If you haven’t read Nick Hornby’s book, Fever Pitch, then get down to the library quickly. There are not many great books written about soccer, but Hornby’s semi-autobiographical story is one of those rarities. It tells of Hornby as a young man, starting out on his career (he is a teacher) while trying to get his life in order, all set against the background of an iconic season for the soccer team he supports.
This team built a championship winning season around tight defense, and a savage offside trap in particular. The image Hornby creates of his own school’s team, aged about 13 (if memory serves me correctly) moving forward as a man, each player with an arm raised, urging the ref to signal offside, is frighteningly funny. That the refs, usually teachers from other schools, partisan and lacking linesmen, ignore these desperate appeals, leading to the team conceding more goals than it should, adds to the comedy.
So, there is ‘Point One’ of our look at offside. It is not an ideal move for youth football, even where offside is played. Running the line is anyway the hardest job in officiating, and in amateur soccer, especially youth soccer, there is no VAR and frequently no linesmen. Expecting a referee to rule on tight offside calls is probably unreasonable, and certainly risky.
However, let us focus on where there are linesmen in play, and we trust them to make the right decision.
Communication is all when it comes to offside. Normally, the defensive line of three or four players will lie straight across the pitch. One of the central defenders usually makes the call – it might be a code word – to get his team mates to step up and play the trap or drop back to cover the attack. This defense player might be a half a yard deeper than his team mates to mark the deepest point of defense.
This also avoids this player stepping up, leaving an opposite full back to play the striker onside.
In the drill below, a semi-regular match is played with defense v attack. The defense scores by winning an offside (2 points), the strikers score with a goal (3 points) or a successful pass into the end zone (1 point). After each goal, or shot which goes wide, play restarts with the offense on the half-way line.
The decision the central defender makes will depend upon:
- The space in which the opposing passer sits. It is easier to pass when under no pressure.
- A judgement as to whether the team can leave a striker offside. Always err on the side of caution.
- Ensure regular communication between the back line, including the keeper.
- Encourage pressure on the passer.
Pushing out from a corner
A striker cannot be offside from a corner. But they can be on the second play.
In this drill, the coach (grey circle) throws the ball away from goal to various positions, simulating a clearance.
The defense moves out subject to where the ball ends up. The play continues until an offside is given, or there is a goal scored, or shot is attempted.
- The push out should not allow a player to get in behind the defense, for example from a wide position.
- In this drill, whichever player is best placed to call the push out should do so. This could be a player on a post, the keeper or the nominated central defender.
In this drill, we play a controlled game. Both defenses attempt to push up and play the offside trap, whilst both attacks seek to break the trap. Points are awarded for goals (4 points) and with one point each time the trap is broken or catches an opponent.
- Stop the game frequently to assess players’ positions.
- Encourage communication. A silent game is not one conducive to the offside trap.
- Practise the rule that defenses drop when a passer has time and space, and squeeze when a pass looks likely to be played under pressure.
If you liked this book, you’ll like our book below on Soccer Defense: