Having attended a recent meeting covering offside violations, I have been more diligent in keeping the flag down until an offside player actually touches the ball, thus constituting interference with play. However, on a couple instances this spring I was unsure at what point I should have considered the offside player to be interfering with an opponent.
On these occasions, it all started when a pass would go through the entire defense leaving only an offside attacker and the goalkeeper between the rest of the players and the goal line. The attacker is racing toward the ball as the goalkeeper is coming out, sometimes out of the penalty area, to play the ball. It seems obvious that if the attacker touches the ball first, it would be an offside violation.
However, as they get closer to coming together at the ball, at what point does this become interfering with an opponent, if at all?
If the goalkeeper kicks the ball first and it deflects off the attacker, who was in an offside position, and it goes back into the goal, would the goal stand or would it be considered “gaining an advantage by being in an offside position”?
If the goalkeeper kicks the ball first but it goes to another attacker who was not originally offside and that attacker is able to then score on the empty net, would the offside attacker be deemed to have interfered with an opponent (the goalkeeper) by distracting the keeper and causing a poor clearance or is that just tough luck?
USSF answer (April 13, 2010):
The goalkeeper is doing what goalkeepers are supposed to do, defend their goal, and the attacker is doing what attackers are supposed to do, attack the opposing goal. Despite the fact that the attacker began his run from an offside position, we need to remember that being in an offside position is not an infringement of the Law; it is simply a factor to be considered in determining offside. When dealing with players in the offside position, the referee must wait for them to become involved in play. “Interfering with play” may be called only when there is contact with the ball by the attacking player.
If the goalkeeper gets to the ball first and kicks it into the onrushing attacker, there is no offside. If the ‘keeper kicks the ball to another attacker who had been onside the entire time, there is no offside.
Because you seem a bit confused as to how various forms of involvement work, it seems justified to repeat here the definitions of active involvement as they are spelled out in the Laws of the Game (Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidance for Referees):
LAW 11 – OFFSIDE
In the context of Law 11 — Offside, the following definitions apply:
• “nearer to his opponents’ goal line” means that any part of a player’s head, body or feet is nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second last opponent. The arms are not included in this definition
• “interfering with play” means playing or touching the ball passed or touched by a teammate
• “interfering with an opponent” means preventing an opponent from playing or being able to play the ball by clearly obstructing the opponent’s line of vision or movements or making a gesture or movement which, in the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts an opponent
• “gaining an advantage by being in that position” means playing a ball that rebounds to him off a goalpost or the crossbar having been in an offside position or playing a ball that rebounds to him off an opponent having been in an offside position
NOTE: In the context of offside, the terms “played,” “touched,” and “made contact with” are synonymous.
And finally, we should all remember that soccer is a game in which goals are meant to be scored. The Laws of the Game were not written to compensate for the mistakes of players.