In last night’s comment thread on the US v. Colombia game, there were a couple of questions about the offside ruling that disallowed an early US goal. The call was correct, but the question was what is offsides in soccer?
Offside is a field control rule. Almost every sport that involves putting a ball into a designated area (either a net or an endzone) has field control rules. Basketball has back court violations, hockey has the blue line and icing, football has line of scrimmage violations, lacrosse limits the number of players in a zone, and soccer uses offsides to control the pace, location, and styles of play.
Offsides is a multi-part test where all tests must be passed for a violation to occur. The first is that offsides can only be an infraction when Player X is on the offensive side of the field. Secondly, the ball must have been played to Player X by a teammate. The incoming pass must have originated from within the boundaries of play. Next the potentially offside player has to worry about her relative position. She is in an offside position if neither condition is met: there are two defending players (usually but not necessarily the goalie and someone else) between her forward most goal scoring body part and the goal line OR the ball is in front of her. Finally, a player in an offside position must be gaining an advantage from being in that offside position. Advantage means the ball is touched, a defender is getting bodied up, the goal keeper is getting screened etc. Advantage does not occur if the player in offside position becomes a temporary croquet wicket and allows the ball to go through her legs.
Yeah, that is complicated.
And then it gets more complicated.
When do we reset the dynamic offside on a shot? It is reset once the either the shooting team touches the ball again, or the defending team gains clear possession and can make a deliberate, intentional play on the ball. Clear as mud on the last part. The first part is easy, any touch resets the offside line, so three strands of hair, or a butt re-direction or a heel bounce or anything else is a reset of the off-side dynamic. The second part is confusing. Goalkeepers are assumed to not have clear possession of the ball unless it is either at their feet with no pressure, in their hands, or deliberately parried to a teammate far far away. A punch, an outstretched hand, a kick save that puts the ball bouncing in the bounce does not count as possession. That counts as a defensive deflection so we’re still on the offside decision from the time of the shot. Players who were in an offside position at the shot can’t get involved in play, that is why the goal was disallowed last night.
Clear as mud… if you want clarification, we’ll watch dozens of clips of close off side calls and non-calls at training seminars and spend hours debating two or three of the closest/oddest ones. The best Assistant Referees (ARs), the side refs with flags, whose job is primarily about offside, will hit 98% to 99% correctness at professional speed, and they’re getting the closest calls right by effectively sexing the chicken.