A pass from a teammate goes to an attacker in an offside position. Only this attacker is in the area of the pass and it is clear that the pass was intended for this attacker. While the ball is in the air, a defender reaches up and handles the ball to prevent it reaching this attacker. Should we call the handling foul even though we know that we will call this attacker for an offside violation if the ball reaches him?
USSF answer (June 9 2009):
ATTENTION!!! All referees please note that this answer involves a change in prior guidance due to the evolving interpretation of the offside offense by the International Football Association (the people who make the Laws).
Back in “the good old days,” pre-2008, it would have been simple: Punish the offside (interfering with play) and award the indirect free kick to the defender’s team, but caution the defender for unsporting behavior for the deliberate handling of the ball. This was based on the argument that the offside offense occurred first and, since it was going to be called because the pass was clearly “going to” the attacker, the referee’s decision to accept the AR’s flag for the offside stopped play and the handling therefore occurred during a stoppage. The caution was for unsporting behavior since it was the defender’s intention to “interfere with attacking play.”
Now, however, in the modern, post-2008 era, we are unable to do this because the offside offense has become somewhat more complicated. Under current guidance for deciding if an attacker in an offside position has interfered with play, we look to whether or not the attacker makes contact with the ball (not counting the possibility that the attacker’s actions might be considered to have interfered with an opponent). We must remember that, despite the intentions of the teammate and despite how clearly the ball is “going to” the attacker, that attacker could still decide not to interfere with play by avoiding all contact with the ball. That “pass to the attacker” by itself does not constitute interfering with play. Consequently, based solely on that “pass to the attacker,” the AR should not raise the flag for an offside violation, so we are left with the handling offense — direct free kick (or penalty kick if the handling occurred in the defender’s penalty area). The referee should still caution the defender for the tactical foul. If the AR does mistakenly raise the flag based solely on the pass, the referee should wave it down and proceed as indicated to deal with the handling.