Is there an unwritten rule or understanding that if the play is so close that the AR is unable to determine with any confidence whether or not the player receiving the ball was or was not in an offside position that the AR should decide in favor of either the attacking team or defending team?

While watching some highlights from the 2002 World Cup I saw a few situations where Italian forwards were found to be in an offside position at the moment the ball was played forward to them within the attacking half, however, even when you look at these plays in super slow motion it’s difficult to determine whether or not the players are for sure in an offside position. In such situations, are ARs advised to go in favor of the defending team?

The only thing I was able to find that’s remotely close to this topic was within Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game section 11.7 where it states: “if an assistant referee is in any doubt as to whether a player is actively involved or not, the assistant referee is expected to decide in favor of the attacker; in other words, to refrain from signaling offside.”

But this has to do with whether or not the player in an offside position is actively involved. It doesn’t address what to do if the player is actively involved, but the AR is still unable to determine if this player is in an offside position or not because the play is so close and the action so fast.

In other words, as an AR are you only called to put up your flag to indicate offside if you’re 100% sure? Or if there’s any doubt, do you favor the defending team?

USSF answer (March 3, 2008):
When in doubt, leave the flag down. A less elegant, but equally valid way of saying what is in the Advice — and it is what we tell all referees who are acting as ARs. And your interpretation of offside seems somewhat skewed. If the AR cannot flag a player for offside who is not actively involved in play, then the AR has no decision to make other than to keep the flag down. Players are entitled to be in an offside position whenever their team is on the attack. They are punished only when they are in the offside position and become involved in play.


My questions relate to Advice 11.6 that an off-sides player is “gaining an advantage” when he can capitalize immediately on a defender’s mistake (usually seen in non-controlled keeper deflections or goal post rebounds per Advice) and 11.14.2 that the off-sides determination is “re-set” when a defender gains possession/control of the ball (not simply deflecting it).

Consider Attacker A1 passes to the right flank area where A2 is standing in an off-sides position (10 yards). A2 makes no movement for the ball and even steps back from it (A2 judged not to be involved at this point). Onsides attacker/midfielder A3 begins to moves towards ball. A Defender will get to ball before A3 arrives. Next:
1. Defender’s first touch on the ball, seeing A3 approach, is to purposefully pass it back to keeper to kick a clearing ball. A2, passively observing till now, chases the ball to intercept it or at least challenge keeper’s clearance.
2. Defender gains control of ball and starts to dribble forward and within 2-3 seconds is challenged (otherwise fairly) from A2 who approached from Defenders rear.
3. Same as scenario 2 but A2 arrives 4-5 seconds later.

In each scenario, Defender exhibits some ball possession or control. To what extent, if any, should Defender be allowed to play absent A2’s involvement?

USSF answer (November 26, 2007):
“Off-sides”? “Onsides”? First things first, with a brief lecture on terminology. In soccer, the word is singular — offside or onside — unless we are talking about multiple violations. Second, we must always be clear about whether we are talking about “position” or “infringement,” so it is best at every opportunity to refer to offside or onside position and to an offside infringement.

Perhaps we misunderstand the question(s), but once a defender plays (meaning “possesses and controls”) the ball, there is no longer any immediate concern for the offside or onside position of any opposing player because, by definition, they cannot commit any offside infringement. The referee and the Laws of the Game cannot compensate for the mistakes of players. If a defender gains control of the ball and then misplays it or is so unaware of the position of any opponent as to allow that opponent to sneak up and successfully challenge for the ball, oh well, life is hard.


Here is the scenario:
Three players are in offside position and run towards the ball, drawing defenders as they go. In the meantime, a fourth attacker runs from an onside position onto the ball and scores with it.

Are we to disallow the goal because the three players distracted their opponents? If so, how does this reconcile with the guidance that “a player in an offside position may be penalized before playing or touching the ball if, in the opinion of the referee, no other teammate in an onside position has the opportunity to play the ball.”

USSF answer (November 20, 2007):
It is now an established principle that 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.

