In the USSF training (at least in my area) for many years now the instruction has been that for out of bounds calls for which the officials do not see/know which team ought to get the possession, a throw in or a goal kick should be awarded to the “defense.”
I assume this has been USSF’s preference all along as well. Given the emphasis today by FIFA and USSF on “scoring” and “offensive play” for soccer should we officials now be awarding throw ins and corner kicks for the “attacking” team rather than the defense when we are uncertain who last touched the ball? (Yes, I know this circumstance should never occur – esp. with 3 officials – but unfortunately it does!)
USSF answer (February 1, 2010):
Although INFORMAL advice for many years was to award the ball to the defending team on any questionable situation where the ball had passed out of play across one of the boundary lines, that WAS NOT and IS NOT the Federation’s formal guidance on a ball passing out of play.
Referees should take care not to use any unofficial option as a means of avoiding a difficult but necessary decision as to which team should have the restart. Nor should the referee use the dropped ball to restart play as a crutch in those cases where there is some question about the correct restart. The referee must make a decision and announce it firmly.
This excerpt from the Advice to Referees 2009/2010 should give referees all the guidance they need:
9.3 SIMULTANEOUS TOUCHES
The referee should promptly signal a clear decision on the direction for the restart when the ball appears to have gone off the field from “simultaneous” touches by members of both teams. Under the Laws of the Game, it is not permissible to give a dropped ball restart in situations where the referee cannot decide which team has possession. The players quickly identify referee indecision, and will use it to their advantage.
To emphasize the point: MAKE A DECISION, REFEREE!