INTERFERING WITH PLAY VS. INTERFERING WITH AN OPPONENT

Question:
More Law 11 Interpretation Craziness?! I was the AR on a U16 Boys Division 1 game this weekend where I made an offside call against the attacking team. I did not get any complaints from the coaches or players but another more seasoned referee with many years under his belt told me after the game that I made the call premature.

The Setup: The Attacker started off in an offside position on the opponent’s half of the field before the ball is passed.

The Action: The ball is passed up over the head of both the defender and the offside attacker. The attacker slows his run marginally to let the ball drop over his head and as he does so the defender catches up to him. They are now shoulder to shoulder racing for the ball.

The ball is now about four yards away from the two shoulder bumping opponents who are racing for the ball. The attacker appears to me to have the advantage in position to obtain the ball and there are no other attacking players within 30 feet of the ball. So I figure it is a no brainer and I throw up the flag and do not bother to wait for the attacker to touch the ball. I justify this by saying to myself that the offside attacker made a play for the ball and at the same time interfered with play by jostling for position with the defender. I am sure I made the right call when I did and that there was no reason to wait for the attacker to touch the ball.

The other more seasoned referee told me that I should still wait until the attacker actually touches the ball before I throw up the flag. I don’t think it matters as the attacker was clearly offside and interfering with play.

What are your thoughts?

USSF answer (September 29, 2009):
The attacker is interfering with the opponents — both by drawing the opponent into a competition for the ball and by actively challenging the opponent while both are racing for the ball. ¬†Our thoughts? Pop that flag upon the very first indication that the attacker was acting to distract or deceive the opponent while in an offside position.

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