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What Is Offside in Soccer?

Soccer player kicking the ball.
A soccer player can't receive a pass when they are positioned behind the defense.
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  • Originally Written By: S. Mithra
  • Revised By: A. Joseph
  • Edited By: L. S. Wynn
  • Last Modified Date: 25 August 2014
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In soccer, the offside rule states that when an offensive player is on the opponent's side of the field and a teammate touches the ball, there must be at least two opposing players who are closer to the goal line than the offensive player is, or that player cannot become involved in the play. For example, a player who has only the opposing goalkeeper between him or her and the goal cannot receive a pass from a teammate. The two defenders closer to the goal line usually include the goalkeeper, but that it not necessarily true. When an official calls a team for being offside, the other team is given possession of the ball for an indirect free kick.

Timing is Crucial

This rule was created to prevent offensive players from "cherry picking" near the opponents' goal. Without the rule, offensive players could hover near their opponents' goal even when the play is on the other side of the field, with the hope of a long pass and an easy goal. The offside rule applies at the moment the ball is touched or passed, not when the ball is received. Therefore, if the offensive player who will receive the pass is onside at the time the ball is touched, then runs past the defender before receiving the pass, the receiving offensive player is not offside, and the play is legal.

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Setting a Trap

A common strategy for the defensive team is to play what is called an offside trap, in which the defenders try to draw the opponent offside by running forward right before a potential pass, thereby causing the furthest forward offensive player to be closer to the goal line than the second-to-last defender. The offside trap can backfire, however, if the defenders do not get ahead of the receiving offensive player before the pass is made or if the officials do not call offside. If the receiving offensive player is even — or "level" — with the defenders at the moment of the pass, the player is onside, which can result in the receiving player being wide open if the defenders continue to move away from the goal line.

Exceptions

There are some exceptions to the rule of offside. It cannot be called if the offensive players are on their own side of the field. Nor does it apply on a throw-in, goal kick or corner kick.

Enforcement

Offside might be called by either the center referee or the sideline referees. If the center referee spots the offside, he or she will blow his or her whistle to stop play. More commonly, a sideline referee will signal the offside by raising a flag, indicating to the center referee that he or she should blow his or her whistle to stop play. After offside is spotted and the center referee blows his or her whistle to stop play, he or she will place the ball at the spot of the infraction. The opposing team will then get an indirect free kick from that position.

Difficult to Call

This has been a controversial rule, particularly because a referee has some freedom of interpretation about the offensive player being involved in the play, but also because it's often difficult to judge the player's positioning at the moment of a pass. The referee must determine whether the circumstances were right to make an offside call, even if the player technically was in an offside position. A referee has flexibility in ruling that the player intended to receive the pass, was moving forward and was significantly involved in the play. This means that the offensive player must have a fair chance of scoring a goal in addition to being in an offside position.

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Discuss this Article

anon952301
Post 53

Worst rule in sports. No wonder soccer is so flipping boring. The defender gets beat by the offense so it's a penalty on the offense?

anon353314
Post 52

If a player on the opposite team touches the ball with their hands in effort to block a goal and is not the goalie, then the ball rolls into the goal, is it a goal or not?

anon336127
Post 51

Post 36 hit the nail on the head. If a defender is ruled to have stepped up, the play should be allowed to go through. Also put in lines as in hockey blue lines so there is no offsides unless player is past it.

One more item: there should be penalties for diving and fake injuries, which is an abomination for soccer. Make the offending player sit out for at least 10 to 20 minutes,leaving the team shorthanded.

anon282664
Post 49

Basketball is a very fair game without any offside rule. Cherry picking does not take place because if you are on the other side of the court, your man will not be guarded. What is the difference in soccer?

anon233147
Post 47

May I ask a question?

Commentator usually says it was offside, it was offside foul, he was in offside position, etc., when someone violates the offside rule. Likewise in slow motion, they would say 'yes it was offside, he was in the offside position'. But the very thing that makes me curious is that when someone was not in offside position, then I'd like to know, if the 'this was onside!' exclamations of the commentators are correct ones? I personally think that 'this is onside' is a wrong and incorrect statement, since there are no 'onside violation' terms or words.

Let's imagine you are quarreling with other players about one offside situation in a pitch. For me, you can only insist that, "I was onside (position)", but you cannot say "it was onside" or "my play was onside". On the contrary, others can say to you, "You were offside (meaning you were in the offside position)" and "It was offside (meaning your play was an offside violation").

In summary, for me, commenting "Onside! It is (was) onside!" loudly is incorrect. Am I right?

anon188581
Post 45

It is a "bad" rule because it too often requires an official to make a decision based on a guess. The official cannot look at both the player passing the ball and the player receiving the ball at the instant the pass is made. Add to this, the position of the second to last defender and the fact that all of these players are moving at different speeds and directions makes getting the call virtually impossible in many instances. The intent of the rule is good, but getting the call correct is too often highly improbable.

I would love to see a season of football played without an offside rule to see the net effect.

anon185872
Post 44

anon313: You are incorrect. The ball or the second to last defender so obviously he/she would be onside following the ball.

anon168618
Post 43

People who assume there is not enough "action" or scoring just don't like the game. They should concentrate on sports geared towards children with short attention spans- sports with a lot of stopping for commercials, such as NBA Basketball and NFL Football. There are plenty of distractions and opportunities to eat hot dogs and drink Coke.

anon139506
Post 42

@anon93383: It depends on the positioning of the teammate. If he is behind the ball when the pass is played he is not offside. If he is in front of the ball he is offside. The biggest part of the rule that people do not remember is that if you are behind the ball when it is played you can't possibly be offside.

The funniest thing is that these hockey players are so wound up about how confusing the rule is but I play soccer and we all understand it. And removing the offside rule would result in a game of aerial ping pong. In hockey you have that height rule, right? We don't have anything like that.

Imagine, you'll go to a game and watch the defenders boot the ball to their attackers who'll try to win the header for a goal. Boring!

anon123965
Post 41

I know very little about hockey (except that, as a Canadian, I'm supposed to live and breathe it) and less about soccer (except that I enjoy watching) but I do know that the term is "offside" not offsides (pl). A player is "offside" not offsides.

anon103255
Post 40

Hockey is not the worst sport. It's amazing and it takes talent. Skating around with all that heavy equipment and balancing on skates and being able to maneuver around everyone, keeping your eye on a small puck. It takes practice and dedication. I respect everyone who plays that sport.

anon95155
Post 39

I can't help but laugh at the people pointing at hockey. Hockey is the worst sport in the world, and any other sport looking to it as an example is bound for failure.

anon93383
Post 38

Is it offsides if attacker has passed the last defender and passes to a teammate for a goal?

anon92704
Post 37

anon91865 and anon89664: "Why punish the offensive team if the defense is out of position?"

When an attacker is called offside and a technical foul is granted to the defending team, it's not because the defense was out of position, but because they were doing their job well done: Prevent an attack. This rule allows the defense to prevent an attack without even touching the ball, if they do it right.

This is *the* most technical rule. The defense not only defends by intercepting passes and/or stealing the ball to attacker, but also by positionally, by leaving attackers offside and therefore unable to play the ball.

This is a technical approach to the game that makes it much more beautiful, especially when there's a good defense vs a good midfield attack.

anon92664
Post 36

This rule is far from "brilliant." It is just plain stupid. I do understand it.

And I have been watching the world cup, just to notice that when some defenders know they are about to be beat they "step up" on purpose so that the offense is offsides. If you let your man run past you, i'd say you are out of position, straight line or not. They should not get rid of offsides as cherry picking should not be allowed.

They just need to revise it with lines. Hockey gets this rule right and as such allows for much more excitement.

anon92306
Post 35

The fewer subjective rules relying on judgment in any sport the better. Best to let the players on the field determine the outcome rather than officials. Especially if gambling is involved.

anon91865
Post 34

I love the game and have been a fan for more than 40 years. I could never agree with the offside rule. Each team has 11 players. Why should a team's lack of defense strategy be rewarded with a technical foul call?

anon91855
Post 33

It's not a bad rule. It's a great rule.

It encourages *good* defense. Watch the games in the Cup. Notice the discipline of the defenders. They are almost always in a perfectly straight line.

They are not "out of position." They are forming their back line to press their own offensive attack up.

If you could cherry pick, there would in fact probably be fewer goals in soccer. The players would be more spread out. If you could just hang out by the 18 box, a defender would just hang out with you, too. And then you'd have 120 yards of field and nobody even close to each other.

A great offense takes advantage of the offside rule. Defenders push up away from the goalie and when caught off-guard create the space for fast breaks and great goals.

If you don't understand it -- or soccer -- don't complain. Brilliant rule. Not hard to understand.

anon90909
Post 32

Simple solution to low scores and clarify for rule. Offsides should only be in effect in the goalie box. This rule will keep offense out of the goalie box.

anon90866
Post 31

So in a nutshell, a superior team has to stand around and wait for the defense to get in to position before attacking.

I agree adding hockey style lines that indicate where you are allowed to be without the ball, regardless of the defense, would work and be much easier to officiate.

anon89664
Post 30

This rule is stupid. Soccer would be much more fun and exciting if offsides were judged like in hockey. The soccer field just needs to add two lines (like blue lines in hockey) to judge offsides. It should not matter what the defense is doing. Why punish the offensive team if the defense is out of position?

I do understand the prevention of cherry picking, and I agree with having an offsides rule, but it should not depend on the defense.

anon87643
Post 29

Yes to 44192.

anon85802
Post 28

The rule was instituted to cut down on the annoying "scoring" and "action" that had crept into the game.

anon84609
Post 27

In our State Cup game this afternoon, the ball was kicked at the goal, nobody was offsides when it was kicked, the goalie came out to stop the ball, he couldn't and it bounced off him and came back to our forward who was pressuring and put the ball in the net. It would have tied the game, but the ref called offsides. Uh, we lost. Is that the right call, really?

anon83088
Post 25

There seems to be a lot of confusion about offsides. There is a lot left up to the discretion of the ref, first of all, so it's hard to say if a ref made the "right" call or not on any particular play.

