focus on the offside decision and not get wrapped up in watching play develop.
On close decisions, ARs must hesitate in raising the flag until they are certain that the player in the offside position is indeed the one who plays the ball. In the words of MLS, this promotes “Free-Flowing, Attacking Soccer.” As part of this referees, take note: there may be the need to have a quick second look at the AR as some flags are coming a bit delayed as total concentration is on showing restraint raising the flag until they are 100% certain the player has played the ball (interfered with play) or gained an advantage. Referee teams should discuss this in their pregame to determine how the delayed flag should be handled.
- Video Clip: Chicago at San Jose (86:25). AR2 holds the flag on a situation in-close to goal. Two attackers (one onside position and one offside) have the opportunity to play the ball. You can see in the video that the AR exhibits patience and HOLDS the flag until the offside positioned player actually plays the ball. Great job showing RESTRAINT.
- Video Clip: Colorado at New England (26:40). Two attacking players are moving for the ball. However, the onside player actually plays the ball while the player positioned offside pulls away and, therefore, does NOT gain an advantage by being in the offside position. A quick flag is NOT needed. When more than one player has the opportunity to play a ball and that player is onside at the time his teammate plays the ball, the AR must show patience and await the outcome – unless a potential collision may occur. The following is from the AR’s self-evaluation which was very well written:
“Mansally is in the offside position and I am even with the 2nd last defender when the ball is played and start shuffling down the field to be even with the ball. I see Cristman heading towards the ball as well. As the ball lands I saw it touch Mansally. After reviewing the situation from the angle of the TV it does not touch him and I should have left the flag down and let it go. I have to have better concentration on this situation and closely look at where the ball lands and the position of the player it is landing near as well as the distance to his teammate. The defender hesitates as he sees it landing as well. But that should not matter. I should have left it down.”
- Video Clip: NY at Dallas (65:40). Dallas gets a breakaway on a close offside. Keeping the flag down results in a GOAL. This was not an easy call as the attacker is running diagonally and there are several defenders spread-out across the field. Patience pays dividends and AR2 should be applauded for allowing play to continue.
- Video Clip: Chivas at Columbus (56:25). The attacker is flagged for being offside but the replay shows that the situation is close enough to warrant keeping the flag down. If it is not CLEARLY OFFSIDE, give the benefit to attacking soccer.
- Video Clip: Toronto at Galaxy (36:30). There are 2 players who have the potential to play the ball. This is an important indication for the AR – restraint is needed when more than 1 player can get the ball. Look at the actions of the offside attacker. Knowing he is offside, he stops his run and the onside attacker runs through. ARs must have a wide peripheral perspective and know that there is the possibility of another player becoming involved. In this case, the AR is square to the field so he should have the wider view. Patience. Sometimes the obvious is not so obvious.
- Video Clip: DC at Colorado (32:40). This is the classic “wait and see” example. Excellent work by the AR to hold the flag until he is certain who will play the ball. As the kick is taken, notice that there are two players potentially in offside positions. One of the players actually moves toward the serviced ball. However, the player shows that he is not participating by stopping his run. A player who starts his run 8 yards onside, receives the ball. It is very tempting to put the flag up as soon as the offside player moves to the ball but a strong AR will show restraint and wait to see who participates. Key is the ability of the AR to assess the situation and wait to see who touches the ball – the onside player or the offside player.
- Video Clip: Galaxy at RSL (42:15). This decision is very unfortunate as it takes away a potential game winning goal as the score is tied 2-2. At the professional level, this type of decision cannot be made as the attacker is at least 1 yard onside when the ball is passed by his teammate and there is plenty of time and space for the AR to make a proper decision. Notice the ARs position, 2 or more yards behind the second-to-last defender. Therefore, the ARs view of the goal scorer is skewed. With the ARs position, the goal scorer will seem to be in a more advanced position than he is in actuality. We must get this right!
- Video Clip: Dallas at San Jose (64:47). This is a difficult offside decision for the AR to make because the defender and the attacker are running/moving in opposite directions (often considered an offside trap). However, the defender moves up too late thereby putting the attacker 1 yard or so onside. The AR must be positioned correctly (shoulders square to the field) and must give the benefit of the doubt to the attack. This clip provides a good example for giving attacking soccer the benefit. In slow motion, you can see the attacker is onside. Do not be anxious with the flag, show restraint.
