Offside Decisions: Defender's Deliberate Play vs. a Deflection

By Randy Vogt

Flushing, Queens is home to U.S. Open tennis and Citi Field, where the New York Mets play. It also has a huge Asian-American population. So when a junior college coach asked me to meet him at a restaurant in Flushing over a year ago, I checked to make sure that his team was not on my schedule (it was not) before I accepted and chose a Vietnamese restaurant with good reviews.

I explained what was then a new interpretation of the offside rule, the attacker playing the ball, then the defender simply misplaying the ball and the ball going to another attacker, who was in an offside position when the ball was originally played by the attacker. Considered offside in the past, now considered onside.

Upon the conclusion of our meal, he said to me, “Geez, I’m going to win and lose a lot of games based on this interpretation.” Actually, not as many as he thought as a very small percentage of goals, like 1% or 2%, are scored after a defender misplays the ball, at least in the games I have officiated during this time.

Gaining an advantage is by playing the ball or interfering with an opponent when it has rebounded or been deflected off the goalpost, crossbar or an opponent or been deliberately saved by an opponent. A player in an offside position receiving the ball from an opponent, who deliberately plays the ball (except from a deliberate save), is not considered to have gained an advantage.

Therefore, the officials must decide whether the defender deliberately played the ball or whether it deflected or rebounded from him or her. Factors to consider in making this determination include whether the defender moved a body part toward the ball, the distance of the defender from the ball when it was played and whether the ball is expected by the defender. Yet the attacker in an offside position (when the ball was originally played) receiving the ball from a goalkeeper or a defender from a deliberate save is still offside.

Let’s take these scenarios that occurred in my games:

• In a game that I was refereeing without ARs, the ball after a corner kick is played to the corner of the penalty area (where the 18-yard line meets the 18-yard line). With three attackers in offside positions in the goal area but not interfering with any opposing players, an attacker plays the ball on the ground toward the front of the goal. The second-to-last defender, 15 yards from the ball when it was originally played, miskicks the ball and it goes to an attacker behind him who scores. The defenders appealed for offside and were shocked that call was not coming.

• An attacker dribbling up the touchline crosses the ball toward another attacker, in an offside position 30 yards away. Between those players was a defender who stuck out his foot. The ball rebounded off his foot to the other attacker. The AR raised his flag but I overruled him as that attacker scored. Yes, I heard it from the opposing coach but I explained that offside could not be called as the defender deliberately played the ball.

• At the time the keeper punts the ball, the only players in the other half of the field are the opposing keeper and an attacker, who is in an offside position five yards into the other half. The punted ball drops to a defender on the halfway line, who miskicks the ball backward into the path of that attacker who is now running on to the ball. The AR correctly keeps his flag down as the attacker goes to goal on a breakaway and the keeper winds up making the save.

• A through-pass is made 10 yards from the attacker in an offside position with a defender close nearby. That defender jumps to head the ball and the ball glances off her head to the attacker. The AR correctly leaves his flag down as the defender had deliberately played the ball. Another defender tracks back and tackles the ball away.

• An attacker plays the ball and it hits off the defender’s stomach two yards away and goes to another attacker who was is in offside position when the ball was originally played. Offside is whistled as the ball had deflected off the defender.

• A shot is taken and the keeper parries the ball to an attacker who was in an offside position when the ball was originally played. That attacker scores but the goal is disallowed as the attacker received the ball from a deliberate save.

• There is a goalmouth scramble and the ball goes out to an attacker 10 yards from goal. The keeper comes out of his goal to cut down the angle. Behind the keeper are two players, one an attacker and one a defender. The attacker is in an offside position as he’s behind the keeper so that attacker needed another defender, even with him or closer to the goal line, to keep him onside. A shot on goal is taken and it beats the keeper but it does not beat the defender, who sticks out a leg. The ball rebounds to the attacker who was in an offside position when the ball was played. The attacker scores. The goal is disallowed, even though the defender deliberately played the ball, as the defender had made a deliberate save.

(Randy Vogt has officiated over 9,000 games during the past three decades, from professional matches in front of thousands to six-year-olds being cheered on by very enthusiastic parents. In Preventive Officiating, he shares his wisdom gleaned from thousands of games and hundreds of clinics to help referees not only survive but thrive on the soccer field. You can visit the book’s website at

11 comments about "Offside Decisions: Defender's Deliberate Play vs. a Deflection".
  1. Rex Russo, December 7, 2016 at 5:29 p.m.

