Coming from an Offside Position

Shane Wallace, a parent from Tomball TX, asks:

Can a player who is passively offside come back onside to receive a pass? During our game, our forwards were checking to an offside position and then running back to an onside position to receive a pass. The ref on the field was calling them off side. When they had received/touched the ball, they were in an onside position. What is the correct ruling here?
It caused a big uproar because the opposing team was doing it and the ref was not calling it.

Answer

Let’s deal with the easiest issue first … the last statement.  If the referee was making calls on exactly the same situation one way for one team but a different way for the opposing team, then this is clearly incorrect.  However, there is no way that we can comment on things we haven’t ourselves seen.

Now, as for the core issue, the referee was entirely correct to call an offside violation under the circumstance which you described.  Issues related to Law 11 (Offside) are the 5th largest category of questions on this site and at the heart of many of them is the situation you have described.  Spectators are often confused by this element of Law 11 because the term “offside position” appears to refer to a place on the field.  It doesn’t.  It refers instead to a “flag” which is set to “offside position” whenever an attacker, at the moment the ball is touched/played by a teammate, is ahead of the ball, the midfield line, and the second-to-last-defender.  Once “flagged” for an offside position, the attacker cannot get rid of this until one of three things happens — the ball is again touched/played by a teammate and the attacker no longer meets the three criteria, the ball is deliberately played by an opponent, or the referee stops play (e.g., the ball leaves the field in favor of the defending team, there is an injury, a foul is committed, etc.).

In short, once in an offside position, an attacker is still in an offside position from that moment forward no matter where his teammates move, no matter where the defenders move, and no matter where the ball moves!  And this is exactly what you described.  Your player was in an offside position at one point and then moved to a different place on the field where he may have looked like he was in an onside position, but he wasn’t, he was still in an offside position because he “carried” it with him.  This is often referred to as “coming from an offside position” and is matched by its exact opposite — “coming from an onside position” which refers to an attacker who makes contact with the ball in an apparent offside position but remains onside (and shouldn’t be called for a violation) because he was in an onside position when his teammate last played/touched the ball.

By the way, the term “passive offside” is no longer used precisely because it muddies the water.  The offside position is neither passive nor active and, by definition, the offside violation is always “active.”…

Throwing things

From a referee in Romania:

LOG USSF edition 2015/2016  writes at page no. 128: “If a player standing inside the field of play throws an object at any person standing outside the field of play, the referee restarts play with an indirect free kick from the position of the ball when play was stopped (see Law 13 – Position of free kick).”  This situation is not presented expressly in the LOG 2016/2017.  How should we handle a situation in which, for example, the goalkeeper aggressively throws the ball at a person off the field of play?

Answer:

It’s always difficult to figure out what to do when there is no explicit guidance.  The best approach is to continue doing what the Law has said in the past because the prior guidance has not been specifically modified or rejected.  So, in short, continue following the prescribed restart:  an indirect free kick where the ball was when play was stopped.  However, that said, your question also raises two issues that we might usefully address.  First, why is it an indirect free kick?  Second, what does “where the ball was” mean in practice?

Although we use an indirect free kick because this is what the Law says (or said last year, as well as for many years before), it often helps to know the reason.  The Law involving thrown objects generally is based on the notion that, whenever anything is thrown, the object becomes an extension of the hand.  For example, if a player throws a rock at an opponent during play, this is considered a form of “striking” with the rock simply standing in for the fist.  Aside from the misconduct, where is the restart for this striking?  It is where the target was struck (or where the target ducked and avoided being actually hit).  It is as though the player had run up to that opponent and swung his fist.  Where the target is off the field, then, the thrown object leaving the field means that the thrower, in effect, left the field (there is, of course, still misconduct).  What is the restart if you stop play for a player who has illegally left the field?  An indirect free kick!

Now, as to the issue of the location of the restart, we come to a problem.  Wherever in the law an indirect free kick is specified as the restart and the location is not the usual “location of the offense,” the alternate location is “where the ball was when play was stopped.” (See, for example, the restart specified in Law 4 for a player re-entering the field without permission after being ordered off to correct or change equipment).  In all such cases, the location of the ball at the time of stoppage is easily determined because the ball has remained on the field.  This is true even in the case of a thrown object where the object is not the ball, but it is not true when the object is the ball and the ball has been thrown at something off the field.  Moreover, when has play actually been stopped?  Most people assume that this occurs only upon hearing a whistle but, actually, it is when the referee has decided to stop play.  In practice, though, by the time the dust settles, two things are locked in everyone’s mind — play is stopped and the ball is off the field. Since we do not restart play from off the field, we have to come up with something else — something consistent with the spirit of the Law.  Two location possibilities come to mind.  One is where the ball was last on the field when all this started and that would be where the thrown ball crossed the field’s boundary line.  The other is where the goalkeeper was when he or she launched the throw.  Either is supportable but, for various reasons, we would recommend defining “where the ball was” based on the position of the goalkeeper (it is probably the quickest to determine and the easiest to sell).…