During an actual international friendly match at an overseas location, Team A is down by one goal. Player A1 on his own half of the field, takes a long kick which travels long towards the goalkeeper of team D. At the time of the kick, forward player A2 is on off-side position 5 yards passed midfield. Player A2 makes an attempt to run for the ball, but abandons his attempt after taking 2 or 3 steps towards the ball realizing he has no chance of reaching it. Assistant Referee One (AR1) decides not to raise his flag since the ball quickly traveled all the way down the field inside the Penalty area of goalkeeper D. AR1 quickly sprints towards the goalkeeper’s position following the ball. The goalkeeper controls the ball with his feet and starts dribbling it around the Penalty area, but never picks up or touches the ball with his hands. Approximately, 10 seconds later, forward player A2 realizing the goalkeeper D is attempting to consume time, starts running towards goalkeeper D. Player A2 reaches the Penalty area and is able to steal the ball from goalkeeper D. Player A2 scores a goal.
The Center referee (REF) and AR1 signal for a goal. Team D complains and calls for an Off-side.
Game is resumed with a kick off and ends 15 minutes later.
Was AR1 wrong by not raising his flag for the off-side when it initially took place?
When is an off-side considered over and a new play started, if the game is never stopped for any reason by the referee?
Was AR1 supposed to raise his flag as soon as he realized player A2 is running towards goalkeeper D, 10 seconds later?.
Were the REF and AR1 correct by allowing the goal?
Does the Spirit of the Game, and Spirit of the Law have any weight in this scenario?.
This scenario has created a lot of controversy at the overseas location where I officiate.
USSF answer (July 1, 2008):
This following answer applies to games played in the United States. We cannot be responsible for what might be permitted in “the overseas location” where you officiate.
A player’s offside position must be reevaluated whenever (1) the ball is again touched or played by a teammate; (2) the ball is played (possessed and controlled, not simply deflected) by an opponent, including the opposing goalkeeper, or (3) the ball goes out of play — which is not applicable in this scenario.
The result of this reevaluation, of course, may be that the player remains in an offside position based on still being beyond the second-to-last defender, the ball, and the midfield line. Referees must remember that a player cannot simply run to an onside position and become involved in play. The player’s position with relation to the ball and the opponents must change in accordance with the Law.
If the goalkeeper has clearly established possession and control of the ball, as suggested in your scenario, then player A2 is now relieved of his offside position and may play the ball.
To answer your questions as they occur: AR1 was correct. We have shown how A2 is no longer offside if he stopped his initial play for the ball and then waited the ten seconds to begin running after the ball now clearly in the goalkeeper’s possession and control. No, the AR was not supposed to raise the flag in this case. Yes, the referee was correct in allowing the goal — the AR has no say there. The Spirit of the Laws and of the Game were not injured here.