A Hard Rule Made Easy

Here is the simplest way to explain the basic offside rule: a player is in an offside position if, at the moment a teammate plays the ball, he is closer to the other team’s goal than both the ball and two opponents (99% of the time, the opposing goalie will count as one of the two). If a player is called offside, the opposing team gets an indirect free kick from the spot where the offside player was standing.

Confused already? Take a look at the following diagram:

Player F1 has the ball and passes it to Player F2, who has only the goalie in front of him. That’s only one opponent, not two, so Player F2 is offside. If player F2 had backed up so he was even with player D1 then he would have been onside.

Remember too that we said the determination of whether someone is offside is made at the time the ball is played – not when the player receives it. Check out the below diagram:

See how this time Player F2 started in a position where he had two defenders (the goalie & Player D1) in front of him, and then ran past D1 after the ball had been played? Because he was onside at the time the ball was passed, there is no offside called.

So What’s the Point?

Most soccer fans that are trying to understand the offside rule have a common reaction: why the heck does this crazy rule exist?

It’s a fair question, and knowing the answer might help you understand the rule itself. The basic premise of the offside rule is to eliminate “goal hanging” with the reliance of long balls from defence to strikers, virtually eliminating the need for a midfield.