Sunday, May 6, 2012

Grasping Offside in Soccer

A friend of mine declared these “soccer mom sandals.”

It’s true. I am a soccer mom. Only I don’t feel like a soccer mom, because one of the mysteries of my life is soccer itself.

Now understand, I’m no sports hater. I can explain the infield fly rule, the difference between a false start and offsides, icing. (I would add “traveling,” but this knowledge is obsolete when watching the NBA, so I don’t count it.) Despite my love of sports, the rules of soccer remain elusive to me, especially offside. I’ve decided this ends today.

(Note: If you have little soccer players and are unfamiliar with this rule, don’t fret. Offside is not a part of all kid’s soccer. My middle child’s league plays 6 vs. 6 on a smaller field. They do not have the traditional offside rule.)

Now let’s break it down.

An offside violation in soccer is made of two parts.

Part 1 - Where is the player who will receive the ball?

For a player to be offside, we have to consider the player’s location. The player who will receive the ball from a teammate is offside if s/he
a. is in the offensive zone
b. is nearer to his or her opponent’s goal line than both the ball and the second-to-last opposing player (the goalie counts as an opposing player)
If a & b are true, the player is in an ‘offside position,’ but remember this is only one part of our equation. The player is not in violation of the rule unless s/he is in an offside position and involved in the play when part 2 happens.

Part 2 - Who last touched the ball and where did it go? 

For offside to be called, the player who last touched the ball has to be a teammate of the person who will receive the ball.


-Unlike football or hockey, the soccer offside rule doesn’t have much to do with lines. The only line that matters in discussing offside in soccer is midfield. The midfield line matters because offside won’t be called if the player who will receive the ball off of a teammate is in the defensive zone (see Part 1, a).
-You may have noticed I’m using an awkward phrase, “who will receive.” I have to say “who will receive” because if the receiving player is onside when the ball is sent, s/he is onside, even if s/he appears offside when s/he makes contact with the ball. The reverse is also true: if the player is offside when the ball is moved ahead, s/he is offside, even if s/he runs onside to make the play.
-You may also note that I’m not using the term “pass.” “Pass” implies intent. If you are the player who is offside, your teammate does not have to intend to move the ball toward you or toward the opposition’s goal. It could glance off him or her and you could still be considered in violation of the rule.
-The rule does not apply on throw-ins, goal kicks, or corner kicks.

Why does it stir such emotion in spectators?

Source of Anger A: discretion. The player who is potentially offside must be “involved” in the play. If you’re on the field playing, how can you be declared uninvolved? I’m not sure, but it’s an option for the ref.

Source of Anger B: sight lines. The potentially offside player can be level with the second-to-last defender. From one angle, s/he may look level. From another, s/he may look offside. The refs may not agree, let alone the spectators.

Source of Anger C: requires super vision. The rule requires the refs to be able to consider who made last contact with the ball, as well as where the receiving player was in relationship to two opposing players when that contact was made. These two events can span more than half the field. That’s a lot to see all at once, and that’s not all the refs needs to observe.
How did I do? If I've got it right, then writing this helped. I hope reading it does the same for you. If you’d like some charts and graphs, I like these. If you’ve got a kids’ sports rule or play I can research and/or write about, let me know in the comments.

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