- Video Clip: Dallas at RSL (24:22). The focus of this clip is the assistant referee’s positioning. Keep your focus on the assistant and where he is stationed as the flag is raised. You will need to pay close attention as the replay is shown. Ask yourself: “where are the defenders when the assistant referee raises his flag?” There are two defenders on the goal-line. The question then becomes: “where should the assistant be situated?” According to U.S. Soccer‘s standard procedures, the assistant should be on the goal-line positioned with the second-to-last defender. Instead, he is approximately two yards off the line. Concentration and focus on the defenders is critical. You must know where they are and where the ball is. You cannot ball watch. It is not easy but it is a requirement of a top-class assistant referee.
- Video Clip: New England at Chivas (2:17). Again, a similar scenario as the prior clip. A goal line situation in which the ball is close to the goalmouth. Once more, focus on the assistant’s position. Then look for the position of the second-to-last defender – on the goal line. The assistant referee must be positioned on the goal line with the second-to-last defender. This decision is even more difficult as there is an attacker on the goal-line also – just outside the goalpost. A seemingly easier decision just got more difficult with the addition of the attacker. Assistant referees must not get caught ball watching and must remain in the correct position to make a split second offside decision.
- Video Clip: Chicago at Dallas (20:33 – second half) This clip provides an excellent example of an AR who follows the guidelines set forth by U.S. Soccer relative to offside. The AR applies the “WAIT and SEE” principle and exhibits patience in determining “involvement in active play.” As the pass is made up the right flank, freeze the picture and take a mental snapshot of the position of the furthest attacking players – the players who have an opportunity to play the ball. This is the same snapshot the AR must take as the ball is played by an attacker some 30 yards away. Taking this picture is not easy as the AR must use his peripheral vision due to the distance from which the pass is made and the varying location of the two attackers who have the opportunity to play the ball. Due to the counter attack style of many MLS teams, ARs must always be prepared for the long ball out of the defensive half of the field. Notice how the wing attacker, as the ball is struck by his teammate, starts his run in his own half of the field (therefore he is not in an offside position). However, ARs must also read that the center attacker making his diagonal run from an offside position and, if he becomes involved in active play, must be declared offside. From the time the pass is made to the time the AR raises his flag for offside is approximately four seconds, a long time but an appropriate amount of time given this is the time needed for the AR to determine that the center attacker will:
- Interfere with play - In other words, play or touch the ball passed by a teammate. Remember, the pass does not have to be intended for the offside player who eventually plays/touches the ball.
- Become the only player who has the opportunity to play the ball - Once it becomes clear that the only player who can play the ball is the player in the offside position, the AR will flag for offside even if he has not touched the ball.
Despite the fact that the ARs run and late flag look awkward, as he does in this case, the AR should continue sprinting with play until he is certain the offside player interferes with play. Then, as soon as the AR determines the offside conditions exist, he should stop his run and raise the flag. Remember, if there is any potential for a collision with the goalkeeper or other opponent, the AR needs to indicate the offside sooner thereby preventing a dangerous situation from arising. If the ball were to go directly to the goalkeeper and there was no challenge by an attacker, the AR can keep the flag down and allow play to continue.
- Video Clip: Kansas City at Toronto (90:56 – additional time) - From a free kick, approximately 30 yards from goal, the attacking team places five players in the penalty area. Just prior to the ball being serviced, they make a break toward goal to get a step on the defense. Through good peripheral vision, the AR must be able to clearly identify their position as well as visually see the touch of the ball by the player taking the free kick. As the ball is being played, the AR must then take a snapshot of the positions of the defenders and attackers in the target zone (center of the penalty area). In this case, there are three attackers who have the ability to play the ball. However, only one of the three attackers is in an offside position at the time the ball is played by his teammate. The AR shows patience by keeping the flag down so that he can observe which of these three players actually play/touch the ball. By utilizing the “wait and see” principle, the AR can correctly identify the offside player as participating or interfering in play and, therefore, raise the flag to indicate offside. If the ball would have been played by any other attacking player, there would have been no offside (at the moment the free kick was taken, they were in an onside position). The AR correctly disallows the goal for offside.
- Video Clip: FC Dallas at Colorado (86:25) – This video clip is a classic example of a player who is in an offside position being declared offside for “gaining an advantage by being in that position.” A player who is in an offside position at the time the ball is played by a teammate is considered to be gaining an advantage by being in that position when he “plays a ball that rebounds to him off a goalpost or the crossbar having been in an offside position or playing a ball that rebounds to him off an opponent having been in an offside position.” In other words, an attacker (in an offside position at the moment the ball is played by a teammate) must be declared offside if they play a ball that has rebounded off any part of the goal or the goalkeeper (in this case).
Off a long throw in, the ball lands around the penalty mark and is poorly cleared to the top of the penalty box by the defending team. At this point, an attacker drives a shot that the goalkeeper is unable to hold. The ball rebounds from the goalkeeper and it is then kicked into the goal by a teammate of the attacker. The referee, based upon appropriate advice from the AR, correctly disallows the goal for offside.
ARs must be alert and be able to quickly identify attacking player positions when play is around the penalty area. This is especially true as there is very little reaction time for ARs as the penalty area is normally very congested with bodies moving in a multitude of directions. Additionally, the speed at which the shot takes place provides additional complications as it gives very little time for the AR to make a mental note of player positions. An experienced AR is able to take a snapshot of defending and attacking player positions at the moment the ball is shot. This snapshot gives the AR a frozen image of player positions until the next phase of play.
Given the requirements of the Law 11 – Offside, the ball rebounding off the goalkeeper or goal does NOT constitute a new phase of play. Consequently, the AR must keep the same snapshot that he took at the initial shot on goal as the rebounding of the ball does not nullify an offside position that existed at that time.
Of special interest is the position of a second offside attacker at the time of the shot. This player, to the goalkeeper’s left, may also be declared offside if the AR and referee believe that this player’s offside position “interfered with an opponent” by preventing the opponent from playing of being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the opponent’s line of vision or movements. The opponent that would be “interfered with” in this clip is the goalkeeper. Look at the attacker’s position at the time of the shot. The attacker is not only in an offside position but he may be judged to be in direct line of the goalkeeper’s vision of the ball as it is shot. If this is the case, this player can also be considered to be offside and may be punished for being offside.
- Video Clip: Galaxy at FC Dallas (35:41) - This clip not only displays an exceptional decision by the AR to keep the flag down but it also shows the speed at which the game is played. As you view the clip, take note of the following items as they play significant roles in the ARs ability to make the correct decision:
- Notice that the time from when the attacking team wins the ball in the defensive third (35:41) to the time the offside decision is required to be made (35:47) is only six seconds. This points to the fact that ARs must not let their guard down and must be concentrating at all times regardless of where the ball is on the field.
- Notice the distance that the ball travels in this six second period – approximately 30 – 40 yards and from the defensive third to the halfway line.
- The attack involves only three or four quick touches of the ball initiated in the defensive third of the field. The ball never stops moving.
- Watch the runner who receives the ball and scores the goal. He begins his run on his own half of the field and is sprinting at a high speed. His speed increases the difficulty level for the AR. It requires total concentration and pinpoint positioning to be able to judge the position of the sprinting forward at the time the ball is played to him some 25 yards away.
- The location of the second-to-last defender also complicates the matter. His distance from the speedy attacker makes the ARs judgment significantly harder. Improper position of the AR (one step ahead or behind the second-to-last defender) will cause the true offside line to be lost and may lead to an incorrect flag. The further the distance between a defender and the attacker lends itself to the opportunity for misjudgments due to poor angles.
- Video Clip: Galaxy at FC Dallas (18:45) - Wait and see: often the most critical factor in an ARs success when multiple players (one of whom is onside) have the opportunity to play a ball passed to space by a teammate. This play is no different. As the ball is dropped behind the defense by an attacker, there is a teammate clearly in an offside position. This player makes a run at the ball but he NEVER touches it. At the same time, another attacker makes a run from an onside position some 10 yards behind the second-to-last defender. This onside attacker has the possibility to play the ball.
ARs must recognize that there are two players who have the opportunity to play the ball and, consequently, show restraint in making a decision until the offside positioned player actually “interferes with play” or “interferes with an opponent.” In this case, the offside player does neither. He does not “interfere with play” because he does not play or touch the ball that has been played/touched to him by a teammate. In addition, he does not “interfere with an opponent” because he does not prevent the opponent from playing or being able to play the ball. The opponent is poorly positioned and no contact is made with the offside player which may obstruct the defender’s movements to the ball. The quick and ill-advised flag denies the attacking team the chance to go to goal.
ARs are required to “wait and see” the outcome of the pass and the actions of the attacking players before deciding whether offside exists or not. The fact that two players (one onside and one offside) are moving toward the passed ball is a clear signal to the AR to have patience and apply the “wait and see” principle. ARs must be able to be focused on the offside line but must also have a keen sense of the position of onside players and their potential for participating in the play. A broader yet focused view of the field will aid in applying the “wait and see” principle.
- Video Clip: Real Salt Lake at Houston (15:42) - This correct decision on the part of the AR requires total concentration, excellent positioning, and the patience to see the play develop. This is a complicated decision due to many factors:
- The flat defense - The fact that four defenders are flat (in a virtual single line) and are spread out across the field creates depth perception issues. This is complicated by their attempt to stop their runs to “place” the attackers in an offside position just as the attacker makes the through pass (offside trap).
- The three attackers running forward - The attacking team has three simultaneous players running to goal. The players are separated by distance thereby creating gaps between themselves and the defenders. These gaps make it more difficult for the AR to assess the positions of the players at the time the ball is played by a teammate.
- The distance the ball and the passer are from the AR - The attacker who makes the through pass is close to the far touchline (approximately 60 yards from the AR) and 20 yards behind the last line of defense. The AR must be able to concurrently see the touch of the ball and immediately judge the position of the defenders and attackers.
In order to successfully make the correct call, the AR must be able to assess these three factors as well as take a snapshot of the position of the attackers and defenders at the moment the ball is played/passed by the attacker. The AR must then store that snapshot by utilizing the “wait and see” principle and then assess which attacker actually interferes with play. Finally, once the AR observes who interferes with play, he must immediately refer to his snapshot to decide if the player who interferes was in an offside position at the time the ball was played by his teammate.
As this clip plays out, the difficulty of the decision can be appreciated. Look at the clip in full speed and try to make the decision. Then, utilize the freeze frame perspective to make the final decision. The player who scores the tying goal is in an onside position at the time his teammate passes the ball. A second attacker, closest to the passer, is an in offside position; however, he does not interfere with play or with an opponent. The third attacker also runs through but he too does not interfere with play or an opponent even though he starts his run toward the ball. Remember, “interfering with play” is defined as: “playing or touching the ball passed or touched by a teammate.”
- Video Clip: Galaxy at Chivas USA (61:56) - With the score tied 1-1, a goal by either team can be a significant advantage going into the last 18 minutes of the match. An attack is initiated from approximately 90 yards from goal. The attack consists of only three players touching the ball over the 90 yards. This style is indicative of play in MLS and requires ARs to be focused at all times and ready for quick transitions over long distances.
The ability to simultaneously view the offside line and the passed ball when there is considerable distance separating the two is vital for AR success.
Despite appeals by the defense, the goal is correctly awarded as the benefit of doubt is given to the attacking team. The AR starts slightly behind the fast moving second to last defender as evidenced by the “offside line” graphic. However, he quickly closes the gap and is closer to the offside line as the final pass is made.
As the final pass is executed in the penalty area, the ball is delivered to an attacker who is even with the second to last defender. According to the Laws of the Game, “A player is not in an offside position if he is level with the second to last opponent.” In this clip, a well timed run and pass ensure that the attacker is in an onside position. In close offside situations like this, ARs are instructed to give the benefit of doubt to the attacking team. In other words, should the AR have any doubt or question regarding the onside or offside position of the goal scorer, the AR should keep the flag down.
- Video Clip: New England at Toronto (22:21) - The AR makes a good offside decision because he is able to exercise patience until the play fully unfolds and it becomes clear which player is involved in “active play.” Despite the ball seemingly being directed to the player in the offside position awaiting the service at the penalty spot, this player should not be declared offside because he has NOT:
- Interfered with play: he has not touched or played the ball. The ball goes over his head and he makes no contact with it.
- Interfered with an opponent: he does not prevent an opponent (by obstructing their path) from getting to the ball or from playing the ball nor does he prevent the goalkeeper’s line of vision.
- Gained an advantage from being in an offside position: the ball does not rebound off the post, crossbar or opponent.
Since none of the three elements have occurred, the AR is correct in allowing play to continue. It is not offside. Notice how a second runner comes through and plays the ball. This is permitted as this runner was in an onside position at the time the ball was played/serviced by his teammate. It is easy for an AR to be tempted to raise the flag as the ball looks like it is headed to the player in the offside position. Restraint and patience are required to get this call correct.
- Video Clip: New England at Toronto (52:59) - The team with possession of the ball leads the match 1-0. They win possession of the ball on their attacking half and start to goal. Now, put your AR hat on. Before the clip commences, think “wait and see” and think “interfering with play.” Play the clip. When it is seen in full motion, what was your impression: offside or not? Goal or no goal?
This is a difficult decision that requires the AR to possess attributes of patience and assessment. Patience to see the end result of all of the attacking players’ actions before making a decision. Assessment in order to observe the potential options (whether they play out or not) of the looping touch behind the defense by the rushing attacker.
- Interfered with play: the player in the offside position does NOT interfere with play as he NEVER touches or plays the ball. An offside player may make a run/movement toward a passed/touched ball but until he touches/plays the ball, he cannot be declared offside unless the referee/AR determines that there is a potential collision or injury situation that may result from allowing play to continue too long.
- Interfered with an opponent: an opponent is not hampered or prevented from playing the ball by the offside positioned player. There is no contact or obstructing of the path of the defenders. The fact that the defenders stop their run to the ball, awaiting the offside decision, should not be a consideration as they have not been “interfered with” by an opponent.
- Gained an advantage from being in an offside position: the ball does not rebound off the post, crossbar or opponent.
Ultimately, the original attacker should be considered to have played the ball to himself. It was a long touch followed by a long run, resulting in a shot and a goal. Therefore, given the analysis above, offside did NOT exist and play should have been allowed to go uninterrupted.
This decision is complicated by the movement of the offside player toward the ball, the time it takes for the original attacker to regain possession of the ball, and the fact that the defenders stop their runs and raise their hands begging for offside. ARs are not permitted to consider these actions in their decision as they are not factors in the three elements of “involvement in active play.”
Lastly, the referee and AR can consider the possibility of a collision with the goalkeeper but it is clear, in this case, that the distance between the ball/play and the keeper are great enough to eliminate such a possibility and the need for a quick flag.
This example is the embodiment of the “wait and see” principle. With so many factors transpiring at once, the successful AR will show restraint and will wait to observe the results of the players’ actions prior to making a decision.
- Video Clip: Colorado at Real Salt Lake (51:55) - The AR makes a courageous and correct decision to disallow the goal as the goal scorer “gained an advantage from being in an offside position.” At the time of the original shot, the AR decided that the goal scorer was in an offside position. At this time, the AR should take a snapshot of player positions and store that picture for future reference if needed – which occurred in this case. As soon as the first shot is taken, the AR must change his focus to following the ball to the goal line but must not lose the snapshot taken at the time of the shot. Once the ball rebounds off the goalkeeper, the AR must then recall the snapshot and “wait and see” which attacker now plays the ball: the more central onside attacker or the wide attacker in the offside position?
Once the wide attacker, in the offside position, plays the ball after it rebounds off the goalkeeper (the opponent), he should be judged to have “gained an advantage.” The last freeze frame view of the clip is needed to fully appreciate the accuracy of the AR’s decision as it shows (with the aid of the football lines) that the supposed goal scorer was in an offside position at the time of the original shot. A world-class decision by the AR.
Remember, ARs must take a snap shot/picture each time an attacker plays the ball. The picture must be stored in the AR’s databank until that phase of play is over (for example, until another attacker touches or plays the ball). It is often difficult to maintain that databank given the time it takes for the next phase of play to be realized. Hence, successful ARs must fully concentrate and must possess the ability to stay focused and possess the ability to keep clear pictures over extended periods of time while under pressure.
