USWNT: Olympic Send-Off Match – Rodriguez’s Goal: Offside or Not?

In their send-off friendly versus Canada, the United States Women’s National Team won the match via a late Amy Rodriguez goal, which was scored on a scrappy play at the top of the six-yard box. Rodriguez received the ball after an Abby Wambach effort (not sure it was a shot or a pass), was half-cleared by Canada’s goalkeeper, Erin McLeod.  By the time Rodriguez received the ball, she is only in front of one defender, McLeod.

Thus, there is the appearance of a possible offside call, but on a closer inspection, Rodriguez is clearly not in an offside position at the relevant moment: when the ball is played by Wambach. Therefore, Rodriguez was not in an infringing position, and the goal was good.

U.S. Soccer Highlight – Amy Rodriguez’s Goal vs Canada:

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Law 11 lays out the offside rule (Laws of the Game 2011-2012; PDF, page 33). The core of that law is the “Offense” portion, which reads:

A player in an offside position is only penalised if, at the moment the ball touches or is played by one of his team, he is, in the opinion of the referee, involved in active play by:
• interfering with play or
• interfering with an opponent or
• gaining an advantage by being in that position

The Law defines an “offside position” as being “nearer to [the] opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent,” unless the player is in her own half or the player “is level with the second-last opponent or  [she] is level with the last two opponents.”

And, in an addendum titled  “Interpretation of the Laws of the Game and Guidelines for Referees,” additional definitions are provided (page 102), including, most notably for this situation:

“Nearer to his opponents’ goal line” means that any part of a player’s head, body or feet is nearer to his opponents’ goal line than both the ball and the second-last opponent. The arms are not included in this definition.

In addition, shots or passes that rebound off an opponent are specifically covered in the addendum via the definition for “gaining an advantage by being in that position” and two diagrams (page 102), numbers #10 and #11 (pages 108-109).

Also, although not officially defined, it is generally understood that a ball is not fully “played” or “touched” until it leaves the player’s foot or other legal part of her body.

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Amy Rodriguez played the ball after it rebounded off an opponent, goalkeeper Erin McLeod. The rebound was from some kind of shot or pass which was attempted by Rodriguez’s teammate, Abby Wambach.  Thus, the “moment” to use for checking whether Rodriguez is in an offside position is when the ball is played by Wambach. The below frame shows this moment:

Frame 1: Wambach plays the ball, either attempting to pass or shoot.

Clearly, at this moment, Rodriguez is at least a full step behind Canada’s last two defenders, goalkeeper Erin McLeod and an unidentified defender (the blonde, not #9). But, Rodriquez is ahead of the ball, as her right foot is inside the six yard box, while the ball is above the box.

However, for a player to be in an offside, they must be closer to the goal line than both (1) the ball, and (2) the last two defenders. If one of those conditions is not met, then a player is not in an offside position. In the above situation, Rodriguez is not closer than the last two defenders, so the second condition is not met. Therefore, Rodriguez is not in an offside position. And, thus, the Offense section of Law 11 does not apply to her in this situation.

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