The offside infraction is one of the most widely misunderstood rules in soccer. Here are the basics.
The purpose of the offside rule is to prevent a team from stationing a player in front of the opposing goal and passing to him/her for an easy score. To determine if there was an offside infraction, ask three questions.
- Where were you? You are in an offside position if you are:
- In your attacking half of the field
- Closer to your opponent’s goal line than the second-to-last defender (typically only the goalkeeper is between you and the goal). If you are even with the second to last defender or the ball, you are not offside.
- Closer to your opponent’s goal line than the ball
- When were you there? The moment of judgment is the precise instant one of your teammates plays the ball. That instant lasts until someone else on either side plays the ball.
- Were you involved in the play? If you are in an offside position at the instant your teammate plays the ball and you become actively involved in the play, you have committed an offside infraction. It is not an infraction to simply be in an offside position. If you never become actively involved in the play, you have had no impact on the game and there is no infraction. Play continues uninterrupted. "No harm, no foul."
What does "actively involved" mean?
- Touching the ball or running to the ball in order to play it.
- Interfering with an opponent who is trying to play the ball.
- Otherwise helping your team gain an advantage, e.g., blocking the goalkeeper’s view of the ball.
Making the call is a matter of fact
, and opinion
- Were you in an offside position? This is a matter of fact.
- Were you in that offside position a split second before or after your teammate played the ball? This is a judgment call that often requires being in exactly the right position to see.
- Whether you were actively involved in the play is a matter of opinion.
Keep in mind:
- Offside position is determined by where you are at the instant a teammate plays the ball, not where you were when you became actively involved in the play. For example, if you're in an offside position and a teammate kicks the ball in your direction, you can't avoid an offside penalty by running to an onside position before touching the ball.
- There is no offside infraction if you receive the ball directly from a throw-in, corner kick, or goal kick.
- There is no offside infraction if an opponent last plays the ball. However, a pass from a teammate that simply bounces off an opponent to you in an offside position is usually ruled a continuous pass and the infraction is called.
- There are many gray areas where referees will disagree among themselves. Live with it.