The offside rule is tricky enough.
It’s even harder to interpret when a player is passively offside.
The rule is question came up in the Sounders FC road game at Mexico’s Tigres UANL on Wednesday, the first leg of a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal. You can see the play at about the 1:55 mark in the highlights here.
The player offside at the moment of the cross was deemed to be passively offside as he walks away (e.g. not involved in the play), leaving the guy who received the pass in an onside position. Thus, the goal stood, and many feel that was the correct call.
Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid had a different interpretation:
“I think it was offsides,” he said. “I know what the interpretation is and I know the referee’s interpretation is going to be that the guy who actually scored the goal wasn’t offsides. But the ball is hit directly at the guy who’s offside. He’s standing six yards in front of the goalkeeper, so he’s taking the goalkeeper’s attention. To me, that’s offsides. Or else on free kicks we should be able to put a guy right in the six-yard box and let him stand offsides, and when the ball is hit he just walks away. So he should never be offside, even if the ball is hit straight at him.
“It’s that part of the offside rule that I as a coach have a little bit of an issue with as to how it gets interpreted. I think when the guy’s in that deep, when the guy is in the six-yard box, whether he’s the guy who actually touches the ball or not, defenses focus on him. The goalkeeper is focused on him. The defense is pushed out to leave the guy offside. The ball is hit in his direction. And if that’s not offside, then as a defense you can never push out anymore. You might as well say anybody can stand offsides as long as they don’t touch the ball. Then you have to alter how you’re going to coach in those situations. So to me it was offsides mainly because of where the ball was hit.
“It wasn’t like what I saw in another game, it might’ve been the Galaxy game, where there’s a long ball hit down the wing and the player in the middle is offsides and he just doesn’t go for it. But the ball is 35 yards away from him. Then the winger runs onto it.
“The whole part of it, too, is even the guy who ends up scoring the header then is really offsides at the time of the first header. But then they say it hits the goalkeeper, so it’s a new play. Well, if he hadn’t been standing in that offside position, he wouldn’t have gotten to the ball first. So didn’t the offside position give him a benefit? But then you’re saying, ‘No, it’s a new play because it hit off the goalkeeper.’ Well, again, to me that’s a very debatable area. But I understand the rule.”
So does Schmid have an issue primarily with how the rule is written or does he think the referee made the wrong call?
“I think the player drew the attention of the defense and the attention of the goalkeeper, and therefore it should’ve been offside,” the coach answered. “I mean the ball was hit too close to him for him not to be part (of the play) or in that — whatever you want to call it — sphere of influence. He’s in that area. So that’s the way I thought the rule was interpreted. If they’re going to interpret the rule differently, then I think they need to let everybody know — and I think it changes how you defend.”
And did Schmid have an issue with the defenders standing around with their arms raised instead of playing until the whistle?
“They’re all thinking the guy is offsides,” he said. “They’re just waiting for the flag to go up. I’m not going to scream at them at that point where it’s like, ‘OK, well they should’ve played on.’ It’s like anything. I’m trying to think of a good example, I can’t really, but it’s like you assuming something bad is going to happen, so you never go anywhere because, ‘Well, I can’t leave because something bad is going to happen. So I can’t ever leave.’ So saying to your defense, ‘You should’ve come back, because you should’ve assumed there was absolutely no call going to be made,’ well then maybe (they’ll say), ‘I shouldn’t have pushed up, coach. I should’ve just stayed where I was because no call was going to be made. If I have to assume the worst case scenario then I’ll just be frozen.’”