From from your description, it is possible that the three attackers, by drawing defenders away from play elsewhere, have interfered with their opponents. The referee in this situation must decide whether in fact that actually occurred. Did these three attackers prevent an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the opponent’s line of vision or movement, or by a gesture or movement which in the opinion of the referee deceives or distracts an opponent. If so, the correct call is offside. If not, then there is no offense.

The confusion here appears to lie in the “exclusivity” of the guidance you cite. That guidance refers only to the issue of whether an attacker is interfering with play. In other words, suggesting the need to wait for a decision when an onside attacker and an offside attacker are both making a play for the ball is related to whether one or the other of the attackers will interfere with play. If, apart from this, one or more attackers who are in offside positions are interfering with an opponent, this presents a separate issue.


I have been a volunteer referee for our league for two years, at the U-10 level, which means I have refereed maybe 20 U-10 games total. I know I have “blown” some calls and will probably make more mistakes in the future, fortunately most parents and coaches are kind and generally, it is all good fun.

In the last game of the season this year (a good close game) an attacker at midfield passed the ball forward. I checked downfield and was certain that the most forward attacker was a good six feet offside, with no other defender except the keeper between the attacker and the goal. The forward pass did a slow roll to the offside attacker about 4-5 seconds later and about halfway between the circle and the box. I blew the whistle and indicated for the IFK. When the coach realized what I was calling, loud protests erupted. The coach, the assistant coach, and at least one parent all yelled and pointed at a defender that to me, had materialized out of thin air in front of the goal box. In U-10, we rarely have linesman, much less ARs, so I was alone on this one. While I was moving towards the spot, wondering to myself how I could have missed a defender standing in front of the net and whether I could do anything about it, the coach marched out to the center of the field to discuss the call with me. I told him that I didnÕt see the defender he was pointing to at the critical moment, it was too late now, and even allowing for the possibility, or even the near certainty, that I had made a mistake, I couldnÕt and wouldnÕt change a call based on something that I did not see. I told him that the coach can’t walk onto the field to have a conference with the referee and that he should return to the sideline, which he did without further protest. I then restarted with an IFK for the defense. I did put a comment on my game card about the unusual on-field conference Ð first time that ever happened to me.

Two questions:
1. Is team official reaction a valid basis for changing a decision, where it is contrary to what you think you saw but you strongly suspect that you may not have seen everything?
2. If it is, when should you use this tool, since it also struck me that, if I start changing calls when the coach yells loud enough, the coach is going to yell more, not just at me but at other volunteers — and I don’t think we will get many volunteer referees if coaches spend the game pointing out the “facts of play” during the games.

USSF answer (November 6, 2007):
1. We normally counsel referees that they cannot call an infringement if they or one of their assistant referees have not seen it. Referees should certainly not take the advice of team officials, who are bound to be protective of their own team’s interests. In this case, it would appear that your first glance down the field missed the defender near the goal. If that is true, you would not be the first referee to which this happened and will certainly not be the last. If the defender was actually there when the ball was played — and you suspect that to be true — then the only correct restart is a dropped ball at the place where the ball was when you stopped play.

We suggest that the referee apologize for missing the defender when he or she looked downfield and let the teams know that the proper restart for this mistake is a dropped ball.

2. Very few coaches actually know the Laws of the Game (or even the rules of the competitions in which their team plays). Always acknowledge their “advice” with a smile and get on with the game. You do not have to put what they say into action. However, if the coach behaves irresponsibly, in other words, becomes abusive, you have the authority to expel him or her from the game and include all details in the match report/game card.


I am a new referee and have a question about Position Paper “Law 11: Offside Interfering with Play and Interfering with an Opponent,” dated August 24th, 2006.

I understand the main point of the paper, but then don’t understand how the goal cannot be disallowed in the specific example in the video clip and paper. The explanation in the paper says the Romario “is in an obvious offside position” and later has the ball played to him to score a goal. I thought the law was once in an offside position, a player continues to be considered offside until a change of possession. What is the intervening action that canceled his ‘original’ offside position?

The paragraph from the paper is below.

