Ok, I understand two things from the USSF position papers about offside and the AR’s job to make the call:
1. After the ball is played and there is an offside player and an onside teammate running towards the ball and the onside teammate has a reasonable chance of getting there first, the AR should not make the offside call unless the offside player touches the ball first.
2. Independently of the first item, there is a situation where an offside player (only) and a defender are running towards the ball. If there is potential for physical contact here, the AR should make the offside call for interfering with an opponent.

Now, my hypothetical scenario is this. Let’s say there is two teammates running towards the ball, one onside and one offside. Both have an equal chance of playing the ball first. According to guideline #1, the AR should wait until one of the players has touched the ball. But what about when a defender (or defenders) also run towards the ball? Should the AR immediately flag the offside? Should the AR decide if there is potential physical contact between the offside player and the defender before making the call? In this situation, should the AR just wait to see who gets the ball first?

USSF answer (May 31, 2007):
To quote a recent Federation memorandum, “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.”


I was an AR during a O30 match when the ball went in-touch on the far end of the field from me (in front of the attacker’s bench area). A defender went to retrieve the ball (perhaps thinking it was his team’s throw-in).

While the defender was retrieving the ball, an attacker picked up a free ball from his bench-area and quickly restarted with a throw-in. The ball was then played forward by an attacker to a teammate who would have been offside EXCEPT for the defender now returning from having retrieved the previous in-touch ball. The defender was still off the field of play and the attacker proceeded with a clear run at the goal.

Offside or not? [I did not call offside considering him as still the second-to-last defender: “11.11 Defender legally off the field of play” within “Advice To Referees on the Laws of the Game”]

To complicate matters a little more, the ball that the attacker picked up from his bench area was not one of the game balls given the referees prior the game. The center ref obviously let play restart (probably not even aware that the other ball was being retrieved by a defender). As an AR, what is my responsibility in this situation?

Answer (May 29, 2007):
The Laws of the Game were not written to compensate for the mistakes of players. The defender, obviously a splendid and generous person, committed the error of not watching what was happening. Life is hard, no offside.

However, the fact that the ball put into play by the opposing team was not an approved ball is a more serious matter. A goal may not be scored if the ball is not one approved by the referee prior to the game. If the referee did not recognize the switch and stop play, then you, the AR, who did recognize that fact, should have signalled to the referee.

You have actually given us a two-part problem. First, what SHOULD have been done? Second, given that what SHOULD have been done wasn’t, how do we make things right (if possible)? It is possible that the above two paragraphs do not provide the full practical answer. Given that the AR should have made the referee aware of the illegal ball, does it follow that, if he eventually did do so but this occurred after the goal was scored, must the goal be disallowed and, in effect, the match rewound back to the throw-in to be done with a correct ball? What if play had restarted with a kick-off after the goal and THEN the referee was finally made aware that the ball was illegal? What if no one made the referee aware of the illegal ball until the match ended? Does this have to be included in the match report? Suppose the losing team became aware of the illegal ball — does this make the match protestable (did the referee “set aside a law of the game”)? We leave this for you and other readers to ponder.


I have begun working games for another soccer association and the A/R uses a hand signal which I find unusual. On a close offside call the A/R will run down the touch with the flag in his outside hand and the other hand will be extended away from the body similar to a one armed advantage call. I assume they are doing this to inform me that the play was onside. Doesn’t the mere fact that they are following the ball down the touchline tell me that the play was onside. This is a new one and me and I would like your thoughts.USSF answer (May 2, 2007):
The extended hand is actually an old signal, one that was discouraged for a long time, calling it a “negative signal,” but which has come up again. There is nothing really wrong with it, but your reasoning is clearly absolutely correct. The matter has not come up since the answer below was published August 27, 2004:

There was a time (longer ago than 3-4 years, however) when negative signals or, more generally, any signals not specifically approved by FIFA or USSF and not described in the Guide to Procedures were discouraged. With the publication of the 1998 Guide to Procedures, that emphasis began to change. The 1998 Guide stated:Other signals or methods of communication intended to supplement those described here are permitted only if they do not conflict with established procedures and only if they do not intrude on the game, are not distracting, are limited in number and purpose, and are carefully described by the referee prior to the commencement of a match.

This included so-called “negative signals” (for example, the assistant referee indicating “no offside”). If the officiating team discussed such a signal ahead of time and it met the criteria, using it is okay so long as it is kept within reasonable limits. Remember, the purpose of any signal is to communicate so it must do that much at least.

USSF’s approach continues to follow this guideline. Even the occasional use of some gesture by the referee to indicate a handling offense or tripping is acceptable if, in the opinion of the referee, it is NEEDED FOR THIS PARTICULAR GAME to communicate essential information in a critical situation. “Negative” or non-standard signals should not become standard practice for every game.


I have one question? I was holding an entry level class and a student asked about the following. One cannot be offside if they receive a ball directly from a goal kick,even if they are about 25 yards from the opponents goal, but one can be offside if there was a DFK from the 19 yard line and the opponents tried for an offside trap. A person was asking for the rationale behind it. I could only reply that the law provided for one but not the other, but not a reason why. Can you help me?USSF answer (March 7, 2007):
There is no known documentation regarding the reason for this exemption of the goal kick (or of the throw-in or corner kick). These exemptions were installed in the Laws in the 1880s. One possibility is that these exemptions have in common a method of putting the ball into play after it has passed beyond the boundary lines. In other words, a technical procedure. Another possibility is that it was an early attempt to increase goalscoring possibilities. Yet a third possibility is that it would be extremely rare for a goal to be scored directly from a goal kick, although that possibility now exists with the changes in the Laws of 1997.


I was recently on a game where the attacker was offside and actively involved in play. I put my flag up to indicate offside, but the referee did not see me. During the pregame the center official instructed both me and the other assistant referee to “leave the flag up if you put it up no matter what.” The attacker dribbled directly into the penalty area where he was fouled. The referee had called a penalty kick and the defensive opponent was sent off for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity. The defensive team pointed to me with my flag up to indicate I had called offside to the center official. The referee came over to talk to me on the touchline. I told the center official that the attacker that was fouled, was offside. BEFORE THE RESTART OF PLAY, he called the first infringement which was offside. He then came over to the defender who was sent off, and was still on the team bench but putting his things away in his bag and cautioned the defender making it very clear with his words and body language “I messed up, you are not sent off, but you are receiving a caution for the tackle in the penalty area that was unsporting behavior.” The referee allowed the player to continue playing for the rest of the duration of the match.Question #1: Should I have gone with my center and give indication for the penalty kick, or did I do the right thing by indicating offside?

Question #2: Does the misconduct still stand, despite the call being changed?

Question #3: Did the referee do the right thing by indicating that the defender was not sent off, but cautioned for unsporting behavior?

USSF answer (January 29, 2007):
1. You followed the referee’s instructions from the pregame conference, which is what you are supposed to do–unless the referee is about to violate one of the Laws of the Game or a rule of the competition. We might note that this instruction should never be given by a referee, other than with regard to serious foul play/violent conduct or when the ball has gone out of play and returned to the field–unless “too much play” has gone on, including stoppages and restarts.

2. Yes, the concept of misconduct should still be considered. an option for the referee. if the act would normally have been called a foul, but did not involve the use of excessive force, the defender should be cautioned, just as the referee did it.

3. Yes.