Offside Paranoia

At one time or another, pretty much every one of has had to try and explain the offside rule to someone new to the sport. It's part and parcel of being a soccer fan in the US. (In other countries it's somehow genetically coded, along with a love of smelly cheese.)

And as well as you may understand it, and as much as it's basically a simple concept, it can prove oddly difficult to explain. Law 11 takes up one page of the LotG but then fills 11 pages with game-scene illustrations to try and get the point across.

Be that as it may, it's not unreasonable of us to ask that the guys carrying the flags down on the field have a grasp of the concept. And in truth, little is more infuriating than an Assistant Referee negating a beautiful piece of soccer skill with a bad offside call.

The problem is sometimes referred to as "offside paranoia" - it's easier to pop the flag on a borderline call than it is to leave it down and deal with the fact that you let an illegal goal onto the scoreboard.

To their credit, MLS has been working hard at convincing AR's to give the benefit of the doubt to the attacker. "Even is on" they tell them. "If you're not sure, leave the flag down".

It was the major emphasis during the last off season. And yet, in Week One, as the Weekly "Lessons Learned" circular to officials noted:

ARs ARE NOT TO RAISE THE FLAG UNLESS 100% SURE. SEEMS WE ARE GETTING THE REVERSE

USSF OFFERED THIS VIDEO AS AN EXAMPLE

The prescribed "FOCUS" for Week Two was to "be focused on sharper offside decisions. Show restraint and keep the flag down unless 100% sure."

And as the circular noted yesterday:

"Result > Great work. Focus was evident as not a single goal scoring opportunity or goal was denied due to an errant AR flag. FOCUS, FOCUS and FOCUS. This is critical in the increase of goals scored. WELL DONE!"

One of the main complaints casual fans (and non-fans) have about our game is the lack of scoring, and in truth even among the truly hard-core, there are only so many 0-0 draws you can sit through.

In Week Two of the season, MLS averaged 4 goals per game. They didn't widen the goals or make the ball smaller or take away the keeper's gloves or any of the other cockamamie ideas that get tossed out when the issue of lack of scoring is discussed.

They just got the guys on the lines to get brave enough to keep the flags down.