Both the LOTG and Advice to Referees state that a player who accidentally goes out of the field of play while contesting for the ball or to beat an opponent should not be considered as having left the field without the referee’s permission. Is there any time or space limit that could apply to this ruling, as if a player runs (uncontested by an opponent) for 10, 20 or 30 yards totally outside the touchline?
This appeared to be the case in a recent game, although the reason for the actual call was not clear. My opinion was that the call would not have been for leaving the field but for some other infringement.
However, I would like a definitive answer.
USSF answer (September 15, 2008):
The Laws tell us: “If a player accidentally crosses one of the boundary lines of the field of play, he is not deemed to have committed an infringement. Going off the field of play may be considered to be part of playing movement.” But they also tell us that any players who do so are expected to return to the field as quickly as possible. The player in your situation would seem to have infringed on the Law.