As far as how the "rule" is suppose to be played is as follows: if a player is offsides and the ball is passed to another player on his team and he makes no effort or offensive move toward either the ball or the goal the ref may let it go.

If the offside player continues to move in an offensive manner, even if they do not receive the pass, the ref can call an offsides on them. Now, if there is a pass that deflects off a defending player and an offside player makes a play on the ball usually the ref will allow the play to go. Keep in mind, soccer is played based on advantages to the offensive team.

If a team presents themselves with an advantage because of a rule breakage, ie. a foul, offsides, etc., the ref will/should always make the call. If the rule breakage does not present the offensive team with an advantage or even creates a disadvantage for them, the ref will sometimes let play continue. Hope this clears up some of the offsides and the calls which refs make.

I have played soccer for more than 20 years (and am still actively playing), have been coaching for about 10 years and also ref when I can fit in a game between schedules.

anon82645
Post 24

Soccer would gain in popularity if the offsides rule was modified so that once possession is established in the offensive zone, offsides was negated (removed). Much like in hockey; when onside moving into the offensive zone (past the blue line), and as long as the puck stays within that offensive zone, offsides does not occur. What say you USYSA?

anon79192
Post 23

If the ball is deflected by the defender, it is considered a pass by the offense. If the defender has possession of the ball and passes the ball back to the goalie the the offside player can play the ball.

anon59237
Post 22

a while ago, a lot of goals for our team weren't called because of this rule. :(

anon45988
Post 21

i love football/soccer. it is awesome. if your team mate doesn't touch the ball but is in an offside position, it makes the ref give the offside rule simonrk10. it is not often this will happen but does in some matches.

simonrk10
Post 20

i had a game on sunday and the referee called offside because my teammate passed the ball to me but my other teamate was off but he didn't even touch it. i did but he called it offside. is that right?

anon45073
Post 18

I coach a 12 year old girls soccer team. We were losing 3 to 2 with 5 minutes left. The other team took a shot and it bounced off the keeper to the other teams different player. She shot the ball and the referee called it a goal. But the player who shot the ball the second time was offsides whenever the first player shot it. Should it be called offsides?

anon44192
Post 17

An offensive player is positioned offsides and the offensive teammate passes the ball up field and is deflected by the defense and the ball still reaches the offside positioned player. Is that offsides?

anon44007
Post 16

In response to 29008. In regards to the goalpost, they are offside. They were offside at the moment of the kick, the ball caroms off the goalpost (still in play from the initial kick and untouched by another player) and then touched by the offside player. Offsides.

The goalkeeper blocking is a tough call. Comes down to whether the ref feels the player received an unfair advantage by their offside position. Did goalkeeper stop the shot and redirect (new play) or did the ball bounce off (incidental contact).

anon39549
Post 15

The offence player ran past the last defender, the ball was kicked after the offence player passed the last defender, the offside player didn't touch the ball at all, the ball bounced over the goalkeeper and in the net. Does the goal stand?

peterattray
Post 14

Hi. I'm coaching and reffing 11yr olds at the mo'. We're now starting to implement the offside rule. It was said right at the start off this article that 'Usually, these are the goalkeeper and one other defender, but not necessarily.' I call offside for kids that have only one defender and then the goalie ahead of them. Is this ok? *or* do they need two defenders and then the goalie?

anon31330
Post 13

I understand the rule, but I am not sure I agree with it. Seems this rule is penalizing the offense. There is a simple way to prevent "cherry picking" and that is to simply play "honest" defense.

anon29008
Post 12

So playing FIFA this happens to me all the time, but I'm not sure if its considered offside. What happens if a player shoots the ball and the goal keeper blocks the ball or the woodwork does and a player who was initially offside nets the ball?

anon20506
Post 11

Didn't FIFA recently put out an article on governing offsides from a corner kick? I thought the set play was incapable of being called offsides?

anon14061
Post 9

In response to anon13393... if the player who was in the offside position is judged as having influenced the play, then offsides can still be called however if he is significantly out of the play it will not be called.

as far as the passing backward, the reason they would be onside is because they are behind the ball since the offside foul is being closer to the goal-line then both the last two defenders and the ball when the ball is played .

anon13393
Post 8

if a player is in an offsides position, however, never gets played the ball and a teammate who wasnt offsides gets played ball and scores...is call still offsides?

anon9127
Post 7

i still don't understand.....this makes it all seem soooo complicated

anon7487
Post 6

I think it has very good explanation and it really helped me with my research!

anon7248
Post 5

I still don't understand what it means...

like are we allowed to pass the ball before the 1st defender ?? and say if the goalkeeper runs out of his post and I passed the ball to another player?

anon3637
Post 4

hi

i would like to correct something:

" ... It (offside) cannot be called if the offensive players are on their own side of the field or if the ball is passed backward anywhere on the field ... "

the direction the ball is going to is irrelevant, what matters is that the potential offside player comes from the back of the player that passes the ball. if he's not coming from behind that player, he's offside, even when the ball is going backward

anon313
Post 1

Well written for this rule which ranges from subjective for older kids and adults, to very obscure for younger players. Thanks.

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