- Video Clip: New England at Columbus (66:30) - This is a very close offside decision. At question in this video clip is the position of the attacker who eventually scores the goal: was this player even with or ahead of the second to last defender at the time the ball was played by his teammate? Remember, the Laws of the Game state:
- “A player is in an offside position if: he is nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second last opponent;” and
- “A player is not in an offside position if: he is level with the second last opponent.”
In addition, the Laws define “nearer to his opponents’ goal line” as meaning:
- “Any part of a player’s head, body or feet is nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second last opponent. The arms are not included in this definition.”
The reason the “arms are not included” in the definition is because a player cannot score a goal with the arms and, therefore, if the arms are nearer the goal line, there is no advantage gained by the attacker.
Considering the aforementioned statements in the Laws of the Game, the AR must make a split second decision to determine if the furthermost attacker is “nearer to the opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second last opponent.” In evaluating the video clip, it is not clear that the attacker is “nearer” at the moment the ball is played by his teammate. Consequently, the fact that it is not clear means that “doubt” exists and the AR – as he has done in the clip – must then give the benefit of the play to the attacking team.
Officials, particularly ARs, cannot be influenced by the defender’s actions: hands up appealing for offside, stopping their chase of the ball, and verbal appeals for offside. The offside decision must be made based upon the facts at hand. Notice the position of the AR and the referee. First, the AR is directly in line with the second to last defender and therefore is able to make the best possible decision regarding offside/onside position. Second, the referee has done a good job of staying close to play on the counter attack and positioning himself wide enough to have a good view of the attacking player positions and actions in the event he was required to make a decision on “interfering with play or with an opponent.”
- Video Clip (Added 9/25/2008): DC at Galaxy (45:04+) - Just before halftime, a surprising one touch through pass is made to an attacker who has attempted to time his run in conjunction with the pass. The one touch pass can catch an unaware or unprepared AR off guard. In this clip, however, the AR is focused on the task at hand: the ball, the line of defenders and the attacker’s run. Timing is critical in making the correct decision as is the ARs ability to instantaneously filter the decision making factors and make an accurate onside or offside call.
At first glance, it looks as though the AR has made a poor decision. The speed of play and the fact that the defenders are flat footed (stationary) while the attacker is running diagonal/forward add to the difficulties facing the AR. Even the first replay from the side angle does not support the decision on the part of the AR. It is only at the last freeze frame picture that the ARs decision can be appreciated.
This freeze frame picture is the same picture the AR must take during dynamic play and the picture must be broad enough to catch and consider all the factors raised above. From this picture, the AR must make a split second decision to keep the flag down or to raise it and deny the attack. The defender in the middle of the field puts the attacker in an onside position at the time the ball is played by the attacker’s teammate. Therefore, the AR makes a correct decision that provides a scoring opportunity for a team and increases the entertainment value for the spectators.
If a defending player deliberately steps behind his own goal line in order to place an opponent in an offside position, the referee shall allow play to continue and caution the defender for deliberately leaving the field of play without the referee's permission when the ball is next out of play. That did not happen in this situation.
Video Clip: Holland vs. Italy (25:17) - Review the video clip and ensure you clearly see the situation as it develops. At the end of the clip, there is a better graphical display of the position of the players. Then, consider the following analysis:
- The Situation - During a free kick by the Dutch team, the Italian goalkeeper pushes his own defender out of the way and off the field, where the defender and a Dutch attacker are both down. The Dutch attacker rises quickly and returns to the field. The Italian defender remains off the field. The ball is played away from the goal and is kicked back to a Dutch player who has the Italian goalkeeper between himself and the goal line and the Italian defender lying on the ground outside the field. The ball is crossed and redirected into the goal by the attacker.
- The Question - Should the Dutch attacker who scored the goal have been called offside? He had only one opponent between himself and the goal line. There was an opponent lying on the ground just across the goal line.
- Clarification - If a defending player deliberately steps behind his own goal line in order to place an opponent in an offside position, the referee shall allow play to continue and caution the defender for deliberately leaving the field of play without the referee's permission when the ball is next out of play. That did not happen in this situation.
However, in this case the defender left the field of play as a result of being pushed aside by his goalkeeper. Players in either of these situations – whether they left the field during the course of play or stepped off to place an opponent in an offside position – are considered to be part of the game and thus accountable when determining offside position by their opponents. The only difference is how these players would be treated from a disciplinary point of view (no yellow card was warranted in this case).
