Regarding the recent IFAB/USSF memorandum about Defenders Leaving the Field of Play:

A fellow referee recently told me that we should interpret the memo to mean that if the defender leaves the field along one of the touchlines, for the purpose of attempting to put an attacker in an offside position, that we should judge his position to be the point on the touchline where he/she actually left the field — not necessarily the closest point on the touchline to where the player actually is at the moment the AR has to judge offside position. What the ref is telling me seems like the fair thing to do, but I don’t see that wording in the memorandum. And it could make a big difference.

Example: The second-to-last defender leaves the field of play over a touchline some 20 yards out from the endline. The third-to-last defender is 30 yards out from the endline and on the field of play.

While play continues, the second-to-last defender who is now off the field of play begins to walk up the field, but off the field, away from his team’s own endline. He makes it to a point off the field that is 35 yards from the endline in an effort to make the teammate at 30 yards the new second-to-last. Now, an attacker, who has made it to the 25 yard mark becomes actively involved in play from a pass by a teammate who was farther from the goal they are attacking when it was passed. Offside or not? According to the memorandum, it seems yes.

According to the fellow referee I mentioned above – no.

Am I missing something?

USSF answer (August 20, 2009):
The defender who leaves the field in the normal course of play or in an attempt to make an attacker be in an offside position is to be treated as on the field at the point on the goal line or touchline closest to where the defender left.  

So, you ask, what happens if the defender moves while off the field, just as in your example?  For offside purposes, the player who has left the field over the touchline remains at the spot where he or she left. The same holds true if the player leaves the field across the goal line near the far post and, while the same play is continuing, comes around the far corner and is off the field (still) but now several yards up from the goal line.  In that case, too, the player remains “on the goal line closest to where he left the field” for purposes of determining the second to last defender.  In other words, the player’s movement while off the field makes no difference.

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