In the attached USL clip, Miami player Romario is in an obvious offside position when the ball is last touched by his teammate, Gil, and Gil then plays the ball forward almost directly toward Romario. However, Romario neither touches nor makes any play for the ball. Furthermore, there is no opponent close enough to be reasonably obstructed or impeded in any way nor does Romario make any gesture or movement which could reasonably be considered deceptive or distracting. Gil proceeds to run forward, takes control of his own pass, moves farther downfield from Romario, and then passes the ballback to Romario who ultimately scores a goal. The goal was valid and, in particular, there was no offside offense during any part of this sequence of play.

USSF answer (November 15, 2007):
You may have omitted an essential part of the offside equation while considering this problem. Under many circumstances any player may be in an offside position when his or her teammate plays the ball without fear of being punished for offside. In fact, a player could spend most of the game there without being punished in such a case — unless he or she completes the equation by becoming involved in play. Becoming involved by interfering with play or with an opponent is the point of the entire position paper.

For more up-to-date information, see the two position papers issued on October 16, 2007, “Offside Issues,” and October 17, 2007, “Offside Myths.”


This question concerns an event during a competitive U17B match for which I was the center. During the run of play, team B crosses the ball into the box. The A team goalie comes out, jumps with his hands up, and “flaps” at the ball making just enough contact to spin the ball backwards to a waiting team B player who heads the ball into the net. The B player was in an offside position at the time of the cross.

I ruled this a good goal on the basis that the goalie had made a play on the ball which effectively changed possession. Since the ball played back from a defending player, the B player could not be offside and was free to attack the ball.

I will add that the goalie had made previous successful clearances of crosses and corners with his hands in addition to catching the ball.

Follow up question (which depends on the answer to above). If the keeper had attempted to catch the ball but just missed it off his finger tips, would this be the same as a deflection and, hence, offside judged against the B player?

Answer (October 29, 2007):
Deflections by any opposing player do not affect the status of a player in an offside position; the attacking team’s player must be called offside if he or she becomes involved in play (as defined in Law 11). Unsuccessfully “making a play” for the ball does not establish possession. Nor, for that matter, does successfully “making a play” for the ball if it then deflects to the player in the offside position who becomes involved in play.

Note that there are differences here between “being involved in play,” “playing the ball,” and “making a play” for the ball. (As noted above, see Law 11 for involvement in play.) “Playing the ball” in these circumstances means that the defender (in this case the goalkeeper) possessed and controlled the ball. However, if the defender possessed and controlled the ball badly, it’s still “making a play,” but if it wasn’t possessed and controlled, it wasn’t played in the sense you suggested in your scenario.

A rule: Being able to use the ball subsequent to contact equals possession; deflection is not possession.


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.


Setup: I was A/R, flagged an “offside” infraction, referee didn’t see my flag, ball went on down the field toward defender’s goal. I kept holding my flag up like a good, little soldier. Another defender came in, got the ball, and was fouled( yellow card issued). I still held my flag. Referee (his back to me, in far quadrant) made note of infraction on his paper, signaled start of play, ball moved down the field, and play was off and running. I finally dropped my flag as the blood was draining and making me light headed.

My opposite A/R never echoed my signal – which might have helped, granted. And I was surprised that not one player or coach hollered, “look at your A/R” (which might have help also). But the fact is that since the offside penalty should have stopped play and there was a subsequent yellow card given, it would seem that the yellow card was negated (or should have been negated) because of the foul. (but, since the referee didn’t call it, then I guess it wasn’t a foul after all – sort of like, “if a tree falls the words and no one hears it” scenario)

Question is this: how long does an A/R actually hold his/her flag? Play did technically go in favor of the defenders (as it should with an offside call. If a referee ignores the A/R’s signal, and subsequent fouls occur (in this case, a yellow card issued), is there anything an A/R should do to bring attention to this? (and yes, I am a firm believer in the adage that an A/R is there to assist, not insist – I’m just looking for advice on how to handle situations like this if it comes up again)

Answer (October 2, 2007):
You would appear to have broken one of the prime commandments of the assistant referee by INsisting on a call rather than ASsisting. No matter that the other AR did not mirror your flag and the referee ignored it totally, the AR does not hold the flag up until his/her arm drains of blood, except in three situations:

  1. OFFSIDE . . ., but ONLY if the attacking team still in possession
  2. Ball out of bounds and comes back on the field
  3. Violent conduct that the referee did not see

You will find the following information in the 2007 edition of the USSF publication “Advice to Referees on the Laws of the Game,” now available for purchase on the ussoccer.com website:

If the assistant referee signals a ball out of play, but the referee does not see the signal for an extended period, during which play is stopped and restarted several times, the assistant referee should lower the flag. The FIFA Referee Committee has declared that it is impossible for the referee to act on the assistant referee’s signal after so much play. If the referee misses the assistant referee’s signal for offside, the assistant referee should stand at attention with the flag raised until the defending team gains clear possession or until a goal kick or throw-in is awarded to the defending team. To avoid such situations, the referee should make eye contact with the assistant referees as often as possible. In addition, the assistant referees must be alert for and mirror each other’s signals if needed to assist the referee.The assistant referee should maintain a signal if a serious foul or misconduct is committed out of the referee’s sight or when a goal has been scored illegally. The referee should cover this situation during the pregame conference with the assistant referees.

So, in line with the last paragraph of the quote, what were the referee’s pregame instructions? (A) There weren’t any at all (bad ref, no donut), (B) there were instructions which the AR followed to no avail (also bad ref), or (C) there were instructions and the AR didn’t follow them (no donut for the AR).

Resolve this problem and the bad situation goes away.


When a player is off sides but not influencing the play and the ball is brought forward, when can this player receive the ball? Essentially a player in the off sides position can not receive the ball until when?

Answer (September 6, 2007):
A player is not offside but is IN AN OFFSIDE POSITION if he or she is in the opponents’ half of the field, ahead of the ball and nearer to the opposing goal than the next-to-last opponent. (One of these two opponents may or may not be the goalkeeper.) A player who is in an offside position when his/her teammate plays the ball may not receive the ball nor participate actively in play without being called offside. This player may not receive the ball legally until he or she has returned to an onside position. This usually involves moving him- or herself back to an onside position before a teammate next plays the ball. A player in an offside position should not be called offside if an opponent clearly gains full possession and control of the ball — and the player has not been interfering in play or with an opponent.


I encountered this situation a little a while ago and wish to have some clarification: A ball was played to a player in an offsides position, but the pass was too long, so it rolled to to keeper. The AR raised the flag, but I waved him down, since tha ball was back in the defense’s posession. As the keeper was picking it up, he drops the ball and the forward scores. Right after the goal is scored, the AR goes back to the same spot and raises his flag. I ran over and he tells me that that was the player that had been offsides. I call the goal back and restart the game with an indirect kick for the defensive team. Was this the right call, or should a goal had been scored?This play didnt affect the game much, since the offensive team was winning 5-1.


Answer (August 24, 2007):
Whether your decision was correct or not, let’s get something straight from the start: When you wave off the assistant referee’s flag, that means you have overruled the AR’s suggestion. It also means that he or she should get on with the game and not bring up this situation again until any discussion you may have after the game.

During the pregame conference, you as referee should tell the ARs what you expect in this and other situations. The ARs, in turn, should then ask any questions to clarity what you expect of them. Their job is to ASSIST, not to INSIST.

Now, all of that said, the referee would seem to have been too quick with the wave down. Technically, when he waved you (the AR) down he indicated his decision that there was no offside infringement. However, that raises the issue … could the referee change his mind? Might there be a better way for the AR to indicate the offside?

If the goalkeeper was judged not to have “possessed and controlled” the ball, a better mechanic for indicating the offside would have been for the AR (you) to stand still rather than run up field. This is not the standard procedure here, but it makes sense. It gives the AR a chance to advise the referee of the circumstances, despite having been waved down earlier, It is more unobtrusive than coming back up field and putting the flag up in the air, and it maximizes the referee’s flexibility to decide either way. As long as play was not restarted, the referee could then choose to disallow the goal.