- Summary - There were two Italian defenders to be calculated into the equation, the goalkeeper and the player on the ground just outside the goal line. The referee's interpretation that the player off the field of play was still involved in the game was correct.
If this interpretation did not exist, then defending players would use the tactic of deliberately stepping off the field of play to put their opponents in an offside position and that is both unacceptable and counter to the Spirit of the Laws of the Game. Unless a player has the permission of the referee to be off the field (in the case of an injury), they are considered to be on it, involved in active play, and deemed to be part of the game.The Law was applied correctly and the Dutch attacker was not in an offside position when his teammate passed the ball. Hence, the referee was correct in allowing the goal to be scored.
Video Clip: Colorado at Kansas City (August 19, 2001) – There are three specific points of time that must be considered in understanding the situation. They are described in sequence as follows:
- KC attacker (Lowe) centers the ball from the left toward the Colorado goal area where it is punched away by the Colorado goalkeeper (Garlick) toward the right side of the penalty area. KC’s Lassiter is seeking to head this pass into the net and his momentum carries him over the goal line to the left of the left goalpost. Likewise, Colorado’s Balboa continues his defensive run into the right side of the area enclosed by the net.
- The ball goes to KC’s Burns on the right side of the Colorado penalty area who controls and prepares to place the ball back into the goal area. As he does so, both Lassiter and Balboa return to the field.
- At the moment Burns plays the ball, Lassiter is about three meters up from the goal line to the left, Garlick is two meters inside the field to the right, and Balboa is on the field slightly to the right of the goal post. After the ball passes Garlick toward Lassiter, Lassiter deflects the ball into the Colorado net. Balboa steps off the field, where he stands with a rigid appearance as though to emphasize his position.
At the time Burris played the ball forward, Lassiter had two defenders (Garlick and Balboa) between himself and his opponent’s goal line and was therefore not in a offside position. The referee (Kenny) and lead assistant referee (Huber) were in good positions to observe these events and neither official hesitated in recognizing that a valid goal had been scored.
A question has been raised regarding Balboa’s action in leaving the field a second time, as Lassiter is making his goal attempt. Although Balboa was still on the field at the time Burns struck the ball in the direction of the goal, the goal would have been just as valid if this defender had left the field before the ball was played by Burns. It is a well-established principle in applying Law 11 (Offside) that a defender cannot place an attacker in an offside position merely by leaving the field. Defenders off the field (unless ordered off to correct equipment or bleeding) are still taken into account in determining an attackers’ offside position.
Furthermore, however, if the referee believes that the defender’s departure from the field was not in the normal course of play and was undertaken for the purpose of attempting to put an attacker in an offside position, this defender may be considered to have committed misconduct and could be cautioned. While it is clear that Balboa’s first departure from the field was in the course of play, the second departure could have been cautioned and a yellow card shown (see Law 12 and the “7 + 7 Memorandum” – deliberately leaves the field of play without the referee’s permission). In this case, whatever Balboa’s intent, his stepping off the field occurred after the play which resulted in a goal and the referee was justified in not issuing a caution.
- A goal kick
- A throw-in
- A corner kick
This can lead to infrequent, yet critical decisions that must be made quickly by officiating crews to make a proper decision.
- Video Clip: Columbus at Chicago (12:08 – second half) - The first infrequent offside decision to be reviewed is one that comes off a goal kick. In this game, the goalkeeper takes a long goal kick in which a defender jumps up to head but does not connect. The ball then bounces to an attacker who was in an offside position at the time the goal kick was taken. However, pursuant to the Law, this offside positioned player cannot be declared offside because he received the ball directly from the goal kick. Even if the ball had last been played or headed by the defender who misses the ball, the offside player could not be declared offside as this would be considered the same phase of play and another attacker has not played or touched the ball after the goal kick.
In other words, the attacking team gets a “free pass” off a goal kick until the ball is played or touched by another attacker. At this time, the next phase of play begins and players in offside positions can now be judged to be offside if they are involved in active play by:
- Interfering with play; or
- Interfering with an opponent; or
- Gaining an advantage by being in that position.
