This happened to me & our crew in a HS playoff game: During the normal course of play, an attacker & defender, running shoulder-to-shoulder, go over the goal line, out of play, just to the right (AR’s side) of the goal. The ball is shot wide of the goal, and while still out of play, and with the ball barely on the end line, the attacker stabs at the ball with his foot, passing it back into the center of the penalty area, leading to a shot & goal.

At the time of the pass the defender was still off the field as well, and roughly even with the attacker who passed the ball. They were roughly equal in their distance from the goal line (about 1 foot or so), as they were attempting to get back onto the field. At the time the shot was taken from inside the penalty area, both of these players were about 3 feet off the field, and had stopped & turned to get back into play. Thus when the player in question played the ball they were still clearly out-of-play, but heading back towards the field.

Had the defender been back on the field, would this have constituted offside? Or is it not legal to penalize an attacker for offside who is in fact off the field of play? If a player off the field IS penalized for offside, where is the ball placed?

In the end, the Center & I (the AR dealing with this bang-bang play), ruled the goal legal. Were we correct? Fortunately, the goal had no bearing on the outcome.

Answer (October 22, 2007):
We do not and cannot give answers to questions on high school rules or games, as they do not fall under the aegis of the U. S. Soccer Federation. That said, here is what the response would be if the game had been played under the Laws of the Game. Although we can point out several indisputable principles, the answer is not conclusive; there are simply too many imponderables. Therefore, we have presented the matters that must be considered. The final decision is up to the referee on the game.

Part of your answer will be found in the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game”:

If a player accidentally passes over one of the boundary lines of the field of play or if a player in possession of or contesting for the ball passes over the touch line or the goal line without the ball to beat an opponent, he or she is not considered to have left the field of play without the permission of the referee. This player does not need the referee’s permission to return to the field.

The rest of the answer is to be found in a combination of general principles to be found in “Advice to Referees” and “Questions and Answers”:

A defender who is momentarily off the field legally (not attempting to place a defender in an offside position) is still considered, in determining the second to last defender, as being on the perimeter line nearest to his off the field position. Although there is no specific rule or tradition governing this, the same rule could be applied to an attacker. A player who has left the field and returns to play the ball is ON the field of play, even if only his (or her) foot enters the field. In this case, the attacker was clearly on the field when he played the ball — no matter where the bulk of his body was, we MUST count him as being on the field because (a) the ball was on the field and (b) he played the ball.

According to your description of the event, the two players in question were approximately even with each other while off the field when the attacker’s teammate last played the ball. Considering only these two players (the attacker and defender off the field) plus the last defender who is on the field (let’s say it was the goalkeeper), what are the possibilities?

1. If the GK is on the goal line, this puts both the defender and the attacker off the field past the GK if we have to look at their actual physical positions. The attacker is therefore in an offside position under all circumstances (and therefore violating Law 11 when/if the attacker moves back toward the goal line and inteferes with play). No goal.

2. If the GK is on the goal line, and we are to treat the attacker as being where he physically is but the defender is considered to be on the goal line, then the attacker is past both defenders and is in an offside position. Coming “back” from an offside position to play the ball is a violation of Law 11. No goal.

3. If the GK is on the goal line and we are to treat BOTH the attacker and the defender as though they were on the goal line, then the attacker is even with both the last two defenders and is therefore NOT in an offside position. When he moves “back” to play the ball (entering the field by stretching his leg back to play the ball), he is coming from an onside position and cannot be violating Law 11. Goal counts.

4. If the GK is above the goal line, it doesn’t matter how we resolve the question of whether the attacker off the field is on the goal line or not because, under all circumstances, the attacker HAS to be in an offside position and therefore CAME FROM an offside position to interfere with play. No goal.

As you can see, only one of these possibilities produces a valid goal and that possibility requires the goalkeeper to have been on the goal line when the play started.

Thanks for providing us with a very interesting challenge.

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