Offside? Soccer rules can confuse new fans

Soccer is the world’s favorite sport; it’s just not America’s.

But now that the World Cup is in full swing, fans are chanting USA! USA! USA!

Soccer is dominating headlines. With America’s newfound love for the other kind of futbol, people are finding it difficult to pass up on soccer when flipping channels, and sports fans across the country are becoming at least casual, if not die-hard, soccer fans. 

If you are late to the soccer party, the game rules can be confusing. From offside to stoppage time, there are a few rules everyone needs to know before the U.S. takes on Belgium today in the round of 16.


A player makes a pass from the midfield line and the ball flies through the air, landing perfectly at the foot of a teammate, who has a clear shot at the goal.

The crowd is on its feet screaming. This is it. This could be the goal they’ve been waiting for.

Then the linesman spoils the moment by raising his yellow and orange-checkered flag.

The player is whistled offside.

Offside is one of the many rules Fruita Monument High School boys soccer coach Dan McKee said confuses World Cup viewers, particularly those who are new to the sport.

He said it is a controversial call because linesmen routinely incorrectly call offside and miss offside infractions that should be called.

In order to legally receive a pass, a player must be onside when a teammate kicks the ball.

This means the offensive player must have a defender between him and the goal when the ball is played.

If the offensive player is ahead of the defender, he is offside and the opposing team receives an indirect kick.

McKee said the offside rule applies to any body part, even a finger, being ahead of the defender.

Out line/goal line

McKee said he is frequently asked about how much of the ball needs to be over the goal line in order to be a goal, as well as how much of the ball needs to cross the out-of-bounds line in order to be called out.

McKee said the confusion stems from the rules of American football. In football, if the tip of the ball breaks the plane of the end zone, it is a touchdown.

In soccer, the entire ball must cross the goal line in order for it to be a goal. The same goes for the out-of-bounds line. A player may step out of bounds to play the ball, provided the ball stays inbounds.

These calls can be difficult to make if the ball is in the air. When this happens, referees must determine if the ball has crossed what McKee called an imaginary plane, extending from the line on the field into the air.

To aid with the challenges of determining if the entire ball has crossed the goal line and limiting human error, GoalControl-4D has been introduced at the World Cup.

This new goal-line technology uses cameras around the stadium to capture the ball’s position in relation to the goal line. The referee receives an alert on his watch if the ball completely crosses the line.

Hand balls

Like many rules in soccer, McKee said hand balls are a judgment call.

If the ball hits any part of a player’s arm, from the shoulder to the hand, the referee has to determine whether the contact was accidental.

If the referee determines a player purposely hit the ball with his hand, or failed to move it out of the way when he easily could have done so, the opposing team is given a free kick. If this occurs in the penalty box, a penalty kick is awarded.

If the hand ball is deemed accidental, no call is made and play continues. A hand ball in the box almost always results in a penalty kick, accidental or not.

Stoppage Time

A full World Cup soccer game consists of two 45-minute halves, but you will rarely see a game in which play stops at exactly 45 minutes.

At the end of each half, stoppage time is tacked on. Unlike other timed sports, the clock does not stop during a soccer game. If a penalty is called, the ball goes out of bounds, or an injury stops play, the clock continues to run.

To make up for that time, minutes are added to each half. There is no limit to the amount of stoppage time that can be added, but generally it is only a few minutes. Stoppage time is kept by a fourth official and is rounded to the nearest minute.

Because this is a rough estimate, a referee might not stop play immediately at the conclusion of stoppage time.

Ultimately, the goal is to whistle the game over when the flow of the game has stopped.

If a team is making an offensive run, play most likely will continue until the run is naturally stopped and the game flow shifts. Once again, the official determines when to stop play.


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