Long goal kick situations are becoming a common occurrence in the game as players (especially goalkeepers) become more skilled at taking long goal kicks. Goal kicks no longer reach just the halfway line. Players are now skilled and strong enough to send goal kicks well into the attacking half of the field thereby creating additional offside judgments for ARs.
In multiple versions of last year’s “Week In Review,” the principle/concept of “wait and see” was introduced as a mechanism to help assistant referees (AR) get offside decisions correct. When there are close offside decisions, ARs can wait to see if there is participation, interference or if a player has gained an advantage from being in the offside position. The terms “interference” and “gaining an advantage” are both from the Laws of the Game and often require time to decide.
By utilizing the “wait and see” technique, an AR can gain valuable time (split seconds) to decide if an attacker who was in an offside position, at the moment the ball touches or is played by one of his team, is involved in “active play.” The additional “wait and see” time gives the AR the ability to decide if the offside player has:
“Interfered with play”
“Interfered with an opponent”
“Gained an advantage by being in that position”
Video Clip: New Jersey at Chicago (62:44) – WPS
This clip provides a great example of the “wait and see” concept in practice. A focused and alert AR holds the offside flag until it is clear that the offside player “interferes with play” by playing or touching the ball that has been passed/touched by a teammate. When two players have the opportunity to play the ball and one of the two players was in an offside position at the time the ball was played/touched by a teammate, the AR must delay calling offside (raising the flag) until such time as:
- The offside player plays/touches the ball; or
- It is clear that the only player who will play the ball is the offside player; or
- The AR believes there is a chance of a collision or injury to a goalkeeper or other player if the decision were delayed.
The AR appropriately waits to see which player (the offside positioned player or the player coming from an onside position behind the second-to-last defender) “interferes with play” by touching the ball. Once the offside player touches the ball, the AR should stop his run and raise the flag to indicate “interference” by the offside player.
The AR can use the field markings to assist with making the initial onside or offside position decision. Often times, grass cuttings or other markings can assist with determining the position of players when the pass is made. The freeze frame shot provided in the clip shows three attacking players with opportunity to advance and play the through pass. However, only one of the three players (the one in the middle) is in an offside position (“nearer to the opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second last opponent”).
In situations like this, the AR must “wait and see” which of the three players plays/touches the ball and then make the offside decision. The AR must continue his run with the play until it is time to make the decision.
Remember, it is NOT an offense to be in an offside position. The offside offense occurs once there is “interference with play,” “interference with an opponent” or an “advantage has been gained from being in an offside position.”
- Video Clip: Dallas at Seattle (21:16)
This clip provides a good example of how the “wait and see” approach can ensure the AR makes a correct offside decision that benefits attacking soccer and that fits within the framework of Law 11 – Offside. In this clip, there is an attacking player in a clear offside position in the passing lane of the ball who has the opportunity to “interfere with play.” Concurrently, there is another attacker, in an onside position, who has the opportunity to play/touch the passed ball.
With more than one player possessing the opportunity to play/touch the ball, the AR can use the “wait and see” approach to determine which of the two players (the onside or offside positioned player) actually plays or touches the passes ball. ARs cannot be confused by the proximity of attackers to the passed ball as that is not a criteria in determining offside. The decision must be made based upon who plays or touches the ball. There is an exception, however. If the AR judges that a collision may result between an offside player and an opponent, the AR should make a quicker judgment in order to prevent any possible injury or unnecessary contact.
Image 1 provides a picture of the “snapshot” the AR should take as the ball is passed. At this moment, the AR can create a mental picture of one attacker in an offside position and another nearby attacker in an onside position. Now, ARs should “wait and see.” Where do the players run? Which player actually touches or plays the ball?
Despite the offside positioned attacker nearer the passing lane of the ball, his movement (indicated by the blue line) shows that he is not participating in the play nor “interfering with play.” On the other hand, the onside positioned attacker makes a run (indicated by the red line) toward the ball. At this point, until one of the two players actually plays/touches the ball, no decision relative to offside should be made. The actual “no offside” decision is made once the onside player (red line) plays the ball. This is the only situation the AR must “wait and see” which player touches the ball first before rendering a decision.
By taking a snapshot of the play and by utilizing the “wait and see” approach, the AR is able to make a quality decision that correctly determines that there is no offside offense.