    Thanks! I found this helpful. Couldn't figure out why an apparent goal scored by my daughter's team was nullified last week. Now I know.

  2. Leland Price, December 7, 2016 at 5:46 p.m.

    This was an interesting and informative article. Unfortunately, most of the club referees in our area either do not understand the offsides rule or are very lazy. The referees in question rule offside any play by which a midfielder sends a through ball to a forward making a run, regardless of where the forward began his run. By ruling any offensive player behind the defensive line as "offside" they have taken away an entire dimension of the game. It's unfortunate.

  3. Chris Sapien , December 7, 2016 at 8:28 p.m.

    I have a hard time understanding what the benefit is supposed to be with the changes. This clearly goes against the old adage that intent is not to be considered as it relates to fouls, but now that very determination as it relates to an act by a defender becomes pertinent. Given the amount of timing, distance and obstruction we already contend with, the standard for judging and opportunity to be criticized for an interpretation is exponentially higher. This enhances nothing, nor will it even negligibly increase scoring imo. Definitely confused with who championed this and why.

  4. Jeanine Valadez, December 7, 2016 at 9:10 p.m.

    I get it...they are basically saying unfair advantage is not gained if the offside attacker gets the ball as a result of a mishandling (mistake) or unintentional contact on the ball. But asking referees to make these accurate judgement calls in the midst of flurries of activity, faked/masked reactions, visual obstructions, etc. is just too much. Can you imagine these interpretation expectation placed on youth soccer games? With youth soccer referees? And at the youth level, where mistakes are frequent, I can just see an insidious coach training his/her kids to stand offside assuming such mishandling mistakes will happen....we will see a rise in opportunistic poaching no doubt. CRAZY!

  5. Mark Landefeld replied, December 8, 2016 at 2:03 a.m.

    I think it is even more challenging that the AR must initially make a judgement about deliberate/intentional playing of the ball. Frequently, the AR's distance and angle to the involved defender make this problematic, so the AR must raise his flag, while the CR makes the determination of intent -- awkward to say the least.

  6. Randy Vogt replied, December 8, 2016 at 6:20 a.m.

    Regarding Mark's comment above, this is where the referee communication device becomes extremely important, especially in situations on the far side of the field from the AR. 60 or so yards away, the AR might not be able to judge deliberate play vs. a deflection or even whether the defender played the ball. It's easier for the AR when play is closer to him/her. Yet the headsets are not used in the great majority of games played in the United States (or Canada for that matter).

  7. Bob Ashpole replied, December 9, 2016 at 3:06 p.m.

    To steal a line from Kermit, it ain't easy being an official.

  8. Pasco Struhs, December 8, 2016 at 8:49 a.m.

    I'm still somewhat confused. @ Jeanine - I think you have it somewhat wrong - "unfair advantage is not gained if the offside attacker gets the ball as a result of a mishandling (mistake) or UNINTENTIONAL contact on the ball." I think it has to be intentional contact by the defender intentionally playing the ball. See the example above noting that a deflection off of a defender would not nullify the offside position. So here's my take away - please tell me if I'm wrong. (1) defender intentionally strikes the ball (whether heading or kicking - see exception below for saves) and misplays ball to an offside attacker - result = not offside. (2) defender is struck by the ball (in the back or front or head or leg) without intending to strike or block the ball and the ball "deflects" to an offside player - result = offside. (3) Defender (regardless of whether he is a goalkeeper or field player) saves a shot on goal, which deflects to an offside attacker - result = offside. (4) Shot on goal hits crossbar and deflects to an offside attacker - result = offside. Does anyone disagree? I agree that this seems to force the referee to make yet another call on intent. Tough calls will be whether a cross was a shot on goal that was saved or by a defender or misplayed into the path of an offside attacker. Glad I'm not a ref!

  9. Randy Vogt replied, December 8, 2016 at 2:53 p.m.

    Pasco, you are not confused as you're correct with your answer under all 4 situations. Randy

  10. Phil Love, December 8, 2016 at 8:53 a.m.

    Good article on the different scenarios. Cleared up some of my misunderstandings and clarified some calls I've seen in games. Good luck to all you refs on differentiating between defender deliberately playing the ball and deliberate save.

  11. Bob Ashpole, December 9, 2016 at 3:10 p.m.

    Randy, I always enjoy reading your articles. Please continue. Thanks.

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