Two players (attacker and defender) momentum take them both out off the field of play by the goal line about 5 yards from the goal. Just prior to going off the pitch, the attacker saves the ball from going out and passes it back to a teammate just inside the box.

The attacker that saves the ball and passes it back goes off the pitch and then comes back on the field in a matter of 1-2 seconds. In the process the teammate that received the pass shots wide and to the feet of the first attacker that just came back on the field. When the ball is struck, he is in front of the keeper and the defender that followed him off the pitch (the defender is still off the pitch when the ball is struck and also received by the attacker). The defending team claim it is offside because the defender was not on the field of play. Then they complained that the attacker didn’t get permission to enter the field of play. What should the call had been? Was I correct by not calling offside and that there was no need to ask to re-enter the field when your momentum takes you off the pitch. Thank you for your help.

USSF answer (June 25, 2009):
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. Players who leave the field during the course of play are permitted to return without the permission of the referee and play the ball.

A recent change to the Laws of the Game (see Interpretations and Guidance for Referees, Laws 2008/2009) makes it clear that “Any defending player leaving the field of play for any reason without the referee’s permission shall be construed to be on his own goal line or touch line for the purposes of offside until the next stoppage of play. If the player leaves the field of play deliberately, he must be cautioned when the ball is next out of play.” You will also find this change in the Memorandum 2008, available through the referee page at the ussoccer.com website:

“USSF Advice to Referees: The new text more explicitly describes how referees are to consider the location of a defender off the field when deciding if an attacker is or is not in an offside position. A defender who is off the field with the referee’s permission (and thus cannot freely return to the field) is not included in determining where the last and second to last defenders are located. A defender whose position off the field was not with the permission of or at the direction of the referee is deemed to be on the goal line or touch line closest to where the defender left the field and must therefore be considered as though still on the field. Furthermore, if the departure from the field is “deliberate,” (i.e., other than during the normal course of play), the defender is to be cautioned for the misconduct.”

So, yes, your decision was correct. Well done!

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