Explained: The Offside Rule in Soccer

In soccer, the offside rule is one is among the most misunderstood calls. Often, fans read foul play whenever a referee flags a player as offside. It gets worse when a goal has been scored only to be declared offside. The truth is that there are lots of myths about the offside rule. And for someone who doesn't know what soccer offside rule is about, things often get complicated. In this case, let’s think about a scenario when a goal has been scored in the dying minutes of a match, probably a late winner, only to be flagged offside. The fury, the rage, and venomous chants are always hard to take. But for a referee and players who understand the rule of the game, an offside is an offside. There are no two ways around it.

This post debunks the offside rule in soccer. You could call it, offside in soccer for dummies. So, let’s start by asking the big question.

What is an offside in Soccer?

Often referred to as law 11 in soccer, the offside in soccer is among the tricky rules to grasp. However, with Video Assistant Referee now playing a crucial role in making vital calls, things are getting a bit clearer. First off, let's start by noting that being offside is not an offense in soccer. Rather, it is often regarded as taking undue advantage of the opponent. Usually, an offside call is made when a player is nearer the opponent's goal than the opposing goalkeeper and the second-last defender (opponent). Note that this only happens when a ball is played and the person receiving it is slightly or completely ahead of the rest in the opponent’s box.

The following are also notable incidences of being offside in soccer:

  • A player is offside when his or her part of the body is nearer the opponent's goal line than the second-last opponent or the ball.
  • An offside call is also made when any part of a player’s body is in the opponent’s half ahead of the rest. Note that the half-field line is not considered in offside calls unless a player crosses it.

soccer offside rule

Instances where there is no offside offense

Before you get infuriated by offside calls in the MLS, it is always important to understand instances where it works and where there is no offense. The following are instances where the offside call is not made:

  • There is no offside offense when a player directly gets the ball from a goal-kick.
  • It is not offside when a player receives a ball from a throw-in. So, the answers to the question of, can you be offside from a throw-in boil down to receiving the ball directly or indirectly. The catch here is that getting the first touch from a throw-in even if you are ahead of the last opponent and nearer to the opponent's goal line is not flagged as offside. However, a player is offside when he or she does not directly get the ball from a throw-in but rather, as a second touch from a teammate or the opponent.
  • Moreover, there are no offside in corner kicks. It explains why players offside scramble for the ball inside the six-yard box during corner kicks and the referee is hardly bothered unless there is a scuffle or a foul.

What happens when a referee makes the offside call?

Depending on what happens before an offside call is made, a referee can either wave play on or make the call. The following are notable offside calls and probably sanctions:

  • There is no offside call when a striker/attacker remains stationary between the opponent's goalposts as the ball kicked by a teammate enters the goal. In this case, the goal is counted as a score unless the attacker breaks law 12 or touches the ball.
  • An attacking player is considered offside if he or she re-enters the field before a ball is out of the player and gets involved in the play in the opponent's box. The player is also considered offside if he or she enters the field of play after the ball has been kicked towards the half-field line and is past the penalty box.
  • Note that in cases where the soccer offside rule does not apply yet attacking player re-enters the field without a referee's permission, he or she must be penalized/cautioned.

soccer offside rule

VAR improving Offside Calls

Before the introduction of the Video Assistant Referee in modern soccer, the answer to what is offside in soccer was elusive in some instances where the call is too close to make. However, making offside calls is no longer a reserve for the linesman or on-field referee. With VAR, the referee assistants may not raise the flag or delay it in play is complete. Incidentally, MLS was one of the first international leagues that introduced VAR usage to rile out an offside call. After a goal-scoring opportunity is over, the assistant can then raise the flag if an offside occurred during play. At this point, VAR checks for potential offside if a goal has been scored. With these new FIFA VAR rules, it is easier to make the call than relying on the judgment of assistant referees.

Gavin is a full-time copywriter based in the UK and has developed in-depth knowledge of the igaming world by working in the betting industry for over five years. During this time, he has written thousands of articles covering various topics, including bookmaker reviews, ‘how to’ guides, bonus comparisons and much more.