I was an AR in a U19 match this week. The ball was in play near the endline, inside the 6-yard area. I judged a player to have been offside, about a yard off the endline, very shortly before the ball went out of play. I raised my flag to vertical, waited for the whistle, then lowered my flag to horizontal — to indicate offside in the middle third of the field. The center referee interpreted my signal as the ball having gone across the endline, off the attacking team, with a goal kick for the restart. The rules of the competition allowed for substitutions, so he turned and motioned them onto the field. From my vantage point, the ball actually was last touched by a defender, so had the offside not ocurred, the restart would have been a corner kick (with substitutions allowed by the rules of the competition). I did a quick evaluation, decided the difference was trifling, and let matters go on (which, at halftime, the center agreed was the best course of action). So, my first question is what should I have done differently as a mechanic to indicate that there was an offside infraction, rather than the ball going out of play? The difference seems trifling, from a practical standpoint, with the difference being a direct restart with no possibility of the now attacking team being offside direct from the kick, versus an IFK. And my second question is whether I’m missing anything in the nature of the restart — is this, for practical purposes, a trifling difference, not to be worried about?
USSF answer (March 15, 2009):
The referee made the first error in this scenario. The signal you gave was proper and should not have been interpreted as indicating a goal kick restart. If that had been the case, you would have been pointing the flag straight out when you and the referee made eye contact instead of being (as was the case here) held straight upward and followed by being held straight out. The only way your signal could have been an indication of a goal kick would be if the ball had left the field — unnoticed by the referee but seen by you — and returned to the field with players still actively playing it as though it had not left the field.
The general guideline, however, is that, given a choice between an offside violation in the area you indicated and a goal kick, FIFA and USSF both recommend going with the goal kick. The restarts in both cases are, for all practical purposes, equivalent and the latter occasions less need for explanation and is more readily accepted. This is not the case in your scenario where, if the indication for offside were not accepted, the restart would have been a corner kick instead of a goal kick. Here, the offside violation must be called. Since the referee misinterpreted your signal, it is incumbent upon you to make the misunderstanding known to the referee.
The argument that the goal kick is similar to the IFK restart for the offside cannot be accepted because the choice was not between offside and a goal kick, it was between offside and a corner kick. Furthermore, the offside restart would possibly not have allowed for substitutions whereas the goal kick restart did.