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.…


I have a question dealing with mechanics. I was an AR on a game today and there was a moment of confusion at the goal line. An attacker played the ball to a teammate who was about three yards away and was just barely in an offside position when the ball was played. As the ball was traveling to the attacker, it deflected off a defender and went out of bounds, passing less than a foot away from the attacker who made an attempt to play the ball. The referee was in a bad position to judge offside and obviously was not aware that an offside infringement had occurred. I put my flag straight up to indicate the offside, and after making eye contact lowered the flag horizontally to indicate the middle of the field is where the infraction occurred. However, the referee who had seen the ball touch the defender, signaled for a corner kick because he thought I had called a goal kick. I quickly beckoned him over and told him an offside had occurred prior to the ball going out of bounds. From there, we sorted out what and where the restart would be.Although we were able to figure our way through this, is there any procedure that could have made this situation less confusing and more efficient? If I may offer my own personal thought, it seems logical to me that when the AR signals for the ball out of play on the goal line and he or she needs to raise the flag, he or she should raise it in the hand closest to the goal line (often the right hand) and then proceed to indicate either a corner kick or goal kick. On the other hand, if an AR needs to indicate offside, he or she should raise the flag vertically in the hand closest to the half line (often the left) and then proceed to signal which part of the field the offense occurred in. However, as I said, this is just my own personal opinion on the matter since the Guide to Procedures never says anything about specific hands the flag should be in.

I realize that this type of situation is probably rare, and even the action of calling the referee over to sort things out is probably adequate to resolve any problems. Nevertheless, it just seems to me that there should be a more effective and efficient way to do this so that the crew can look even more professional.

Thanks for your time in this probably trivial question.

USSF answer (June 18, 2007):
This is an excellent question, as similar problems arise frequently because referees do not give thorough instructions and ARs do not ask enough questions in the pregame conference. The Federation teaches that the AR should never flag for any infringement where it is obvious that the referee can see what happened. If this particular procedure had been discussed in the pregame conference, as it should have been, then the referee would have known that something else had happened. As you describe your signal, the referee would have recognized that an offside occurred before the ball was deflected out of play by the defender. In point of fact, the referee should have known the AR was signaling an offside, because he raised the flag straight up first. If the AR had been signaling “just” a goal kick, the AR would have signaled this by pointing the flag straight out immediately — pointing it straight up and then, after eye contact, pointing toward the goal area for a goal kick would have been correct only if the ball had indeed left the field for a goal kick and then been played back onto the field.…


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.…