One of the hardest things to get our parents and spectators to understand about offside is the concept of advantage and how a player off to the side that isn’t interfering with the keeper and isn’t part of the play, is not ‘offside’ Its a VERY fine line and a tough call to make in the rush of an attack. I personally know that I tend to lean towards interference/distraction more than I should. When a play is rushing the goal to the left, offside, while the ball handler rushes up on the right, how can the keeper NOT be distracted? If they don’t shift as far right as they normally would afraid the right attacker will get a pass, etc – that’s advantage. But it a VERY hard call to make.

During the NY Red Bull (Man I can’t get used to that) DC United match April 2nd, a goal was allowed that US Soccer/USSF later felt was called incorrectly. I have to admit this type of second guessing can be detrimental if done too often. But as a teaching tool, it can be a great thing. This memo from Alfred Kleinaitis lays out a very detailed account of what happened and why the goal should have been disallowed:

It was a magnificent direct free kick by the Red Bull’s Youri Djorkaeff (No. 10). The shot from 30 yards out sailed untouched into the upper left corner of the D.C. United goal and represented the kind of exciting play that makes soccer "the beautiful game."

Unfortunately, the goal should not have been counted due to a violation of Law 11 (Offside) by two Red Bull attackers who were in an offside position at the time of the restart and who interfered with the United goalkeeper Troy Perkins. View the goal: 350K

There is no dispute that Red Bulls Chris Henderson (No. 19) and Seth Stammler (No. 6) were in an offside position at the time of the free kick. Both attackers were just inside the goal area with Henderson virtually in line between Perkins and the location of the free kick while Stammler was farther to the right. This put Henderson less than six yards in front of the goalkeeper.

There was no strategic or tactical reason for these positions, nor had the players in question placed themselves in these positions as a result of dynamic play. It was a ceremonial restart and the positions of these players were deliberately chosen.

According to Law 11, a player in an offside position is not permitted to engage in any of the following activities:

• Interfere with play (playing or touching the ball). Neither attacker did this.

• Gain an advantage (playing a ball that rebounds from the goal post, crossbar, or defender). Neither attacker did this.

• Interfere with an opponent by clearly obstructing his movement. Neither attacker did this.

• Interfere with an opponent by clearly obstructing his line of sight. Henderson blocked the vision of the United goalkeeper.

• Interfere with an opponent by making a gesture or movement which, in the opinion of the referee, deceives or distracts an opponent. Both Henderson and Stammler, by deliberately moving to this particular offside position solely for the purpose of diverting the United goalkeeper’s attention, violated this requirement.

• The referee should evaluate whether or not a player in an offside position interferes with the opponent or play. The referee, before making a decision, must also consider the following additional variables:

1. Position of players on the field

2. Distance of the attacking player from the opponent(s), and

3. Flight of the ball.

For these reasons, the goal by Djorkaeff should have been disallowed.

The foundation for correctly deciding whether an offside offense has occurred is the opinion of the referee, but that opinion must be formed by the guidelines as stated above.

In our league, and I expect we are not alone in this, the line judges tend to have significantly less experience than the center officials – rightly so. However the intricacies of offside and the multiple judgments that must be made make this one of the most difficult calls for an AR to make. I loathe being an AR in this situation. The problem is that many line judges will be afraid to stake a controversial call on such a seemingly flimsy offense – distraction and let the goal stand since the distracting player didn’t really DO anything.

However, offside is offside. Even in Recreational leagues – the officials are there to learn as much as the players and this is an ideal learning opportunity. Our referee coordinator sent this memo to all of our referees as an prime example of a tough call to make and why it should be made. As a coach I had a recent goal disallowed because the offside player was standing right next to my keeper when his teammate scored. The center official signaled a goal, but the AR was adamant that offside had occurred and the goal was disallowed. This was good to see.

I also found some additional insights at, that dealt with the timing of an interference/distraction call. In this case a father had signaled his own son’s goal offside and was trying to explain to his son WHY it was offside (ouch):

When there’s more than one attacker involved, the assistant MUST delay his flag until he is absolutely sure the offside player is getting involved in things he shouldn’t. The assistant has to wait until there is the proverbial touch of the ball by the (one of the) offside player(s). Whoa! This is going to delay the flag, sometimes one bleep of a long time. Yeah, make like the flag is Velcroed to your butt until you determine who gets the ball. That way you get the decision right and then lays to the referee to see the flag and pull him up. With some referees this is a near 100% thing with others it’s a fat chance kinda thing… ..When your son lost his goal to offside you missed the -touch by the attack, check for an offside player- part of what you do. As soon as the ball passed the offside player and the next touch happened he, by definition in Law 11, became available to play the ball because he was not offside at the last touch by his side. When a side is using the offside trap the assistant must remember a couple extra things: Where the offside player was at the last touch by the attack or who is(are) the offside player(s) and where are they on the field. He remembers these things because on a shot towards goals the assistant must determine if the position of any offside player interferes with the keeper’s line of sight, as well as their other prohibited activity, and if there is no line of sight interference, or other interference, he MUST NOT flag until the ball rebounds to an offside player. In other words he allows the shot on goals. If there is an offside infraction the restart of play is at the point the offside player in question was at the last touch by the attack. That point on the field may be significantly different than where he was when pulled up offside.

Offside is a fickle thing, yet it gives soccer part of its mystique. Just because something is hard to conceptualize doesn’t mean it needs to be altered to make it simpler. FIFA has done a good job of late trying to put together materials to help officials AND spectators better understand offside. USSF should be commended for using a controversial call as a teaching opportunity and a chance to improve officiating.